Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Winning Eleven! Best footballers in every position

I am a big sports fan. I remember as far back as 1992, I started following football (soccer) very keenly. I knew the name of many footballers, where they played and where they were from. We had no internet but my friends and I knew the latest news and Sports Highlights (every Monday on GTV) was our favorite program. At some point, we knew so much information, we would organize quizzes for our friends. I've seen a lot of footballers play over the years. Positioning in football has changed, we have people like Ronaldinho wearing jersey #80 and Beckham #23, a marked departure from the days, each person in the starting team had 1 through 11 and a position to play.

I am going to discuss my winning eleven, the top players I've seen play the 11 positions in football. I will be choosing circa 1992 and onward. That removes people like Pele, Maradona, Platini, Roger Milla and everyone who was the gangarea before 1992 from my list. Let's do this.

#1 - Goalkeeper: There are a number of great shot-stoppers to consider but I have to go with Peter Schmeichel. This guy helped Denmark pull one of the biggest coups in football, winning the European Cup in 1992. Remember how he could throw the ball so far? If he was a basketball player, he'll be the best half-court passer and if he played AM football, he'll be Tom Brady. Other nominees are Gianluigi Buffon and Oliver Kahn. Honorable mention: Jose Luis Chilavert, Jorge Campos and Ali Jaraah.

#2 - Right-back: Do you know Cafu was a member of Brazil's World Cup squads in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006? He wins the nod here. I also like Javier Zanetti, Christian Panucci, Gary Neville, here.

#3 - Left back: Paolo Maldini is the best defender ever and this is his position. He was the first defender to make a run for the World's best player. Roberto Carlos is a close second, followed by guys like Bixente Lizarazu, Gianluca Zambrotta, Ashley Cole, Sergi (Spain).

#4 - Centre back: Allow me to call this position the stopper. The guy who intimidates all the strikers. Lilian Thuram wins this one in my book. He played right-back earlier in his career and was a great stopper then too. After him are Alessandro Nesta, Fernando Hierro, Roberto Ayala, Fabio Cannovaro, etc.

#5 - Centre back: Here comes the best sweeper I ever saw: Franco Baresi. This guy was the rock of the AC Milan defence that dominated in the early 1990s. Also considered for this non-nonsense position are Marcel Desailly, Ronald Koeman, Carlos Gamarra, Sol Campbell, etc.

#6 - Defensive midfielder: Claude Makelele owns this position. He is the worst candidate for getting you goals but everyone is looking for the next Makelele for his team these days. He left Real Madrid and they were never the same. Other candidates are Mathias Sammer, Didier Deschamps, Edgar Davids, Roy Keane, and Dunga.

#7 - Right-winger: We have a lot of famous number 7's. C Ronaldo is the best right now but remember when David Beckham was transferred to the Bernabeu and Real Madrid already had Luis Figo. That was something. Luis Figo is the best right winger I ever saw and he has a world best player to boot (2001). After him are Becks, C. Ronaldo, etc.

#8 - Attacking midfielder: Zinedine Zidane is my favorite player ever and the best player I ever saw play. Remember how he samba'ed the Brazilians in the Germany world cup? He is the epitome of an attacking midfielder. There is a big drop-off and then you have the likes of Gianfranco Zola, Steven Gerrard, Lothar Matthaus, Michael Ballack, Paul Scholes, etc.

#9 - Striker: This is for the prototypical goal-getter, the guy who finishes the attack and mostly gets the goal-king. We don't need to go into the record books to see who scored the most but I think (fat) Ronaldo (Luís Nazário) is the best. (I remember when I could rattle his many names and Pele's like it was my own, those were the good old days). Runners-up are George Weah, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Andriy Schevchenko, Samuel Eto'o, Romario, Alan Shearer, Raul, Jurgen Klinsmann, Garbiel Batistuta, Romario, etc.

#10 - Maestro (striker): Pele and Maradona are both number 10s. This is the guy who does the dribbling, showmanship, wins you the set-pieces, creates the chances and the showstopper. Sounds like Ronaldinho is the man here but I will go for someone else - Thierry Henry. I think the biggest crime in modern football is the fact that Henry has never been crowned the world's best player. Ever since he went to Arsenal, he's been the very consistent (except the last couple of seasons) and nothing short of phenomenal. Other candidates are Rivaldo, Hristo Stoichkov, Dennis Bergkamp, Roberto Baggio, Ariel Ortega, Kaka, etc.

#11 - Left winger: Other than George Weah, Ryan Giggs is the best player to have not graced the Mundial in recent memory. Manchester United's Giggsy is one of the symbols of loyalty and is thoroughly respected even outside the annals of the Theatre of Dreams. Other candidates are Marc Overmars, Robert Pires, Arjen Robben, etc.

Coach: Yes, I am really tempted to choose Sir Alex Ferguson but how about that guy coaching the English National team? Yes, Fabio Capello. He's won titles everywhere he's gone - AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus. I hear Jose Mourinho's ego is too big for him to be anyone's assistant coach and Carlos Quieroz is not all that good. I'll have to go with my current favorite coach - the magician called Guus Hiddink. Honorable mention: Claude Le Roy, Giuseppe Dossena, Avram Grant, Paul Jewell, Phillippe Troussier, and Ruud Gullit.

Final list in a 4-4-2 formation - Schmeichel; Cafu, Thuram, Baresi, Maldini; Figo, Makelele, Zidane, Giggs; Ronaldo, Henry

Who do you think deserves a place in my starting eleven? What's yours? Watch out for the African winning eleven.
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