GMS Academy member Michael Jordan tasks himself with picking the best XI of players from the past decade. Do you agree with him? Leave your comments below...
GK – Gianluigi Buffon
The veteran goalkeeper began his professional career for Parma in 1995 where he kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with eventual Serie A champions AC Milan. The Italian shot-stopper was then part of a deal which saw him move to Juventus where he replaced Edwin van der Sar, who had joined Fulham at the time.
Buffon was an instrumental figure in Juve’s success particularly during the early 2000s. During his 13 years at the Italian giants, Buffon has won four Serie A titles, one Serie B title, four Supercoppa Italiana (including two back to back in recent campaigns) and a Champions League runner-up medal after being narrowly defeated by AC Milan at Old Trafford in 2003.
As well as captaining Juventus, the 35-year-old has gone on to captain his national side at the pinnacle of the game. The former Parma goalkeeper was a rock between the Italian sticks in 2006 when Italy flourished in the World Cup; beating France in the final. Buffon remains a pivot on and off the pitch for both club and country and therefore he tops the highly competitive list of goalkeepers of the past decade.
CB – Paolo Maldini
When asked the question to name the top defenders of years gone by, Paolo Maldini is without question one of the first that comes to mind. The Italian legend remarkably spent all 24 years of his career at AC Milan before retiring at the age of 41.
Maldini had the ability to play as a left-sided defender or in his custom central defensive role. From his Milan debut at the age of 16 against Udinese right through until his final appearance in the red and black of Milan where he faced Fiorentina on the 31st May 2009, the Italian led by example and was an honourable role model of the club and of football itself.
He has been described as an icon and a gentleman of the game, and is considered as one of the best defenders ever to step onto a pitch. He won seven Serie A titles during his record breaking 902 appearances for Milan.
In addition to these accolades, he won one Coppa Italia, five Supercoppa Italiana, five Champions League winner medals, five UEFA Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup.
The only disappointment of Maldini’s career would be missing out on his country’s World Cup triumph in 2006 in Germany. However the 41-year-old was part of the Italy sides that finished third in the 1990 World Cup, and runners-up in the 1994 World Cup.
CB – Fabio Cannavaro
The man who lifted the World Cup in 2006 is the third Italian to be selected in my team of the past decade. The former Italian captain spent the majority of his career in his home nation.
The defender’s career began in Napoli, before he moved to Parma where he won two Coppa Italias and the 1999 UEFA Cup. Then after spells at Inter Milan and Juventus, Cannavaro made the move alongside manager Fabio Capello from Juve to Real Madrid.
The 40-year-old won back to back La Ligas at the Bernabeu in 2007 and 2008. He then had a brief second spell at Juventus during the 2009/10 season but finished his career at Al-Ahli in Dubai.
The Italian centre-back was another crucial aspect of Italy claiming their fourth World Cup. Cannavaro along with Gianluigi Buffon, played every minute of every game in Germany and was a major part of the defence that conceded just two goals throughout the whole competiton; an own goal and a Zinedine Zidane penalty.
In August 2009 Cannavaro overtook Paolo Maldini’s all-time appearance record for Italy, winning his 127th cap against Switzerland. The Naples born defender was also awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or in 2006 and is only the second defender to ever win the prestigious accolade.
CB – Nemanja Vidic
At the end of the 2005 calendar year Serbian international Nemanja Vidic made the long move from Moscow to Manchester in a transfer worth in the region of £7 million. After a difficult introduction to his career at Old Trafford, Vidic improved week by week and became a monstrous task for any opposing attacker to beat.
The Manchester United captain has won five Premier League medals, three League Cups, five Community Shield medals, one Champions League honour and one FIFA Club World Cup. In addition to these awards, the centre-back has received numerous individual honours during his time in England.
He has been included in four PFA Teams of the Year and was voted Manchester United’s Fans’ and Players’ Player of Year in the 2008/09 campaign. During his time under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Scottish manager described Vidic as a no nonsense centre-back who could always be relied upon no matter what the occasion.
CM – Zinedine Zidane
The Frenchman, now an assistant manager at Real Madrid, was undoubtedly one of the best talents of his generation as he was known worldwide for his elegance, technique and control.
Zidane tasted success at Bordeaux, Juventus and Real Madrid; however it was the latter two where he truly flourished on the world stage. The midfield play-maker joined the ranks at Juventus in 1996 where he made an immediate impact at the club.
Having made a total of 206 appearances for the Italians, Zidane won two Serie A titles, one Supercoppa Italiana, two Champions League runner-up medals, a UEFA Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup in 1996.
Zidane was also the winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or during his time in Italy, in 1998. In 2001 the Frenchman joined the Galacticos for a world record transfer fee. Zidane scored 49 goals for Real Madrid as he went on to claim a La Liga title, one Supercopa de Espana, two Copa del Rey runner-up medals, a Champions League medal and a UEFA Super Cup medal.
Perhaps the only real disappointment of the midfield maestro’s career was his red card in the 2006 World Cup final which he received after head-butting Marco Materazzi. France went on to lose the final on penalties. However Zidane did help his national side win the competition in 1998 as well as being triumphant in the European Championships in 2000.
CM – Paul Scholes
It is impossible to label Paul Scholes with any superlatives that haven’t already been said about him. The former Manchester United midfielder is simply one of the best to ever play the game.
