They often say that the best ideas are usually stolen. As we launch “My Favourite XI” on The Football Project, we want to be very clear that we got this off brains much smarter than ours. In February 2011, Gary Andrews and Chris Nee launched “My Favourite XI” on the excellent twofootedtackle.com and we’ve decided that it deserves resurrection.
The idea is simple. This is a chance to celebrate the players you have idolised as a kid and consider to be your modern-day heroes. It’s not a greatest ever 11, and as such we encourage the inclusion of player that others would reckon to be stealing a living as a footballer; Nicklas Bendtner is in the team below. There is also room for five subs.
There are just two rules that we ask you stick to. Firstly, they are your favourite players; not necessarily the finest ever line-up you can think of (though we assume there will be overlap). Secondly, you have to have been alive to see them play (only on TV is fine).
Starting us off, TFP’s Ryan Keaney leads you through his all-time line-up. You should spot a red theme running through the squad.
Goalkeeper: Jorge Campos (Retired)
Everyone has fond memories of their first World Cup. For me that was 1994, but even before Diana Ross had kicked a ball in anger I had become obsessed with Mexico’s Jorge Campos. Not only was he busy diving across buildings as a mural in Nike’s “The Wall” advert, but every World Cup preview I gobbled up in anticipation mentioned his skills as a striker. A goalkeeper and a striker – what’s not to love? My eight-year-old self was practically salivating in hopeful wonder. He was reasonably disciplined from what I remember during the tournament and didn’t try for his usual antics of dribbling to the halfway line. However, I don’t remember being disappointed. The potential of it happening was enough for me. Had he actually been madcap at the biggest tournament in world football; I may not have been able to cope. And those kits? They count as my first fashion influence; right?
Defender: Denis Irwin (Retired)
Being Irish and being a Manchester United player are two big plus points for Denis Irwin, and are easily the main reasons I love him. He always did a job at left back, got up and down the line well and was no doubt a big influence on the Neville brothers when they came through the ranks. He was also pretty decent from a set-piece, although I think he rarely got a look-in once David Beckham had announced himself on the team. You’ve also got to factor in his quiet manner and mumbling voice. He’s a shy man that has never tried to hog the limelight. A model professional that can, at times, mumble in interviews. None of those factors make him an ideal candidate to feature on the Irish equivalent of Match of the Day; but he was booked on there anyway.
Defender: Franco Baresi (Retired)
There weren’t many Sunday afternoons in my childhood that didn’t feature at least 30 minutes of Football Italia in one form or another. Unless there was a horrible clash with a Formula 1 Grand Prix, it was also on the television in my parents and grandparents houses. While I didn’t care about the teams playing on most weekends; it was still football. However, Milan and their phenomenal defence always demanded my attention more than others. I really only saw his later years of Baresi’s career but he was still able to put on a masterclass. The distinctive bald patch made him easy to spot as he marshalled the Milan back four. As a hopeful Premier League defender of the future, it was joyous to watch.
Defender: Sol Bamba (Trabzonspor)
Sol Bamba should be pretty close to a complete centre half of the modern game. He is big and strong, powerful in the air and has decent feet. However, he is a prone to one massive error in every game he plays. Every game. His inconsistency is so spectacularly consistent, it is hard to stay angry at him. Without fail, Big Sol made a horrible mistake in every fixture he played for Hibernian and it was by massive fortune that it went unpunished as often as it did. It quickly got to a point where it just had to be expected as something that happened during a game, causing him to endear himself with the fans rather than frustrate them.
Defender: Robert Trees (Retired)
Back in 2000, my 15 year-old self got pretty cocky about Championship Manager. After discovering that the key to success was doing everything you could to sign a young Joe Cole and a very young Arjen Robben to guide your team through a decade of success; a challenge was invented. Take a non-league player and get him into the England squad. Leigh Railway Mechanics Institute’s right-back Robert Trees, a former Man Utd youth player, was the lucky full-back plucked from obscurity and installed ahead of Gary Neville as right-back for Manchester United. Three seasons and a couple of titles later, Trees earned his call-up alongside Neville (who remained a fixture of Kevin Keegan’s squad despite rarely playing for my United side) and was even rewarded with a cap. In reality, Trees bounced around non-league before finishing his career with FC United of Manchester.
