Ah, the all-time best players to have ever played at the European Championship. People have been debating as to who can and who should play on such a team, if one could extract the said players from their respective time periods when they were at their prime (which also brings up the debate of when they were at their prime). This debate often gets people into heated conversations with arguments flying left and right, such as who had the most goals, assists or defends, and when. Everyone has their own favorite all-time eleven team.
With the European Championship looming, the 2020 Euros, people are debating as to who should be on the best European team, the all-time eleven. Even video games often present you with that choice, some even going so far as to give you an all-time team for every continent or confederation, rather. Here are some of the contenders for every position.
Goalkeepers are an essential part of every football team and they are often the players who make or break the game. They literally keep the ball out of the net. Sure, not everything depends on them, because you have an entire defending line as well as the midfielders, yet they are still a vital part of every football team. Here are the top picks for an all-time eleven European team.
Iker Casillas – Spain
Casillas is a well-known name in the world of football. This goalkeeper did everything right in his prime. Well, some might argue that he is still in his prime, given that he still plays for Porto. He played for the Spanish national team for 16 years, but still remains one of the greatest goalkeepers to date. He was a part of their threefold victory, back to back European championships in 2008 and 2012 as well as their victory at the World Cup 2010. He is definitely a prime example of what you should be looking for in a goalkeeper.
Peter Schmeichel – Denmark
This goalkeeper played during Denmark’s most interesting tournament, the 1992 Euros. He managed to defend 27 out of 31 shots during the tournament, more than anybody else, obviously. One of his biggest moments at the tournament was when he defended seven straight penalties against Germany in the semi-finals. If you need a clutch goalkeeper, this is the one you should be looking at.
Defenders are closest to the goalkeepers and often make or break the game, the same as the goalkeepers do. They keep away enemy strikers and can often initiate great plays after successfully claiming the ball. They can also score goals, as some defenders often go forward and attack when necessary.
Sergio Ramos – Spain
Having played for Spain during their excellent years from 2008 to 2012, Ramos is one of those defenders you have to consider for your eleven. He has had a decade of success and has been consistently picked as one of the all time European defenders. He has to be on this list.
Paolo Maldini – Italy
Italy has had their own share of amazing players, Maldini being one of them. He used to captain their national football team, notably during the 2002 World Cup. He retired after that World Cup, but even after his retirement, and quite some time later, no Italian player has ever had as many successful tackles as Maldini. He played for AC Milan and has been a vital part of their defence.
Matthias Sammer – Germany
Sammer is a player you have to consider when talking about defenders. He played during the 80s and *0s, for the German national team as well as plenty of other clubs. Sammer had a lot of passes and touches during the 1996 tournament, more than any other player at the tournament. They also won that tournament, with him, the defender, scoring 3 goals.
Neither here nor there, midfielders run everywhere and do almost everything to make sure that the ball gets into the range of the striker’s foot and as far away as possible from opposing strikers. They are the connecting tissue which make the team perform better or worse.
Zinedine Zidane – France
When he’s not headbutting players and managing them, he is playing great football, or rather, he was, as he is a retired footballer who is still praised as one of the best midfielders to ever grace the field with their skills. Zidane played a vital role during the 1998 World Cup, and the 2000 Euros, both of which France won due to his goals.
Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez – Spain
These two often go hand in hand. They were part of the Spanish victories from 2008 to 2012. They were also some of the best performing players on the Spanish national team at the time.
Iniesta started all 12 of the games during the Spanish glory run. Xavi is a player who managed to get assists in two different tournament finals. As it stands, they are the best players you could want on your all-time eleven team.
Steven Gerrard, Luka Modric, Kaka, Ronaldinho – The List Goes On
You could have so many great midfielders on your team, the question is, who would you pick? All of the above mentioned names could bring amazing gameplay in their prime (some are still in their prime), so making a choice when these players are in question is very difficult.
Strikers, the ones who usually score and get your team the necessary goals to win. They hit hard and celebrate, or miss and lose you the game. It is not that simple, but strikers are a vital role of every team, just like every other position. Here are the best choices.
Lionel Messi – Argentina
Though not European by nationality, Messi has played most of his games with Barcelona. He was also picked so many times for all-time eleven teams that there is almost no competition, except Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi is agile, fast and can dribble as easily as he can breathe. He is a natural choice for this position.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
While Messi can dribble and perform amazing feats with his feet, Ronaldo has the height and power, as well as skills, which rival that of Messi. Both are often picked for the all-time eleven team and for a good reason. Ronaldo is without a doubt, along with Messi, one of the greatest players to have ever played in this position.
Michel Platini – France
Speaking of greats, just remember the World Cup of 1984 and how Platini is still the highest scoring striker at the Euros. He carried France on his back, literally, having been a direct influence in their victories, 71% of their total scored goals. He has the most scores of all players, Ronaldo being tied with him, the only difference being that Platini scored all of his 9 goals at a single tournament while Ronaldo did it across four tournaments.
Thierry Henry – France
He is a bit more modern than Platini, being in his prime in the early 2000s, from 2000 to 2006. He was placed on the all-time eleven team 5 times, 4 of those in a row, being the only player to do so. What made him a great player was his consistency and reliability, something you would always want in a striker.
Ronaldo – Brazil
Ronaldo played for Inter and Milan, as well as Real and Barcelona, not to mention the Brazilian national team. He is also one of those players who managed to score when you least expect them to. Ronaldo is one of the strikers you should consider for your all-time eleven team, even though you can only have so many of them.
What About MY Favorite Player?
Certainly enough, you can never create an all-time eleven list which will meet everyone’s vision of an all-time greatest European team. You could, however, make several such lists, which would cover a lot of ground and a lot of players, from all eras of football.
Unlike other sports, football never lacked for talent and great players. Some may have better stamina today, but there were great players who could outrun today’s players, as well. Regarding skill, dribbling, passing and striking, not to mention tackling and defending, players from different eras are not that different.
The only thing which differs is the number of people working with the players, the support staff, from doctors, to physiotherapists; even managers and psychologists have changed. Nutrition has also improved, so players today can get better food, or more likely, the right quality of macro and micronutrients.
As to which players should be on your all-time eleven European time, only you can answer that question. Given that it changes every year, with every new player’s performance, you might also need to adjust your team. While the new players might do well on one tournament, being great means being great at multiple tournaments. Consistent players are much better than one-off wildcards who defend or score in clutch situations. That is why time will tell how much the all-time European eleven team lists will change.