Greatest Skill Team in the World: Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta and More
More often than not, it is the exciting, technically gifted flair players who take the glory, at all levels of football. They are the guys with the fancy tricks and skills, the close control and perfect balance who can provide the moments of genius that often make the difference between winning and losing. In addition, it is their individual expositions that earn them a fan-base and make the best skill players some of the biggest superstars in the world.
Considering what they bring to the table, imagine what a team made up entirely of flair players would be like to watch. The skills on display would be truly incredible. Obviously, there would be difficulties. For example, the team would lack balance and could well struggle against a side that played as a unit, not to mention the egos involved in some, but by no means all, cases. However, such a side would still be interesting to watch, so here is my pick for the ultimate technical skill XI.
Here are a couple of best XI articles I have written in the past:
GK Rogério Ceni
In a world where football is a more serious business than ever before, largely as a result of the incredible sums of money involved, the era of flamboyant goalkeepers appears to be over. The recent retirement of the irreplaceable René Higuita, famous for his Scorpion Kicks, could be seen as the end of the regular goalscorer goalkeeper.
However, since scoring his first goal for São Paulo in 1997, Rogério Ceni has gone on to reach 100 goals, the first goalkeeper to reach the landmark. 2005 and 2006 were his most prolific years as the now 38 year-old netted 21 and 16 times respectively. He has played a massive 963 times for São Paulo, the only club he has ever played for and given his position as a goalkeeper, he could well break the 1000 game mark.
His flair does not come from tricks and skills, but free-kicks and penalties. It doesn't matter how many times you see it, watching a goalkeeper bury a penalty or a free-kick never gets old and provides some comedy in a footballing world that takes itself very seriously.
Props must also go to Hans-Jörg Butt for scoring for three different teams against Juventus; a better record than many strikers have against the Italian side.
LB Ashley Cole
Arguably the greatest left-back in the world today, Ashley Cole is also something of a flair player. He is solid in defence, but his flair comes from his runs forwards. He has easily enough skill to beat players when he comes up against them, and more than enough pace to simply go around them.
For all his attacking intent, he is not a great goalscorer. He has finished just six times for Chelsea, and managed only nine for Arsenal. However, it is pace and skill that make Ashley Cole a great attacking full-back, and one who is fun to watch.
At 30 years-old, Cole still has a fair few years left in his prime and more of the same blend of defensive responsibility and attacking intent is to be expected.
CB Gerard Piqué
Centre-back is probably the outfield position that attracts the fewest players who like to play their football with a touch of flair and style. With that being said, there are a few central defenders who are prepared to show a softer touch when the opportunity presents itself, and it is becoming more common in the modern era.
Gerard Piqué is one such player. The man hotly tipped to one day captain Barcelona has become a key figure since returning to Barcelona after four years away with Manchester United. He is a dominant force at the back, on the ground, in the air and in terms of organisation.
Time spent with Barcelona, as well as Cristiano Ronaldo while at Manchester United, means that Piqué knows what he's doing when it comes to attacking and skill. His short passing game is more than solid, while his goal against Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League showed a degree of composure and close control rarely shown by centre-backs anywhere on the pitch, let alone the opposition's box.
CB Thiago Silva
Thiago Silva is undoubtedly among the best in the world when it comes to centre-backs, but does not quite have the same pure defensive prowess as a centre-back such as Vidic. That is not, however, to dismiss his defensive ability. He has greatly benefited from playing with the more experienced Nesta at AC Milan since 2009, and the pair have developed an impressive partnership from a defensive perspective.
However, where he really excels is on the ball. He is the epitome of a modern Brazilian centre-back, with plenty of pace, technical skill and passing ability. It is these more offensive qualities that have enabled him to become a more than able defensive midfielder when required. As centre-backs go, Silva is one of the more exciting to watch and at 26, he is still relatively young, especially for a centre-back, and could go on to be an important player on the world stage for much of the next 10 years.
RB Daniel Alves
There is a reason that Barcelona made Alves the most expensive defender in the world when they signed him from Sevilla in 2008. Occasionally he is caught out in defence, but he more than makes up for any failings in that department by being an incredibly potent force on the right wing for a Barcelona team that focuses heavily on building from the back.
