Football campaigns are kicking off all over Europe and I can’t wait. Despite the clamp down on online streaming websites, the access to football from all over the world has never been easier, but every so often I will look back at football teams and tournaments gone by and remember the old days.
So in preparation for the new seasons, I’m taking the reins off my ego a little bit and having a bit of fun with this one. Of course, the players in this list aren’t the best players of all time and I am absolutely not claiming that they are, they are simply a collection of players whom I have grown up watching and have a soft spot for, regardless of their clubs.
I’m only 23, so I never had the privilege of watching the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona, and Johan Cruyff in their peak so that is why they will not feature in this starting XI.
So, using a 4-5-1 formation, here is my all time starting XI:
GK – Gianluigi Buffon
Growing up in the 90’s we had easy access to the Italian game as it was on Channel 4 every weekend, and for as long as I can remember Gianluigi Buffon has been a brick wall.
Consistently brilliant and brilliantly consistent, he is still the most expensive goalkeeper of all time and holds the record for most clean sheets in Serie A and Azzuri history. He’s won a number of personal awards and won just about every competition put in front of him (the pesky European Championships and Champions League still evade him).
He’s made nearly 600 Serie A appearances since 1995 and at 37 years old, still has that fire to keep going. A very smart and passionate leader on the field, Buffon has been an absolute joy to watch over the years. I’ll raise a glass of wine when he eventually hangs up his gloves.
Honourable mentions: Iker Casillas, Oliver Kahn, Peter Schmeichel
RB – Javier Zanetti
Full back is a criminally under-rated position, but this one is a no brainer for me. A career spanning nearly 1000 club games and not a single grey hair, Zanetti led Inter Milan to the famous treble in 2010, the only captain to lead an Italian club to a treble. Quick, intelligent and possessing immense stamina, he regularly played over 30 games a season deep into his career, he also received only 2 red cards in his whole career.
He won everything put in front of him at Inter, and was a fine servant of the Argentinean national team, making 145 appearances. He retired as Inter were just about ready to sink, but that was probably because he was about to turn 40 as opposed to abandoning the team. They badly need his influence on the pitch, but off the pitch he is the Vice President of the club and global ambassador for the Special Olympics and the SOS Children’s Villages project.
Honourable mentions: Cafu, Tomas Ujfalusi, Gary Neville.
LB – Phillipp Lahm
Arguably the best full back in the world until Pep Guardiola put him in midfield. He stamped his name on world football with a scorcher against Costa Rica on the opening day of the 2006 World Cup. He has been named in the team of the tournament at all 3 World Cups that he has played in and captained Die Nationalmannschaft to glory in 2014. He opted to retire from international football after the World Cup final, presumably to catch up on Mad Men or to prolong his Bayern career.
Quick, tenacious and an astute tackler, he did get utterly destroyed by Fernando Torres in the Euro 2008 final but generally he is considered to be a very consistent and reliable performer. Small in stature but a leader on the pitch, he had the unenviable task of succeeding Michael Ballack as the captain for both club and country but took on the role effortlessly.
As easy as it is to dislike Bayern, I find it very difficult to dislike Phillipp Lahm.
Honourable mentions: Marek Jankulovski, Patrice Evra
CB – Paolo Maldini
Must be something in the water in Italy, Paolo Maldini retired at the ripe age of 41 and was still a nightmare for strikers due to his intelligence and tough tackling. He was the face of AC Milan when I was growing up, as he spent all 25 years of his career at the club, making over 600 league appearances for the Rossoneri (902 in total) and winning 26 trophies, including 5 Champions Leagues.
Some of the world’s best strikers, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo, has regularly stated that Maldini was the toughest defender that they ever faced, with Ronaldo also stating:
“He definitely deserved to win the award FIFA World Player of the Year several times over.”
This article drastically underplays just how good Paolo Maldini was to watch.
CB – Jaap Stam
I was absolutely gutted when he left United, and I think Alex Ferguson was too once he had time to sit back and think about things. For a while, United never really adequately replaced him, at least until they signed Nemanja Vidic.
He won trophies at nearly every club he played at, including the 1998-1999 Champions League for Manchester United. A big, strong defender but surprisingly quick and nimble, not many strikers had a lot of joy coming up against Stam. It would have been nice to keep him at United, especially as he moved to 3 other clubs after he left England.
