My All-Time Favourite Premier League XI
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The Premier League 20 Seasons Awards brings back nostalgia and names you haven't thought about, let alone uttered, in years.
The Premier League may not be the most technical league, nor does it have the best players, but I believe it's the most entertaining.
These are the 11 players which made me love the world game even more. This isn't an all-time greatest XI. It's more so, my all-time favourite Premier League XI.
Goalkeeper: Petr Čech
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Two years after being Chelsea's player of the year, Carlo Cudicini lost his starting place to Petr Čech.
Čech's record of not conceding a goal in 928 minutes for Sparta Prague laid the foundations for a move to Rennes.
I didn't watch Ligue 1 football back then, but I do remember some people pointing out that Čech wasn't even the best goalkeeper in the league—that accolade lay with Grégory Coupet.
So I was surprised when Čech made such a smooth transition into the Premier League.
If not for a depressed skull fracture, Čech would have become an all-time great.
In the aftermath of the Stephen Hunt-Čech incident, José Mourinho said:
My goalkeeper was in the dressing room for 30 minutes waiting for an ambulance. He could not leave the dressing room properly. He had to go in a wheelchair in the lift when he had the injury.
If my goalkeeper dies in that dressing room or in the process, it is something English football has to think about.
This led the Premier League to introduce new measures like having an ambulance on stand-by for players and officials.
Mourinho's complaints may have indirectly saved Fabrice Muamba's life.
Right-Back: Dan Petrescu
Having played under Zdeněk Zeman's ultra-attacking Foggia side, Dan Petrescu added flair and attacking impotence on the right for Chelsea.
Petrescu had a torrid time under Gianluca Vialli, as did several other players: "The fans wanted me to play but Vialli didn't. And his word is final. Vialli never said anything to me but the message was very clear."
André Villas-Boas' treatment of his senior players is reminiscent of Vialli.
Centre-Back: Sol Campbell
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What I loved about Sol Campbell was his freakish athleticism combined with a 6'2" ox-like frame.
He could cover the ground as efficiently as William Gallas, yet also had the physical presence of Jaap Stam.
For about three years, Campbell was almost unbeatable at the back, which coincided with that historic season—The Invincibles season.
Centre-Back: William Gallas
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William Gallas burnt his bridges at Chelsea but he was the best centre-back under José Mourinho.
Gallas could predict the runs of opposing forwards and could intercept the ball at will.
What irked him the most was that Mourinho didn't appreciate this and would often play the Frenchman out of position.
Mind you, Gallas giving 70 percent effort at left-back was still better than Asier del Horno giving it his all.
Ricardo Carvalho was a good centre-back but he wasn't on the level of Gallas, who was world-class.
Gallas perhaps felt Mourinho was biased towards Carvalho which led to the Frenchman's toxic relationship with the Special One.
Arsène Wenger's biggest mistake in recent memory was making Gallas the captain of Arsenal.
If you look at Gallas' upbringing, you can identify reasons why he became such a demonstrative and insensitive captain.
His former teammate Jérôme Rothen revealed that Gallas was bullied during his time at Caen because he was one of the worst players at the club.
I used to catch sliding doors full in the face at airports or, when there was a hole in the pavement, the only one to fall flat on his face was me.
People did not see me doing anything. I must have surprised a few at the school.
Not a lot of people saw me turning pro at the time. There was only one thing to do and that was work and keep working. No doubt I was more persistent than others more gifted.
One day, when I was 16, Francisco Filho, one of the coaches who is now working with Manchester United, told me: 'William, as an attacker, you don't score goals. In midfield, you don't make any, so we are going to try you in defence'. He was right. He wasn't being nasty.
Regarding Gallas' time at Arsenal, I'll remember two things: 1) breaking up the dressing room and 2) losing the plot against Birmingham City.
Left-Back: John Arne Riise
A then-21-year-old John Arne Riise would have been a Fulham player, if Mohamed Al-Fayed had submitted a better contract than Liverpool.
Riise wasn't the greatest defender but his highlight-reel goals compensated for his defensive flaws.
Hopefully people don't remember him for that own goal he scored against Chelsea.
After three seasons with Roma, Riise ironically returned to Fulham, perhaps wanting to play alongside his brother, Bjørn Helge.
This season, Riise's defending has been a lot better than his shooting. He is 51 shots and counting without a league goal.
Defensive Midfielder: Claude Makélélé
Claude Makélélé was one of Real Madrid best players, yet was also one of the lowest paid players, so when he asked for an improved contract, Florentino Pérez took it as an insult:
He wasn't a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres. Younger players will arrive who will cause Makélélé to be forgotten.
The Frenchman's teammate Steve McManaman said:
I think Claude has this kind of gift—he's been the best player in the team for years but people just don't notice him, don't notice what he does. But you ask anyone at Real Madrid during the years we were talking about and they will tell you he was the best player at Real.
The reason why McManaman and Zidane held Makélélé in such high regard was the Frenchman's selflessness.
If McManaman was out of position, Makélélé covered him. If Zidane lost the ball, Makélélé would win the ball and pass it back to him.
Makélélé was so consistent, so integral to Real Madrid and played at such a high level whilst being underpaid.
Claudio Ranieri was so happy with Makélélé's signing that he hailed the defensive midfielder as the best playmaker in the world and the battery of the side.
Makélélé's importance to Chelsea is evident when Chris Coleman devised a masterstroke in having Steed Malbranque man-mark the Frenchman out of the game.
Centre Midfielder: Paul Scholes
I will never understand why someone with as high a football IQ as Paul Scholes would consistently put himself at risk of being red carded with some awful tackles.
His only weakness was himself.
His creativity, his vision and his passing range was incredible.
He was a conductor, he controlled the tempo of the game and launched many counterattacks.
This is why Xavi turns a blind eye to Scholes' Pepe-esque tackling:
In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen—the most complete—is Scholes. He can play the final pass, he can score, he is strong, he never gets knocked off the ball and he doesn’t give possession away. If he had been Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more.
Attacking Midfielder: Matt Le Tissier
The modern version of a Matt Le Tissier would be Dimitar Berbatov because Le Tissier could saunter past opposing players without the need to accelerate—then again he had no pace.
Do you know Xavi's idol was growing up? Not Michael Laudrup from Johan Cruyff's Dream Team, but Le Tissier:
The man I absolutely loved watching as a kid was Matt Le Tissier after seeing the highlights on TV of his extraordinary goals. His talent was out of the norm. He could dribble past seven or eight players but without speed—he just walked past them. For me he was sensational.
Deep Lying Forward: Gianfranco Zola
Gianfranco Zola is the reason why I fell in love with football. He is the reason why I support Chelsea and he is my favourite player of all time.
Like Xavi with Matt Le Tissier, I grew up watching Zola and I don't think I'll ever have such a strong feeling for a player ever again.
It was Carlo Ancelotti who forced Zola out of Parma and into Chelsea.
Centre Forward: Dennis Bergkamp
Dennis Bergkamp scored and created beautiful goals.
He was so disliked at Inter Milan that one Italian publication named their worst player of the week the Bergkamp award.
Inter's trash was Arsenal's treasure.
Centre Forward: Thierry Henry
Carlo Ancelotti strikes again!
Again, an oversight on Ancelotti's part by not adjusting to Thierry Henry's needs.
Arsène Wenger took advantage, signed the "overrated" Henry from Juventus, played him as a forward and he became a living legend.
In Henry's prime, he could beat an opposing team with his pace, his goals and his assists.