Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, France Football announced that there would be no arrangement of Ballon d’Or this year. It came as a big blow for the likes of Robert Lewandowski and other football fans, who wanted to see a new winner rather than digesting the monotony every year.

Anyhow, with no Ballon d’Or award this year, the organizers felt it was a fitting moment to choose a team made up of the Best XI in history. Ten nominations were picked for each position, with the final team chosen by a judging panel made up of 140 football journalists from around the world.

Like the candidates, France Football decided to stagger the names of the chosen winners and this Monday afternoon announced the goalkeeper and three defensive nominees in the all-star team, followed by the four chosen midfielders and the forwards.

France Football has given three separate squads but their first squad has garnered much more attention than the others.

Obviously, no one wishes to look at the number two and three.

The panelists had their say, but they cannot escape the criticism for omitting some of the greats of the game and sticking to the hype and demand of sponsors.

Lev Yashin is the best

In the formation of 3-4-3, the panelists decided to choose Lev Yashin as the goalkeeper who beat the likes of Dino Zoff, Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon, Gordon Banks, Peter Schmeichel, and modern-day great Manuel Neuer.

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The former Dynamo Moscow player, who was known as the ‘Black Spider’, remains the only keeper to have won a Ballon d’Or, which he claimed in 1963. For the former Soviet Union, his contributions had been enormous. Under his leadership, USSR won the first-ever Euro in 1960 and six years later; he would take the team to the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup, which ultimately finished fourth.

But Yashin was more than that!

“Yashin revolutionized the role of a goalkeeper like no other before him, by always being ready to act as an extra defender and by starting dangerous counter-attacks with his positioning and quick throws,” stated France Football back in 2018.

The legendary Banks said, “Lev Yashin was first-class, a real super goalkeeper. His positional play was excellent, but everything he did was top-class. He was the model for goalkeeping for the next 10 to 15 years, without a doubt. I visualized myself doing some of the things he was doing, even though I was already playing in the top division I used to learn from him.”

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Yashin set the standard for the rest and in 1994, FIFA established the Lev Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper at the World Cup finals. FIFA polls named Yashin as the sole goalkeeper in the World Team of the 20th Century. World Soccer magazine named him in their 100 Greatest Players of the 20th century. Many commentators consider Yashin the best goalkeeper in the history of football, which has resulted in him being chosen to be the goalkeeper in most of the world-all-time teams (including the FIFA World Cup All-Time Team and the FIFA Dream Team.

One can hardly argue about the choice of the goalkeeper.

The defenders – Bobby Moore deserved a place

At back, the panelists of France Football chose three defenders for their first squad and there could not be any arguments about two of the best defenders in the history of the game – Franz Beckenbauer and Paolo Maldini. But the selection of Cafu in a three-man backline invites vulnerability.

During his playing days, Cafu was a flying full-back, and more often, he joined the attack along with his fellow partner Roberto Carlos on the left, which prompted Luis Felipe Scolari to use them as wingers in the midfield in a 3-5-2 formation during the World Cup 2002.

Scolari gave them the freedom with defenders and defensive midfielders at the back and thus they were able to link up with Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho upfront.

Meanwhile, under the likes of Mario Zagallo and Carlos Alberto Parreira – two defensive midfielders joined the center-backs and covered the spaces when Cafu and Carlos lined-up with the attack.

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The kind of midfield France Football has chosen, it would surely lose compactness if Cafu joins the attack from the right and for which, a solid customer like Bobby Moore was needed.

Bobby Moore was an iconic defender not only for his own generation but for the generation of defenders that followed. Sir Alf Ramsey described him as “My captain, my leader, and my right-hand man. He was the spirit and the heartbeat of the team. A cool, calculating footballer I could trust with my life. He was the supreme professional, the best I ever worked with. Without him, England would never have won the World Cup.”

Indeed, that English team without Moore was like a ship without radar.

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He held the backline together under pressure and against the fast attackers like Pele, Overah, Eusebio, Jairzinho, Tostao or Rivellino; he was like a wall even though many believed that Moore lacked the pace to counter the fast attackers, but in that eventful clash against Brazil in 1970 and Germany in 1966; Moore put that opinion to rest forever.

Against Brazil at Guadalajara in 1970, there was a defining moment for Moore when he tackled Jairzinho with such precision and cleanness that it has been described as the perfect tackle!

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To crown it all of course is “that tackle by Moore” celebrated in song – ‘Three Lions’ – and replayed a million times since. One hundred years from now when anyone asks what made Moore special; it will be the first piece of evidence.

The Times stated, “Most famous tackle looked like Superman stopping a train.”