Honourable mentions: Rio Ferdinand, Carles Puyol, Lucio
CM – Michael Ballack
Very, very unfortunate to be the stand out player of a Germany team in a dark period of transition and even more unfortunate to be a part of the infamous “Neverkusen” team that surrendered the treble in the 2001-2002 season. He was also part of the Germany side that lost the 2002 World Cup final to Brazil. He also suffered another “horror treble” for Chelsea, losing the League Cup, Premier League and the Champions League final.
Still, there was something about Ballack that I admired. The leadership, the passing and the general presence in midfield, he got the job done for Germany many times in his career. He was included in the All-Star team at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and dragged the team to the Euro 2008 final.
Either he’s unfortunate or a complete choker, and somewhat injury prone, but he was still a favourite player of mine. It helped that he had a rocket of a right foot, too.
CM – Zinedine Zidane
This really needs no elaboration. An even better choice if you don’t like Marco Materazzi. If you really want an explanation, watch his goal from the 2002 Champions League final.
Honourable mentions: Phillip Cocu, Juan Carlos Valeron, Pablo Aimar
RAM – Alessandro Del Piero
Simply one of the finest players both on and off the pitch. He enjoyed 19 hugely successful seasons at Juventus, winning everything he could possibly have won at club level, and he’s also scored in every competition that he has played in.
A World Cup winner in 2006, 4th highest goal scorer in Azzuri history, he is also renowned for his gentleman like conduct off the field, as shown by winning the Golden Foot award and various other awards that honour the personality of a player.
Creative, technical and a set-piece specialist with the work rate to boot, he assisted as many goals as he scored. At the fine age of 40, he is still available on a free transfer.
Honourable mentions: Rivaldo, Park-Ji Sung, Alvaro Recoba
CAM – Juninho Pernambucano
Very underrated player, probably not helped by the fact that he stuck with Lyon during their domination of Ligue 1. He scored 76 goals from free-kicks in his career and is probably the best striker of a dead-ball that I’ve ever seen. A very tidy and efficient playmaker, too.
David Beckham? Please. I’d have Juninho taking my set-pieces all day.
Honourable mentions: Hidetoshi Nakata, Clarence Seedorf, Pavel Nedved
LAM – Ryan Giggs
As someone who is part Welsh and has an equally hairy chest, Ryan Giggs was a hero for me growing up. It’s honestly a shame that he was never even up for the Balon d’Or, either. Still, I guess he’s too busy polishing his 13 Premier League medals, two Champions League medals and numerous FA and League Cup medals to care.
He was never sent off at club level in his career, played in the 22 Premier League seasons and scored in 21 of them. He tortured right backs with his dribbling and had a wand of a left foot to match. Alessandro Del Piero is quoted as saying:
“This is embarrassing to say but I have cried twice in my life watching a football player; the first one was Roberto Baggio and the second was Ryan Giggs.”
Honourable mentions: Ze Roberto, Dejan Stankovic, Vicente
ST – Ronaldo
I shed a little tear every time I see “Fat Ronaldo”. Even at Real Madrid he probably wasn’t in the best shape, but still managed to tear defenders apart. He was dubbed “The Phenomenon” for a reason; he had the pace, the movement and the finishing ability to make him a complete striker. I’ll never forget watching Old Trafford clap him off the pitch after he bullied us in the Champions League.
It’s sad that injuries and weight gain took their toll on him later on in his career, but I tuned into Brazil and Real Madrid matches because of Ronaldo. I contemplated buying a Real shirt when I was younger (and when they didn’t cost £90) shirt because of Ronaldo, and I fucking hate Real Madrid. Check his Wikipedia page and watch some highlights on YouTube, again, there’s a reason he was “Il Fenomeno”.
“The best opponent of my career? Ronaldo, Il Fenomeno. Why? Because he was my idol and because, as a football player, he was complete. There will never, in my view, be a better player than him.” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Honourable mentions: Raul, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Alan Shearer
There you have it, and by the time you’ve read this the list would probably have changed but these are a collection of some of my all time favourite individual players, some of which I feel were under-appreciated.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to remember the good old days and watch some classic football adverts. In the meantime, if you’d like to share some of your favourite players and football memories, that’d be great.
And my ego needs the article views.
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