Over There: Yanks Abroad XI
WORDS: MATT BENSON
Some fine players have made their way across the Atlantic to show us Europeans that Americans can also play the beautiful game. Today, the man behind socceroverthere.com picks his ultimate team of US internationals to have plied their trade abroad. Unfortunately, he could only select one goalkeeper
Image: wjarrettc (via Flickr)
So, I have Joe Montana at quarterback and Barry Sanders at running back…
Oh, you mean that football. While it has been America’s “Sport of the Future” since 1972, it is still growing and you can see the growth by the increasing amount of Americans who cross the pond each year to ply their trade in Europe. Here is a lineup of Americans who call it soccer and play(ed) professionally in Europe.
I am just going to get two things out of the way first. I am an American, therefore I am going to call it soccer. Second, we live in a stat-obsessed sports world over here, so I am probably going to throw a lot of numbers out there. I just wanted to apologize in advance.
To be eligible for this Yanks Abroad XI, you needed to have played at least one game for the US national team, but the selection is based on their play with their club teams in Europe, not how they did with the national team (sorry Landon Donovan).
This means there might be a dual citizen or two featured, something we have seen a lot lately with the current national team under Jurgen Klinsmann. There have been times when three or four German-born players have suited up for the red, white and blue over the last two years.
But back to this lineup. I have selected guys to play in the standard 4-4-2.
Because we can’t field multiple goalkeepers, the one position where we continually produce quality, and because the US has never been the most tactical-savvy country out there, unless you want to count Steve Sampson’s 3-6-1 debacle at the 1998 World Cup.
Old man Friedel. Friedel is currently in his 16th season in the English Premier League and still going strong, although his record 310 consecutive appearances was snapped earlier this season. Only two goalkeepers in Premier League history have played in more games than Friedel and he is one of four keepers to score a goal in the Premier League era. He has been over there for so long that he now owns the best British accent by anyone born in Ohio.
Friedel actually began his European career with Brøndby in 1994/95 after he was unable to secure a work permit for a move to Newcastle United. He then bounced over to Turkey, where he helped Galatasaray to a Turkish Cup title in 1995/96. After a quick return to the US to help start MLS, he has since bounced around the English top flight with Liverpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa and now Tottenham. He helped Blackburn win the 2002 League Cup and was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in 2002/03.
Steve Cherundolo has been at Hannover 96 for so many years (15 seasons to be exact), he is called the “Mayor of Hannover” by the fans. Cherundolo grew up in sunny Southern California before attending the University of Portland for two years. After two years in college, he headed to then 2. Bundesliga side Hannover in 1998/99.
He quickly claimed the right-back spot and became a regular in the lineup (363 career league appearances). In 2001/02, he played in 30 games, notching one goal, as Hannover 96 won promotion to the Bundesliga, a place where it has been for the last 11 seasons.
Someone I consider as one of the most underrated players in US Soccer history (the man does not get the high praise like a Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan, yet he continually plugs away at the right-back spot), he was named captain of Hannover prior to the 2010/11 season.
Here is our first dual citizen of the bunch. Dooley was born in West Germany to a German mother and a U.S. Army father in 1961. He did not play with the US national team until 1992, but he began his professional career in 1983/84, with German third division side FC Homburg.
Dooley appeared in 121 league games for Homburg, as he helped them earn promotion all the way up to the Bundesliga, and then made the switch to Kaiserslautern in 1988, leading the backline to a German Cup title in 1989/90. Dooley and Kaiserslautern saw further improvement in 1990/91 as they won the league title, the club’s first since 1952/53, a season after surrendering a league-worst 55 goals.
After playing in the 1994 World Cup for the US, Dooley headed to Bayer Leverkusen for one season before making the move to Schalke, where he won the 1997 UEFA Cup. However, that was to be the last Europe saw of Mr. Dooley as he headed to the US for some MLS action to finish his career.
While most Europeans grow up in some youth academy, Gregg Berhalter was a product of the American system where you go to high school and college. Berhalter played his college ball at North Carolina, while he spent his off season in 1993 playing with the “immortal” Raleigh Flyers of the USISL. After his junior year of college, he signed with Dutch side Zwolle in 1994. The next few seasons saw him stay in the Netherlands as he bounced around with Sparta Rotterdam and SC Cambuur Leeuwarden.
After a short stint with Crystal Palace in England, Berhalter signed with Energie Cottbus before the 2002/03 season. He appeared in 111 games and was captain as they earned promotion back to the Bundesliga in 2005/06.
Berhalter then took his strong marking skills to 1860 Munich where he was also named captain and played three seasons with the club. He ended his career with the LA Galaxy (yes, Beckham’s LA Galaxy) in 2011, but he is now back in Europe managing Swedish side Hammarby IF.
Left-back has always been a position of need for the US over the years, so finding someone to fill this spot looked like it was going to be tough. When most US fans think of John O’Brien, they think of one of the most technically gifted central midfielders in US Soccer history, but he actually played left-back for Ajax for most of his career.
John is another standout of Southern California who had his first trial with Ajax at the age of 14. He then signed an amateur contract with Ajax in 1994 when he was 17. After a couple seasons with their storied youth teams, he signed his first professional contract in 1998 with the Dutch giants.
