Greatest soccer team of all time: Alfredo Relaño’s best XI
The Honorary President of Diario AS, Alfredo Relaño, picks his best XI of all time, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Cruyff up front, and Iker Casillas in goals.
Over the next 11 days leading Spanish journalists and football experts will be giving their best team of all time in this newspaper, to try and pin down the 11 greatest players to have ever graced a football pitch. Once all 11 teams have been named a final AS Legends XI will be drawn up, based on which players were named the most times across all the sides.
Alfredo Relaño's XI
Alfredo Relaño, who was editor-in-chief of this newspaper from 1996 to 2019 and is now Honorary President, explains that he picked his best XI of all time based on the France Football rules for picking such teams: three defenders, four midfielders and three forwards.
Alfredo Relaño’s 11 LeyendAS:
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas
Spain’s World Cup-winning captain, Casillas was dubbed ‘Saint Iker’ for his habit of producing miraculous saves, the most iconic of which saw him deny Arjen Robben a seemingly certain goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands. He was a three-time European champion with Real Madrid, where he established himself as a club great over the course of more than 700 appearances.
Right-back: Carlos Alberto
Carlos Alberto captained a Brazil side widely considered to be international football’s greatest ever to World Cup glory in 1970. His rifled finish rounded off what is arguably the finest team goal of all time as the Brazilians demolished Italy 4-1 in a memorable display in the final in Mexico.
Central defender: Sergio Ramos
A World Cup winner with Spain and his country’s leading appearance maker, Real Madrid stalwart Ramos is now the highest-scoring defender in the history of both LaLiga and international football. He recently grabbed his 100th goal for Madrid, the most famous of which was the 93rd-minute equaliser that set up a 4-1 Champions League final win over city rivals Atlético in 2014.
Left-back: Giacinto Facchetti
Inter Milan’s third-highest appearance maker, Facchetti spent the entirety of his 18-year career with the club and was a part of ‘Il Grande Inter’, the great Nerazzurri side that won two consecutive European Cups under Helenio Herrera in 1964 and 1965. In 1970, he captained the Italy team beaten by Brazil in the World Cup final. Facchetti was named in Pelé’s list of the 125 greatest living footballers in 2004.
Defensive midfielder: Xavi Hernández
String puller-in-chief for two of the finest teams the men’s game has ever witnessed, Xavi is arguably the leading exponent of the ‘tiki-taka’ style of play that defined the all-conquering Barcelona and Spain sides of the late noughties and early 2010s. With 767 Barça appearances to his name, he has played more games for the Catalan giants than anyone else.
Defensive midfielder: Lothar Matthäus
One of just three footballers to play at five World Cups, Matthäus skippered West Germany to victory at Italia ’90, his dominant displays at the tournament also leading him to collect that year’s Ballon d’Or award. His country’s most-capped player, Matthäus amassed 150 appearances over the course of a 20-year international career.
Attacking midfielder: Alfredo Di Stéfano
Los Blancos’ greatest ever player, Di Stéfano was the leader of the Real Madrid side that won each of the first five European Cups between 1956 and 1960. Often referred to as a ‘todocampista’ (‘whole-fielder’) because of his all-encompassing influence on games, he led Sir Bobby Charlton to exclaim: “I’d never seen anything like it before […], everything went through him.”
Attacking midfielder: Pelé
Known as ‘O Rei’ (‘The King’), Pelé won three World Cups with Brazil after bursting onto the international stage as a 17-year-old at Sweden ’58. A wildly prolific goalscorer, he remains Brazil’s leading marksman with 77, while his total of 643 strikes for Santos was a record single-club haul until Barcelona’s Lionel Messi surpassed the figure in December.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
A five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo has, together with Messi, been the defining men’s footballer of his era. Now at Juventus, the Portugal star is Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer and this month overtook Czech striker Josef Bican’s world-record tally of 759 career goals for club and country. He became only the second male footballer to reach 100 international goals in September.
Forward: Johan Cruyff
An Ajax and Barcelona great, Cruyff is one of the game’s most influential figures. The genesis of the legendary Barça side managed by Pep Guardiola can be traced back to the Dutchman’s arrival at the Camp Nou - first as a player, then as a coach. Captain of a Netherlands side among the finest not to win the World Cup, he was named the best player at West Germany ’74 after leading the Dutch to the final. It was a tournament where he also introduced the world to his eponymous turn.
Forward: Lionel Messi
The other half of the individual duopoly that has dominated men’s football over the past 15 years or so, Messi has plundered an eye-watering 648 goals for Barcelona since his first-team debut in 2004, helping the club to four Champions Leagues and no fewer than 10 LaLiga titles. Winner of a record six Ballons d’Or, he is also Argentina’s all-time highest goalscorer with 71.
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