This attacking ability is demonstrated by his 20 assists last season, a statistic that has taken him to a total of 50 assists in just three seasons for Barcelona. His pace provides him with a tool that will take him past most players, but he also has wonderful close control and has a repertoire of tricks if needed, including a panna that either beats his man or draws a foul.
LM Franck Ribéry
Franck Ribéry has come into his own since signing for Bayern Munich in 2007 and is now recognised as one of Europe's leading players, a fact backed by the regular rumours that link him to clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
The French winger has passing skills that rival the best and skills that make him a terrifying prospect for defences. An exponent of practical skills, Ribéry uses skill moves purely when required to beat players; he is not a player who will use two or three moves when only one is needed.
Unfortunately, Ribéry has been plagued by injury and looks set to start next season on the sidelines due to another injury. However, his 17 assists in 25 appearances last season show just how capable he is when fully fit.
CM Andrés Iniesta
One of the stars of Barcelona's enormously successful team of the last few years, Iniesta is one of the greatest players of his generation. His passing, close control and skill make him a player who is not only a joy to watch, but also one who is incredibly versatile and capable of playing anywhere from defensive midfielder through winger up to deep lying forward.
Iniesta also has a habit of performing on the biggest stage; he was man of the match in the 2010 World Cup final and scored the winning goal. There are few players who can combine close control, skill, vision and selflessness in the way Iniesta does. In this XI he would be the reliable, hard-working player providing plenty in attack but also helping out wherever required.
RM Arjen Robben
There was a time, while he was at Real Madrid, when debate raged over whether Messi or Robben was the best in La Liga. Partly due to injuries, Robben fell away from what has really become a table of two. However, an enforced move to Bayern Munich has pushed Robben back up the ladder when it comes to best in the world, and rightly so.
His pace and skill make him devastating on the wing, and he cuts inside with brutal effectiveness. His close control allows him to put the ball exactly where he wants it while his shooting from range is a fantastic skill in itself.
If Robben can overcome the injury problems that have, so far, plagued him he could be one of the greats of the next few years; he certainly possesses the technical ability to achieve just that.
ST Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo's individual ability is easily apparent through a brief look at his statistics. Since moving to Real Madrid, he has notched up 66 league goals in 63 appearances and has also contributed a further 20 goals in other competitions. Hardly bad going.
Everything about Cristiano Ronaldo makes him exciting to watch. The step-overs are mesmerising, even to defenders, the free-kicks can be spectacular, his speed is awe-inspiring, and his temper is pretty amusing.
He is often described as a show-boater, doing ten step-overs when really none were needed at all, but that is part of what makes Ronaldo great to watch and, although it may not come off every time, helps to make him unpredictable and even harder to defend against.
ST Lionel Messi
As the impossible, unending, debate over who the greatest footballer of all time is rages on, one of the names regularly thrown into the mixer is none other than Lionel Messi. It's easy to see why. He is the talisman of the most successful team in the world for a reason and his runs and footwork have made him a fan favourite around the world.
Messi's incredible agility, speed and tenacity make him hard enough to stop before he's even activated the close control that enables him to go past any defender in his path. He rarely, if at all, uses step-overs, instead relying on close control and slight movements. The close control is beautiful to watch and often leaves you wondering how he has managed to find his way through a gap that simply wasn't there.
There is no doubt that Ronaldinho is not the player he once was. He has struggled for form for a number of years and is not the man who was once Barcelona's crowning jewel. However, when it comes to skills and viewing pleasure, few can match the Brazilian superstar. He can still pull out all the tricks and skills he could whilst he was the best player in the world and appears to have found his form again after returning to Brazil with Flamengo; he recently netted a hat-trick to help his side back from 3-0 down to win 5-4 against Santos.
Injuries played a major role in Ronaldinho's fall from the top of world football, but, albeit minus his pace, he is still one of the greatest entertainers and has skills that are still on a different level to anyone else. He is also a fantastic provider of goals; he provided as many assists as goals for AC Milan. Watching him stop a falling ball dead at his feet, performing his trademark elastico, or leaving defenders wondering where the ball is still exhilarating to watch and earns him a spot in the XI.