In Italy he's known as the Phenomenon; in Spain, as the
Extraterrestrial. Rock-ribbed and granite-muscled, he is merely
a striker who, at the tender age of 21, has not only twice won
the World Player of the Year award but also been compared in
stature with Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona and Romario. But
unlike those worthies, Ronaldo (page 112) may turn out to be the
Promethean player of not just one decade but two.
Alessandro Del Piero
True, he flopped in the 1996 European Championships, and, yes,
he didn't score during Cup qualifying. But by his play at
striker with Italian giant Juventus--a breathtaking mix of
power, guile and intuition--the dashing Del Piero, 23, has
convinced his demanding countrymen that when the Azzurri have
their backs to the wall, he'll be there to take the lead.
Like any self-respecting Frenchman, midfielder Zidane, 25,
seldom misses an opportunity to strike. "I must dribble as
little as possible," he says. "One, two, three touches--no
more--and a pass at the right moment." Born to Algerian
immigrants in Marseilles, he refined his game in refined locales
(Cannes and Bordeaux) before bringing steam to Juventus's attack.
The world has trod heavily upon the Union Jack since England won
its only Cup in 1966. Now comes the 27-year-old Shearer's chance
to return pride to the English side. A ruthless forward who
forsakes flair for workaday precision, this anti-Brazilian
crosses the Channel with only one goal in mind. "First is
first," he says. "Second and third are nowhere."
At Euro '96, Seedorf and several teammates alleged that coach
Guus Hiddink favored Holland's white players. That issue
apparently settled, Seedorf, a native of Suriname, could
establish himself as the nation's best midfielder since Cruyff.
Only 22, he has already been the foundation of two European club
champions, Ajax of Amsterdam and Real Madrid.
The newspapers used to say unkind things about the 6'3"
Bierhoff: that he was slow, unskilled, un-German. Then, at 28,
he netted the tying and game-winning goals at the 1996 European
Championships. Last season, for Udinese, he scored more times
than anyone else in Italy--more than Ronaldo, more than Del
Piero, more than the doubters back home believed he ever could.
SIX COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GERARD RANCINAN/PRODUCED BY VIRGINIE LUC [Ronaldo; Alessandro Del Piero; Zinedine Zidane; Alan Shearer; Clarence Seedorf; Oliver Bierhoff]