An XI picked from players seen in the flesh throughout the years of heading through turnstiles across Europe
As I write I have not thought about this previously. It is totally off the cuff. There are obvious choices that will slip right in but the others will take some serious time and thought. The method I have picked is by using some of the best the world has seen, whether they were great on the day or not. However others have made it in on the merits of the performance I saw them put in also. With two hundred and eighty-one teams to choose from this may cause difficulties. If I was a few years older it would have been a lot easier as I would have filled it with Dons legends of the 80s but I missed out on those glory years. So in a 4-3-3 formation (none of that one up front crap here) here is what I think is the best eleven players I have seen from the terrace.
Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United)
Wow starting off hard from the get go. Having seen the three best keepers of my generation in my opinion was never going to make this easy. Big choice but I’ll have to choose the big Dane. The guy was immense. In the days where I did enjoy watching the English Premiership, one of the highlights of the league was watching one of the worlds great keepers command his box whether on the ground, in the air or with his star jump saves. Manchester United always had good defences in his time but to have him in behind as well must have been a daunting proposition to opposing strikers.On his day he was the best the World had ever seen. I used to practice the three quarter pitch throws he used to deploy which were an absolute weapon to Manchester United. There was so much to like about him. This is why he edges out Oliver Kahn(Bayern Munich) and Edwin van der Saar(also Manchester United). He was the all round keeper with extra strings to his bows. He even knocked in a nine in his career. Van der Saar got one and Kahn none. I got my chance to see him at Pittodrie in Teddy Scotts testimonial a few months before he got his giant hands on the Champions League in ’99. He couldn’t save the Dons from winning that night however
Javier Zanetti (Argentina)
One of my favourite players of all time. Back from the days of watching Football Italia on channel four. One of the great Serie A players and out of all who have seen him I’m sure a high percentage would have him in their team. I got the chance to see him at Hampden for Argentina’s friendly with Scotland. When I saw the teams I fully thought that with his age of 35 he would have stepped into a central position as he had for his club Inter. I was wrong and the man showed the young players how to do it. Bombing up and down the line from his right back berth for the entire 90 minutes. Fully living up to his nickname of “El Tractor” (because of his powerful engine)A great performance. I was chuffed when he captained Inter to the Champions league the following season. Model professional, loyal, dependable a man who is highly under rated at times.
Lillian Thuram (Barcelona)
Could have been RB or CB as Zanetti but as I did with the Argentinian I have placed him in the position I saw him. Always a classy player throughout his career whether at club level or internationally. Immense for France over the World Cup and Euros winning era of the late 90’s, early 00’s.Quite rightly has a career littered with big trophies(none at Barcelona surprisingly) and to be Frances most capped player also says a lot for the man. Hard as nails but classy at the same time. Saw him at Tannadice of all places
Andrea Masiello (Atalanta)
This will seem like a random pick but as I said above, players can earn their spot on a one game basis and this guy fits right in that category. Atalanta 0 v 0 Inter. This guy was incredible and without a shadow of a doubt ,I witnessed the greatest defensive performance of all my days watching fitba. He was up against Ivan Perisic, Rafinha, Mauro Icardi who all tried numerous times to get the better of him and all failed miserably. Never went to ground, never beaten in the air or on the ground all night and the main reason Atalanta kept a clean sheet against a very potent Inter attack. Not enough superlatives for the man that night. His performance is still spoken about often with my pal who accompanied me on that trip. As a centre half myself in my playing days I have a habit of watching CBs in depth and Masiello was the behemoth of Bergamo.