O’Brien actually spent his first season on loan at FC Utrecht before making his Ajax debut in 1999. While he was at Ajax, he was a part of a team that won the league twice (2001/02 and 2003/04) and the KNVB Cup in 2002. Injuries did play a big part in his career and while he only played 85 league games between Ajax, Utrecht and ADO Den Haag, his potential and talent are too good to pass up.
Yet another dual citizen, Earnie Stewart was born in Veghel, Netherlands to a Dutch mother and an American U.S. Air Force airman. The 5ft 9in midfielder began his professional career at the age of 19 at Dutch second division side VVV. After two years there, he moved on to the Eredivisie with Willem II in 1990.
At Willem II, Stewart used his speed down the right flank over six seasons, scoring 49 goals in 170 appearances. In his first year at the club in 1990/91, he scored a team-high 17 goals, which only trailed Romario and Dennis Bergkamp for the most in the Eredivisie.
By 1996, Stewart moved to fellow Dutch club NAC Breda, where he scored 50 goals in 199 games over seven seasons. Currently the Director of Football at AZ Alkmaar, he has brought in American Jozy Altidore to lead the team in scoring, but no American has scored more goals in Europe than Stewart’s 115 career goals.
The son of a former Argentine soccer player at Los Andes, Claudio Reyna was born and grew up in New Jersey, where he later became the high school teammate of defender Gregg Berhalter. I hate using hackneyed phrases like “he pulled the strings”, but he really did pull the strings for the US, although he showed versatility by also being able to play defensive midfield and some right-back.
Reyna signed with Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen after the 1994 World Cup, at the age of 21, and after a successful college career at Virginia. After struggling for playing time, he was loaned out to Wolfsburg in 1997 where he established himself and became the first American to captain a European club. After success at Wolfsburg, Rangers and the Scottish Premier League came calling. Reyna spent four seasons in Glasgow, picking up a Scottish Premier League title as well as one Scottish Cup trophy. Reyna then made the move to England, where he had a short stint at Sunderland derailed by injuries before becoming a popular player among the fans at Manchester City for the last four seasons of his European career.
This selection was probably the hardest as Michael Bradley is still playing (and going strong) ay only 25 years old, but he has already accomplished a lot in his short career and the potential is there for so much more.
Most US fans were slow to come around to Bradley until recently as they either saw him as only a defensive midfielder, despite him scoring a then-American in Europe record 18 goals across all competitions for Heerenveen in 2007/08 at the age of 20. Or they just saw him getting the playing time with both the MetroStars and US national team due to his father being the manager, even though he became the youngest MLS player to ever be sold when he made the move to Heerenveen at the age of 19.
Bradley parlayed his success at Heerenveen with a move to the Bundesliga and Borussia Mönchengladbach. After three seasons in Germany, Bradley has found his home in Italy. He first broke in with the Flying Donkeys at Chievo Verona, where the local fans nicknamed him “The General”, before making a move this past summer to Roma. Now, at the age of 25, he is a regular at a big Serie A club, playing alongside Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi. Not bad, Mikey. Not bad.
No American has won more silverware in Europe than DaMarcus Beasley. The speedy, left-footed winger is another product of the US Soccer Federation’s residency program in Bradenton, Florida, much like Michael Bradley and others.
After excelling with the Chicago Fire, Bradley was brought to PSV by Guus Hiddink in 2004 to be a replacement for Arjen Robben (and was even given the number 11 jersey). Beasley was a regular for PSV for two seasons as the club won two league titles, one cup and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2004/05. That is still the farthest any American has been in that competition, while his four career Champions League goals are the most by any American.
In 2006/07, Beasley was sent on a season-long loan to Manchester City before signing with Rangers in 2007/08. At Rangers, Beasley won another four trophies over the next three seasons, including two league titles. Beasley’s European vacation came to an end (for now) after a cup of coffee with Hannover 96 in 2010/11. Now at the age of 30, Beasley is tormenting defenders down the left side in Mexico at Puebla.
I will say this now, Clint Dempsey is the best rapping soccer player to be born in Nacogdoches, Texas. “Deuce” is probably one of the best Americans ever when it comes to being composed and skillful on the ball while in traffic. He can play nearly anywhere in the midfield, but his best ability is to put the ball in the back of net.
As I write this (January 24, 2013), he is one of six players to score at least five goals in each of the last six Premier League seasons, joining the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard and Dimitar Berbatov. He scored 23 goals in all competitions in 2011/12, an American record for any top-flight league in Europe.
He can score with his right foot. He can score with his left foot. But he is almost at his most dangerous in the air with his head. He is also not afraid to shoot from anywhere, as demonstrated by his wonderful chip against Juventus during Fulham’s Europa League run in 2009/10 among others.
Before Clint Dempsey was even given a chance at Craven Cottage, Brian McBride paved the way for future attacking American players in England. McBride actually began his professional career in Germany at Wolfsburg in 1994/95, but made his way to England in the early 2000s, with loan stints at Preston North End and Everton. He signed with Fulham in January of 2004 and scored 33 goals in 140 league appearances for the Cottagers. A better aerial threat than Dempsey, McBride became captain of Fulham before the 2007/08 season, but a ruptured thigh muscle cut his season short and he returned to the US to end his career with the Chicago Fire in 2008. McBride was a fans’ favourite for his work ethic and professionalism, which led to Fulham renaming a bar inside Craven Cottage McBride’s.
