All Time Soccer XI
After reading a number of Jarrod’s Alphabet Basketball teams it got me thinking about a Soccer XI and who would be in it. George Best, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona and Pele were just a few names to cross my mind until I decided to stick to players I’d seen play the game. This ruled out the majority of the above who were before my time and while I did have the pleasure of seeing Maradona in action I feel like I just missed his glory years and caught what many people call the ‘Fat Maradona’ years. He was still good. Just not 1986 tearing England apart in the World Cup good.
Like any opinion piece there are going to be aspects of the article that have you nodding in agreement and there will be parts were you’re yelling at the screen. I apologize for neither.
Goalkeeper – Peter Schmeichel. Although a Luton Town fan I grew up watching a lot of Manchester United due to that being the family team. Schmeichel came in as a relative nobody in 1991 for £505,000 a price Sir Alex Ferguson called the bargain of the century. The next year he won the European Championships with Denmark, announcing himself during the tournament as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. His time at United ended in the perfect way as he left after collecting the treble in 1999.
Left-back – Roberto Carlos. A free-kick specialist Roberto Carlos da Silva Rocha won La Liga four times and Champions League three times during his nine years at Real Madrid. He also won two Copa America titles and a World Cup with Brazil. Forever known for his free-kick versus France in 1997 it is often forgotten the part he played in full backs becoming more of an attacking threat. He could tirelessly work the left-wing and with both Madrid and Brazil was given the freedom to get forward and put balls into the box.
Right-Back – Philipp Lahm. With Carlos on one side it was necessary to have the same style on the right and who better than Philipp Lahm. The German international could play either side and while fantastic going forward made his name by being defensively sound. Lahm captained Germany to the World Cup in 2014 before retiring from international football. It’s no surprise the national team has found it difficult to replace the former Bayern Munich man.
Center-Back – Lothar Matthäus. I wanted a team who could play out from the back therefore I started with probably the best ball-playing defender to ever grace a field. Matthäus started and played the majority of his career as a box to box midfielder but during his biggest achievement, the 1990 World Cup, he moved to a sweeper position where he would play the rest of his career. Matthäus retired in 2000 with the New York/New Jersey Metrostars (now known as the New York Red Bulls) of Major League Soccer but came out of retirement in 2018 to play 50 minutes with German side 1. FC Herzogenaurach, the team he played his youth football with during the 1970s. He was 57 years old at the time.
Center-Back – Paolo Maldini. If I’m going to pick one ball-playing defender I might as well do two. Therefore Paolo Maldini gets the call despite spending a lot of his career at left-back. Maldini came from a footballing family and father Cesare Maldini was a prominent player and manager in Italy. Normally that can be a hindrance but instead Paolo became even more beloved with dominant performances for AC Milan and Italy. While he failed to win any major honors with Italy he won seven Serie A titles and five Champions League titles.
Defensive Midfielder – Roy Keane. I could have picked Deschamps, Pirlo, Iniesta, or a number of others but Roy Keane to me was the greatest defensive midfielder to play the game. I’m sure he’ll hate the word defensive in there as that limits what he could do but there was no denying with a united team that had Giggs, Beckham and Scholes he was often the player sitting so they could torment defenses. Nothing wrong with that. Especially when you were as gifted as Keane. He could pass, shoot, tackle, and most of all talk. Sure it might have come across more as shouting but he often led by example and if you weren’t living up to standards he wasn’t shy in letting you know. Often called the manager on the pitch Keane had the respect of his team-mates and struck fear into the opposition.
Center Midfielder – Xavier Hernández Creus. Paul Scholes may be one of the most underrated midfielders to ever play the game. Xavi is not far off. The mastermind behind Barcelona’s dominance Xavi was also a major part of Spain’s dominance between 2008 and 2012 when they won two European Championships and a World Cup. Add six La Liga’s and four Champions League titles and it’s quite unbelievable this didn’t lead to individual honors as he was overlooked for the Ballon d’Or on a number of occasions with third-place finishes in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Center Midfielder – Zinedine Zidane. With Keane and Xavi playing from deep who better to terrorize defenses then Zidane. There’s no doubt the French midfielder was an all-round great player but he did his most damage in the opposition half of the field. Alongside Keane he would add a mean streak when needed (remember his headbutt on Marco Materazzi?) while going forward his creativity would mean a number of chances for strikers who don’t miss. World Cup winner in 1998 and European Championship in 2000, Zidane also picked up a Ballon d’Or during his career to add to La Liga and Serie A titles.
Attacking Midfielder – Lionel Messi. The best player I’ve ever seen and there’s not even a debate. Since his competitive debut in 2004 he has won 10 La Liga titles, four Champions League titles, and was a winner of the Ballon d’Or six times. While most work endless hours at their craft Messi made everything look so easy. Slight of frame, his balance was second to none and when the ball was at his feet it seemed impossible to dispossess him. Rio Ferdinand said it best when he spoke about Messi’s performance against Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League Final “I was standing there watching them lift the trophy and me, Giggsy and Scholesy were standing together with our hands over our mouths and I said: ‘I feel embarrassed lads.’ He [Messi] took liberties.”
Forward – Cristiano Ronaldo. Personally I cannot stand the man. He’s an egotistical knob whose crybaby antics at every touch in his early days left me at boiling point. Professionally he’s one of the greatest players to ever live. You have to take the good with the bad I suppose. Ronaldo in his early days at Manchester United was nothing more than a show pony. Step over after flick after step over led to little or no end product, then he learned. Moments of skill don’t win you games, goals do and after bulking up to become the specimen he is today Ronaldo tore the Premier League apart before departing for Madrid, and lastly Turin to show he can do it anywhere, anytime, no matter the circumstances.
Forward – Marco Van Basten. The best out and out striker I’ve ever seen. Left foot, right foot, or head he could beat you in so many ways. His volley goal against the Soviet Union in 1988 is still one of the greatest goals I’ve ever witnessed. Van Basten won the Ballon d’Or three times in his career including 1988 when he was a part of the Dutch team to win the European Championships and 1989 after leading AC Milan to the Champions League, their first in twenty years. To think Van Basten did all this before he turned 28 is remarkable and leaves you wondering what could have been had injury not cut his career short.
Gabriel Batistuta ran Van Basten close as another striker who had it all. Playing in Italy for most of his career it was always a joy to watch him terrorize defenses with his movement and finishing. Sadly injuries also hampered his career.
It was difficult to leave out Paul Scholes as his underrated ability could change a game in an instance. The fact Ronaldo, Zidane, Keane, and Xavi all speak so highly of him tells you more about the player than I ever could.
As for defenders I really wanted to put Gary Neville in there but felt with the formation I wanted to play Lahm was the better choice. There’s no doubt though that the combination of Neville and Beckham and later Neville and Ronaldo were big reasons behind Manchester United being so successful during that time.
And lastly, Dennis Bergkamp. I wasn’t an Arsenal fan and I refuse to put Thierry Henry in there due to his cheating antics in 2005 that cost the Republic of Ireland a place at the 2006 World Cup, but there was no denying Bergkamp’s talents playing off the striker.