AS LEGENDS XI
Greatest soccer team of all time: Vicente Jiménez
AS editor-in-chief Vicente Jiménez chooses his greatest ever football team as part of AS' Legends XI series.
Over the past week and a half, AS has been asking prominent journalists and experts to pick their best football team of all time, as we try to pin down the 11 greatest players to have ever taken to the field. 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.
Vicente Jiménez's XI
AS editor-in-chief Vicente Jiménez is the final member of the jury to choose an all-time XI.
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 deby 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.
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.
Central defender: Franz Beckenbauer
Known as 'Der Kaiser' because of his imperious defensive play, Beckenbauer earned over 100 caps for West Germany from 1965 to 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 Germans 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: Paolo Maldini
The son of AC Milan’s first European Cup-winning captain, Cesare, Paolo Maldini helped the Rossoneri add a further five continental titles to their trophy cabinet during a 25-year career at the San Siro, twice as skipper himself. Italy’s third-most capped player with 126 appearances, Maldini twice finished on the Ballon d’Or podium; only three other defenders have made the top three this century. His son, Daniele, has now become the third generation of Maldini to play for Milan.
Central midfielder: Xavi Hernández
String puller-in-chief for two of the finest teams the men’s game has ever witnessed, he is, alongside Andrés Iniesta, arguably the leading exponent of the possession-based ‘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, Xavi - who is now coach of Qatari side Al-Sadd - has played more games for the Catalan giants than anyone else.
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: 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
One 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 650 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.
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.