When a then 22-year-old Brazilian hotshot named Ronaldinho lofted that famous free-kick at the World Cup 2002 over David Seaman’ head, England were out of the tournament in undignified fashion.
The weeks, the months and years succeeding that infamous chip were probably the toughest in Seaman’s life. In the blink of an eye, he went from the best English goalkeeper of all time aside Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton to being questioned about when he would finally hang up his gloves, given that he was perceived as a spent force. Not even Germany’s Oliver Kahn’s howler in the final helped eclipse Seaman’s calamitous blooper which, in 2004, the Fifa elected as one of the ten worst of all time in the FIFA Fever 1904-2004 documentary.
At the time, he regularly found himself on the receiving end of stern criticism from the country’s ruthless tabloids who made him the national scapegoat for England’s elimination from the first ever Asia-hosted World Cup.
That 21st June 2002, Michael Owen had got England off the mark before Rivaldo put his side back on level terms, giving Ronaldinho the platform to send Brazil into the semi-final of the World Cup. Rather than calling it Brazil’s win, the journalists in this country saw it as England’s defeat with Seaman succeeding David Beckham (after the World Cup 1998 stamp on Argentina’s Simeone) as public enemy number one on English turf.
But despite that high-profile error which forever tainted his illustrious career that spanned over two decades playing for Queens Park Rangers, Peterborough, Arsenal and Manchester City, David Seaman still is and probably always will be acknowledged as one of England’s greatest ever stoppers – Shilton and Banks aside.
And it is exactly since he brought the curtain on his international career down in 2002 that the Three Lions have had a perennial goalkeeping problem. Not to mention Arsenal who only managed to fill his boots by bringing in Petr Cech in 2015, twelve years later.
First David James then Paul Robinson and now Joe Hart none of them could match Seaman’s skills, let alone his charismatic personality, respect and pedigree.
Tall, athletic, quick off the line, agile, good in the air and with great reflexes. Seaman reasonably had it all.
And when I met him ahead of the Fifa Awards 2017 at the Hotel Courthouse near Carnaby Street, I couldn’t believe that the man standing next to me was actually David Seaman.
Where is his long hair? And where is his famous trademark moustache ? These days he is almost unrecognisable. He looks much younger than during his playing career almost two decades ago despite turning 55 next year. And needless to say, the Brazil game and the World Cup 2002 are ancient history for him. He has moved on.
Well-dressed, humble, polite, wearing a smile and taking his time to conduct interviews with each of the present journalists from all over the world, Seaman was keen on responding to my questions.
The debate has been ongoing for years, maybe even for decades and the dilemma has never been bigger than at present. Who is the current best keeper in the world ?
Seaman, one of the best of his generation in that role and elected as the world’s third-best goalkeeper in 1996, has no doubts.
“I will tell you tonight who the best is,” he jokes.
“For me the best goalkeeper in the world is Gianluigi Buffon.
“You have got to go between him, Neuer and maybe De Gea.
“But Gigi is the best despite his 40 years.”
When I asked him if AC Milan prodigy Gianluigi Donnarumma can go all the way in world football by emulating the Juventus legend, Seaman didn’t get ahead of himself.
“Wanting to emulate Buffon would be a great standard for Donnarumma.
“Even to go three quarters of that would be a great standard.
”But it’s a hard standard that has been set.
”Matching Buffon will not be easy for Donnarumma although he is sensational.”
Featured photograph: Wikipedia