I was 13 years old when Jeremy Lin completely took over my life. Over a three-week period in February, my algebra homework took a backseat as the undrafted Harvard grad, the ultimate-underdog who slept on his friend’s couch to get an NBA tryout, dominated basketball night after night after night. Linsanity captivated me and my friends, commanded our conversations at the lunch table and inspired a generation of Asian-American athletes.
Jeremy Lin wasn’t the biggest NBA star, he never won MVP, he probably won’t make the Hall of Fame. But the cultural significance of one player who shone so brightly and in such a surprising way outweighs any of that. In soccer, we describe this type of player as one that "the streets won't forget."
For a certain brand of player, streets won’t forget might be the ultimate compliment. Perhaps the player exemplified the underdog, perhaps their stardom was so brief that looking back, it seems all the more unlikely. Perhaps their style of play was so memorable that it set them apart from the rest. Perhaps it is a combination of all of these factors.
For one reason or another, these players have obtained cult status. Typically, the streets won't forget label is assigned to attacking players, but I have set out to assemble a complete squad of the unforgettable players of my youth. This is the Streets Won’t Forget XI, a side made up of soccer’s cultural icons and ultimate cult heroes.
The Quintessential Streets Won't Forget XI
Rene Higuita (GK)
The Colombian goalkeeper is famous for his flowing curly hair, escapading runs from the box and an aggressive style of play. ‘El Loco’ produced the single most outlandish save of all time, firmly cementing his spot in our collective memory.
Rene Higuita pulled off the Scorpion kick against England on this day 1995 pic.twitter.com/cQJiOv2Aml— Classic Football Shirts (@classicshirts) September 6, 2020
George Elokobi (CB)
The tough-tackling Cameroonian defender worked his way from non-league football all the way to the Premier League, and was a hero to Wolves fans. Not only was Elokobi built like an action figure, he could celebrate a goal with the best of them.
The man mountain himself George Elokobi has announced his retirement.And what better excuse to throwback to when he went absolutely nuts after scoring against Man Utd at Molineux…
All the best, @georgeelokobi!
— FansBet (@FansBet) May 3, 2022
Perhaps one of the more established players to be included, Pepe makes the squad based on the sheer violence with which he approached the game in the early stages of his career. Pepe embraced the role of the villain, and his centerback pairing with Sergio Ramos struck fear into the hearts of attackers across Europe.
Thomas Vermaelen (CB)
Vermaelen never truly lived up to his potential at Arsenal, but fans surely won’t forget the Belgian defender’s magical start to life in London. With five goals in his first two months as a Gunner, Vermaelen outscored Robin Van Persie and captivated hearts as Arsenal set a record for goals in the first seven games of a Premier League season.
Papa Bouba Diop (CDM)
Bouba Diop was the hero of the Senegal team that upset France during the 2002 World Cup and made an unlikely run to the quarterfinals. The Senegal team epitomized everything we love about the World Cup, and Bouba Diop's role in that side alone would suffice to earn him a spot on this list. That his 6'5'' stature had him nicknamed “The Wardrobe” is the cherry on top. Diop sadly passed away in 2020, but his legacy lives on.
Famara Diedhiou paid tribute to Papa Bouba Diop after scoring for Senegal in the #AFCON2021 semi-final.Both players wore number 19
— JABULANI XI (@JABULANIXI) February 3, 2022
Dimitri Payet (CM)
Mozart, Picasso, Payet at West Ham. The Frenchman was at West Ham for only one full season, but it was one of the most memorable stints in Premier League history. Free-kicks, assists, dribble moves and solo-goals, Payet did it all. It’s just a shame it was over so soon.
Dimitri Payet was pure magic for West Ham ⚒️Here’s 1 minute and 31 seconds of his best bits. Forget that it didn’t end sweetly, that short spell in East London was truly specialpic.twitter.com/nRNKRZPOow
— COPA90 (@Copa90) January 11, 2022
Adel Taraabt (CM)
Adel Taarabt is the ultimate streets won’t forget player and the inspiration for this list. Taarabt brought street-style football to England and was collectively known as a football genius by QPR fans. Taarabt’s 2010-11 season will go down as the most magical in QPR and English Championship history.
In 2010-11, Adel Taarabt scored 19 goals and got 16 assists.The streets will never forget. pic.twitter.com/NM7OQbNzPc
— Jordan (@alpinistegone) April 9, 2020
Yannick Bolasie (LM)
Bolasie captivated Crystal Palace fans with his trademark flair, technique and dribbling skill. You know you are streets won’t forget when you have an absurdly technical skill move named after you.
Skill of the Day!
— OneFootball HQ (@OneFootballHQ) November 3, 2017
Hatem Ben Arfa (RM)
With the flair and technique of the rest of our midfield combined with blistering pace, Ben Arfa was capable of pulling moments of pure magic out of thin air. At Newcastle and then at Nice, Ben Arfa humiliated opponents on a regular basis.
10 years ago today, Hatem Ben Arfa did this against Blackburn…This guy was a serious, serious baller. On his day he was unplayable! pic.twitter.com/HcQx4d2slc
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) January 7, 2022
Ten years ago today: Hatem Ben Arfa scored THAT goal against Bolton Wanderers.That first turn. pic.twitter.com/5jdoF9Eb9h
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) April 9, 2022
For one Premier League season, Michu stole the show. After signing for only $2.5 million, Michu came out of nowhere to score 22 goals in all competitions for Swansea. Michu and his iconic celebration were gone after just two seasons, but it was an incredible run of form that will go down in Premier League history.
Eight years since Michu scored a brace as Swansea beat Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates...That celebration is iconic pic.twitter.com/BTpzV3AE2c
— GOAL (@goal) December 1, 2020
Adebayo Akinfenwa (ST)
Adebayo Akinfenwa played only one season in the Championship, none in the top flight and the rest of his career in England’s lower leagues, but he will still go down as a legend. While he was an EFL staple for almost 20 years, Akinfenwa gets special mention as the only player on this list whose main source of fame was a video game. “Beast Mode” was the strongest player in FIFA for several years, and his 98 strength ratings earned him quite the reputation among fans of the game. The legend retired this year and played his last game at Wembley. Though we’ll miss him in FIFA, at least he went out in style!
That smile!Adebayo Akinfenwa says it will be "beautiful" to play his final ever game at Wembley, as the legendary EFL striker is planning to retire at the end of this season pic.twitter.com/Xi0qx8OygD
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) May 8, 2022
Jorge Campos (GK), Maicon (LB) , Manny Figueroa (CB), Santi Cazorla (CAM), Hulk (LW), 2010 World Cup Diego Forlan (ST), Papiss Cisse (ST)