This post was inspired by Luke Smalley of Tattooed Football, so before I go any further I must thank him (he’s a very good follow, by the way, at @tattooed_2). Luke sent round a question on Twitter about who would comprise our dream XI: it’s an exercise I had never seriously attempted before, so I thought I’d set out my all-star team here.
In the end, it was a fairly easy decision. There have been so many astonishing players over the years that I expected to struggle with my selection: however, I did what I normally do in such situations, and relied on what we can call “The Avengers Test”. Simply put, if a group of particularly malevolent alien FC turned up with a death-ray and threatened the Earth with annihilation, which superheroes would I pick to defend our world?
I opted for the 4-2-3-1 formation, which is by far my favourite. The choices soon made themselves. Peter Schmeichel was impassable as Gandalf on that bridge. The only other goalkeeper who could conceivably have matched him for agility, distribution and sheer penalty area aura was possibly Lev Yashin. Iker Casillas is a supreme shot-stopper, Dino Zoff a master, but the Dane takes it. He was one of very few custodians who would have the authority to captain this eleven.
Cafu is my right-back. As a veteran of three World Cup finals, victorious in two, the small matter of an Armageddon playoff would be a joy to him. Central defensive duties fall to the duo of Franz Beckenbauer and Franco Baresi, the former of whom would step forward out of defence whilst the latter would sweep. Left-back must be Paolo Maldini. Often as elegant in possession as Marco van Basten, Maldini made the art of tackling look swift and clean as a bloodless coup.
The two deep-lying midfield spots go to Xavi and Roy Keane. The Spaniard’s control of midfield tempo was greater even than that of Fernando Redondo, and Irishman is simply the most competitive soul that I have seen in any sport.
My three playmakers are Leo Messi (beginning on the right), Diego Maradona (central) and Zinedine Zidane (along the left). Zidane would drift infield and encourage Maldini to overlap. Messi narrowly gets the nod over Johan Cruyff, whilst my decision to include Zidane ahead of Alfredo di Stefano may, on reflection, prove to be the only one that I regret. – Actually – you know what – to hell with it. I’ll give di Stefano the nod over Zidane. The two question marks over Zidane concern his goal tally (he was a very good finisher but deferred a great deal) and his temperament. Di Stefano, meanwhile, was better in both areas, and his stamina would prove an excellent asset down the left flank.
That leaves the centre-forward spot, which goes to The Phenomenon, or Ronaldo. At his peak Ronaldo had the technique of van Basten, the acceleration of Romario, the finishing of Gerd Muller, the power of Eusebio, and the presence of Pele.
So there we go. A side fit to see off all-comers – to terrify whatever threats to our Earth emerged from the depths of black holes and rival galaxies. Since it’s a one-off game, I’d ask Rinus Michels to be its manager.
Naming substitutes for this one is probably harder, in a funny way. But I’ve managed it, I think; here are seven. Dino Zoff would deputise for Schmeichel, edging out Lev Yashin and Iker Casillas; Giancinto Facchetti over Roberto Carlos; then Lilian Thuram and Lothar Matthäus: and Zinedine Zidane would sit bemused next to Johan Cruyff and Pelé.
Phew. That’s that; yes, the subs were actually harder to choose than the main team. Here they are one last time, and thanks again to Luke.
Manager: Rinus Michels
Team (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Cafu, Beckenbauer, Baresi, Maldini; Xavi, Keane; Messi, Maradona, di Stefano; Ronaldo.
Substitutes: Zoff, Facchetti, Thuram, Matthaus; Zidane, Cruyff, Pelé.
Predicted scoreline (why not, eh?): 4-0 (Ronaldo, di Stefano, Beckenbauer, Messi). Take that, Universe.