Matt Benson runs the website socceroverthere.com and is on Twitter @socceroverthere
Do you agree with Matt’s selection? Join the debate by commenting below, on Twitter @theinsidelefty or on our Facebook page.
Retroselective: Non-Clasico Team Of The Nineties
WORDS: TOM VICTOR
La Liga may have been dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent years, but as recently as the Nineties, there were several other sides in the running for the Spanish championship. One brave soul has stuck his neck out and chosen his non-Clasico Nineties Dream Team. We think you’ll like it…
For those getting into Spanish football in the last few years, the thought of a period without the dominance of the Real Madrid-Barcelona duopoly might sound far-fetched.
Since the 2004-05 season, the pair have shared the La Liga title between them with just one other team – the now Segunda División Villarreal – preventing the pair from a clean sweep of the top two positions over that eight-year period. And that was only for a single season, in 2007-08, after Barça were hamstrung by 10 draws from their 38 matches.
However it was not always like that. The 1990s saw four different league champions and six sides end the campaign in the top two, while the 12 different outfits to secure top four berths further demonstrates the strength in depth which saw La Liga widely regarded as the top national league in Europe by the turn of the millennium.
While some might be hard-pressed to devise a La Liga dream team nowadays which included a player not involved in El Clásico, the task of picking out the best players of the 90s is a tough ask, even when those representing Real and Barça are excluded.
I have had to exclude a number of players who enjoyed fruitful spells before, during and after their time in La Liga, with the midfield slots proving the most competitive. Those who enjoyed their best days in the 2000s, such as Juan Carlos Valeron and Rubén Baraja, were left out, while it was painful to leave names such as Julen Guerrero and Jose Luis Caminero off the team sheet.
Similarly wide players Haim Revivo and Finidi George were close to giving some representation to Celta Vigo and Real Betis respectively, while others such as Pedro Munitis and Juan Antonio Pizzi were omitted for their spells – however brief – with Real Madrid and Barcelona.
I am bound to have upset some of you with my selections, however I attempted to pick a team which was both balanced in its formation and in its representation of the quality on show in Spain’s top-flight over the course of the decade. Hopefully at the very least I’ve allowed you to get nostalgic about one or two less well-remembered individuals and demonstrate that the 1990s were by no means all about El Clásico.
GOALKEEPER: ABEL (Atlético Madrid 1986-1995; Rayo Vallecano 1995-1996)
When your recovery from an operation to remove a herniated testicle is covered on television you can’t be accused of not giving your all. After beginning his career as a teenager with local side Toledo, it was at Estadio Vicente Calderón where Abel Resino Gómez made his name. Holding a Europe-wide clean sheet record of 1,275 minutes which stood for close to two decades before being surpassed by the achievements of Manchester United’s Edwin van der Sar, Abel was a fixture in the Atléti line-up for the best part of a decade. Making just 21 further appearances after leaving the club for neighbours Rayo Vallecano, he was at least a one-city man if not quite a one-club man. The only regrets are that he was unable to upstage the ubiquitous Andoni Zubizarreta at international level, representing La Rojajust twice over the course of his career, and that he failed to replicate the stardom if his playing days in an ill-fated managerial spell with the club.
CENTRE-BACK: MIROSLAV DJUKIC (Deportivo La Coruña 1990-1997; Valencia 1997-2003)
One of a number of Serbs to make their mark on Spanish domestic football during the 1990s, alongside Real Sociedad goal-getter Darko Kovačević andmanagerial maverick Radomir Antić, Ðukić clocked up close to 400 appearances with Depor and then Valencia. Some may remember him best for the penalty – saved by Valencia’s José Luis González – which cost Arsenio Iglesias’ side an unlikely league title in 1994, however that would be doing a disservice to a loyal servant and sweeper. He would have to wait another eight years for another chance to win the league but this time the outcome was more positive as Valencia secured the title with a 17-match unbeaten run, while in the intervening period he played in back-to-back Champions League finals as Los Che succumbed to first Real Madrid and then Bayern Munich. Ðukić has remained in Spain since his retirement and last season managed Real Valladolid to promotion from the Segunda División.
CENTRE-BACK: DONATO (Atlético Madrid 1988-1993; Deportivo La Coruña 1993-2003)
Ironically the man who would have taken that ill-fated Ðukić penalty had he not been substituted as Depor chased victory, Donato is nothing short of an enigma. Already 26 years old when he moved to Madrid, few could have predicted that the Brazilian-born Spanish international would keep playing for a further 15 years, ultimately becoming the oldest ever La Liga goalscorer in January 2003 at the age of 40 (though some claim he was even older than that). In a remarkable career at the top the Rio-born player alternated between central defence and midfield, with his agile footballing brain making up for a self-professed lack of pace. A 38-year-old when the team from A Coruña secured its first ever title in 2000, he was still a valuable part of the triumphant side with 29 league appearances and three goals to his name, despite the bulk of his career strikes coming from free-kicks or penalties.
CENTRE-BACK: SANTI (Albacete 1992-1995; Atlético Madrid 1995-2004)
A common feature of this team is players whose international careers suffered at the hands of bigger names from Real Madrid and Barcelona despite impressive domestic careers, and Santi is no exception. Spending nine enjoyable years with Atléti after joining from his hometown club, the defensive mainstay managed just one competitive game for Spain – the 1996 Olympic Games aside. The tone for his time at the Calderon was set in his first season of the club: after becoming one of Antić’s first signings upon taking the helm, the then-22-year-old helped the club rebound from a 14th-place finish in 1995 to win the double in the following year. Despite coming crashing down to earth at the Olympics, watching on as Spain suffered a 4-0 quarter-final defeat against an Argentinean side containing Ariel Ortega, Javier Zanetti, Hernan Crespo and Claudio López, Santi went on to make a further century of appearances for the side from the capital before seeing out his career at Albacete’s Estadio Carlos Belmonte.
