Dream XI: The 'Never Played in the Premier League' Edition

Daniel Tiluk@@danieltilukFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

Dream XI: The 'Never Played in the Premier League' Edition

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    The Champions League (formerly the European Cup) has done the job of allowing England's top clubs to play against the best players the continent has to offer, but what would happen if Ronaldinho, at the peak of his powers, played against West Bromwich Albion twice a year?

    You cannot help but think the Brazilian would have a field day.

    To that point, who are the best footballers to never play a second in the Premier League?

    Bleacher Report explores...


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    Before you read this and become enraged, let us sort the parameters.

    While Zinedine Zidane, Paolo Maldini, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Rivaldo or Roberto Carlos would have set the Premier League alight, creating a Dream XI from a pool of retired footballers in the Premier League era (1992-present) would be exhaustive.

    One XI cannot do the breadth of talent justice, so a pool of active players seems a more plausible ambition.

    To accommodate the selections, our employed formation is the 4-3-3.

GK: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)

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    Surely you were not expecting Victor Valdes?

    Gianluigi Buffon is an ageless wonder. While Iker Casillas might thank Jose Mourinho and Diego Lopez for his omission, the Italian keeper's ability to be a fulcrum for Serie A champions in 2014 is incredible.

    The Juventus captain is essentially his own bus; possessing cat-like reflexes, veteran savvy and unequaled defensive leadership, who else would you want between Premier League goalposts but Buffon?

    While he (likely) will never grace an English shirt, without doubt, the 36-year-old shot-stopper will be on the world's television sets come June—making his fifth World Cup roster for the Azzurri.

    Consolation every four years it seems.


    Which Premier League side?

    If any top side in the Premier League needed a world-class goalkeeper over the past eight years, Arsenal are the club.

    The free-flowing, decadent football Arsene Wenger installed in north London has been let down frequently by defensive and mental frailty. Buffon would have remedied both problems upon his arrival.

RB: Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)

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    Why are there two Ps in "Philipp?" Rather inefficient considering...

    Digressing from stereotypes, Bayern Munich's jack-of-all-trades, Philipp Lahm, takes his rightful place in our fantastical lineup. In this XI, the Bavarian skipper is needed as a right-back, something he has been lauded for since 2005-06.

    Playing for Pep Guardiola and the German national side seemingly everywhere, Lahm's made a great case for being the best all-round footballer on the planet (Yaya Toure may take offence).

    The German's "football brain" is unquestionably genius. Assuming he will never play for an English team, the Premier League will never completely understand how impressive Lahm's footballing instincts are.


    Which Premier League side?

    There has not been an abundance of world-class right full-backs in the Premier League era. A certain exception being made for Manchester United's Gary Neville.

    Neville's decorated Old Trafford reign reached its denouement around 2007—Lahm would have been the perfect player to step into Neville's boots.

    Maybe the sustained excellence of both United and Bayern Munich is a factor in this evaluation, or might it be as simple as red-kit continuity?

CB: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)

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    Our second Juventus player (be patient for the third), Giorgio Chiellini enters the centre of this XI's defence.

    The word "joke" adequately describes the fact Chiellini has never been named in a UEFA or FIFA XI. Apparently Sergio Ramos is the better option?

    The Italian unit is Serie A's version of John Terry—minus the controversy and general disdain. Powerful, quick and a ball magnet, Chiellini's "adjustment period" to the Premier League might take an hour.


    Which Premier League side?

    Arsenal have already received Gigi Buffon from this experiment, why not give them his running mate? The grit Chiellini plays with could be used at the Emirates.

    Gunners love Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny, but the trio have not exactly brought water to the trophy drought occurring in north London.

    Should Arsenal beat Hull City in the FA Cup final on 17 May, fair enough, but that said—Chiellini in red would have been an instrumental piece to balancing an attack-minded Arsene Wenger side.

CB: Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan)

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    How this notion became has been generally put down to plying his trade in France we may never know, but Thiago Silva is widely considered the best centre-back in the world. This list takes that understanding to heart.

    The game of Giorgio Chiellini looks compatible with the physical nature of English football; the Brazilian's transition, however, might take a bit longer, but a player of his quality would find his groove eventually.

    His international centre-back partner, David Luiz, has found the art of Premier League defending rather difficult, whether Silva would suffer a similar fate in an EPL midfield seems highly unlikely, but the idea is rather interesting.


    Which Premier League side?

    Martin Demichelis. Demichelis, Martin. Really?

    Manchester City are one of the only teams on Earth who could afford the Brazilian. Conveniently enough, the Citizens desperately need a player like Silva on their teamsheet.

    Joleon Lescott, Matija Nastasic and the aforementioned Demichelis are not the solutions to pairing with Vincent Kompany. As defence is arguably their only "weakness," Silva would put a rapid ending to those issues.

    This particular "Premier League side" logic may actually be plausible.

