In a homage to the series returning, I felt it was time to decide upon the players who have particularly caught my eye throughout my life. There are no real parameters for this selection; some have impressed on the pitch whilst others have impressed on Championship Manager during its many guises. As stated in the rules, this is not a ‘best ever’ side but merely my favourite players.
As you will see there are a disproportionate amount of Serie A players in my team owing to the fact that Italian football was nearly all I watched during the early days of Sky TV as my father refused to buy the service. As it turned out it was a blessing in disguise as I grew up watching the best league in the World during the early 1990s and learnt more about tactics and saw more individual skill than I possibly would have done by watching the English Premier League at the time.
Previous Favourite XI: Ryan Keaney
Goalkeeper: Jose Luis Chilavert (retired)
Despite only seeing Chilavert on TV a handful of times it was impossible for me to ignore the legendary Paraguayan goalie. I first heard about him in World Soccer and then became fascinated in this goal scoring goalkeeper; which of course is such a rarity. It was the World Cup in 1998 that enabled me to witness his extraordinary set piece prowess and I was hooked. If only he was still playing now and was incorporated into the new Football manager games everyone could watch him sprinting up and down the pitch to their heart’s content. Whilst he was certainly not the best goalie I have seen in my life he was certainly the most entertaining.
Defender: Paolo Maldini (retired)
How any best or favourite side could be without arguably the best defender the game has ever seen is beyond me. I have vague recollections of my father telling me about this young player during the 1990 World Cup and the over the proceeding 19 years he established himself as the world’s best. Either at centre back or left back he was simply phenomenal. His ability to tackle and distribute the ball from the back was second to none and he was a pleasure to watch every time he played; a true ambassador for the game.
Defender: Colin Hendry (retired)
As a Blackburn fan it was impossible to look beyond Hendry for my first choice centre back. I am a firm believer in the fact that every good centre back pairing needs someone comfortable on the ball along with someone willing to put their body on the line; Hendry is without a doubt the latter. I remember watching him a few times at Ewood Park during his career and he was a leader and a colossus.
Defender: Fabio Cannavaro (retired)
This was arguably my toughest decision. As mentioned above I would prefer to have a more elegant partner alongside Hendry but Alessandro Nesta missed the final cut and was replaced by Cannavaro. The main reason for this selection was because in my humble opinion he was the finest defender I have watched throughout my lifetime. From his early days at Parma to lifting the World Cup for Italy in 2006 he was sublime. Whenever he found himself up against a top player he just moved through the gears and generally negated the threat effectively. His contribution for Italy’s win over Germany in the semi-final against Germany typified his character and his overall will to win.
Defender: Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan – STILL)
Since moving to Inter Milan in 1995 Zanetti has been an ever present in their side and has captained with distinction. When Inter won the treble a few years ago it was so pleasing to see the Argentine rewarded for his commitment and passion he has shown. A world class player and one of the last players we may see putting loyalty ahead of money!
Midfielder: Fernando Redondo (retired)
Redondo is probably the player I saw least in this selection but his performance against Manchester United when playing for Real Madrid in the 1999/2000 season began my fascination with the defensive midfield position. Unfortunately his career was cut short by injuries but to this day I remember how he controlled the entire game and then produced that moment of utter genius towards the end. He was a technically brilliant player playing in front of the back four in what I normally thought was just a defensive role. Claude Makelele had the position named after him, for a time, but for me it will always be the ‘Redondo role’.
Midfielder: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona and Spain)
The finest European player I have seen in my lifetime. There, I have said it. The way he glides around the pitch is simply not normal; it is not something you can teach either, it is an innate trait he possesses which has been honed and improved playing for Barcelona. Iniesta has achieved almost everything in the game and yet remains hungry for more silverware. A true winner and at 29 years old still has much to offer domestically and Internationally.
Midfielder: Alessandro Del Piero (Sydney FC)
Although technically speaking Del Piero should be a forward I had to find a way to squeeze him in. I first saw him play during his early days at Juventus and he was the most talented young player I had ever seen. His technical ability allied with his set piece wizardry made him an instant favourite. Despite his career threatening injury sustained in 1998 he returned to the top and helped Italy win the World Cup in 2006. His celebration against Germany in the semi-final is my abiding memory of that World Cup as he laid the ghosts of Euro 2000 to rest.
Forward: Kevin Gallagher (retired)
Another Blackburn player had to make the starting XI and Kevin Gallagher remains my favourite striker the club has ever had. Despite not playing a great deal for the club due to injury and Alan Shearer his record of a goal every three games remains impressive. His goal against Crystal Palace in the Premier League winning season proved to be crucial but unfortunately the injury he sustained meant his career took longer than it should have done to take off.
Forward: Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima (retired)
The greatest number nine in my lifetime and probably my second favourite player of all time. The goals he scored during his year at Barcelona remain some of the greatest I have ever witnessed. The fall out from the World Cup final in 1998 clearly left a lasting impression on him but his return in 2002 when almost he single handedly won the World Cup was something I will never forget (obviously heightened by his peculiar hair cut too!). He remains the leading scorer in the competition and I for one hope it remains that way.
Forward: Roberto Baggio (retired)
My favourite player of all time without a shadow of a doubt. Despite only being seven at the time I can still remember watching his goal against Czechoslovakia during the 1990 World Cup and my fascination with Baggio begun. His seasons at Bologna and Brescia were the ones that really stood out for me and obviously his performance in the 1994 World Cup where he guided Italy to the final all on his own.
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
The best goalkeeper of all time! Ever since I watched his first few performances for Parma he has stood head and shoulders above any other keeper. Despite the fact that he has possibly the oddest running action his handling skills and concentration remain a thing of beauty.
Alessandro Nesta (retired)
He was in all my provisional lists but only made the bench at the final selection. His ability to read the game was probably the best I have ever seen from a defender and his sliding tackles were a thing of beauty.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
The fact that he is still only 29 years old irritates me more than anyone could possibly imagine. Having amassed 98 caps for Germany already and finally winning the Champions League with his beloved Bayern he will go down in history as one of the greats.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
The best I have ever seen. Messi does things that no other player in my lifetime could do. I watched his debut for Barcelona and try to watch any game he plays in. One of his key characteristics that sets him apart from anyone else is the smile on his face; he enjoys every game he plays and everyone else loves watching him.
Tim Sherwood (retired)
Club winning captain in 1994/95 and forever a Blackburn legend. Many forget that in his day he was a wonderful box to box player and scored some crucial goals. His coaching career has started well and I am hopeful he will one day return to the club as manager (once the Venkys have departed).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)