HOLDING MIDFIELDER: MAURO SILVA (Deportivo La Coruña 1992-2005)
After emerging as one of the unsung heroes of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup triumph, Mauro Silva did not let up in a 13-year career in Spain. Showing remarkable longevity with 30+ league appearances in eight of those seasons and 20+ in all but one, it is telling that the Sao Paulo native’s retirement in 2005 signalled the start of Deportivo’s eventual descent into the second tier – following five successive top-four finishes from 2000-2004 the club is yet to return to the Champions League places. He formed part of not one but two formidable midfields at the Riazor, first with the likes of Fran and Javier Manjarín and later with Juan Carlos Valeron and Djalminha. Almost as much of a Galician institution as Polbo á Feira, it seems fitting that little has been heard recently about a player who remained relatively unheralded among star names yet was consistently instrumental to their success.
RIGHT-MIDFIELD: JOSEBA ETXEBERRIA (Real Sociedad 1995, Athletic Bilbao 1995-2010)
Unless your name is Oguchi Onyewu, it takes true loyalty to turn out for your club unpaid. But then again, would you expect any less from someone who had already by that stage made more than 400 appearances at the same club. To many, Joseba Etxeberria is Athletic Club, although at one stage he was not even the only Etxeberria at San Mames as goalkeeper Imanol held onto the number one jersey for a short period. A tricky winger in the Karel Poborský mould, the right-sided mainstay chipped in with a fair few goals as well, hitting double figures for the season on three separate occasions. Finally, after hanging up his boots at the age of 33 (and with plenty more to give, according to many), he offered a final tribute to the club and city which had served him so well by playing his testimonial against 200 local children, and winning 5-3 despite the opposition having several goalkeepers on the field.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD: GAIZKA MENDIETA (Valencia 1993-2001)
Narrowly edging out Etxeberria’s Athletic Bilbao team-mate, Julen Guerrero, Mendieta is almost certainly the only member of this XI to currently reside in Yarm. For a sustained period towards the end of the Nineties, he could stake a claim to being the best in the world, forming part of an irrepressible midfield quartet at Valencia, alongside Gerard, Kily González and Miguel Ángel Angulo. A club-leading (and career high) 13 league goals in the 1999-2000 season doesn’t even begin to tell the story, with Mendieta’s influence as captain running through the whole team as Los Che saw off Lazio and Barcelona, among others, en route to the Champions League Final. Rafa Benitez’s side of the early 2000s may have the trophies to show for their performances, but Héctor Cúper’s upstarts were more exciting to watch and Mendieta was one of the main reasons for that.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD: DIEGO SIMEONE (Sevilla 1992-1994, Atlético Madrid 1994-1997)
It is a shame that English fans will forever associate Diego Simeone with his involvement in David Beckham’s red card at the 1998 World Cup, as to do so would be to ignore a career at the peak of which the Argentine could have walked into almost any club side in the world. Thirty-three league goals in his first five year stint in Spain showed Simeone to be more than a mere enforcer, and he added to the tally with four goals from five Champions League group games in his final year with the Rojiblancos. However his most influential year was surely 1995-96, where his 12-goal haul helped the club to the league and cup double, and he followed that campaign by winning silver at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. His popularity with Atlético’s fans is unquestioned, as demonstrated by the support for both his brief playing return in the mid-2000s and his arrival as manager in 2011. Of course winning the Europa League and Champions League within a year of taking the hotseat can’t have hurt.
LEFT-MIDFIELD: FRAN (Deportivo La Coruña 1988-2005)
If Mauro Silva is Polbo á Feira, then surely Fran is a double helping washed down with a bottle of Albariño. The pair were synonymous with Depor’s success throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and it is fitting that they both played their final game for the club on the same day in 2005. After the heartbreak of 1994, the domestic triumph which followed six years later is unlikely to have meant more to anyone else than it did to Fran. A left-midfielder with great vision which barely faded even as he grew older, it is tempting to make comparisons with Ryan Giggs. However the Galicia-born club captain, who turned out for the club at least 20 times in 14 successive La Liga seasons following his league debut in 1991, was a far more subtle and classy player than Manchester United’s number eleven. Another to enjoy limited international recognition, he made up for it with more than 40 Champions League appearances, with the highlight being a goal in the 4-0 demolition of AC Milan en route to the 2004 semi-finals.
FORWARD: BEBETO (Deportivo La Coruña 1992-1996; Sevilla 1997)
A star on both sides of the Atlantic, the second World Cup winner to make this selection was rarely more prolific than during his time at the Riazor. Ending his four season stint with 99 goals in all competition, the only thing missing was a league title. With the benefit of hindsight the final day of the 1993-94 campaign could be simplified as the battle between Romário and Bebeto, the two strikers who would lead Brazil to glory in the United States two months later. Unfortunately, while the former struck his 30th goal of the season as Barcelona saw off Sevilla 5-2, the elder of the pair drew a blank in Depor’s goalless draw with Valencia and passed responsibility for the potential tital-winning penalty to team-mate Ðukić. Still, this should not detract from a quite phenomenal spell in which he netted five hat-tricks in four seasons including a stunning five-goal haul against Albacete in his final year.
