My Perfect Player #3
Here’s the third entry to ‘My Perfect Player’ – this time Backwards Gooner selects his ultimate footballer, choosing only players from outside of the Premier League. You can check out his superb blog here.
Brain – Xavi Hernandez
The concept of a “footballing brain” is quite clichéd, but Barcelona lynchpin Xavi probably has quite a well-functioning one. The Spaniard’s awareness is impeccable , never appearing rushed on the ball and rarely being dispossessed. His passes are crisp and unerringly accurate, weighted perfectly and seemingly always the right option. As one teammate said, “Xavi plays in the future. He does not just pass the ball, he forces the play by making the angles for his team-mates, by obliging them to move with his passes.” The midfield maestro regularly averages above 90% pass completion during matches, and that’s not just through playing crab-like passes – in Barça’s treble-winning season, he directly assisted 28 goals.
Head – Miroslav Klose
Miroslav Klose may not be the best all-round header of his generation, but because of its incredible accuracy in redirecting all manner of crosses into the net, his bonce will be grafted onto the body of my perfect player. Not blessed with a particularly physical frame or an outstanding leap, Klose’s aerial prowess instead owes much to his ability to place the ball with surgical precision into the bottom corner of goals, past outstretched keepers’ hands. Interestingly, all of his goals at the 2002 World Cup were scored off his head, including a rather impressive hat trick against group stage whipping boys Saudi Arabia.
Eyes – Michael Laudrup
There have been many great no.10s to grace pitches around the world in the last couple of decades, and while the best I’ve seen first-hand is Dutch genius Dennis Bergkamp, it’s Michael Laudrup’s eyes which will slot into my perfect player’s sockets. The Dane was the master unlocker of defences in the 90s, weaving past challenges and sliding through incredible through passes of barely plausible angles. According to one particular website, Laudrup set up 23 of Ivan Zamorano’s 28 league goals in his debut season at Real Madrid. Indeed I could have gone for his brain too, but robbing him of his remaining four basic senses would be a bit cruel.
Mouth – Stefan Effenberg
The 90s was blessed with some top defensive box-to-boxers, including the likes of Keane, Vieira, Redondo, Davids and Effenberg himself. Perhaps not coincidentally, most of the top exponents of the role tended to also dabble in the dark arts of the game, and Effenberg was the ultimate anti-hero. As well as possessing superb drive, determination and leadership qualities, he also had a nasty streak – indiscretions included running off with a teammate’s wife, taunting an opposition player as playing “like my grandfather”, and sticking the middle finger up at his own supporters. Such players are unfortunately being phased out of the game with the advancement of modern tactics and laws, but Effenberg’s steely mentality would surely complement our perfect player’s technical skills very well.
Lungs – Dani Alves
While most top-level professional footballers cover on average around 10km per game, Alves usually runs at least one extra. During televised Champions League games, it’s always interesting to see the little stat box pop up at the bottom and display the distance covered figures. Alves is commonly the hardest worker, once running 15km in a game for Sevilla. Brazil has a fine tradition of tireless attacking wing backs, but Alves’ incredible stamina may be due in part to his tough upbringing. He claims that as a child his nearest school was (very fittingly) some 11km away from home and, in the absence of public transport, he had to run there and back every day. He takes good care of his body too, sticking to a strict diet of lean meat, fruit, nuts and other natural products.
Left foot – Alvaro Recoba
I could name a few better left-footed players from the last decade, but none of them would rival Recoba for his sheer technique in striking a ball. Long distance screamers, pin-point crosses, 60 yard passes, curling free-kicks, eye-of-the-needle throughballs, chips, lobs, rabonas … you name it, Recoba could do it. It wasn’t just what he could with his left, it was also the way he did it; the Uruguayan was just as capable of generating devastating power as he was delicate control. Like many outrageously-talented South American players, Recoba was let down by a lack of mental and physical resilience and never really hit the levels he could have. Just as well we’re only borrowing his left foot for our perfect player.
Right foot – Ronaldinho
Again, not necessarily the best right-footer of the last couple of decades (although he does come very close), but probably the one with the largest technical repertoire. It’s easy to look at Ronaldinho as a flashy trickster, a showboater, but beneath the layer of flair was a genuinely brilliant technician. Like Recoba, his stronger foot was skilled in all areas of attacking play – he was a very capable dribbler, passer, shooter and dead ball taker, with a wide variety of techniques for performing each skill. Who can forget the many wonderful displays of ball mastery at his peak? The zero-backlift chipped assist to Giuly vs Milan; the acrobatic bicycle kicks vs Villarreal and Atletico; the wonderful toe-poked goal vs Chelsea; or indeed any of the wonderful through passes he delivered to Eto’o, Messi and co. in his Barça prime.