European football: All-time XI

Johan Cruyff, Zinedine Zidane & Franz Beckenbauer all feature in this elite European team

Jonathan Kelly
Published 04/22/2013 11:09 by Jonathan Kelly, read by 10,289 people.


Much is said about football in South America but Europe has produced some of the greatest players the world has ever seen, many of which will never be forgotten.

It is hard to put a mere eleven players into an elite team when so many have graced the game, but here's a look at in my humble opinion the greatest European XI of all time - and to try and include some other favourites I've added a list of five substitutes as well.

Goalkeeper: Oliver Kahn | Germany

Nicknamed "Der Titan" Oliver Kahn is recognised by many fans and experts as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. His professional career began in 1987 at the age of 18 and the first big move of his career came when he signed for German giants Bayern Munich in 1994. The following year, Kahn earned his first two caps for his country. His first title with the Bavarian club came in 1996 when the side won the UEFA Cup, a Bundesliga medal soon followed as Kahn helped Bayern secure the league title in Germany.

The giant keeper was voted European goalkeeper of the year four times in a row from 1999-2002 and received the golden ball for best player at the World Cup tournament in 2002 despite making a mistake which ultimately cost Germany the chance to win the trophy for a fourth time.

Nonetheless, Kahn won 86 caps for his country during his 12 years of service for his nation.  He also played over 750 times during his club career winning the Bundesliga title an incredible eight times and also achieving the ultimate success of his career, winning the UEFA Champions League with Bayern in 2001.  Kahn was one of few world class goalkeepers to ever grace the game.

Right-back: Lilian Thuram | France

The unsung hero in France's two most recent international triumphs, the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship. Thuram began his career with Monaco in 1990 in which he spent the first six years of his career before a move to one of Europe's big leagues beckoned. He won his first cap for France during his time with Monaco and joined Serie A side Parma in 1996 making over 200 appearances for the club and winning the UEFA Cup before joining Italian giants, "The Old Lady" Juventus. 

He joined the white and black of Juve for a reported fee of around €40 million and was now in a team that was regarded with having the best defence in the world at the time with the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Montero and of course Thuram being part of the back four at one time or another. During his international career Thuram played over 140 games for Les Bleus, he only ever scored two goals however those two could not have been more crucial. The full-back scored both goals in France's 2-1 win over Croatia in the 1998 World Cup semi-final which helped the host nation to progress to the final in which they were crowned world champions for the first time.

Thuram joined Barcelona in 2006 before retiring with a rare heart condition in 2008. Thuram played more than 600 games during his glittering career, winning the Serie A league title (Scudetto) with Juventus and a number of individual awards as well as the World Cup, European Championship and the UEFA Cup triumphs that have been mentioned previously.

Centre-back: Franz Beckenbauer | Germany

What would the greatest European XI be without the legendary Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer. The defender is considered to be Germany's greatest ever player due to his elegant style, leadership and his ability of reading the beautiful game as good if not better than anybody that has ever graced the game. He spent the majority of his career with his hometown club Bayern Munich, the team in which he began his storied career with in 1964. Der Kaiser was made captain during the 1968/69 season and led the Bavarian club to three successive European Cup triumphs from 1974 to 1976. 

Under the leadership of Beckenbauer at the heart of the defence, Bayern Munich became the supreme force in European football for a period of time.  Beckenbauer captained West Germany to major international success in the form of the European Championship in 1972 and of course most famously the 1974 World Cup, when his side defeated Johan Cruyff's total football style, Netherlands. Beckenbauer also enjoyed success as a manager and became one of only two men (along with Mario Zagallo) to win the World Cup both as a player and as a manager when he led West Germany to victory in 1990.

Beckenbauer is written in football folklore alongside the greatest players to ever grace the game such as Pele, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff. The former German skipper played over 650 times during his club career, scoring almost 100 goals which is a huge number for a defender and earned more than 100 caps for his country which only further signifies what a phenomenal player Der Kaiser really was.