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Bobby made over 500 appearances for West Ham United including victories in the FA Cup Final of 1964 and the European Cup Winners Cup Final of 1965. He was voted Footballer of the Year in 1964 and BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1966.

Imagine the 3-man backline consisting of defenders like Paolo Maldini, Franz Beckenbauer, and Bobby Moore – surely, it looks as solid as ever.

It is a pity that the great Englishman does not even feature in the three squads of France Football whereas he should have been in the first squad.

The midfield – it is not perfect

The midfielders chosen by the panelists for their first squad are – Lothar Matthaus and Xavi as the defensive midfielders while Pele and Diego Maradona have been chosen as the offensive midfielders.

Lothar Matthaus is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the history of the game and he was actually an allrounder – throughout his illustrious career, he played the role of a defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, playmaker, and libero.  In each position, Matthaus fulfilled the expectations extremely well.

At the center of the park, the panelists decided to put another defensive midfielder, and he is Spain’s Xavi. Now, even in the national team or in Barcelona, Xavi never played as a defensive midfielder, but he was more of a playmaker and formed a very dynamic partnership with Andreas Iniesta, which unleashed a glorious era for Spain and Barcelona for a short but brief period.

Where is Zinedine Zidane?

A creative playmaker is more suitable with a defensive midfielder and Xavi’s position in the side could be rated as such.

But, how could the panelists ignore Zinedine Zidane from the first squad?

Has football produced any dynamic central midfielders like Zidane in the past fifty years or so?

Many authoritative voices have acclaimed Zidane’s skills and importance in the history of football, such as Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who called Zidane ‘a monster’ for his performance and abilities.

Franz Beckenbauer stated, “Zidane is one of the greatest players in history, a truly magnificent player.”

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Marcello Lippi, who also coached Zidane said, “I think Zidane is the greatest talent we’ve known in football these last twenty years.”

Former England manager Kevin Keegan said, “You look at Zidane and think ‘I’ve never seen a player quite like that.’ What sets Zidane apart is the way he manipulates a football, buying himself space that isn’t there. Add his vision and it makes him very special.”

At the 1998 World Cup, Italian manager Cesare Maldini said, “I would give up five players to have Zidane in my squad.”

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The great Pele said, “Zidane is the master. Over the past ten years, there’s been no one like him; he has been the best player in the world.”

“The match you played last night was full of talent and professionalism. I know that you are sad and disappointed but what I want to tell you is that the whole country is extremely proud of you. You have honoured the country with your exceptional qualities and your fantastic fighting spirit, which was your strength in difficult times, but also in winning times,” President of France, Jacques Chirac, paid tribute to Zidane in Paris after the 2006 World Cup.

Zidane has been named FIFA World Player of the Year three times, a feat achieved only by Ronaldo O Fenomeno, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

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In 2002, ESPN described Zidane as “the greatest player in the world in the world’s biggest game.”

In a 2002 FIFA poll, Zidane was selected in the FIFA World Cup Dream Team.

In 2004, he was voted UEFA Best European Player of the Past 50 Years and was named in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players.

In a 2004 poll conducted by French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, Zidane was voted as “the most popular Frenchman of all time.”

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In 2014, in a poll carried out by French TV channel TF1, Zidane was voted as the best player in the history of the French league.

In 2016, in a study led by French newspaper Le Parisien, Zidane was named “best French player of all time.”

Xavi might be great, but not the greatest ever to claim a place in the first squad of France Football Ballon d’Or Dream Team.

Zidane must have been there.

Johan Cruyff and Alfredo Stefano could have fit in the midfield

Pele and Maradona have been projected as offensive midfielders.

In the case of Maradona, it can be said because, in his playing days, he was more of a controller of the game from the midfield rather than a striker, but Pele was an ideal blend of center-forward, inside forward, inverted winger, striker, attacking midfielder and playmaker with a pang of great hunger for scoring goals.

The role of Pele should have been as a forward rather than an offensive midfielder, which could have allowed the panelists to include Johan Cruyff or Alfredo Di Stefano in their first team.

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Pretty hard choice from the two, but Cruyff wins the vote because he was not only a club legend like Di Stefano.

Cruyff fits well in a diamond-shaped midfield because; he is more of an attacking midfielder rather than a number 9, which France Football projected in their second squad.

“An on-field manager: the Dutch team was largely his [Cruyff’s] creation. It was Cruyff, the captain, who told midfielder Arie Haan that he would play as libero. (“Are you crazy?” Haan replied. It proved to be a brilliant idea.) It was Cruyff who had groomed striker Johnny Rep as a youngster at Ajax, sometimes screaming at the bench during games, “Rep must warm up!” It wasn’t Cruyff’s best month in football, but it was the month that most people saw him and the style he had invented.”