Having been part of the famous “class of 92” side that came through the Manchester United academy, Scholes made his debut in a 2-1 win against Port Vale where he scored both goals.
The Englishman, having been at the Theatre of Dreams his whole career, made 718 appearances for the club and scored 155 goals. He won an astonishing 11 Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups, five Community Shields, two Champions League medals, an Intercontinental Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup in 2008.
Gary Neville described his long term team-mate and friend saying, “He can’t run, he can’t tackle, he has asthma but he’s the best player I’ve ever played with”.
Despite his international career with England never really taking off and missing out on the historic 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich due to suspension, Scholes had one of the most illustrious careers a footballer could ever have.
Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry all paid tribute to the midfielder’s career, the latter stating that during his time at Arsenal, they “feared” Scholes.
CM – Andres Iniesta
The Barcelona midfielder has graced Europe over recent years with his balance, vision and link up play with the likes of Xavi and Lionel Messi to name a few. Iniesta came through La Masia, the youth academy at the Catalan club and has been crucial in Barcelona’s sensational success over the last decade.
The 29-year-old has won four La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey winners medals, six Supercopa de Espana, three Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups. On an individual front, Iniesta has been nominated for the FIFA Ballon d’Or on four separate occasions and was voted La Liga’s Spanish Player of the Year in 2009.
The attacking midfielder has also unrivalled success on the international stage. He has played a greatly significant role in Spain winning the 2008 and 2012 European Championships, and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where he scored the winner in the final against the Netherlands.
RM – Ronaldinho
During the prime of his career, Ronaldinho arguably began a new era of modern football. The Brazilian possessed an audacious collaboration of skills and tricks in order to defeat opponents and at times was utterly unstoppable.
The Brazilian announced himself in France at PSG, however it was Barcelona where he would truly take the world by storm. Ronaldinho netted 94 goals alongside providing 81 assists in just 207 games at the Camp Nou; meaning that the attacking midfielder played a major part in 0.85 goals per game for the Spanish giants.
During his somewhat short spell at Barcelona, he won two La Liga titles, two Supercopa de Espana honours and one Champions League winner’s medal. As well as having periods at AC Milan, Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro, Ronaldinho emphatically impressed whilst representing his country.
His major honours for Brazil include the 1999 Copa America and the 2002 World Cup. The 33-year-old also bagged an impressive tally of 33 goals in 97 appearances for Brazil.
LM – Cristiano Ronaldo
Favourite to win this year’s FIFA Ballon d’Or, Cristiano Ronaldo has been without a doubt one of the best players of the past decade. After fantastic performances at his childhood club Sporting Lisbon, the Portuguese winger signed for Manchester United in 2003.
As the years passed we witnessed Ronaldo’s development with regards to the physical and mental aspects of his game. During his time in the red of Manchester United, he scored 118 goals and was voted the best player in the world in 2008 after helping his side win the Champions League that season. On top of a Champions League victory Ronaldo won three Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, one Community Shield and a FIFA Club World Cup medal.
However it was clear that the player’s dream was to join Real Madrid. In 2009 he moved to the Spanish capital in a record breaking deal worth £80 million. He has remained successful and so far he has won one La Liga title, one Copa del Rey and one Supercopa de Espana.
Ronaldo has a goal-scoring record which is second to none at the Bernabeu after scoring an unbelievable 227 goals in just 218 appearances for the club. He is also captain of Portugal for whom he has scored 47 goals in 109 outings.
ST – Thierry Henry
The Frenchman set the Premier League alight with superb performances under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. Having scored 226 goals in 369 games for Arsenal, Henry was in a completely different league to the majority of strikers whilst he was in his prime.
During his eight year spell in London, Henry won two Premier League titles - including the campaign in which Arsenal went the whole league season undefeated - three FA Cups and two Community Shields.
However after missing out on the Champions League after losing to Barcelona in the 2006 final, Henry then moved to Barca for a fee in the region of €24 million. The clinical striker gained two La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey, a Supercopa de Espana, a UEFA Super Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup and an ever so desired Champions League winners medal in Rome where his side defeated old enemies Manchester United 2-0 in the final.
Henry has also had a magnificent international career with France. Having scored 51 goals in 123 appearances for his country, he was a very important figure in France’s World Cup success in 1998 and their European Championship success in 2000.
ST – Lionel Messi
Possibly the best player ever, no team would be complete without the little Argentinean. At the age of just 24, Messi became Barcelona’s all-time top scorer in all competitions and at the age of 25 became the youngest player ever to score 200 La Liga goals.
He is the only player to have scored the most goals in four consecutive Champions League campaigns and also obtains the record for the most hat-tricks scored in the competition – four.
The Argentina international broke the record for the most goals scored in a calendar year, and the list of his records goes on and on. This season is Messi’s tenth at Barcelona, the club for which he as scored a total of 327 goals in 395 matches.
Alongside his team-mates, Messi has won; six La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys, six Supercopa de Espana winners medals, three Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups.
He has won four FIFA Ballon d’Ors on the bounce; a record which no player ever before him can boast. The football magician has netted 37 goals for his country in 83 appearances and will be vital in their pledge to win the World Cup in Brazil this summer.
Write for GiveMeSport! Sign-up to the GMS Writing Academy here: http://gms.to/1a2u3KU
DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.