Denis Irwin (Manchester United)
The best left back to play in England. I could cut and paste the compliments I used to describe Javier Zanetti in here. Seen during the same match as the Big Dane above, Irwin was fantastic player, incredibly dependable and you don’t get called pound for pound the best signing Alex Ferguson ever made if you weren’t a awesome player. A “steady Eddie” and part of the defence that stood in front of Peter Schmeichel lapping up trophy after trophy in the ’90s. Got up and down the pitch carrying out defensive and offensive duties well into his later years, Irwin clearly kept himself in great condition and to play for Man United at the top level until his move to Wolves at 37 years young proves it. Under rated maybe to an extent, not to anyone connected to Manchester United and regularly appeals in ex players greatest XIs of ex team mates or players faced ,he still receives the respect he is more than due
Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
Incredible player. You don’t become Spain’s most decorated player by being just alright. You also don’t play for Barcelona’s first team for thirteen years without having something about you. The guy was immense. Possibly would have won the Balon D’or if Ronaldo and Messi weren’t around. Fabulous passer of the ball, a tackler, a creator, faster than people thought and greatly influential. Not a prolific goal scorer but he scored in the World Cup Final. I am sure if that was his only goal he would retire happy.One of Europe’s greatest
Danny Murphy (Fulham)
Best performance I have ever seen? Danny Murphy its you. Another that may sound random and I have had to explain myself to numerous people over the years when I say Murphy is the best performance I have seen in the flesh when asked the question. Captaining Fulham against Wolves I have never seen such a dominating performance. After conceding early he went on to led by example and dig his team out of a hole. He broke up play, he tackled hard, he started move after move, he was always looking for the ball which he sprayed all over the Craven Cottage pitch always finding his man. All this done while looking like he had not broke sweat. On top of this Murphy was clearly leading his team the way a captain should throughout proceedings too. As close to perfection as I have seen from a centre midfielder in any game but with clearly visible leadership qualities as well. A joy to watch. I don’t care how random it is. Its just the truth. He also scored against the Aberdeen for Liverpool in my presence. But this Fulham game was enough to land him in the pool
Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund)
Another of the on one performance wonders with Masiello and Murphy. As good as Murphys performance? Maybe but the nature of the game takes a bit of the shine off it. The game was Borussia Dortmund 8 v 4 Legia Warsaw, a wacky affair that in all honesty descended into a slight farce and really can be described as an exhibition game in the end. But that’s not to say the Japanese man was not brilliant on the night. Bagged the opening two goals himself within a couple of minutes of each other. He then went on to set up Dembele to notch his first of a brace and later Passlack for his only goal of the game. It wasn’t all about the key moments though. His work rate was second to none. Always finding space, constantly busting a gut even when the match was beyond Legia, ripping the poles apart with his passing. I wont forget that performance
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United and Juventus)
One of the greatest players ever, there’s no doubt about it. Over the years we have seen him win trophies for his teams single headedly. The Euros for Portugal springs to mind. Despite not playing in the final they wouldn’t have been there if Ronaldo didn’t drag them there. This leads me to the Messi v Ronaldo debate. Ronaldo everyday of the week for me, if you need someone “in the trenches” he is your man. He has a leader of men attitude that Messi doesn’t which is why I put him above the wee Argentinian. Both brilliant players none the less though. The funny thing is I’ve seen Ronaldo twice and he has had two average games. Once v Bolton where to took a ludicrous dive to win a pen and against Bologna where he was multi man marked and not allowed to play. But on the whole he is one of the best players to ever kick a ball about and deserves in here
Duncan Shearer (Aberdeen)
No team I pick wouldn’t have Big Dunc in it. My childhood wouldn’t be the same without this man. I could have said Miroslav Klose or Francesco Totti but they can take their place on the bench. Those two didn’t make me pretend to be them in the park when I was a kid. The didn’t make me immensely disappointed when they didn’t play. They are not the scorer of greatest goal I have seen in the flesh. His overhead kick against Dundee United at the Richard Donald end of Pittodrie in ’93 still makes me smile to this day. His goals also kept us in the Premier during the great escape, inclusive of the winner arguably the Dons biggest win of the decade if not longer, again against Dundee United. What a signing. We can blame his namesake Alan for allowing us to get him to Pittodrie as his first team chances were to be limited by the second best Shearers arrival at Ewood Park. Blackburns loss was Aberdeen and my childhoods gain.
The third of the Tannadice trio. Ronaldinho was a delight to watch and when Barcelona were on the telly I made sure to tune in. Throughout the years I cant remember a player who made me do that. Watching the game for one player rather than the game itself. Whether it was Osasuna or Real Madrid I would watch. A wizard who could twist teams into knots, untie them then twist them up again. He has to be up there with the greatest ever. He was an entertainer who played football to put smiles on the faces of the punters while wearing a full face grin himself. He also had a knack of creating something which would get his teams tails up. His dancing toe bash against Chelsea in the Champions League is one of the best things I’ve have seen. What a player, there has been nobody like him since and probably will never be.