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“For many, the Cruyff they know is the Cruyff of his only World Cup. He notionally spent the tournament at center-forward, but he was everywhere. He’d sprint down the left-wing and cross with the outside of his right foot. He’d drop into midfield and leave center-backs marking air. He’d drop back just to scream instructions. Arsene Wenger tells the story of Cruyff telling two midfielders to swap positions, and returning 15 minutes later to tell them to swap again. To Wenger, this showed how hard it was to replicate the fluidity of “total football” if you didn’t have Cruyff himself.”

Simon Kuper wrote in FourFourTwo in 2009.

With Maradona forming the tip of the diamond-shaped midfield, Zidane on the right and Cruyff on the left while Matthaus forming the base of the diamond – doesn’t it look perfect?

What about Andrea Pirlo?

Andrea Pirlo features in the second squad but could have featured in the first squad if anyone thinks of injecting more compactness in the squad with Maradona and Zidane running the show.

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Tactically, Pirlo was capable of playing in several midfield positions but was usually deployed by his club and national teams as a central midfielder, in the role of a deep-lying playmaker, due to his vision and passing accuracy. A highly technical and creative player, Pirlo is regarded by players, managers, and pundits as one of the greatest ever players in his position; throughout his career, he was considered as one of the greatest midfielders in the world and of his generation.

But, he was not considered and his omission surprised many.

The forwards – Where is Garrincha?

The three forwards of France Football panelists are – Cristiano Ronaldo on the left-wing, Lionel Messi on the right-wing, and Ronaldo O Fenomeno as the striker.

O Fenomeno as the striker is fully acceptable and there can remain no doubt about that.

Lionel Messi on the right-wing might have been negotiated depending on the demands of the large fan base and sponsor power, which certainly does injustice to Garrincha.

The omission of Garrincha simply makes no sense at all.

Messi is just a mere club legend and on the bigger stages, he has always proved to be a pathetic loser.

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At the other end, Garrincha is widely regarded as the best right-winger ever in the history of football.

Adored by the Brazilian public due to his innocence, carefree attitude, and ability to entertain in making fools of opposing players, Garrincha was referred to as; “Joy of the People”.

Djalma Santos, his Brazil teammate, stated; “He had a childish spirit. Garrincha was football’s answer to Charlie Chaplin.”

Garrincha is renowned for his remarkable ball control, imagination, dribbling skills, and feints on the wing, as well as his ability to create chances out of nothing.

He also possessed a powerful shot with either foot and was a gifted set-piece specialist known for free kicks and corners taken with the outside of his foot. However, it was his dribbling skills he was most famous for, a skill he retained throughout his career.

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Regarding Garrincha’s dribbling ability, football writer Scott Murray remarked when writing for The Guardian in 2010, “…the bottom line is uncontestable: Garrincha was the greatest dribbler ever.”

Examples of his shooting ability are his goals in World Cups against England in 1962 and Bulgaria in 1966. He was also able to turn on himself at top speed and explode at unusual angles, which he used to great effect. The numerous attacks and goal opportunities he generated through individual plays would often end up in an accurate pass to a teammate in a position to score.

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This occurred in the first two of Brazil’s goals in the 1958 World Cup final and the second goal against Spain in the 1962 tournament. He was also an excellent header of the ball despite his relatively short stature. He is one of a few players to have scored direct from a corner, a feat he managed to do 4 times in his career.

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Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, he was voted into the World Team of the 20th Century by 250 of the world’s most respected football writers and journalists, came seventh in the FIFA Player of the Century grand jury vote, and was named in the FIFA World Cup All-Time Team.

Again, he was one of those players, who helped his team win the World Cup all by his own individual genius!

What did Messi achieve so far other than earning feats in Barcelona and the backing of media and top officials?

Pele or Cristiano Ronaldo?

Let’s play both!

On the left, Pele should have been there and form the dream frontline including – Pele, Garrincha, and Ronaldo O Fenomeno.

But, again, it is tough to ignore the courage, passion, and skill of Cristiano Ronaldo.

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One thing and which could have been done – play Cristiano on the left side of the midfield because one cannot forget that as a midfielder Cristiano was extremely effective during his early days.

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Obviously, during the course of the game, there would be a lot of interchange of positions between the players, which would witness Pele dropping to the midfield and Cristiano joining the front three.

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Both have experienced the role as an inverted winger and on the left side, the Pele and Cristiano combination can be lethal as ever and France Football formation says the same, but on the right, two geniuses: Maradona and Garrincha combination looks better.

No Dream XI is beyond debate.

But at least, the men with character, courage, and world champion mentality should always be preferred rather than giving too much importance to the hype, sponsor, and media power.

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