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11 World Cup greats — as you’ve never seen them before

By Roger Bennett and Nate Kitch, for CNN

Host of the popular soccer podcast “Men in Blazers,” Roger Bennett and illustrator and artist Nate Kitch are the duo behind the recently published “Gods of Soccer” book, which looks at 50 women and 50 men who are or have been some of the sport’s greatest players.

For the World Cup in Qatar, Bennett and Kitch chose 11 male players for CNN to showcase some of the planet’s greatest stars who have played in the tournament’s history. They also explain some of the thinking behind what Kitch was trying to capture about each player with his illustrations.

“These images capture the human truths about each player — the character, idiosyncrasies, and backstory,” said Bennett.

David Beckham, England — World Cup (1998, 2002 and 2006)

Nate: The uncontainable aura of a man who transcended the sport and captured the world’s eyes.

Roger: A work of art about a man who was more objet d’art than footballer.

Eusebio, Portugal — (World Cup 1966)

Nate: Rising high by the crowd that carries him; adored by Benfica, adored by Portugal, adored by the whole world.

Roger: Football greatness can make memories of a player you never saw actually play feel immortal. Eusebio is one such player for me. And this image captures that sense of eternal triumph.

Garrincha, Brazil — (World Cup 1958, 1962 and 1966)

Nate: I wanted to get this sense of community, a community he was still part of; the shirt stripes extend to those he walked amongst.

Roger: A footballer who was known as “Alegria do Povo” (“The People’s Joy”). These are his people. This is their joy.

Zlatan Ibrahimović , Sweden (World Cup, 2002 and 2006)

Nate: An ever present mythos … seemingly reversing time whilst being a journeyman through it. The bicycle kick against England echoes this perfectly … turning back the years … the dots representing the many teams he has lent his mighty powers to.

Roger: A man who is a superhero in his own imagination perfectly presented — you don’t need to know where the ball is. It is in the net.

Roy Keane, Republic of Ireland — (World Cup 2002)

Nate: A player who could boil over in a seemingly uncontrolled rage but undoubtedly kept to being a leader. This is what I wanted to capture here; the manic fury of one of English football’s most imposing figures.

Roger: Roy Keane as a firestarter you should never look in the eye unless you want to burn your retina out with the heat of a thousand suns.

Gerd Müller, Germany — (World Cup, 1970 and 1974)

Nate: A player responding to the moment of the game and an illustrator responding to the moment of the art. Rog’s words, Müller’s image.

Roger: Gerd was a goal machine. He finished with his shin, his crotch, every part of his body. What mattered is that the ball crossed the line. This is pure Müller. Often ungainly. Always lethal.

Lionel Messi, Argentina — (World Cup, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018)

Nate: Ladies and gentlemen … It’s Lionel Messi.

Roger: No face needed. A demigod who plays football, and everything else is just shadows.

Pele, Brazil — (World Cup, 1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970)

Nate: The world of football looks at Pele so I wanted to show the Brazil great looking back; with ease and effortlessness.

Roger: Less a human being. More the world’s first global billboard. My favorite image in the book.

Ferenc Puskás, Hungary — (World Cup, 1954)

Nate: The English said when they first faced Ferenc Puskás and his Hungary side it was like playing men from outer space. Something otherworldly they couldn’t put their finger on … I wanted this to have a similar resonance.
Roger: The mightiest of Magyars … A goalscorer so prolific they named the goal of year award after him.

Socrates, Brazil — (World Cup, 1982 and 1986)

Nate: Philosopher by name … glory that belongs in the Colosseum.

Roger: The coolest footballer ever. Captured to his core. He believed footballing beauty mattered more than results, and that revolutionary politics were perhaps most important of all.

Marco van Basten, Holland — (World Cup, 1990)

Nate: Total. Football.

Roger: Brilliant Orange.

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