Centre-back: Franco Baresi | Italy

A one man club, Franco Baresi played his entire 20 year career with the red and black half of AC Milan. He began playing for his beloved club in 1977, making just three appearances that year before the side were relegated to Serie B. It was during that season that Baresi became a first team member of the squad making playing in over 40 matches which helped The Rossoneri achieve promotion back to Serie A the top flight in Italy.

The centre half had a glorious career with the one and only club he played for, winning the Champions League/European Cup three times and six Serie A titles. In 1999 he was voted as A.C. Milan's greatest player of the 20th century. Baresi also achieved international success with Italy when The Azzurri became world champions in 1982. Baresi played more than 700 games in his career and completed 82 caps for his country.

Left-back: Paolo Maldini | Italy

One of sure fire picks for this team, Maldini like his prodecessor Baresi spent his entire 25 year career with A.C. Milan. The legendary defender played in the centre or on the left of the defence during his time with The Rossoneri and Italy. He won the Champions League five times as well as seven Serie A titles and one Coppa Italia. Maldini also earned his first call up for the Italian national team in 1988.

He played 126 times for The Azzurri and was made captain in 1994. He formed a formidable partnership with Alessandro Nesta for both club and country and ensuring that Milan had the formula to remain a force in Europe.  Maldini played in over 1,000 matches during his career for both club and country. He also won many individual titles including the Serie A defender of the year in 2004 and the UEFA Champions league best defender in 2007.  Since his retirement at the age of 41 in 2009, Maldini has since gone down in history as one of the game's greatest ever defenders.

Centre-midfielder: Lothar Matthaus | Germany

The most capped German player of all time, Matthaus began his career in 1979 with Borussia Monchengladbach. His first of 150 caps for his country came a year later and a move to a big European club came calling soon after. Matthaus signed for Bayern Munich in 1984 in which he won seven Bundesliga titles with the Bavarian giants in two spells with the club.

Matthaus joined Italian side Inter Milan in 1988 and won the UEFA Cup in 1991 with the club. However his greatest success came in 1990 when he captained Germany to the country's third World Cup triumph following a 1-0 over Argentina in the final.

Matthaus played in a total of five World Cups for his country from 82-98 tournaments as his international career spanned 20 years, he was also part of the German side that won the European Championship in 1980 and announced his retirement from football following the European Championship in 2000. 

Matthaus enjoyed so much success during a career that lasted more than 20 years, he last played club football with American side Metrostars in 2000.  In 1991, he was named as the first ever FIFA World Player of the Year and remains the only German player to do so, add to all these achievements he also won the Ballon d'Or in 1990.

Right-wing: George Best | Northern Ireland

Born and raised on the tough streets of Belfast, Best began his football career with Manchester United by signing with the English club's youth team in 1961. The Manchester giants had spotted his talent from the age of 15 and it was to be the beginning of a fantastic career for the Northern Irish winger.

His style combined pace, acceleration, the ability to beat defenders and with a deadly eye for goal. A United scout informed then manager that he had found a genius of a talent in Best.

Best was part of the United team that won the old First Division in 1965 and 1967. However perhaps the crowning moment of his career came in 1968 when alongside the likes of Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, Best helped United to win the club's first ever European Cup courtesy of a 4-1 win over Eusebio's Benfica in the final.

Best received the Ballon d'Or award later that year at the age of just 22 and won more votes than the likes of team-mate Charlton and German legend Franz Beckenbauer. Best would continue to play for United until 1974 in total making 474 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 181 goals.

Left-wing: Johan Cruyff | Netherlands

Widely regarded by many as the greatest player of all time, Cruyff was part of the famous Dutch team of the 70's that coined the term "Total Football" as well as being voted European Footballer of the Year on three occasions during this period. Cruyff spent the majority of his career with hometown club, Ajax. During his time with the Amsterdam side, he won the Eredivisie league title eight times and the European Cup three times ensuring that the red and white of Ajax became a force to be reckoned with in world football.

