The Best Soccer Team in History: All-Time Starting XI

Tommy FavaloroContributor IIIMarch 31, 2011

The Best Soccer Team in History: All-Time Starting XI

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    A game that has been played for hundreds of years, soccer has provided a grand stage for brilliant performances by some of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen. With both club soccer and international soccer, fans have had the opportunity to see world-class players battle each other on the pitch and show the world just how good they really are.

    Here is the starting lineup of the best soccer team that can possibly be put together using a traditional 4-4-2 formation. The starting XI includes players from all time periods that have hung up their cleats since their glory years.

Goalkeeper: Lev Yashin

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    Starting between the pipes for the all-time world XI team is Lev Yashin. Because the Russian dressed in all black and saved shots that any other goalkeeper simply could not get to, he earned the nickname the “Black Spider”. To opposing strikers, it seemed that Yashin had eight limbs because of the incredible saves he made.

    The 6’3’’ goalie was an intimidating force who was relentless in his pursuit of the ball. His aggressive style of play and emphasis on defensive organization set him apart from the rest. Yashin changed the position of goalkeeper and was an iconic player in his day.

    The “Black Spider” played his entire career for Dinamo Moscow and appeared for the Soviet Union 75 times between 1954 and 1970. He played in three world cups, won the Soviet Cup three times, won the Soviet League title five times, and was the only goalie to ever win the Ballon d’Or in 1963.  In 2000, he was named FIFA World Keeper of the Century.  

Right-Back: Carlos Alberto

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    Known for his tremendous tackling and great ball control, Carlos Alberto read the game and was an attacking threat on the right side of defense. Similar to Maicon of Inter, not only did teams have to worry about trying to get past him on offense, but teams had to find a way to slow down the Brazilian playmaker from pushing up the field.

    From 1963 to 1977, Carlos Alberto played in the Brazilian league with powerhouses Fluminense and Santos. He won multiple trophies in his time in Brazil before he moved on to the New York Cosmos. Teaming up with fellow countryman Pele, Carlos Alberto helped New York win the NASL Championship four times. He also represented Brazil 53 times and captained the 1970 World Cup winners.

    Carlos Alberto was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame and is a member of the World Team of the 20th Century.

Center-Back: Franz Beckenbauer

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    A powerful presence and a great leader, Franz Beckenbauer was the anchor at the back of every team he played for. Known as “The Kaiser,” he was very versatile but spent most of his career in central defense and was one of the first defenders to play the sweeper position.

    Playing for German giants, Bayern Munich, he helped the team win four Bundesliga titles, three European Cups, and the UEFA Cup in 1967. After his days in Germany, Beckenbauer joined the New York Cosmos and was a vital part of the team, winning three NASL titles.

    His career with the West German national team was just as impressive with him captaining the World Cup winning team in 1974, and helping the team win the 1972 European Championship.

    His individual achievements include two Ballon d’Or trophies, German Footballer of the Year four times, NASL Most Valuable Player award in 1977, and induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Center-Back: Franco Baresi

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    A very intelligent sweeper, Franco Baresi read the game and made plays even though he lacked the physicality that central defenders of his day usually possessed. He was a leader and extremely devoted player as he spent his entire twenty-year career at AC Milan.

    In Milan, he won six Serie A titles, three Champions League trophies, four Italian Super Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups. Playing for the Italian national team, Baresi was a part of the 1982 FIFA World Cup champions and played over a decade with the “Azzurri”.

    He is AC Milan’s player of the Century, with his legendary #6 jersey being retired at the San Siro.

Left-Back: Paolo Maldini

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    Another talented Italian defender, Maldini played both central and left-back for club and country. He was a rock at the back and like wine, got better with age.

    At the age of 16, he debuted for AC Milan and played until he retired in 2009 at the age of 40. His greatest accomplishments include seven Serie A titles, five Champions League/European Cup trophies, one Coppa Italia, five Italian Super Cups, five UEFA Super Cups, and a FIFA Club World Cup title in 2007.

    Maldini played in more than 100 games for “Gli Azzurri” and appeared in over 900 games for Milan. His #3 jersey for AC Milan is never to be worn again.

Midfield: Roberto Baggio

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    The most skilled dribbler and technical player in Italian soccer history, Baggio was a superstar during his playing days and was a very talented midfielder on great defensive teams. He was a prolific goal scorer, created goals, and had the ability to beat any defender one on one.

    Somewhat of a controversial player because of the number of teams he played for in Italy, Baggio shined wherever he played. He showed his skill while playing for four of the major Italian club teams including Fiorentina, Juventus, Milan, and Inter.

