2020 has been a strange year in football, with the European Championship postponed and other tournaments syncopated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As such, France Football elected to cancel the annual Ballon d’Or award and replace it instead with an interesting alternative: to select a greatest XI of all time. The voters were presented with a list of 10 candidates for each position to choose from, with a 3-4-3 formation decided on beforehand consisting of two full backs and a central defender, two defensive midfielders and two attacking midfielders plus three forwards – two wingers and a striker. That put us in a difficult position particularly when it came to the attacking midfield selection, which contained Diego Maradona, Pelé and Alfredo Di Stéfano, among other footballing geniuses, for just two positions.
The end result is that Di Stéfano did not make the cut, which is nothing short of scandalous for those of us who saw him play, but it would have been equally sacrilegious to have omitted Pelé or Maradona. Along with Di Stéfano, Johan Cruyff is the other footballing icon whose absence from the team jars. Ronaldo Nazário, who was in the list of choices for the central attacking role with the Dutchman, meant there was no room. In any case, it can be said that every player who is in the team deserves to be, but not every player that deserves to be in the team is. I am particularly happy about the inclusion of Xavi, a fundamental piece of the model of excellence that led Spain and Barcelona to such an impressive style of play with his pulchritude, neatness and security, in addition of course to his extraordinary trophy haul.
Yashin an innovator but Casillas a constant wonder
As well as Di Stéfano and Cruyff I was disappointed by the absence of Iker Casillas, who was beaten to the sticks by the timeless prestige of Lev Yashin, the only number one to have ever won the Ballon d’Or. I doubt many of those who voted had ever seen the USSR great play. I caught him towards the end of his career, when he was past his prime and carrying a little excess baggage in the 1964 European Championship final, the 1966 World Cup and a couple of testimonial-style games like the Stanley Matthews homage. He was an innovator, the first European keeper to command the penalty area, as Carrizo had done previously in Argentina. But Casillas’ career to me has been a constant wonder played out over a thousand afternoons and evenings that was worthy of a place alongside Xavi in this all-time Dream Team.