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A few months ago I was reading an autobiography by Terry Venables, entitled The Best Game in the World. The former Tottenham Hotspur, and Barcelona manager and England coach had an interesting approach to a traditionally boring genre of book (the sports biography). He looked to explain his ideas and approaches to the game. Additionally, he threw up several dream teams during the course of his prose. This got me thinking about who I would choose, if I could put together an all star football side.


This dream team is a comprehensive selection, which includes players from a global perspective and regardless of generation. Basically, I’ve gone for an all time best of the best men’s eleven-a-side squad, including seven substitutes and a coach. Formation wise, I’ve chosen an old fashioned 3-2-5 setup, akin to the early twentieth centuries sides, but seems to have come back into consciousness recently through Pep Guardiola. Although my first hand knowledge of football is no where near that of (el-Tel) Terry Venables, I am writing this a couple of decades after the release of his aforementioned piece of literature. Also, football is a game of opinions and this is just my humble addition to the conversation.


Spurs fans at the old White Hart Lane stadium. Photo Copyright; Tao MacLeod.

Goalkeeper

Manuel Neur (Germany); the current captain of Bayern Munich and the German national team is the world’s foremost sweeper-keeper. With my choice of a three at the back formation, I thought that a rather more mobile goalie would be the logical choice over my alternative on the bench. At 37 years old, he’s one of the few in this team who is still playing. Neur is a World Cup winner (Brazil 2014), as well as owning two Champions League medals. 


Right Centre-Back

Bobby Moore (England); the only Englishman to have skippered his national team to a World Cup victory. Hailing from the working class area of Barking, in East London, he came through at his local side West Ham United. A thoughtful and intelligent defender, he was widely recognised as one of the best players of his generation, striking up a friendship, borne of mutual respect, with Pele of Brazil – both of whom appeared in football movie Escape to Victory.


Centre-Back

Franz Beckenbauer (Germany); Der Kaiser has been credited with having invented the libero/sweeper role within football. Playing equally well as a central defender, or a midfielder, often bringing the ball out from defence, he liberated defenders from being mere thugs, prompting a more thoughtful, technical version of the game. As a Bayern Munich player he won three European Cups, as well as the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1967. With West Germany, Beckenbauer won the 1972 European Championships and the 1974 World Cup, against rivals Holland. 


Left Centre-Back

Paolo Maldini (Italy); an AC Milan legend he was a part of the Italian side that came third at Italia ’90 and second at the USA ’94 World Cup. Nicknamed “Il Capitano”, he is widely considered one of the greatest defenders of all time. He played predominately as a left-back, or a centre-back, who spent his entire career at one club. Whilst at the Rossoneri, he won five Champions League titles, as well four UEFA Super Cups and a FIFA Club World Cup.


Right Half-Back

Zinedine Zidane (France); probably the best footballer that I grew up watching, Zizou was the most iconic player of his generation. He even had a movie made about him, where a series of cameras just focused on his play during a particular match, which was then produced in an artistic style. A part of the French team that won the 1998 World Cup 2000 European Championships he was also a member of the Real Madrid Galácticos. He won the Ballon d’Or once and the FIFA World Player of the Year three times. 


Left Half-Back

Xavi Hernández (Spain); a deep lying playmaker for the great Barcelona and Spain teams of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. Having come through the world-renowned Barcelona youth academy, that encourages technical skill over athleticism and intelligence over brute force, Hernández became well known for his vision and ball retention abilities. During his prime he won back to back international championships with Spain (2008 European Championships, 2010 World Cup, 2012 European Championships). 


Right Winger

Leo Messi (Argentina); he was a part of the same Barcelona team as Xavi Hernández that won four Champions League titles between 2006 and 2015. Messi won his first World Cup medal, as captain of Argentina, in 2022. He was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2009, as well as the Ballon d’Or seven times. He is probably the greatest player that I will ever see in my lifetime, who can do anything he wants with the ball. Arguably a better all round footballer than Christiano Ronaldo, who is more of a centre forward. 


Playmaker/Number 10

Diego Maradona (Argentina); winner of the 1986 World Cup, as well as a runner up in 1990, he was, alongside Pele, a joint winner FIFA Player of the 20th Century. Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, there will always a question of how good he could have been if it wasn’t for all of the drink and the drugs he made use of over the years. Maradona is an icon of Argentine football, as well as club sides Boca Juniors (in his home country) and Italian side Napoli, with whom he also won the 1989 UEFA Cup.


