So after my verbose effort on United (apologies, but I have time on my hands and I do have the ability to talk/write a glass eye to sleep!), Mr Gormley has asked me to construct an International XI with these qualification parameters:
1: I must have seen them live
2: Only one representative per country
So with a much shorter preamble, here we go:
Players who I never saw live, but would have loved to:
Pele – universally recognised as the greatest ever; there are some contenders, but I wouldn’t argue. Even I’m too young to remember the 58 or 62 World Cups, but I do remember him being brutally kicked out of the 66 World Cup. At the 70 World Cup, he was over 30, but just THE star in a team of stars. He dummied the Uruguayan goalkeeper in the semi final that prompted one of Coleman’s greatest commentaries ” Mazurkeweicz was so lost, he had to buy a ticket to get back in the ground!”
Zinadine Zidane – up there with Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Best and Messi; one of the best who unfortunately will be remembered as much for that head butt as he will be for his amazing talent
Alfredo di Stefano – first of his type as a deep lying centre forward, now known as playing in the hole behind the striker; amazing goal scoring record who played for both Argentina and Spain (No, I don’t get it either but things were different then!) and part of the magnificent Real Madrid side of the late 50’s
Duncan Edwards – very few recordings to view, but Sir Bobby described him as the best he’d ever seen. Capped by England at 18, went on to win 18 caps, played 151 times for United and won 2 championship medals, before tragically becoming a victim of the Munich crash aged just 21
Michelle Platini – arsehole now that he has joined the administration ranks, but a truly gifted midfield player in a wonderful French side
Mario Kempes – Fantastic striker who peaked in his home World Cup in 78
Fat Ronaldo – what a striker, his performance at OT in Champions League was rightfully applauded from all four corners of the stadium
Carlos Alberto – Captain of the 1970 Brazilian World Cup winning side, the best national side I’ve seen.
The 1970 and 1982 Brazil National Teams – the former won the World Cup playing football from another planet (the 4th goal in the final against Italy is one of the best ever, finished off by a 20 yard thunderbolt from the RIGHT BACK!!!) and the latter were probably even better going forward, but naive defensively and got found out by Paolo Rossi
Players who I’ve had to exclude because of nationality rules, or because there was just someone slightly better in their position:
Denis Law (sob sob)
And so my selection:
PETER SCHMEICHEL (DENMARK)
Please refer to my earlier post, but the best I’ve ever seen, by a distance!
DANI ALVES (BRAZIL)
You have to be some defender to stand out in that Barcelona side and he does. Bit of a play actor, but great defensively and an extra forward who scores goals. Qualifies based on my one visit to the Nou Camp for a La Liga match against Espanyol.
FRANZ BECKENBAUER (WEST GERMANY)
The Kasier was magnificent. Started off as a midfielder and I saw him at 17 in a pre World Cup friendly at Wembley in February 1966. Like all great players, he always had time, but he always had SO much time which was a testament to his unrivalled ability to read the game. Won everything as both a player and manager and was the finest exponent of the sweeper role I’ve ever seen; he’d have to be, to be in front of Scirea. Absolute no brainer of a choice.
BOBBY MOORE (ENGLAND)
Mr Cool; almost a carbon copy of Beckenbauer; cool under pressure (the pass to Hurst for the 4th goal in the 66 final summed him up; most defenders would have hacked it up the pitch to waste time, but not Bobby; calmly dribbled the ball to the edge of the area and picked out Hurst with a 40 yard pass into his path to run in on goal, brilliant); you will rarely see a photo of Bobby in a dirty kit as he never made last ditch tackles as his reading of situations was such, that he normally intercepted the ball rather than having to tackle. Shame that we lost him so young.
PAOLO MALDINI (ITALY)
Not a bad back five? Paolo Maldini – the man who has it all; fantastically handsome; married to a stunningly beautiful ex model; two sons, both of whom are already in Milan’s academy; oh, and he could play football a bit!! Gifted player who was comfortable at either centre half or left back; could use either foot, although naturally right footed, and great in the air; won everything at club level, only played for one club and his spell at AC Milan spanned 25 years in the first team, including seven Scudettos and FIVE Champions League titles, but surprisingly for an Italian, and 125 caps, no major international honours. When people discuss the best ever, defenders rarely get mentioned, but Maldini is truly a legendary great of the game. Qualifies as I saw him at OT in 2007 in Champions League match
GEORGE BEST (NORTHERN IRELAND)
Again please refer to my earlier post. Quote from a BRAZILIAN journalist ‘Maradona great, Pele better, George Best’
Toss up between him and Iniesta, but rules only permit one. Ability to play a ball, mere mortals wouldn’t even see. Crucial part of the best club side I have seen and has won every honour in the game at both club and International level. Hard to believe that he came on as sub for Barca in the 91 ECWC final against United? Not as nailed on as some of my other choices, but still a world class player. Qualifies as part of the same match as Alves.
JOHAN CRUYFF (THE NETHERLANDS)
Only time I saw the great man live was when The Netherlands gave England a football lesson at Wembley in 1977; my first view of total football and although Jan Peters got the headlines for scoring both goals, Cruyff was simply magnificent and outshone everybody on the pitch, including Neeskens, Rep, Van Der Kerkhof, Clemence, Brooking, Keegan, Beattie and Francis. England were chasing ghosts all night and no-one could have complained had the Dutch won 5 or 6 nil. Cruyff, allegedly, was, and still is, a pig off the pitch and led many a players revolt at major tournaments, but he won every honour playing in The Netherlands and Spain and went on to a successful management career. Unlucky at international level to come up against the hosts in both 74 and 78 World Cup finals; particularly unfortunate to lose a tight final against West Germany in 74, but they gave Gerd Muller room in the box once and that was that! Argentina then overpowered the Dutch in extra time in the 78 final, but like so many great players, never quite made that ultimate playing accolade, when unfortunately many less gifted players have!
LIAM BRADY (REPUBLIC OF IRELAND)
What, I will hear many shout? However, based on the players I have seen live, there won’t be many who were as gifted as Brady and those that were have had to be excluded on International rules. I genuinely believe that had Brady been born in a top international footballing nation, he would be even more acclaimed. A wand of a left foot and an understanding of the game that made up for a lack of genuine pace. After a vaunted career at Arsenal, where he became the first non British player to win the PFA player of the Year, he moved to Italy and became a much respected and heralded member of a Juventus team that won two consecutive Scudettos. He then moved on to enhance his reputation at Sampdoria, Inter and Ascoli before returning to the UK at West Ham. One of the few British Isles players to genuinely make a success overseas, perhaps linked to the fact that he was/is an intelligent man who embraced the new culture of a foreign land as well as being a top class footballer?
CHRISTIANO RONALDO (PORTUGAL)
Again, please refer to my previous post; you have to be good to keep out Eusebio, who was a fantastic striker, but Ronaldo is up there with the greatest there’s ever been.
LIONEL MESSI (ARGENTINA)
Keeps Maradona out of my team (who I saw at OT in a ECWC game when he was at Barcelona) and up until 3 years ago, I would have said that is impossible! Only player I have seen (on aforementioned game v Espanyol, where he scored both Barca goals including another hand of God goal from an Argentinian!) that might even be better than Pele. I don’t believe his inclusion needs any explanation, but he is a truly wonderful player, coupled with humility, sportsmanship and an apparent complete lack of ego – a throw back to the good old days before money and gamesmanship screwed up our beautiful game.