    He scored over 200 goals in his club career, won two Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia trophy, and a UEFA Cup in 1993. Representing Italy, he made over 50 appearances and netted 27 goals for the “Azzurri”. Baggio won the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year in 1993, and is the only Italian to score in three World Cups.

    He might have missed the final penalty against Brazil in the 1994 World Cup, but without him, Italy would not have made it that far.

Midfield: Zinedine Zidane

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    Though many children and young adults today might only remember Zidane for head butting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final, Zidane leaves behind a legendary legacy as quite possibly the best midfielder soccer has ever seen. “Zizou” became a superstar during his time at Juventus and played the beautiful game the way it was meant to be played. Amazing dribbling, control, and passing skills helped make him become the highest paid soccer player in history back in 2001.

    A part of the first “Galacticos” era in Real Madrid, Zidane played alongside David Beckham, Ronaldo, and Luis Figo. During this time period, Madrid won the La Liga title during the 2002-2003 season, won the 2002 Champions League, and a host of other trophies. Zidane also won the Serie A in 1996 and 1997, and had a successful international career.

    #10 for “Les Bleus” lifted the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 European Cup. He won FIFA World Player of the Year three times, the Ballon d’Or in 1998, Serie A player of the year, and many other awards. His illustrious career ended in 2006 and he is often compared to another French great, Michel Platini. Fans today would sure love to see “Zizou” score one more of his signature volleys.

Midfield: Michel Platini

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    Frenchman Michel Platini was a special player who started his career at Nancy and St. Etienne, before moving on to one of Europe’s top teams, Juventus. His attacking midfielder position made him a dangerous player in the center of the park who could score goals as well as set them up.

    Platini played on Juventus from 1982 to 1987 and scored over 60 goals. Playing for France, he appeared in three world cups and won the 1984 European Championship. Despite his position as a midfielder, he held the all-time goal scoring record for France until Thierry Henry passed him in 2007.

    He won two scudetti for Juventus, a Coppa Italia trophy, and the European Cup in 1985. Platini won European Footballer of the Year, three Ballon d’Or trophies, and countless other individual awards.

Midfield: Johan Cruyff

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    The master of “Total Football” for Ajax and Holland, Johan Cruyff played a mouth-watering brand of soccer. In the “Total Football” system, every player on the team was capable of doing the same things on the field. When one person went up to attack, another teammate would take his spot and cover for him. The 10 field players were interchangeable and all played virtually every position on the field. Even though all were theoretically supposed to be equally talented, Cruyff stood out.

    Although the Dutchman was technically a center forward, he often dropped back and played attacking midfielder. Cruyff is one of only three players in soccer history to win three Ballon d’Or trophies. Playing in the Eredivisie he won nine league titles and three European Cups. He also won one La Liga title for Barcelona in 1974.

    As a Netherlands player, Cruyff enjoyed a lot of success, but never won a World Cup. Holland was a very dangerous team that came up just short on a few occasions. Even though the national team didn’t win any trophies during his time, “Total Football” made Cruyff and his team a must-see.

Striker: Diego Maradona

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    Diego Mardona played the game of soccer with great enthusiasm and passion. Throughout his career, he had his ups and downs while dealing with off–the-field issues, but he played at a very high level despite all of the controversy. Even though Mardona stood at 5’5’’ during his playing days, he was extremely strong and used his powerful legs and upper body to fight off double and triple teams. His tremendous technical ability excited the fans and provided for countless 50-yard runs in which Diego took on the whole team.

    After starting off in Argentina and playing for Boca Juniors, Mardona left his home to play for Barcelona. After a couple of seasons, he then was transferred to Napoli in the Serie A where he reached the summit and led the team to their only two Serie A titles in club history. The fans loved him, and in Naples, he was almost considered a saint because he contributed to Napoli’s most successful year in history.

    For Argentina, Mardona won the 1986 World Cup with a little help from “the hand of God”, but nevertheless he dominated every game and played like a legend.

    No stat can describe how good the Argentine was. He might very well be the best player of all time.

Striker: Pele

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    Even those who never watched a soccer game in their life know of the man called Pele. The Brazilian striker dominated in his day and scored goals like they were going out of style. No one could stop him from putting the ball in the back of the net and that is why he is said to have scored over 1000 goals in all competitions in his entire career.


    Pele started early, winning his first World Cup at age 17.  After playing for Santos for nearly 20 years, he joined the star-studded New York Cosmos and won the NASL title in 1977. In addition to winning the World Cup in 1958, Pele also won in 1962 and 1970. He is the only player to ever be on three World Cup-winning teams.


    Pele will always be remembered for his goal scoring and dribbling. He was a very special player who is in a league of his own.


    That's my all-time starting XI team. What's yours?