Left Winger

Johan Cruyff (Holland); alongside Rinus Michels, he was a proponent of the playing philosophy Total Football. This was a tactical system that any outfield player could take over the role of any one of his, or her, team mates. It started out at his first club Ajax of Amsterdam, but was later developed by the Dutch national team and FC Barcelona (of which Hernández and Messi were latterly educated in). A three time winner of the European Cup and the Ballon d’Or, he was also a part of the Holland side that reached the 1974 World Cup Final. He even had a piece of technical skill named after him (the Cruyff Turn), after he turned a full-back inside out during a match. Johan Cruyff would be my captain. 


Inside Right

Pele (Brazil); alongside this side’s playmaker, he was the other joint winner FIFA Player of the 20th Century. Additionally, the International Olympic Committee named him Athlete of the Century, in 1999. Another star of the football movie Escape to Victory, he burst onto the global scene as a teenager at the 1958 World Cup. Scoring twice in the final, this was the first of his three World Cup titles. The 1970 triumph, however, is considered the cherry on the cake for Pele. The Brazilian national team of this era played such beautiful football during these finals, that Garry Jenkins wrote a book about the side, called ‘the Beautiful Team’.


Inside Left

Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal); one of the greatest players of his generation, he struck up a playing rivalry with Leo Messi in the style of the Pele and Maradona storyline from a previous generation. Having started out with his local side Sporting Lisbon, he gained broader recognition as a teenager at Manchester United. However, he spent the prime of his playing career at Real Madrid, whilst Messi was at Spanish rivals Barcelona in the ‘el Clásico’ derby. Internationally, he won the 2016 European Championships with Portugal, but he has also won five Championships League titles with two different clubs. Ronaldo also has in his trophy cabinet five Ballon d’Ors and a FIFA World Player of the Year award. 


Coach

Rinus Michels (Holland); one of the greatest coaches of all time, I chose him as he was one of the proponents of playing philosophy Total Football. In doing so, he has had a long term positive impact on what came after he retired. Future generations of coaches, including John Cruyff and Pep Guardiola have expanded on his style of play, but he was a foremost thinker of aesthetically pleasing footy in the 1960’s and ’70’s. As a team manager, he won the European Cup with Ajax of Amsterdam in 1971, as well as the European Championships in 1988, with the Dutch national team, also losing the final of the 1974 World Cup.


The Half Court Press All Time World Dream Team (Football). Click on the image to listen to the Half Court Press Podcast.

Substitutes

Gordon Banks (England); Goalkeeper – winner of the 1966 World Cup, as well as the English League Cup with Leicester City in 1964. He won the FIFA World Goalkeeper of the Year six times in a row, between 1966 and 1971. Nicknamed ‘Banks of England’, his top grade career was effectively ended after he lost the use of an eye in a car crash, in 1972. 


John Charles (Wales); Defender/Forward – a versatile player, who played for Leeds United, Juventus, Roma and Merthyr Tydfil. He played for Wales in the 1958 World Cup, alongside his brother Mel. His side lost to Pele’s Brazil in the Quarter Final, however Welsh manager, Jimmy Murphy, is reported to have said the had Charles been fully fit, then they would have won the match. He is arguably one of the best all-round footballers to have come out of Britain. 


Marcel Desailly (France); Defender/Midfielder – one of the greatest centre-backs of all time he also played as a defensive midfielder. Desailly was a part of the French side that won the 1998 world Cup and 2000 European Championships. A two time Champions League winner with Marseille and AC Milan. 


Lothar Matthäus (Germany); Defender/Midfielder – the natural successor to Franz Beckenbauer, he was also a ball carrying defensive player. A long and distinguished playing career saw him win the European Championships with West Germany in 1980 and the World Cup in 1990, as well as the UEFA Cup, with Bayern Munich in 1996. 


George Best (Northern Ireland); Midfield/Forward – the greatest Irish player of all time Best is one of the most gifted players to have never graced the FIFA World Cup. He was a European Cup winner with Manchester United in 1968, before going off to play in the experimental NASL, with Pele, Beckenbauer, Banks and Cruyff. 


Alfredo Di Stefano (Argentina/Spain); Midfield/Forward – nicknamed Saeta Rubia, the Blond Arrow, he played for both Argentina and Spain, before regulations on international representation were as firm as they are today. Di Stefano was a part of the first great Real Madrid side of the 1950’s and ’60’s. A now iconic player at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, he won five European Cups between 1956 and 1960. 


Ronaldo (Brazil); Forward – a multi-functional forward, he showed the world what more an attacking player could do, influencing players such as Didier Drogba and Harry Kane. The Brazilian Ronaldo was one of the most famous players to cross the Spanish divide, having played for Barcelona, before going to the Galáticos of Real Madrid. He played in three World Cup finals, losing to France in 1998, winning in 1994 and 2002.


Football Dream Team. Click on the image to listen to the Half Court Press Podcast.

Click on the image to listen to the Half Court Press Podcast.

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