LB: Marcelo (Real Madrid)

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    While Ashley Cole may be the first-choice left-back for many in a revisionist history of the past decade, Real Madrid's Marcelo is the next best option—or possibly the best option.

    Marcelo has been an integral component of Los Merengues' success since 2007; the Brazilian international's attributes of pace, power and technical prowess make him a difficult proposition marauding from the back four.

    The Brazilian is also a heady defender and proficient tackler—a full-back ready to contend with the Premier League's (or any league's) right-sided midfielders/wingers.


    Which Premier League side?

    Arsenal have needed a left-back since selling Cole to Chelsea for £5 million and William Gallas.

    If the point has not been clearly established already: Arsenal are worth $1.33 billion (£786 million), according to Forbes, yet have decided to be Scrooge-like with their funds—Mesut Ozil as the exception to the rule.

    A wise game plan to make money—not so much to winning silverware.

    Arsene Wenger has done well in attacking areas, but defensive midfield and the back four have been lackluster. As this list suggests, using saved capital to buy defenders and a goalkeeper might have seen a few more parades in north London.

CDM: Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan, Real Madrid)

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    Esteban Cambiasso is a glue guy. You might not appreciate the work, but without his diligence and fortitude, where would Inter Milan be?

    A treble winner in Jose Mourinho's 2009-10 side, alongside Javier Zanetti (whose retirement sees his selection in this XI given to the other member of Inter's double pivot), Cambiasso was vital.

    The Argentinian's ability to marshal a game almost single-handedly from a holding role is nothing short of amazing. Not blessed with blistering pace or brute strength, Cambiasso's positional awareness should be trademarked.

    Were he successfully acquired by a Premier League side, they would have received a player sure to adjust quickly and thrive as a prerequisite.


    Which Premier League side?

    Liverpool's revival this season has been predicated on attacking football, but their last spell of success was a more balanced affair.

    One might argue the combination of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard in midfield was the engine behind a quartet of consecutive top-four finishes and the 2005 Champions League crown. When the Spanish international left—so did the Reds for a time.

    The leadership and determination Cambiasso exudes are invaluable traits. In the transition period from 2009-10 to present, a player with the Argentinian's qualities would have been precious to Liverpool's stability over the likes of Raul Meireles, Javier Mascherano and Lucas.

CM: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan)

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    You can save your "Dos Equis man" and Chuck Norris quips—Andrea Pirlo is, without doubt, "the most interesting man in the world."

    Shame the world has not been afforded the opportunity to see his talents outside of the Champions League, the Europa League, Serie A or international competition. From amazing free kicks to "Panenka" penalties, Pirlo is the coolest customer in football.

    Arguably the greatest technical player of his generation, the Italian's services would have seen his Premier League competition befuddled and supporters bewildered.


    Which Premier League side?

    If Carlo Ancelotti had his way, Pirlo—and his immense bag of tricks—would have relocated to west London in 2009. The Italian manager took control of Chelsea Football Club at the turn of the decade and thought to bring his San Siro maestro to Stamford Bridge.

    In the end, Silvio Berlusconi played the role of spoiler—no surprises there.

    How exactly Ancelotti was planning to work both Pirlo and Frank Lampard into his midfield remains unknown but had the duo worked—it is very possible the Premier League would not have found a better midfield duo for another half-century.

CM: Xavi (Barcelona)

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    Admit it, you would love to see Barcelona's midfield weekly navigate Premier League waters.

    Spanish football's reputation is one of flair and technicality, compared to the English game of directness and strength. Diminutive players such as Xavi, some might say, would not stand a chance in the physical Premier League—but greatness tends to transcend style.

    Xavi has proved over the past decade he is more than capable of dominating a game from the middle of the park; if the Barcelona and Spanish national side captain can find a pass in those kits, there is no reason to believe he could not with Premier League badges on his shirt.

    Paired with the more advanced Andrea Pirlo in this XI, the passing ability of the two legends is unrivaled. Watching the duo adroitly pick out their attacking options would be something to behold.


    Which Premier League side?

    Xavi's obvious club is Arsenal. The north London side has traditionally played the most "tiki-taka"-styled football in England's top flight but as this is fictitious—why not think outside the proverbial box?

    Everton are now in the business of playing free-flowing football with Roberto Martinez at the helm. In just one season at Goodison Park, the Spanish manager has taken David Moyes' outfit and made it more aesthetically pleasing.

    Were a player like Xavi bought, the Toffees might well have qualified for the Champions League this year. Youth the likes of Ross Barkley are unquestionably talented, but the 20-year-old English starlet had just two assists in 34 EPL appearances this season—not good enough.

    Combined with a like-minded countryman in Martinez, one wonders the possibilities. That being said, Xavi leaving Barcelona—for any club—seems the logical equivalent of looking for fish in the desert or camels in the ocean.

