XI Gifted Footballers

When it comes to talented footballers there have been many and this XI is by no means definitive. These guys are picked for their footballing gifts rather than achievements, which means there is one or two you might not normally find in fantasy line-ups and as such, there are a few controversial omissions too. There is no denying they are amongst the best to have ever played the game. However this team, if it were to play together it would probably be considered a little temperamental. I’ve gone for a basic 4-4-2 line up, plus a keeper.

Keeper – Lev Yashin

This Polish cat between the sticks was known as the Black Spider because of his black kit and unbelievable ability. He is the only goalkeeper to have been named European footballer of the year. He played for Moscow Dynamo in the 50s and helped them to win five league titles and three cups.

Left Back – Roberto Carlos

Tough choice, but for his attacking flare, apocalyptically powerful left foot and love of a freekick he makes the starting XI. Closely pushed all the way though by Paolo Maldini who is the epitome of Italian football in his defensive solidity.

Right Back – Carlos Alberto Torres

There hasn’t been a better attacking right back in the history of football and of all those that have come close, they were copying a mould set by this guy. He also captained the 1970 World Cup winning Brazil team, you know the one? Yup that one, considered the best team of the modern era ever…

Centre Back – Lillian Thuram

Simply one of the best defenders of all time. He also scored twice for France in the 1998 World Cup 2-1 semi-final victory of Croatia after his side had gone behind. The team went on to win the tournament defeating Brazil in the final. Not bad at all.

Centre Back – Lothar Matthaus

Ok, this might be a little controversial, considering Lothar is remembered mainly as a box to box midfielder. However, he played a-plenty at the back too. And any player described by Maradona as the ‘best rival I’ve ever had’ is a shoo-in.

Centre Midfield – Franz Beckenbauer

Franz would complement Lothar impeccably creating a German spine of efficient ferocity, the two would be almost interchangeable. Nicknamed ‘Der Kaiser’ Franz is the only man to captain and manage World Cup winning sides.

Centre Midfield – Zinedine Zidane

Now for some real flair. ‘Zizou’ is arguably the greatest modern footballer. Gifted, creative, inventive and took France to World Cup (scoring twice in the final) and Euro titles in 1998 and 2000. He has been FIFA World Player of the Year three times and has also won the European Champions League. He is literally ‘the business’ and as if this wasn’t enough he came out of retirement to captain and single-handedly drag France to the 2006 World Cup Final were he scored and was then sent off. His crime was a spectacular head butt to Italian defender Marco Materazzi after he’d goaded Zindane with a lewd insult about his sister. Zidane. Is. A. Living. Legend.

Left Midfield – Garrincha

This guy was amazing. He played for Brazil in the 50s and 60s and was referred to by the people of Brazil affectionately as the ‘Joy of the People’ and the ‘Angel with Bent Legs’. A dribbler extraordinaire Garrincha was born with a deformed spine, a right leg that bent in and a left leg that was six centimetres shorter than his right. Brazil never lost when he and Pele played together. One famous moment for this footballing genius was dribbling past four defenders, beating the keeper then rather than slotting into an empty net waiting for a defender to get back, beating him again and then scoring. He was also along with Pele one of the instigators of what is often referred to as the best three minutes of football ever played, the opening of Brazil vs USSR in the 1958 World Cup Finals.

Right Midfield – Paul Gascoigne

I had to have an Englishman in the line up, and this guy is a one of, and one of the best to have ever played the game. Ok, he played centrally but I’d have him drifting in from the right. Gazza was mercurial in his style of play, able to ‘see’ the game like no one else. And who can forget the tragedy of the 1990 World Cup semi-finals where he received a yellow card and instantly began to sob at the thought of missing the final should England go through. What passion! As it turned out, they didn’t.

Forward – Pele

It’s Pele. Do I need to say anymore?

Forward – Diego Maradona

Diego had ability to burn, but was plagued by a cocaine addiction. Nevertheless his talent is undeniable and the goal he scored against England in the 1986 World Cup, the one where he dribbled past what seemed like the entire team, not the one where he punched it into the net, is among the best of all time. He captained the team to victory in the same tournament.

And that is the starting XI. What a team! As I make it there are four World Cup winning captains and at least three players with serious addiction problems… interesting. The talent, the gifts they had when the ball was at their feet is what we most closely align with them though. Icons of the game each and every one. What a beautiful game!

When not tweaking his fantasy football team John Evans contributes to the two websites Wedding Digest and Gifts Today.


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