Serie A: Team of the 21st Century
Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti & Paolo Maldini are among the greatest Serie A players since 2000
Some of the best players in the world have enjoyed spells in Serie A since the turn of the century.
Here is the best team of the 21st Century.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
The current Italy goalkeeper has been active in Serie A since 1995, starting with Parma, before getting his record breaking £30m move to Juventus in 2001.
At 35, he is still one of the best ‘keepers in world football and a key part of both Juventus' and Italy’s systems. Conceding only 14 league goals in the 2011/12 season is a Serie A record, something which will surely give his name immortality. IFFHS named him Goalkeeper of the Decade from 2000-2010, beating other world-renowned stoppers Oliver Kahn and Iker Casillas.
Right-back: Javier Zanetti
Zanetti was the first signing of the Massimo Moratti era at Inter Milan, signing for the Nerazzurri from Argentine side Banfield. Throughout his 18-year stay with the Milan-based side, he has won 16 trophies, 15 of which he has lifted as captain. After surpassing the 1000 appearance mark for Inter, he has gone down in history as one of their greatest ever players.
Centre-back: Alessandro Nesta
The Rome-born defender started his Serie A career with hometown club SS Lazio in 1993. After four years he became captain of the Biancoceleste and helped Lazio win the Coppa Italia in 1998. He was captain of the same Lazio side that won the European Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Super Cup in 1998/99, and a Scudetto and Coppa Italia double in 1999/2000.
In 2002, due to financial troubles, Lazio had to sell many of their prized assets, Nesta being one of them in a mammoth £30m move to AC Milan.
In his first two seasons with the Rossoneri, he helped them win the 2002/03 Champions League, beating Juventus in the final, Coppa Italia, UEFA Super Cup, and the Scudetto. He later went on to win the 2006/07 Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup the following season. In 2010/11 he won the Scudetto once more and in 2012 he left Milan and Serie A for Canadian side Montreal Impact.
Centre-back: Fabio Cannavaro
Now retired, Fabio Cannavaro is considered to be the best central defender of his generation after a stellar career at club and international level.
He started his Serie A journey with hometown club Napoli in 1992. His talent was noticed almost immediately, and despite only being 18, he was put in the same squad as legends such as Ciro Ferrara and Diego Maradona, and in 1995, he won Serie A defender of the year. Though after his best season for Napoli, they were experiencing financial difficulties and he was sold to Parma for an undisclosed fee.
At Parma he played with Lilian Thuram and Gigi Buffon, where they would form one of the tightest defences in Europe. After being consistently one of the best defenders in Serie A, in 2002 he moved to Inter for around £23m. In his first season with the Nerazzurri, he finished second in Serie A behind Juventus and made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League, one of three Serie A sides to do so.
With his second season not being as productive, he was traded with Fabian Carini of Juventus, where he would once again play with Thuram and Buffon. After two consecutive Scudetti, the Calciopoli scandal hit Juve hard and he left to Real Madrid.
At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Cannavaro showed exactly why he was so highly-rated, with quite possibly six of the greatest ever individual performances in history which helped Italy famously lift the trophy a fourth time.
His performances gave him the nickname Muro Di Berlino "The Berlin Wall". In 2009, he returned to Juventus, in which the season started well, but didn’t end that way and after only a year back, he left Italy for Al-Ahli of the UAE.
Left-back: Paolo Maldini
Quite possibly the greatest defender of all time, the legendary wing-back spent an astonishing 25 years at hometown club AC Milan.
Despite making his first appearance for Milan in 1985 at the age of 16, it wasn’t until the 1998/99 season that he became a regular in the starting 11.
In 1991/92, Milan finished the Serie A season as undefeated winners, being part of what is known as the greatest defensive quartet of all time; Maldini, Baresi, Costacurta and Tassotti.
In 1994, Maldini was the first ever defender to win World Soccer magazine’s World Player of the Year award. In his time at Milan, he lifted the Champions League five times - in 1989, 1990, 1994 and in 2007 - seven Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia, five UEFA Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and one Club World Cup. Add 23 personal awards and you have the most successful defender of all time.
In 2010, Maldini announced his retirement and, as a sign or respect, AC Milan retired his legendary No. 3 shirt, which will be saved for one of his sons, should either make the Milan first team.
Defensive-midfield: Edgar Davids
Despite being most famous for his days at Juventus, the former Netherlands international started his Serie A career with AC Milan in the 1996/97 season.
After an unsuccessful season with the Milanese giants, he moved to Juventus for £5.3m. Six successful years followed in which he won three Serie A titles with Juventus. He was then loaned to Barcelona, where he enjoyed a short stay.
He returned to Juventus and was sold permanently to Inter for an undisclosed fee, where he signed a three-year contract that was later terminated as he often spoke for his love for Inter’s great enemy Juventus. He then left Italy for good in 2005 to join Tottenham.
