AMOGH PANSE | 23rd October 2021

To me, football is my safe space and a zone where I’m truly at my happiest. And my All-Time XI consists of mentality monsters and gamechangers galore that have made this sport as special to me as anything you can imagine.

Here goes nothing.

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas

The greatest Spanish goalkeeper in the history of the game is a no-brainer for any all-time XI. From sitting in class to being called up to start alongside the likes of Seedorf and Raul as a teenager, the levels this man has shown are incomparable.

If The Matrix movie was recasting, San Iker is the one who’d play Neo, catching balls like they were in slow motion and producing inch-perfect saves.

It never seemed like he was even close to being a giant between the posts, but I’m a sucker for footballers that let the brain do the talking instead of the brawn and that’s Casillas in a nutshell.

Flashbacks of the Real Madrid legend enter my mind as I reminisce on how he never seemed to get it wrong at the 2010 World Cup.

To be fair, be it any competition, the World Cup winner was as consistent as they come. From stopping Arjen Robben at point-blank range to those Champions League masterclasses against Liverpool and Schalke, Casillas always stood his ground.

It’d take a golazo of the highest caliber to beat a ‘keeper who has a strong shout for being the greatest of all time.

San Iker supremacy forever.

Right-back: Dani Alves

Versatility? Check. Personality? Double check. Trophies? I can’t write check 42 times so you better get the gist of it.

The Brazilian doesn’t chase success, success chases him. And you’ve got to love the man as much as you love the footballer.

In an era where footballers with charisma are a dying breed, Dani would always go viral with his dance moves and his questionable fashion choices. I can’t say I don’t respect the confidence about a red tux and shorts, however.

Keeping that aside, I’ve always been a fan of his flamboyance and his ability to pull something out of the rabbit hat, time and again.

It only made things worse when supporting Madrid during the Clasicos because Alves was as much a threat as any attacking player in any side on the planet.

And his iconic head-to-head battles with Ronaldo still entertain me to this day, but what intrigues me the most is his ability to cross the ball perfectly in the path of the late running midfielder just getting into the box to score.

Or how in-sync he was with Leo. Or actually how fleet-footed he was for a full-back.

He really had everything in the locker, didn’t he? Dani Alves understood the assignment. Period.

Centre-back: John Terry

Captain. Leader. Legend. How could I have a team without the greatest centre-back in Premier League history? When a certain Portuguese manager came to make a statement in the Abramovich era, he didn’t need boys. He needed men.

Men like John Terry, who brought Mourinho’s mind games and was an absolute headache to play against. Honestly, I’d go to war if the Englishman was my commander.

A master of the art of defending and as fearless as they come, Terry has always been a constant, while centre-halves and come and gone; Desailly, Carvalho, Gallas, Cahill.

Being named in the FIFPro World Team of the Year for 5 consecutive years and the Premier League’s top scoring defender is a little piece of what it was to witness a defender who won every club trophy possible.

Let me re-watch a compilation of his tackles once again and get back to this all-time XI.

Centre-back: Sergio Ramos

I’m back and I have a question.

Ever have that bully who also happens to be your most loyal friend? Enter Sergio Ramos. Here, the winning mentality comes at a cost at the hands of the opposition. The lion comes out of its cage and rips your attack to shreds.

Against Manchester City in the 2nd leg of the Champions League last season, the Parisians absolutely lost their heads.

With a seasoned winner like Ramos in the building, the fine balance between playing right on the edge while getting away with murder will make PSG a craftier prospect to face in Europe.

A central defender who’s been there and done that and continues to shine 17 years since starting for Sevilla, I can’t help but respect the longstanding brilliance of one of the greatest to ever do it.

Left-back: Alphonso Davies

This might read as as a controversial pick, but I’ve never seen a more complete full-back at 20 years of age. The pitch just seems like a playground for the Canadian with his relentless sprints on the flanks and a wicked left-foot that makes immaculate crossing look like child;s play.