Cruyff's first spell with his hometown team lasted nine years from '64 to '73 before joining Catalan giants Barcelona for five years, winning La Liga in his first season and scored "The Phantom Goal" one of his most famous against Atletico Madrid. The Netherlands with the aid of Cruyff reached the World Cup final in 1974 and were expected to make history and bring home the gold.

The Oranje took the lead early in the game only to be pegged back and ultimately defeated 2-1 by West Germany. Despite this Cruyff enjoyed a highly successful career winning many major honours with club and individual awards.  He scored 33 goals in 48 games for his country. He also scored more than 300 career goals in Holland, Spain and America.

Cruyff also enjoyed success as a manager, most notably guiding the team he once played for Barcelona to a European Cup triumph in 1991 as well as winning four league titles whilst managing the Catalan club.

Attacking-midfielder: Zinedine Zidane | France

The outstanding playermaker in world football from the late 90's to the mid 2000's, Zizou as he became known began his career in his homeland of France with Cannes during the late 80's, even then his talent was undeniable as he helped the club finish 4th in Ligue 1 and qualify for the UEFA Cup, the club's highest finish in 40 years.

Zidane was transferred to Bordeaux in 1992 where he formed a cohesive unit with future international teammates Bixente Lizarazu and Christophe Dugarry.  He earned his first two caps for France in 1994 and was a first team member for the Le Bleus' European Championship campaign in 1996.

Following the tournament, Zidane joined Serie A giants Juventus for around £3 million and won the Scudetto with The Old Lady two years in a row before being a key figure for his country as France won the 1998 World Cup on home soil to make history. Zidane was also Le Bleus' star man during the Euro 2000 tournament, leading a golden generation for the country to victory in the final over Italy.

In the summer of 2001, the mercurial France No.10 signed for Real Madrid for a then world record fee of £46 million.  His first season ended with the Frenchman scoring a sensational goal in the Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen, it was ultimately the winning goal and with it Zidane lifted the prestigious for the first time in his career.

Throughout his extraordinary career, Zidane won more than 100 caps for his country as well as over 650 appearances at club level, he was also named World Player of the Year on three occasions and also received the golden ball for best player during the 2006 World Cup finals.

Striker: Marco van Basten | Netherlands

Van Basten scored one of the most talked about goals of all time during the Netherlands European Championship triumph in 1988 over USSR in the final.  The elegant Dutchman volleyed home from a seemingly impossible angle.

The goal cemented Van Basten's reputation as one of the greatest forwards to grace European football history. He played with major European sides such as Ajax and A.C. Milan and won three Eredivisie titles with the Dutch side and four Serie A triumphs with the Italian giants.

Van Basten also won the European Cup three times with the Rossoneri and was voted European Player of the Year on three occasions also. Van Basten scored 24 goals in 58 appearances for his country. He also scored more than 250 times in his career, however his time in the game was short as he was forced to retire prematurely at the age of 28. Since his retirement Van Basten has gone on to manage his country, his former team Ajax and is currently the manager of Heerenveen. The Dutch forward is best remembered for his superior technique and his goalscoring ability.

Striker: Gerd Muller | Germany

Der Bomber is one of the most prolific goalscorers of all time. Muller began his career in 1963 and joined Bayern Munich the following year where his goalscoring exploits helped the German side become a force in world football. He won his first cap for West Germany in 1966 and scored on his debut in a friendly.  Muller was part of the great Bayern side that dominated both domestically and in Europe when the Bavarian club won three successive European Cups from 1974-1976.

Muller played in both the 1970 and 1974 World Cup for his country.  He scored the winner in the 1974 World Cup final against the Netherlands as Germany lifted became world champions for a second time. Muller scored 14 goals from the two tournaments, a record that lasted more than 30 years.  The numbers don't lie for the prolific striker as he scored an incredible 655 goals in 709 matches during his 18 year career.

He is still the record goalscorer for his country, averaging more than a goal a game with West Germany by scoring 68 times in 62 caps.

Substitutes: Lev Yashin, Bobby Moore, Frank Rijkaard, Michel Platini, Eusebio.

Is this your best European XI of all time? Have your say below.


DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeFootball Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.


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