Greatest soccer team of all time: Axel Torres's best XI
The Spanish journalist and author, Axel Torres, chooses his greatest ever team, with Pelé, Ramos, Buffon and Beckenbauer among his picks.
We continue our series as leading Spanish journalists and football experts offer their best team of all time and 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 included the most times across all the sides.
Axel Torres's XI
Football commentator, author of three books and AS columnist, Axel Torres, is next up to name his all time best XI.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Conceded only twice, an own goal and a penalty, as Italy captured the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Among his heroics were stops from Lukas Podolski in the semi-final and then from Zinedine Zidane in the final. Buffon had another great tournament at EURO 2012, captaining Italy to the final only to lose 4-0 to Spain in Kyiv. In the summer of 2001, the legendary shot-stopper became the world's most expensive goalkeeper, with Juventus signing him for over €50m. He landed the Scudetto in his first term in Turin.
Right Back: Dani Alves
Throughout his Barcelona career, he accumulated a total of 103 assists and 21 goals as a right-back and is partly responsible for the change in style of the modern day full-back. Alves' telepathic link with Lionel Messi brought joy to Barcelona fans. He held the record – until Luis Suárez broke it - for the most number of league assists made to the Argentine.
Central defender: Franz Beckenbauer
Beckenbauer or 'Der Kaiser' (The Emperor) as he was known for his assured style of defensive play secured over 100 caps for West Germany from 1965-1977 and was captain as the host nation secured the 1974 World Cup with a 2-1 win over The Netherlands. Beckenbauer would repeat the feat as head coach of the German side at Italia '90. The defender made over 400 appearances with Bayern Munich before winding down his career as a player in the NASL with New York Cosmos.
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. The 34-year-old recently grabbed his 100th goal for Madrid - and there can be little argument over which is his most famous: that would be the 93rd-minute equaliser that set up a 4-1 Champions League final win over city rivals Atlético Madrid in 2014.
Left back: Paul Breitner
Breitner’s club honours include five Bundesliga championships, two La Liga titles, and one European Cup. Playing 48 times for West Germany, Breitner won both European Championship in 1972 and the World Cup in 1974. The German full-back played for Real Madrid from 1974 until 1977, making 84 appearances and scoring 10 times for Los Blancos.
Central midfielder: Andrés Iniesta
Scorer of the goal that won his nation’s first and so far only World Cup, Iniesta is another of the 'tiki-taka' pass masters who were integral to the historic Spain and Barcelona sides of around a decade ago. A player who proved that being slight in stature is no obstacle to greatness if you ooze ability, he enjoyed 16 trophy-laden years alongside Xavi in the Barça midfield, winning nine LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues with the Blaugrana before leaving for Japan in 2018.
Attacking midfielder: Diego Maradona
Maradona, who died at the age of 60 in November, is best remembered for dragging what was widely considered a run-of-the-mill Argentina side to World Cup victory in 1986. His five goals at the tournament in Mexico included perhaps the cheekiest of all time, followed four minutes later by perhaps the greatest of all time. This tribute from Gary Lineker, whose England team were on the wrong end of those two strikes, really sums up just how good he was.
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: 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: 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.”
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, club-record 648 goals for Barcelona since his first-team debut in 2004 - including 455 in LaLiga, more than any other player - and has helped the Catalans to four Champions Leagues and no fewer than 10 Spanish titles. Winner of an unprecedented six Ballons d’Or, 'La Pulga' is also the Argentina national team’s all-time leading marksman with 71 goals.