FORWARD: KIKO (Cádiz 1991-93; Atlético Madrid 1993-2001)
Atlético Madrid winning the league and cup double in 1996 was a minor miracle after the club escaped relegation by a single point the previous year. Even with a new manager in Antić and new players like Santi and Luboslav Penev, the eventual outcome was beyond the fans’ wildest dreams. A player like Kiko, who until then had been more familiar with relegation scraps than title challenges, was never supposed to have the impact he did, but he starred in a title run which few could imagine being repeated today even by a more star-studded Atléti team. His 11 goals that year only tell part of the story, with his all-round contribution to the team capped by a late-season double against Salamanca which effectively sealed the title. His selection in this team is perhaps more sentimental than others, however his contribution reinforces how competitive La Liga was in the 1990s and how anyone was capable of success.
Tom Victor is the editor of Pele Confidential, and has also written for Footy Matters, Just Football and The Two Unfortunates. You can follow him on Twitter @tomvictor
Do you agree with Tom’s selection? Join the debate by commenting below, on Twitter @theinsidelefty or our Facebook page.
Retroselective: Zeman Eleven
WORDS: EMANUELE GIULIANELLI
Since taking his first managerial job in 1983, Zdenek Zeman has coached some incredibly talented players and enthralled legions of Italians with his adventurous style. This is one man’s attempt to pick the very best XI to have been coached by the man who created his own cult of attacking football…
When I picture Zdenek Zeman in my mind, I imagine him as we so often saw him in the Nineties: cigarette in hand, in the repetitive act of carrying it to his mouth, and back.
Zeman is considered the prophet of the 4-3-3 system in Italian football; a revolutionary trainer who tried to bring something very new to a largely conservative world.
He and his contemporary counterpart, Arrigo Sacchi, emerged in the late Eighties, like a blast of fresh air to a nation focused on a style of play still centered on man-to-man marking and the traditional Italian catenaccio style.
But, while the coach from Fusignano (near Parma) adopted a 4-4-2 with an aligned zonal defence, Zeman chose a more offensive arrangement, based on a high defence, keeping the three lines close together.
Lines closed, pressing from the front, attacking the spaces: these were (and are) the keywords of Zeman’s “fourfourthree” – said in precisely this way, like a single word – a mantra.
It’s not easy to put this style into practice because the 11 players have to be very coordinated in their movement, to keep the lines closed, to avoid counterattacks. Running is what they have to do, for 90 minutes. Running at the speed of light, to create the more possible goal chances: this is the sheet music. And Zdenek is the maestro.
Each role has its own tasks on the field. Each man has to play in a particular way to create the symphony, without a single wrong note. Just to get a round of applause. After all, the main aim of mister Zeman, and the football he teaches, is to amuse the audience – to entertain. And what makes people that come to the stadium to see a football match happiest? Goals, surely.
Zeman teams score a lot. But, with the mentality to go always forward, they concede a lot of goals too.
I tried to pick an Eleven with the best exponents of Zeman’s philosophy, and you can see the outcome below. But firstly, let me quickly explain the standards I adopted in putting down this selection of players. I’ve chosen between men who have had (or have) Zeman as trainer. For each role I didn’t consider who was the best footballer tout-court, but the one who suited that position best as Zdenek sees it. For example, in Zeman’s teams there have been some great goalkeepers, such as Luca Marchegiani or the Austrian, Miki Konsel. But, for this role, I chose Franco Mancini because he is the prototype of the number one for Zeman, who wanted him for a lot of the teams he managed.
I didn’t find it hard to assign the No1 shirt at all. Even if Zeman has had some great performers in this role, there is no doubt that the quintessence of the goalkeeper to him, was found in Francesco Mancini, more often called Franco. Very good with his feet, always ready and quick to react, he was a sort of sweeper, always ready to play outside the box, owing to the need to cover the space left behind a high defensive line. That’s what Zeman wants from a goalkeeper. That’s what Zeman wanted from Franco Mancini. After they met in Foggia, in 1989, they became an indissoluble pair. The trainer wanted Franco with him at Foggia, Lazio, Napoli and Salernitana. And, after his career between the posts ended, Zdenek employed as goalkeeper coach at Foggia and Pescara, a role he filled until he died at just 43.
The man whose face always had an almost-smile on it. Always chewing, always ready to run down the right wing with the ball between feet and overlapping with the right midfielder as a matter of course. AS Roma supporters called him Pendolino, which means both high-speed train and pendulum. And it perfectly summarized the attitude of the man whose full name is Marcos Evangelista de Moraes: a sort of piston in harmonic motion, throughout all 90 minutes of a match. Cafu was coached by Zeman in his first two Italian seasons, in Rome.
Right-back was a strong position in Zeman’s teams. I had to choose from a shortlist including such players as Cristiano Bergodi at Lazio, Dan Petrescu at Foggia, even Marco Cassetti at Lecce. But Cafu, in my mind, represents the ideal right back for Zeman’s system.
It was very hard to solve this puzzle: I had to choose two centre-backs and I did so thinking that they both could complement each other. With that in mind, I didn’t opt for the two best centre-backs that Zeman has ever trained, but I tried to assemble a well-matched pair and settled on two players who actually played together.