RAM/RW: Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich, Olympique de Marseille, Galatasaray)

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    What would Franck Ribery be if not a footballer? Some may wager an inmate.

    The French international's on field comportment is rather fiery. You live with Ribery's moments of red mist as the winger is one in a select group of world-class options at his position. Pace, vision and tenacity are his hallmarks—something any Premier League club would covet.

    As former Chelsea and Real Madrid man Arjen Robben is arguably the best one-footed player on the planet, he and his left boot play on the right side of Bayern Munich's formation. Hence, Ribery plays a left-sided role for the Bavarian outfit.

    Capable in both channels, the Frenchman accommodates others in this XI by taking a place on the right wing.


    Which Premier League side?

    How do you replace Cristiano Ronaldo?

    In two words or fewer: You cannot.

    Manchester United gave the task a decent effort with Antonio Valencia (the pace) and Nani (the skill) but finding a player with Ronaldo's speed, technical ability and overall marketability is virtually impossible.

    The second-best option for Manchester United's playing style under Sir Alex Ferguson would have been our hot-tempered Frenchman. It seems the Scottish legend agreed with this premise, as the Red Devils mulled over a £63 million bid for the Bayern winger in 2009, per The Guardian's Raphael Honigstein.

    Obviously the move failed to launch, nevertheless, Ribery would have provided the "chalk on your boots" ethic United wingers have been known for.

LAM/LW: Ronaldinho (AC Milan, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain)

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    Probably your favourite player's favourite player, Ronaldinho is an automatic selection in this XI.

    You cannot help but feel slightly robbed as an English football consumer. This list proves many have evaded the Premier League's clutches but the renowned 2002 World Cup winner is a special case.

    The shifty, tricky attacker was touted the best player in the world for the better part of three years and played permanently everywhere meaningful except Germany and England.

    Had Ronaldinho played in the EPL, he would have been an attraction comparable with Big Ben.

    Talk is cheap, YouTube montages on the other hand...


    Which Premier League side?

    Who cares?

    It should have happened.

ST/CF: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

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    "Lock of the century" contender here.

    Registering 234 goals from 276 La Liga appearances, Blaugrana's clinical No. 10 is the first-choice striker of his generation and is making an argument for the all-time spot.

    Bar the 2011 Champions League Final against Manchester United, when playing vs. Premier League competition—namely Chelsea—Messi has struggled. However, you only play Chelsea twice in a Premier League campaign. The striker would have promoted sides and the usual suspects at the bottom to inflate his goal tally.

    If Messi ever decides to venture from Catalonia, many will hope the Argentinian elects to join the world's most popular (and most demanding) domestic competition.


    Which Premier League side?

    You would think Manchester City and Chelsea are the only clubs bold enough to fathom the move.

    The Blues seem to be wary of Financial Fair Play regulations, while the 2013-14 Premier League champions seem rather less worried.

    Add the presence of Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta, along with former team-mate Yaya Toure—not to mention Jose Mourinho's previous feuds with Barcelona and his penchant for defensive mindedness—and the Citizens look the more plausible Premier League option for Messi.

    Any and every team would be improved by the Argentinian—both in the goals department and with marketing. That said, Barcelona would want a pretty penny for their star.

    Via TransferMarkt, Messi is worth 10.5 billion pennies (£105 million).

    Good luck rolling all of those.

Honourable Mentions: The 23-Man Squad

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    In an attempt to save some surprise, we find the honourable mentions nearer the end.

    As World Cup 23-man squads are all the rage this month, this is a 23-man squad consisting of players who missed the cut.


    Player (Notable clubs for which they have played)


    Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

    Steve Mandanda (Olympique de Marseille)

    Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich, Schalke 04)



    Eric Abidal (AS Monaco, Barcelona, Lyon)

    Dani Alves (Barcelona, Sevilla)

    Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich)

    Pepe (Real Madrid, FC Porto)

    *Carles Puyol (Barcelona)

    Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, Sevilla)


    Holding Midfielders

    Daniele De Rossi (Roma)

    Maxime Gonalons (Lyon)

    Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)

    **Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan)


    Attacking Midfielders/Wingers

    Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)

    Kaka (AC Milan, Real Madrid, Sao Paulo)

    Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich)

    Neymar (Barcelona)

    Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)

    Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax)


    Strikers/Secondary Strikers

    Oscar Cardozo (Benfica)

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Ajax)

    **Raul (Schalke 04, Real Madrid)

    Francesco Totti (Roma)


    *Leaving club, future unsure as to retirement

    **Understood to be retiring at season's end

Comments Section: Who Ya Got?

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    As Pep Guardiola is attempting to say in the slide picture: "Who do you want?"

    Make your own XI in the comments section; the names given show the possibilities are endless.


    Three Discussion Points

    Which players were left out who you think deserve to be mentioned?

    Who would flop?

    Name English players who would stand (or "would have stood" depending on age) the best chance of flourishing in Europe.