Midfielder: Kieran Richardson (Fulham)
I assume I’m the only person outside of the Richardson family to have “Richardson – 23” on the back of my Man Utd shirt. When I asked for it in the printing shop, the guy checked with me three different times that I meant Kieran Richardson. Don’t ask me why but a general feeling of goodwill for Kieran quickly developed into love. Yes, love. Even though he’s long gone from Old Trafford; I’m still willing him on as he forges a career through the mediocre of the Premier League. Thankfully I was in the crowd when he scored his best United goal against Burton Albion in the FA Cup.
Midfielder: Zlatko Zahovic (Retired)
This has nothing to do with how he was as a player and everything to do with Championship Manager (there is a small theme developing). Playing in the hole behind a strikeforce of Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo for Inter Milan, Zlatko Zahovic was my assisting machine (Milan inexplicably pulled out of Shevchenko and we were to scope up the hitman). In one season of the game that I was addicted to as a teenager, he provided 56 goals (all competitions) for my all conquering side as we dominated Italian football and added the Champions League along the way. My only “real” memory of him is seeing Zlatko slag off his national team manager and get sent home from the 2002 World Cup. However, I’ll forgive him that. He was my greatest ever “discovery” in Champ Man when I plucked him from Porto.
Midfielder: Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
It all started in 2011 when Lucien Favre was appointed as the new manager of Borussia Mönchengladbach. He took a side that many had already assumed would be relegated from the Bundesliga and orchestrated a miraculous escape. At the centre of the success was a certain Marco Reus, who was quickly on his way to be one of the hottest young players in the world. Comfortable on the ball, confident running at defenders, boasting a goal threat and a good team-first mentality when it comes to defensive responsibilities, Reus is a football hipster’s wet dream. Even though he’s departed for Dortmund, he’s still a joy to watch in full flight.
Striker: Ronaldo (Retired)
It’s always the players that rip my own team apart that I tend to admire. As such, Ronaldo has to be in this team. Is it controversial to say he’s been the most natural striker to grace a football pitch in the last 20-30 years. I don’t think so. A wonderful striker; it’s just a shame so many will find off the field or injury problems to remember him by.
Striker: David Healy (Free Agent)
For a few years, it appeared that David Healy was the only man from my home nation able to hit a barn door with a banjo. That in itself is probably enough to warrant a place in this side. Of course, you can add in a goal against England and a hat-trick against Spain and he becomes the first name on the teamsheet. He has never quite been able to do it at club level for one reason or another but in the green of Northern Ireland, he was sublime.
Striker: Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal)
This isn’t explained easily. Nicklas Bendtner is, for all intents and purposes, a bit of a laughing stock. He has done much more to ridicule his reputation off the pitch than he has managed in front of goal; and yet, I can’t help but really, really like him. I don’t like Arsenal; which means I’ve never conjured up thoughts of getting my own Bendtner shirt. However there is still a “Bendtner – 52″ shirt sitting in my account basket on the Gladbach website, thanks to the summer transfer rumours that never came to pass. There is a quality striker in there somewhere. I’m just waiting for him to prove me right with a record-breaking run of goals.
Peter Schmeichel is the reason no goalkeeper for the next 10-15 years won’t be fully trusted in the Old Trafford goal. I wasn’t even able to give Edwin van der Sar the benefit of doubt. Schmeichel was a juggernaut of the game; and his bacon adverts were something to behold.
A Manchester United fan privileged enough to spend his whole career playing for the club he grew up supporting; Gary Neville lived my dream. The lucky sod.
Growing up with parents from both Ireland nations, I supported anyone and everyone in green. His goal against Italy in 1994 caught me off guard. I had been warned that it would be a tough game for the Republic so I didn’t expect to be dancing around the room with a collection of family members in jubilation.
Similar to the Ronaldo reasoning, Kaka’s performances against Manchester United forced admiration on my part. No doubt, he was always a fine player but it was only when he had seemingly glided through the entire United midfield that he got the recognition from me that he deserved. One of those players you’d love to see pull on your team’s shirt for about six months; like Henrik Larsson did.
Scoring a goal in the Champions League final mere second after coming on is pretty impressive. To score the sort of goal that Ricken attempted with his first touch of the game; truly magical. He also scored a decent goal against Man Utd on the way to the final that year. A fine player who had his career ruined by injury.
(Photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald via Flickr)