Chamot is the most aggressive and physical of the two. He began life under Zeman as a right-back at Foggia, in the 1993/94 season, after arriving from Pisa, becoming a central defender thanks to the Bohemian coach, who moved him into the role where he would go onto to receive a lot of praise during his forthcoming career. In the centre, he played his best seasons, with Foggia, Lazio, Atletico Madrid and Milan, helping the Rossoneri to win the Champions League in 2002/03.
I could have picked Aldair, of Roma, or Salvatore Matrecano, of Foggia, or even Angelo Consagra, who Zeman trained during his first experience, at Licata. But Alessandro Nesta is the perfect expression of the central defender – good feet, playing with his head high, always ready to sprint in order to make the whole defence push forward.
Yes, forward. In Zeman’s sides, the last line of the formation always has to play like a spring, working like an accordion with the midfield. This is the way to keep the three lines always close to each other.
Nesta was the perfect leader for all the defence. He was able to stop the opponents’ attacks and, immediately, to make his team start again – a sort of defensive director.
Codispoti represents how Zeman is able to mould raw metal, turning it into something precious. He was born as a midfielder in lower league teams from Sicily, such as Vibonese, Enna and Siracusa. But, when Zeman arrived at Foggia, he asked his reliable director, Peppino Pavone, to buy this young player, knowing Sicilian football very well. That was in 1986, the first appearance of mister Zeman on Foggia’s bench. He would come back in 1991 to build Zemanlandia, the wonderland of attacking football.
He never stopped selecting Maurizio in his Foggia side, first picking him at right-back and then, after the arrival of Dan Petrescu in that position, moving him to the opposite flank, always obtaining the same consistent performances from this loyal soldier, who worked so diligently on the field and was just one step away from being called up to the national team.
Character, running and capacity to move forward, into space: these are the skills that an inner midfielder must have to play in Zeman’s teams. And Giovanni Stroppa, all-round midfielder, had them.
In 1993, Zeman signed him for his Foggia in their second year in Serie A, to replace Oberdan Biagioni when he moved to Udinese. A special relationship blossomed between Stroppa and Zeman, made up of knowing glances that were enough to communicate on field. Stroppa played the role that his coach had thought up for him so well that, at the end of the season, he made his debut for the Italian national team.
His record in that memorable year with Foggia was impressive: 30 matches and 8 goals scored. Not bad for a midfielder! Stroppa worked once again with Zeman at Avellino, 10 years later.
Better known as Gigi Di Biagio, he was the midfield director par excellence in Zeman’s football. It’s clear from the fact that the Bohemian gave him the keys to his Foggia team, for two seasons after buying him from Monza, and then to his Roma team too.
This particular role requires the tendency to pass the ball forward as soon as possible, after two touches at most. He has to be the trait d’union between the defensive line and the two inner midfielders that are always ready to sprint forward into space – he is the first to start the attacking manoeuvre, with a forward pass.
Gigi was a perfect covering player and a great passer, like a metronome and for those reasons, he was the perfect middle man for Zeman.
Now for the other side of the midfield – more physical, faster and dynamic; always ready to have a go from long distance and always running. Pavel Nedved seemed to have a hundred lungs. With his long blonde hair flowing, he covered the whole field to support, alternately, the attack and the defence.
Zeman discovered Pavel in the Czech Republic, playing for Sparta Prague, and, when the whole of Europe knew him, after seeing his skills at Euro ’96, it was too late. Zeman had already taken this astonishing player for his Lazio.
I could have chosen several great players for this role, like Igor Shalimov, Roberto Di Matteo, Aron Winter, Eusebio Di Francesco or even Miralem Pjanic. But I think Pavel proved himself the best “Zemanian” player for this role.
Another inescapable choice: right-winger, for Zeman, rhymes with Roberto Rambaudi. Raised in the youth teams of Torino, he wandered Italian lower serie teams before arriving at Foggia in 1989. When Zeman arrived, he found in Rambaudi the perfect right-forward, who, in his scheme, had (and has) to be a tactical winger, a player more focused on giving assists than scoring. “Rambo” traveled up and down the wing during every match, interacting with the right-back and the right-inner midfielder in a continuous game of overlapping, penetration and “one-two” passing.
Roberto formed the most important attacking trio in all of Zeman’s history: Rambaudi, Baiano, Signori: the three well-matched forwards, who gave moments of great football to Foggia and to the whole Italy, who felt in love, in some way, with these three boys from the province.
This choice is the only liberty I’ve taken. Even if Totti has scored (until today) 217 goals in Serie A, Zeman didn’t ever line him up as a centre-forward, but as a flanking forward that starts from left and then comes inside, carrying the ball, in order to point to goal or to create the space for forward runs by midfielders or the left-back. But I couldn’t have excluded one of the most important Italian and European players of all-time simply because he is not an out-and-out centre-forward. So I decided to put him right in the middle of the attack.
Surely someone, now, is asking me: “But why didn’t you put him on the left side of the attack, if he is not a real centre-forward?” Well, good question. The answer is that the left side is another of the inevitable ones. Ladies and gentleman…
The perfect Zeman attacking player. Signori was a boy with blonde bob-shaped hair and only five goals to his name when he arrived at Foggia from Piacenza in 1989. One day, during the pre-season training camp, Zeman called him out: “Hey, bomber!” He turned his head towards the coach, thinking he was kidding him. He wasn’t kidding.
