This was a tough one.
There have been a few challenges going around over the past few weeks to try to fill the football void so I decided to pick my best ever world XI from players in my lifetime – on the proviso that none can have played for the same country.
Every now and again a special player comes along and excites a nation and here are 11 examples.
Just looking at who hasn’t made the cut – players like Ferenc Puskas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alfredo Di Stefano – gives an idea how good this team is, playing in something like a pretty fluid 4-2-4 formation.
GORDON BANKS (England)
There’s no Stoke City bias here. I’ve seen Yashin, Buffon, Schumacher, Jennings – all world class goalkeepers – but none has come close to Banksy.
He was so natural, so gifted.
His reading and understanding of the game and the positional sense that came with it was second to none. He was talking all the way from first whistle to last, always involved, non-stop organising, so that kept him in line with the ball wherever it was on the pitch.
He had an innate knowledge of his distancing from the goal line, six-yard box, 12 yard box…
He knew everyone’s role on the team and wouldn’t let you rest as a player. He’d rollock you if you were a bit lax, if you let a player run through or didn’t hold him off.
In terms of distribution as well, he was one of the first to counter-attack. As soon as he gathered it he’d be so quick to throw the ball and he’d be furious if you weren’t ready.
His all-round game was superb. An unbelievable player.
BRANISLAV IVANOVIC (Serbia)
I was torn over two positions in this team – right-back and left-sided centre-half – but Ivanovic tipped it.
Look at his record: the most capped Serbia player (105 caps), the amount of trophies he won at Chelsea, the number of games he played at the top level and being a goalscorer too. It’s a bonus for me that he’s here to represent my dad’s home country.
A steady presence for the best part of a decade in the Premier League, he knew when to sit in and when to push forward and his distribution was excellent. He was one of the most consistent defenders you’ll find.
FRANZ BECKENBAUER (Germany)
He was a Rolls Royce of a defender. A fantastic leader of the team, so calm and collected, who would dominate games with his intelligence.
You never saw him needing to make a slide tackle because he was so good at intercepting. He’d be seconds ahead of everyone else on the pitch because of his brain and a quickness over the first few yards.
His long and short passing linked the team and he collected more than 100 caps for a superb Germany team.
Watching him left me in awe. One of the greatest players ever.
I had to leave Bobby Moore out of this team because I had to pick Banksy but what a pairing it would have been: Moore and Beckenbauer.
SERGIO RAMOS (Spain)
Fifteen years with Real Madrid – just the 640 appearances so far – and he’s won a massive amount of caps for Spain – 170 in all! Think of all the great players he’s had to follow and keep out of those two outstanding teams in that time.
He reads the game well, of course, but he will also do little tricks on opponents to try to wind them up. If they take the bait, he’s done his job. They’ll lose their concentration but he keeps his.
He’s controversial at times but that’s him, he’s that kind of character – and he’s not frightened to put himself about either – but I think Beckenbauer would calm him down a bit!
PAOLO MALDINI (Italy)
What a player. A solid character, a solid player, all through, defending, attacking, good in the air if needed and hardly ever gave the ball away.
So many appearances, so many caps, so many trophies. A one-club man with the mighty AC Milan for more than 20 seasons, playing until he was 40 with fierce competition.
Italy had some great defenders that could have gone in this team but Maldini is the pick; for me, he’s the best left-back of all-time.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE (France)
When I was working for the FA I was asked to do a study on France, from 1998-2000, when they were the best team in the world.
I had to analyse how they had worked out a system to suit Zinedine Zidane, using Deschamps, Vieira and Petit to give a special player freedom. He was a link that made a great team unstoppable. He could receive the ball in the defensive, middle or attacking third and keep possession; he balanced the whole team.
Everything went through him. It didn’t matter if he was tightly marked, he’d still receive the ball, he could manoeuvre away and defenders couldn’t it off him. He was so elegant, strong and skilful under extreme pressure, one of the best technical players of all time.
And what a passer, what an understanding of distribution. He had the vision and awareness and ability to pull it off. He’s the midfield version of Beckenbauer at the back. He had everything.
JOHAN CRUYFF (Holland)
I’ve put Johan Cruyff down as an attacking midfielder in this team – and looking at the line-up, you could say that this team needs a ball each!
He was so graceful, with the pace he had and the way he held off players when he ran with the ball. In that attacking third he had an understanding of quick and clever play, linking others in when there was no space to come out on top.
He was excellent dribbler with brilliant footwork to exploit spaces – and he could find room against some of the best defenders in the history of football – but he could also play one, two or three-touch stuff when needed. On and off the ball and could go through the gears depending on what was needed.
Try to mark him man to man and he’d just drag opponents where they didn’t want to go to make room for his teammates.
One of the game’s great thinkers, he was brave too because at the time he played you could get clobbered! He just kept coming back for more and he always had the last laugh.
It would have been exciting to go up against him when Stoke played Ajax but he had recently left for Barcelona. Maybe that was for the best!
LIONEL MESSI (Argentina)
Lionel Messi came up the tough way in Argentina and, then as now, he would have been belted around the pitch but still come out on top.
One of the quickest thinking players and one of the most creative that there’ll ever be. His footwork is magical – he can use his right when needed but he can open tin cans with his left – and he has no back lift at all.
Give him the ball even when he’s surrounded and he’d be out in a flash. The number of solo goals he’s scored, the number of hat-tricks is incredible.
And sometimes he can just stand still, like a traffic conductor.
He has scored hundreds and won so many trophies and he’s still going. We’re privileged just to watch.
GEORGE BEST (Northern Ireland)
George Best stayed away from me because he normally operated on the left and then break in field. Thankfully!
He could shrug off tackles or take the hit and still be on his feet. He had balance like a dancer and kept supreme control of that ball on pitches that were like a farmer’s field. He could use both feet, which moved so quickly, and could go inside or outside and skip past you in the tightest of areas.
The way he could weave through defences was mesmeric, like the goal he scored for Manchester United in the European Cup final.
He was smooth but feisty – he could sort defenders out as well! – and he was a team player.
It’s such a pity that he never got to play at a World Cup and that’s our loss. If he had done that, perhaps it would have kept him satisfied. An exceptional player.
Portugal have had some great players and to leave out Ronaldo, it has to be someone special – and Eusebio was.
He scored the best part of 600 goals in a time when defenders could smash you down from behind, could whack you and punch you. A great sportsman, he never got angry. He just bounced up and scored goals.
Strong and quick with fine technique, I had the chance to play alongside him in a Stoke shirt for Banksy’s testimonial match. We played a one-two for him to smash a shot pas Alex Stepney!
Off the pitch he was a gentleman too.
Pele was scoring for a brilliant Brazil side as a 16-year-old, an age when you’d be lucky to be playing for your club’s under-18s team!
He was an all-round player with a superb understanding and position sense. He’d roam into deep areas where centre-backs wouldn’t want to go and link players. He had quick thinking, power and ace technique.
He could score from inside the box, outside, headers, volleys, the lot.
I did had the joy of playing against him when Santos came. He left three of us on our backsides and whacked it past Banksy! I was the youngest player so Santos presented me with a set of cuff links after the game.
Teams would try to man mark him or chop him out of games but his ability always shone through and he scored pretty much a goal a game. He won the World Cup three times and he’s an ambassador for football.
He’s the greatest player of all time. These kind of players come from Heaven.