This is the first of a series of articles on the best XI of each continent. This week’s article is the best XI of the continent Europe. Here is the team:
GK-Lev Yashin Yashin is arguably the greatest goalkeeper that the world has ever seen. “The Black Spider” won European footballer of the year in 1963 and is the only keeper to have won the Ballon d’Or, also in 1963. A Muscovite, he is the greatest player in Soviet and Russian history and was renowned for his quick reflexes, he has saved over 150 penalties after all! He was awarded the order of Lenin, the highest USSR award possible.
RB-Lillian Thuram Thuram just sneaks in at right-back ahead of Franco Baresi due to his athleticism, a key attribute at full-back. Thuram could also play at centre back and was a versatile player, experiencing great success, winning plenty of competitions, the highlight being the 1998 World Cup win and the 2000 Euros win with France. He scored two crucial goals in the 1998 semi-final against Croatia in a 2-1 win and his goal scoring capabilities would add to the attacking potency of this team.
CB-Bobby Moore Moore is an iconic English legend, captaining England to their first and only world cup in 1966. Pelé said he was the greatest defender that he ever faced. Moore recently held the outfield English national team record for the number of caps, with 108. However, David Beckham, in 2009, broke that record, though unlike Moore did not play every single minute for every one of his caps. There is a statue of him outside Wembley Stadium in his honour.
LB-Paolo Maldini Maldini is another brilliant defender. Naturally right footed, he managed to convert himself to both footed after kicking a ball at a wall for hours with his left foot. This saw him make the move from centre back to left back, where he was one of the greatest players in AC Milan’s history. He has one 5 Champions League titles in an illustrious career that saw him retire at the veteran age of 41, a staggering achievement which shows the extent of the work done by the Milan Lab.
SW-Franz Beckenbauer Der Kaiser was a fabulous player, elegant, stylish and composed. He was a natural leader also, guiding West Germany to a world cup as Captain in 1974 and then repeating the achievement as manager of West Germany in 1990. He was a brilliant passer of the ball and could carry the ball out of defence with speed and flair. I would play him in his classic sweeper role, where he could mop up danger, helping out the three man defence and then give the ball to Cruyff, Zidane, Xavi or Ronaldo. He won the Ballon d’Or award twice in his career and is a Bayern Munich legend.
RM-Johan Cruyff Cruyff epitomises total football. A versatile player who is regarded by some as the greatest player to ever kick a football, he would be fine playing slightly out of position at left midfield. Some people will criticise me for not putting Stanley Matthews or George Best at right midfield but Cruyff has to play. Cruyff’s or Cruijff’s tactical knowledge would also aid the team and total football would suit this side. I would say that Cruyff is the greatest player to never win a World Cup, having won the European player of the century award in 1999. The award was voted on by International Federation of Football History and Statistics. Cruyff also came second in the IFFHS’ world player of the century poll. He was the greatest European player ever.
CM-Zinedine Zidane Zizou was part of the same French team Thuram participated in that one the 1998 World Cup and the Euro 2000 win, scoring a vital golden goal against Portugal in the semi-finals. He was a brilliant, dynamic midfielder who was great at set pieces, which may cause arguments between him and Ronaldo! His range of passing should work very nicely along with Xavi. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1998.
CM-Xavi Xavi has become a figurehead for the Tiki-Taka played by Barcelona and Spain. An evloution of Cruyff’s total football philosophy, Xavi and the Dutchman would get on very well. It was Cruyff after all who promoted Xavi to the Barcelona first team. Xavi’s pass completion rates rarely dip below 99% and he, along with the rest of this team, could pass teams to death. He is a brilliant playmaker and would be brilliant for playing the final pass.
LM-Cristiano Ronaldo Ronaldo would bring pace and power to this side. He is a great player and would be the greatest in the world if it wasn’t for Lionel Messi. He is the most expensive player in world history and has scored an impressive 319 goals in 515 career appearances, from predominantly the left wing. Cruyff and Ronaldo cutting in from the wings would make this team very hard to mark, especially if they interchange with the central midfielders or centre forwards. He has one Ballon d’Or in his name and but for Messi would have many, many more.
CF-Eusébio The Mozambican born striker Eusébio is a Portuguese and Benfica legend. He managed to fire Portugal to an impressive third place in the 166 world cup, the best finish in the country’s history. The Black Panther would bring great speed and technique to this side, his fierce shot being a great attribute. He won the Ballon d’Or award in 1965 and was runner up in the years 1962 and 1966. His goal per game record is ridiculous, scoring 585 goals in 571 games.
CF-Gerd Müller Müller would be a brilliant asset to this side, and like Eusébio is a great goalscorer. The German 655 goals in 709 games and Der Bomber holds the record for the most international goals in games, with 66 goals in 74 European club games. He was a brilliant, archetypal poacher and would be able to finish all of the chances that this team would create for him.
This was a very hard team to choose, leaving out Ferenc Puskás was the hardest decision I had to make. Alfredo Di Stefano could also have made the squad, as he represented Spain, I am classing him as an Argentine though. I would like to thank Zak Rowe and Jeremy Skinner for helping me with the decision making progress. Next up will be the North American team!