With Zdenek Zeman, “Beppe” Signori become a great goalscorer, the eighth highest all-time Serie A scorer with 188 goals, winning the title of top goalscorer in Italy three times. At Foggia, with Baiano and Rambaudi, and at Lazio, with Rambaudi and Boksic, he was a lethal weapon. And if you leave a weapon like this in Zeman’s hands, there is only one possible outcome: bags of goals.
Do you agree with Emanuele’s selection? Join the debate by commenting below, on Twitter @theinsidelefty or our Facebook page.
You can also follow Emanuele on Twitter @EmaGiulianelli
Retroselective: Serie A In The Nineties
WORDS: DOMINIC BLISS
For the first time ever, the Nineties saw overseas domestic football find its way onto British television as Channel 4 began screening Football Italia. A whole new generation of calcio fans was born in the UK and one of them has chosen his Serie A team of the decade for TheInsideLeft. But do you agree?
Inspired by Giancarlo Rinaldi’s love letter to Fiorentina, written for this site last week, I decided to take on the near-impossible task of selecting my dream line-up of players who appeared in Serie A during the Nineties.
It wasn’t until I was half an hour into the process of drawing up shortlists for each position that I realised how difficult a project this was going to be. But, my word, was it enjoyable. I lost count of the number of times I broke away to look at YouTube videos of the men in the frame for selection, videos like this tribute to Franco Baresi’s (ultimately tragic) heroism in the 1994 World Cup Final.
Picking an eleven when there were at least that many world-class players in contention for almost every position made for some interesting formations and combinations as the process developed. The typically narrow nature of many great Italian sides over the years meant that out-and-out widemen were perhaps the scarcest breed among the greats of the Nineties, with the notable exceptions of Roberto Donadoni, Pavel Nedved and Attilio Lombardo.
So I settled on a narrow four-man diamond in midfield, filling my boots with creative players and making sure at least two of their number knew the meaning of hard running. Having initially considered a three-man defence in order to accommodate Baresi, Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro, I eventually yielded to the need for more creativity in midfield and, against my better judgement, dropped Nesta from the back four, supposing that both he and Baresi would be most comfortable on the left of the central defensive pairing.
That left me with two forward positions and I could not pick a Serie A side without going for a classic No10/No9 partnership. Despite the fact that some of the world’s best players filled these roles for Italian clubs throughout the chosen decade, I found this an unexpectedly straightforward decision to make.
Even more unexpected was the position that proved to be the most difficult to whittle down to one man. Right-back! Consider the solution to this problem: Cafu, Javier Zanetti and Lilian Thuram have their boots on and are ready to play, but only one can make the team. Do you see what I mean now?
Check out the line up and then find out why I picked each of them below, but please remember this is my personal selection. If you disagree with any of my choices, air your views in the comments section at the foot of the piece, through our Twitter feed or on our Facebook page, just don’t take out a vendetta…
He may have emerged in the latter part of the decade but Gianluigi Buffon wasted absolutely no time in making an impression on us all. Told by his coach at the age of 14 that he could be a Serie A goalkeeper by the time he was 20, he replied: “Oh. Well what am I supposed to do until then?”
It’s a quote that tells you all you need to know about a man whose self-confidence seeps into the men in front of him and galvanises them all into a wall of belief.
Nevio Scala had chosen him between the sticks for Parma three years later and his displays for the gialloblu following that debut in 1995 saw Juventus make him the most expensive goalkeeper of all-time in 2001, when they paid a reported £32.6 million to make him theirs.
RIGHT-BACK: JAVIER ZANETTI
Indisputably the man for this role in the team of the 2000s, Javier Zanetti had stiff competition from the likes of Cafu and Lilian Thuram for his position in this team. I felt that his overlapping runs and reliable positional play would suit the system I have chosen for my side. His goal in the 1998 UEFA Cup Final demonstrated his technical prowess and the threat he posed going forward in his pomp, while his longevity has surely had something to do with his leadership skills. In a team that seemed to have a revolving door transfer policy for much of the past two decades and who underachieved for many years before hitting a purple patch in the mid-2000s, Zanetti was the mainstay. ‘Il capitano’ was signed in 1995 and still wears the armband for Inter 17 years later. He will never be forgotten by nerazzurri tifosi for always showing a level of professionalism to match his technical attributes.
Perhaps I should have selected a stopper centre-back to play alongside the ultimate mobile libero, Franco Baresi, but I settled upon Fabio Cannavaro, the consummate covering defender. Possessing unmatched agility, Cannavaro made up for his lack of height with a remarkable leap and an in-built positional perception that saw him frustrate even the most intelligent strikers. He proved vital to Parma after joining them from his hometown club, Napoli, in 1995. His ability to make up ground and force forwards wide when all seemed lost saw him earn a reputation for combining quick thinking with quick acting which he never lost. I believe that, if he or Baresi were to step up or stride out irresponsibly (and let’s face it, that would be a rare occurrence), the other would possess the mental and physical qualities required to recover.
CENTRE-BACK: FRANCO BARESI
No shock here. This man defined not only a position but a complete shift in tactical direction with his ability to play the role of libero (supposedly the spare third centre-back) within a back four. His reading of the game, his pace and his ability to turn on a sixpence (cliché klaxon) enabled Baresi to be a strident sweeper without the necessity of two stopper centre-backs alongside him. Suddenly, Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan were free to add another player to their pressing machine further up the field.
