I’ve chosen my perfect XI based on the players and moments that made me love the game. The World Cup France 1998 turned a passing interest into an unbridled love affair that has only grown ever since. The footballing superstars of the early 2000’s and onwards also played a big part in shaping this team. So, with that in mind you can expect a fairly modern lineup and this XI is modelled on a diamond formation. Here is my perfect team.

Goalkeeper – Gianluigi Buffon: Gigi beats off competition from Fabien Barthez and Oliver Kahn to take the number one jersey. His record at club level, international level and personally is phenomenal. The first ‘keeper even to win the Club Footballer of the Year award, a World Cup winner and runner up at the Euro’s, a smattering of European honours. Buffon is amongst the best ever produced. When Buffon transferred to Juve for over £30m, the pressure for him to live up to the price tag was huge. He has never, not once, looked anything less than a £30m star. Gigi is 34, and is still up there with the best between the sticks when compared with guys 10 years his senior. Even more frightening is the thought that the old master may be around for a few years to come.

Right Back – Cafu: He needs no introduction. The image of Cafu holding the 2002 World Cup aloft sticks in my memory, looking back at it, very few players have deserved that honour more. A marauding full back/wing back in the truest sense of the word, Cafu would often be found camped on the halfway line and in the blink of an eye you could find him at either end of the pitch. Defensively astute and able to attack with real flair he was a joy to watch. Well into his 30’s Cafu was still hitting the byline at speed for AC Milan and looked like he could do it all day. The most capped Brazilian of all time is in itself a massive honour. Imagine Cafu playing the Dani Alves role in the current Barca side – magical!

Centre Back – Lillian Thuram: Commanding, imposing and utterly brilliant. A nightmare for attackers to come up against, Thuram was dominant, fast and physical but so very cultured. Close on the complete defender and a mainstay of the great France side of 1998-2000, Lillian Thuram is in my mind one of the best defenders of his generation; France would kill for a player with a thimbleful of Thuram’s ability these days.

Centre Back –Paolo Maldini: Well known as a left back, Maldini was equally as adept at centre-half as his years partnering Nesta at the heart of Milan’s defence proved. Maldini needs no introduction. Over the duration top-level playing career for over twenty years, Maldini lifted no fewer than five Champions League titles. Add to that seven Serie A titles for Milan in over 900 games and it’s fair to see why Maldini’s reputation precedes him. Simon Kuper wrote in the Financial Times that Maldini made on average one tackle every two games; he didn’t need to make challenges as his positioning and reading of the game was flawless. A truly majestic player.

Left Back – Robert Carlos: Many will argue this slot should have went to Maldini, but the image of Roberto Carlos terrorising right-backs across the world is one that merit’s his inclusion. On the opposite flank to Cafu, Carlos and his sublime left foot provided many goals and assists for club and country. A very well rounded full back, Carlos will go down with the best.

Defensive Midfield – Patrick Viera: If the term midfield general has never been more appropriate. Sometimes his temper could get the better of him, but Viera was a magnificent footballer. For Arsenal and France, Viera underpinned the actions of his more creative teammates, his vision and positioning ensuring that the creative freedom granted to those in front of him would not be at the expense of the defence. Hard in the tackle, Viera was a truly uncompromising midfielder, his hugely successful spell at Arsenal saw him captain the side to a feat that will go down in history as Arsenal went a full premier league season unbeaten.

Right Midfield – Luis Figo: Figo in full flight was a magnificent sight. A player so good, that Real Madrid gave their bitter rivals Barcelona a world record fee to take him to the Bernabau. Figo was deadly from set pieces and had the skill to leave defenders trailing in his wake. His flexibility to play on either side made him a handful for every defence he came up against. The first of Real Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’, Figo was a key part of one of the most memorable era’s of the modern game.

Left Midfield – Pavel Nedved: A Ballon D’or winner and the man who was seen as the successor to Zinedine Zidane at Juventus; surely that says enough about the ability of Pavel Nedved?  A truly gifted player, he was amongst the best midfielders in Europe of his generation. A mainstay for Juventus and a superstar for the Czech Republic, Nedved was the heartbeat for club and country for years.

Attacking Midfield  – Zinedine Zidane: In my mind, the greatest ever to step foot on a football pitch (with exception to Mr Messi). Zidane was a joy to watch, the figurehead of the French domination from 1998-2000 and a talismanic player for Real Madrid, Zizou really did have it all. Zidane has provided some utterly unforgettable moments on the pitch.  THAT volley at Hampden against Leverkusen,  a brace in the World Cup Final, and of course the head-butt on Matterazzi. A midfield maestro if ever there was one, Zidane oozed style and ability, the likes of which we’ll be very lucky to see again.

Centre Forward – Lionel Messi: I don’t even need to explain why Lionel Messi makes it into the squad. Put simply, a god amongst men in the world of football.

Centre Forward – Ronaldo: Ronaldo was awesome. The man who stands beside Lionel Messi and Zinedine Zidane as having won World Player of the Year on three occasions. An unbelievable goal scoring record throughout his career, Ronaldo really was the ultimate finisher of his day. His electric pace and eye for goal meant he played for four of the biggest clubs in the game, and at the height of his career he was as big a name as any of them. Ronaldo’s extraordinary career slumped perhaps too soon, but there can be no denying that he was one of the brightest stars in the game at one time.

Robert is part of the SPL podcast. Find The SPL Podcast on Twitter at @theSPLpodcast, and download their latest edition from iTunes or their blog weekly.
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