Defensive-midfield: Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo started his Serie A career with hometown club Brescia in 1995, in which he was spotted by then Inter manager Mircea Lucescu, but at Inter he was never able to break into the first team and spent most of his time on loan.
In 2001, AC Milan paid around £8m plus Drazen Brncic for his services. At Milan, Pirlo quickly developed into one of the best deep-lying playmakers in the world and also a set-piece specialist. He then made a formidable partnership with Manuel Rui Costa, Kaka and Clarence Seedorf, to form the best midfield quartet in the world.
In 2011, Pirlo moved to Juventus in a Bosman transfer, which now looks like the biggest bargain in the history of football. Playing a pivotal role in Juve’s 2011/12 league triumph, where they ended the season as invincibles. He was nominated for player of the tournament at Euro 2012 and came fifth in the 2012 Ballon D’or.
Attacking-midfield: Pavel Nedved
Nedved started his Serie A career with SS Lazio in 1996, where he signed from Czech giants Sparta Prague.
At Lazio, he became one of the best players in Serie A and was noticed in Europe in 1999, when he was pivotal in Lazio’s 1-0 UEFA Super Cup win over Manchester United. After five years with the Roman club, he was signed by Juventus for around £35m as a replacement for Zinedine Zidane, who had just moved to Real Madrid.
It was with the Turin giants that Nedved became one of the best players in the world, and why he is now recognised as one of the best in history. He was considered to be one of the few midfielders in the world that could take over Zidane’s role at Juve, but nobody expected that he would ultimately surpass the legendary Frenchman. He played a pivotal role in Juve’s run to the 2002/03 Champions League final, in which Juve eliminated Zidane’s Real Madrid in the semi-finals, with Nedved being the star of the show.
Most people believe that if he wasn’t suspended for the final against Milan, Juve would’ve won. In 2003, the former Czech Republic captain won the Ballon D’or, being only the second Czech player to do so. In 2009, after eight years with Juventus, he announced his retirement and went down as one of world football’s all-time legends.
Attacking-midfield: Francesco Totti
Totti recently celebrated his 20th year in Serie A - and also his 20th year at the same club.
Il Capitano is the ultimate one-club player, staying with hometown club AS Roma instead of accepting offers from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Juventus, Inter and AC Milan.
The legendary attacker is the highest active scorer in Serie A with 226 Serie A goals and second in the all-time charts. He is known for his passing, skill, set pieces and shots from distance. He is also considered to be the greatest ever player to have never won a Ballon D’or, as his highest ever finish was fifth in 2001.
For 20 years he has been an integral part of Roma and has won Italian player of the year a record eight times. His only Serie A success came in 2001, and after Fabio Capello left to Juventus, Real Madrid launched a reported £50m bid for the Italian’s services, as rumour had it that they wanted him to be the first ‘Galactico’. After making over 700 official appearances for the club and scoring over 300 official goals, he has been recorded as Roma’s greatest ever player.
Although he hasn’t won a lot at club level, he has won something that most players never will: a World Cup. He was integral to the team that lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in 2006 and was named in the all-star XI.
Forward: Alessandro Del Piero
Though often touted as one of the best ever one club players, Del Piero started off his professional career with hometown club Padova.
He had only played 14 games for the club before Juve came in with an offer of £200,000 which was accepted. In only his second season as a Juventus regular, he scored 21 Serie A goals and 10 Champions League goals and from that season on he didn’t look back.
In 2000, Juve signed French striker David Trezeguet who Del Piero immediately formed a formidable partnership with, while the signing of Pavel Nedved in 2001 gave Juve one of the most feared attacking tridents in the world.
In 2002/03 Del Piero played a key role in Juve making it to the final of the Champions League, but they ultimately lost 3-2 on penalties. Del Piero’s one-club player tag comes from the loyalty he showed Juve when they were relegated due to Calciopoli, as he rejected a host of top clubs to help Juve back into Serie A.
In 2011, after over 600 appearances and over 200 goals for the Bianconeri, he left Juve as he said he couldn’t keep up with playing football at the highest level and moved to Sydney FC of Australia.
Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The Swedish sensation has played for Italy’s three biggest club: Juventus, Inter and AC Milan.
Up until 2011/12, Ibracadabra had a ‘perfect record’ in Serie A, winning five titles in a row. Juve were the team to take him to Serie A, paying around £16m to Ajax for the striker's services.
Though he only stayed at Juve for two seasons, and after Juve’s relegation, he moved to Inter for around £25m. He stayed at Inter for four years and moved to FC Barcelona for £46m plus Samuel Eto’o. Though at Barcelona he didn’t fit into their system as well as they were hoping and he returned to Serie A on loan to AC Milan where he was a success and was the purchased by the Rossoneri for a reported £24m.
After Ibra’s most prolific season scoring 28 league goals, he left to newly rich Paris Saint Germain for £20m plus bonuses. After 112 Serie A goals in 209 appearances, his goal scoring rate was just over 0.5.
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