I have always talked about the importance of partnerships in football. It’s pairings that let you put together units that help build a team.
Wherever there is success, those are the foundations.
So this week I’ve gone back to look at some of the best double acts I’ve had the privilege to watch or play alongside over the past 50-odd years.
Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore
The two centre-backs were the building blocks of that 1966 World Cup team picked by Sir Alf Ramsey. It was a big ’un and little’ un and as a 16-year-old on holiday at the time watching on television, I loved watching them together.
Charlton was gangly, confident and cynical at times. He would smile at players then chop them off at the neck. He was a solid defender who would wrap his arms and legs around you; a massive asset at set plays either defending or attacking, when he was so difficult to mark.
He was like a mountain. What a leader.
Moore was cool, calm and cultured. He read the game and picked the pieces up from Charlton’s challenges. He was a superb passer under intense pressure.
They linked with each other in that central area, that defensive third to make sure there were no gaps, no spaces – Moore intercepting, Charlton making tackles.
Peter Dobing and George Eastham
I’ll always remember the way Peter Dobing captained us to the 1972 League Cup final with his experience and knowledge.
He was a good leader on the pitch, excellent on the ball and rarely lost possession. He sorted a few out in his time in a very competitive midfield area, too. He come be temperamental and that competitive element came out but that’s not always a bad thing.
He was a really good influence for the younger players breaking through under Tony Waddington. He stood no messing about.
George Eastham was a picture of calm.
We had a good mixture of ages in the team and Waddo’s system of play gave the pair the freedom they needed. We had world’s best keeper, a local back four, a sitting midfielder, a number 10 coming off, a target player up front and a wide player roaming.
It was a platform for those two to control games and I’m sure they enjoyed their football more than ever at that time.
The second goal against Chelsea at Wembley highlighted all that and showed the understanding they had.
Look where they pick the ball up in the initial build-up, in our own defensive third – and then look who they were less than 30 seconds later, the two oldest players then the most advanced, standing side by side as Eastham scored the winner.
Kevin Keegan and John Toshack
Stoke should have been the ones who bought John Toshack, John Mahoney’s cousin. We knew it then when Toshack was at Cardiff; a big, strong target player similar to John Ritchie in a way and we sent scouts to watch him on numerous occasions.
How the world might have been different, but that’s the way it goes sometimes and instead it was Liverpool who got themselves a superstar – and it was his partnership with Kevin Keegan which was outstanding. They could create for each other and themselves like they were telepathic.
They frightened opponents. You never knew what they were going to do and even if you had done you wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it.
Toshack was intelligent, his positional play around the box was first rate and he could get hold of the ball in set ups, control and finish.
Keegan was his little man; a lively, bubbly character who got in where it hurt and worked so hard on his game to improve. He always had a great belief in himself and he got the rewards.
Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham
What a pity that Terry Venables’ tactical vision with this pair at Euro 96 didn’t result in a trophy.
There were plenty of England strikers to pick from at that time but he went for Alan Shearer as his number nine and Teddy Sheringham as number 10 in a clock formation where they always played the opposite. If one was at 10 to one, the other was at 10 past. They worked in tandem.
Sheringham was great with back to play in that half-cocked position looking over shoulder. His finding of space was impeccable. His control and intelligence and link-in play made him a brilliant foil for Shearer, who was strong and good in the air, on the move and keen to get behind defenders and able to shield players.
That was typical of what Venables brought to the team. It was brilliant football to watch and I learned a lot that summer. A massive shame we didn’t win but it was a step forward in football.
Roy Keane and Paul Scholes
What a pairing. Absolutely fantastic.
Paul Scholes was a deep thinker and a great passer, short and long. He could quicken game or slow it with the timing of when he would release the ball. Opponents couldn’t get near him. He could find little pockets of space to receive the ball and control the play. He was always looking around to get in possession.
What I really liked about him was when opponents tried to man-mark him. He’d merrily take them into areas to leave space for others to exploit. They’d think twice about going when he did it again so then, boom, he’d make them pay.
There aren’t many around who are clever enough to do that at the right time.
His combination with Roy Keane was superb. Scholes was the quiet assassin then you have the king pin, the leader of all leaders who made opponents shiver in fear – and his own players if they dared dropped below his high standards.
He was a former boxer but good on the ball himself, a good all-round player who could read periods in the game and how to change them without needing to be told.
He should have taken over from Sir Alex Ferguson after doing a great job at Sunderland.
But he’s ruthless and sometimes people don’t like being told the truth. And in turn, he chose the wrong move to go to Ipswich. He should have gone much higher. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross
Coming towards the present day, you look at the good period Stoke had when they had Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross together with Asmir Begovic behind.
Huth and Shawcross defended first. They didn’t mess about with the ball and had a good understanding. That’s what you want from your centre-backs and I would have liked to have played alongside them.
Huth was a stereotypical German centre-back, strong and competitive and he’d deliver all types of challenges. It’s fair to say he didn’t mind upsetting forwards along the way. I imagine he would be a voice in training too and would challenge authority when needed.
There was a good communication with Shawcross. Heading, defending, tackling, positional, you could see that they enjoyed playing together. One would hit and one would cover.
I think to this day that Shawcross has missed him as a partner – and so have the rest of us.
It is a slippery slope when you let a player go and don’t replace him with the same or better. And how many defenders have Stoke brought in since letting Huth go to Leicester in 2015 who have been as good or better than him?