Baresi’s attributes also enabled the functioning of an intricate offside system known as ‘elastico’ in Italy. Imagine each member of the back four as pegs on a board around which an elastic band was stretched. Three of those pegs would aim to position themselves in a line, high up the pitch, while the fourth – Baresi – would drop deeper, stretching the elastic band back and allowing a small pocket of space into which the opposition forward could run without being in an offside position. However, the alert Baresi was always the quicker of the two men when it came to stepping back into line and, before the ball was played in towards his man, the legendary No6 would step up, snapping the imaginary band forwards like elastic. Offside.
Who else? Whichever system I had chosen for this side to line up within, Paolo Maldini would have been the man wearing the No3 shirt. He excelled in every aspect of full-back play and he demonstrated that over three decades, peaking in the Nineties.
He only ever represented Milan and Italy and perhaps the fact that we can only imagine Maldini in two contexts helps to maintain his legend – it certainly does among the rossoneri faithful.
Two European Cup winner’s medals and five Scudetti made the Nineties a decade of rich success for the left-back who won the 1994 World Soccer World Player of the Year award ahead of Baresi, the man from whom he took on the captaincy of his club.
They called him ‘The Rock’ for a reason. Perhaps he will be best remembered as a ball-playing centre-back with the pace and awareness to match his physical strength and aerial dominance, but Marcel Desailly made the midfield playmakers of the Nineties quake in their boots during his time as a strident midfield wrecking ball for Milan.
The site of his majestic frame carrying the ball forward time and time again defined the Fabio Capello era at Milan and his performance in the 1994 Champions League Final undermined any claims Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona had to being the best on the planet. He was capable of decimating or dissecting his opponents, depending on which part of his footballing armoury he chose to call upon. He nearly always chose well.
This team is beginning to reflect the admiration I had for the Milan sides of the Nineties now. The Croatian midfielder had the spirit and the sorcery that only certain parts of the world seem to produce. The Balkans has thrown up a number of creative midfielders with added bite and, in Boban, they gave us something truly special. Four Serie A titles and a Champions League trophy tell you all you need to know about the character of the man who played with as much pride as any footballer I can remember watching.
His bearded presence among the creators who will follow in this list would certainly give the team a dynamic edge and I like to think that he and Zanetti – club rivalries aside – would combine to devastating effect with the latter overlapping on the outside.
Some of you may be recalling his days in the Premier League and wondering how Juan Veron has come to find himself among this exalted company, but those of you who saw his roaming midfield displays in Serie A, for Sampdoria, Parma and Lazio, will know exactly why he is in this team.
From a disguised, slightly deeper role on the left, I feel the Argentinean could easily form the creative fulcrum of any side, and particularly one playing with a diamond midfield. His cross-field diagonals and his cutting through balls against the direction of play were enough to scythe through some of the most disciplined defensive organisations of Serie A – the league that trademarked defensive organisation.
TOP-OF-DIAMOND: ZINEDINE ZIDANE
Similar, in a sense, to the deep creative force embodied in this side by Veron and also to the No10 role long favoured on the peninsula, Zidane was not quite the same as either. Instead, the man who confirmed himself as a world-class talent at Juventus between 1996 and 2001 thrived in the space between midfield and attack.
Lurking with intent between the lines, the technically infallible Frenchman would control the ball like it was a reflex, no matter how it came towards him. His turns, his upper body strength and his spatial awareness made him extremely difficult to dispossess and he backed it all up with an eye for a sublime pass. Then there were the set-pieces, the volleys, the curling, top-corner bound efforts that left goalkeepers grasping at thin air, while all too often, the defenders lucky enough to be captioned alongside him in the morning papers were left simply to ‘look on’.
NUMBER 10: ROBERTO BAGGIO
For some reason, I vividly remember that Roberto Baggio was the protagonist the first time I heard a commentator use the phrase “passed the ball into the net”. I immediately switched on my SNES, selected Italy on International Superstar Soccer and attempted to score with a pass from the man in the No10 shirt with the ponytail, whose name, for copyright reasons, was ‘Galfano’.
But, whether Baggio passed, stroked or caressed the ball, it generally went beyond the goalkeeper and into that spot just inside the far post where nobody can stop it.
When I hear the phrase ‘skips inside’ to describe a forward who has opened his hips up and slipped the ball across a defender, I think of Roberto Baggio’s goal against Czechoslovakia at Italia ’90. Despite facing competition from the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Dejan Savicevic and Manuel Rui Costa, my vote for Serie A No10 of the Nineties was only ever going to one man.
With his hair flapping around his shoulders as he burst past defenders with his customary powerful runs into the area, Gabriel Batistuta always seemed to be scoring when I tuned into watch the Serie A highlights on the Saturday morning Gazzetta show as a boy.
His finishing across advancing goalkeepers, his instincts in a crowded, or empty, penalty area and his distinctive appearance made the Argentinean stand out. He gunned down opponents and then gunned down the crowd with his trademark machine-gun celebration. I wondered how Fiorentina would survive without him – they didn’t.
‘Batigol’ scored 168 league goals in nine years with the viola. Just imagine the damage he would do with Veron, Zidane and Baggio as his supporting cast.
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