Which World Football Leagues Boast the Best Alumni XIs?
What if each league in world football gathered all of its most successful alumni—or former stars—for an exhibition match? What's the strongest team each could field?
We've decided to answer that question by compiling those XIs, stringently checking every star's background for former leagues played in to produce a workable side.
The rules are simple:
- Players are not eligible to represent the league they currently play in
- To be eligible for a past league, they had to have made 10 or more appearances in it
- Loans are fine, so long as they meet the base appearance rule
Some decisions were difficult—particularly where there was a wealth of options for each position—and when choosing between two players, we've generally plumped for the one who has had the better 2017/18 season, and so is in better nick.
10. Belgian Jupiler League
Thibaut Courtois; Thomas Meunier, Vincent Kompany, Kalidou Koulibaly, Jonny Evans; Axel Witsel, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Mousa Dembele; Ivan Perisic, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku
Let us guess: You ran your eyes across this list, then did a double-take on one particular name? Yes, Jonny Evans played a season in Belgium—as did John O'Shea, for what it's worth—as part of Manchester United's old loan scheme with Royal Antwerp.
Koulibaly, Milinkovic-Savic and Perisic plied their trade in Belgium for a while, too. Perhaps it acts as further proof that it's an important league to scout thoroughly.
9. Argentinian Primera Division
Sergio Romero; Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi, Mateo Musacchio, Marcos Rojo; Lucas Biglia, Angel Di Maria, James Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez; Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero
Argentina's attack looks significantly stronger than its defence, which accurately mirrors the makeup of the squad Jorge Sampaoli will lead to the World Cup in Russia this summer.
This XI loses Lionel Messi (never played a senior game in Argentina) and Paulo Dybala (joined Palermo straight from the Argentinian second division), but it gains Alexis and James, who both enjoyed short, successful spells in the Primera Division.
We're envisioning a diamond formation for this team, with Alexis at the tip, though the slightly clunky full-backs may derail that dream.
8. Dutch Eredivisie
The Belgian influence is very strong in the Eredivisie's XI, with Ajax and PSV Eindhoven responsible for hoovering up some of the best from that nation and training them well.
The front four is electric, offering guile, speed and menacing finishing ability, while behind them the midfield of Matic and Dembele is both solid and smooth.
The defence is solid, but a lack of full-backs means we end up with centre-backs in those positions, and that might haunt this side's build-up play were it ever to take to the field.
7. Italian Serie A
Fernando Muslera; Sime Vrsaljko, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Marcos Alonso; Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, Philippe Coutinho; Mohamed Salah, Alexis Sanchez, Edinson Cavani
Somewhat ironically, Serie A's weakness seems to be in defence—the phase of play the league is famed for. That's because their truly great defenders tend to be born in Italy, break through in Italy and, crucially, stay in Italy.
From the midfield onward this XI is all star-power, with a nicely balanced midfield (Vidal in the engine room, Pogba the legs and drive, and Coutinho the panache) and a fierce front three. For those wonder where Marco Verratti is: He never played in Serie A, having been scooped up by Paris Saint-Germain upon Pescara's promotion in 2012!
6. Brazilian Serie A
Alisson; Dani Alves, Miranda, Marquinhos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Fernandinho, Philippe Coutinho; Neymar, Willian, Jesus
Almost every great Brazilian player you see conquering Europe began his journey in his home country. This selection essentially reads like the Selecao's intended World Cup XI.
Like manager Tite has had to, we've had to leave out some brilliant players. Thiago Silva, Filipe Luis and Alex Sandro don't feature, while if you're wondering about Ederson Moraes and Roberto Firmino...neither played in Brazil's top tier.
5. Portuguese Liga NOS
Jan Oblak; Nelson Semedo, Nicolas Otamendi, Pepe, Alex Sandro; Casemiro, Nemanja Matic, James Rodriguez; Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao
FC Porto and Benfica's expertise in the transfer market fuels Portugal's strength here, with a remarkable selection of players having plied their trade in Liga NOS in the past.
The two clubs are responsible for every single one of these players except for Cristiano Ronaldo, who started his career with boyhood team Sporting CP.
There were some tough calls throughout the team, with the likes of Ederson Moraes, Victor Lindelof and Angel Di Maria missing out.
4. French Ligue 1
Hugo Lloris; Cesar Azpilicueta, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Digne; N'Golo Kante, Miralem Pjanic, James Rodriguez; Eden Hazard, Bernardo Silva, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
This team looks like a lot of fun.
The front three combine speed, trickery and technical brilliance; the midfield feels like it really works, with a healthy balance between creativity and legs. The back line possess great pace and comfort on the ball.
There's perhaps an argument for the inclusion of Raphael Guerreiro at left-back, but the Portuguese's injury issues and seeming comfort further forward sealed our decision to go for Digne. Benjamin Mendy and Faouzi Ghoulam's injury-wrecked seasons keeps them from featuring too.
Karim Benzema, who has looked rather off-colour this season, is pipped to the striker's spot by Aubameyang.
3. German Bundesliga
Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Dani Carvajal, Medhi Benatia, Andrea Barzagli, Ricardo Rodriguez; Toni Kroos, Ivan Rakitic, Kevin De Bruyne; Mesut Ozil, Leroy Sane, Roberto Firmino
Dani Carvajal's one season with Bayer Leverkusen ensures the Bundesliga offer a full complement of excellent players in every position. We were spoilt for choices across the pitch.
If there were a bench, the likes of Edin Dzeko, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ilkay Gundogan, Sami Khedira, Douglas Costa and more could be called upon to change the game, while Vincent Kompany, Sead Kolasinac and Marc Bartra could shore things up.
The midfield three is arguably the best any league can boast.
2. English Premier League
Wojciech Szczesny; Branislav Ivanovic, Jerome Boateng, Gerard Pique, Filipe Luis; Luka Modric, Philippe Coutinho, Angel Di Maria; Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez
The Premier League's lost a lot of elite talent over the years, hasn't it?
The front three now belong to La Liga's best, as does two-thirds of the midfield and half the defensive line. It's arguable only four of the XI were let go by English clubs willingly: Szczesny, Ivanovic, Luis and Di Maria.
Bale-Ronaldo-Suarez is fire, the centre-back partnership is the best any league can boast, the midfield is reasonably balanced and there's only one area of genuine concern: right-back.
1. Spanish La Liga
David De Gea; Dani Alves, Toby Alderweireld, Eric Bailly, Cesar Azpilicueta; Alexis Sanchez, Thiago Alcantara, David Silva, Neymar; Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain
La Liga is the king of the alumnus XIs game. The balance in this team is a little off, but the overwhelming quality of these names on paper shines through and paves their way to the top.
We could have created an entire second team that would rank highly here, such is the quality Spain has lost over the last five years. Given that's the case, the fact it's still the strongest league in the world now is a little sickening for others.
Azpilicueta will have to acquaint himself with the left-back role to make this work, and Neymar might have to track back a little, but there's no glaring weakness. It's just dreamy all over.