Phonzy is perhaps the only player I’ve seen thrash my club and instantly fall in love with. It shouldn’t take you a long time to figure out I’m a Chelsea fan.

Making the UEFA Team of the Year as just a teenager alongside the greats just shapes the story that he’s set so far amongst the hardships during his childhood.

In all honesty, if I was up to me, I’d be willing to bid farewell to Chilwell and Alonso in a heartbeat if I was getting Davies through the Cobham doors, with so much more to come.

Believe me, this is only the start of his fairytale while Nelson Semedo continues to live out his nightmare. I can’t stress enough how much of a steal he is for Bayern Munich.

Did you know that this is the first time since 1997 that Canada have reached the top 50 in the FIFA world rankings?

The Weeknd and Drake have competition for being Canada’s biggest national treasure in Alphonso Davies.

Defensive-midfielder: N’Golo Kante

Wholesome content alert. If there’s one player every football fan loves, it’s my guy, NG.

There’s nothing he can’t do. Unlike the No.6’s my fellow writers wrote about, for me, the Chelsea man is the greatest defensive-midfielder of all time.

The man could break a treadmill with how he never stops running.  And while the world focuses on his endless stamina and countless number of lungs, Kante is as good as they come defensively.

There wasn’t a player in the Champions League that could even come close to the two-time Premier League champion’s defensive excellence last season.

The Frenchman leaves the backline with little to fuss about. But I’m here to remind you that if you thought an incredible engine and being a defensive sensei are only two of his fortes, you’re setting limits on an all-time great once again.

N’Golo has evolved into a sensational box-to-box midfielder and the way he knits the midfield to the attack is second to none.

His one-twos and neat flicks against Real Madrid last season were evidence of the finesse that goes unnoticed about a truly era-defining midfielder.

Of course, he’s not a Sergio Busquets or a Xabi Alonso, but he’s also not a deep-lying playmaker either. For what he does bring, he’s a level above than the rest.

In the past, they called it the ‘Makelele Role’ at Chelsea, but for the 2000s babies, it has to be called the ‘Kante Role’.

Attacking midfielder: Zinedine Zidane

“Give me Zidane and 10 pieces of wood and I’ll win you the Champions League.”

– Sir Alex Ferguson

Zizou was the epitome of grace. The French legend was the one made me fall in love with the game. He’d make anyone fall in love with football because Zidane is everything that makes the game beautiful.

The Madrid legend made the impossible look like a cakewalk and in all honesty, he made a sport that has been associated with “pace and physicality” balletic.

When I think of Real Madrid’s Galacticos, there’s only one man who comes to mind. His first touch is every midfielder’s wet dream and watching his genius against Brazil in the 2006 World Cup made a lasting impression on my adoration for wizards such as him.

On the surface, Zizou is as reserved and quiet as they come. But inside, a fire burns as even a warrior of Roy Keane’s ilk admired his toughness, aside from his technical genius.

A sight to behold when in action.

Attacking midfielder: Andres Iniesta

Pizzazz is the perfect word to describe Don Andres. I still get haunted by that goal at the Bridge ever so long ago, but the man is nothing more or nothing less than an artist.

Personally, as well, I was always happier laying it on a plate for others than actually scoring the goal.

And witnessing Iniesta at the crux of that legendary juego de posición system, being the creator rather than the finisher heavily influenced the way I like to perceive the game- with an extra pair of eyes.

I’m a sucker for positional football and Barcelona’s legendary No.8 was the soul of this philosophy, thanks to Pep’s brilliant blueprint.

Also, it took a lot of guts back in the day to open up about his mental health struggles and that’s another reason why I idolize Andres.

An incredible footballer and an even better human being.

Right-winger: Mohamed Salah

The best winger in the world at the moment. And possibly, the best player on the globe as well

A sublime dribbler blessed with searing pace and the cut of a UFC fighter, I could go on and on about everything that makes Mo Salah unplayable.

The consistency is predictable, yet unbelievable simultaneously and I’m fortunate enough to justify those claims with healthy FPL returns.

Ever since he joined Liverpool, not a day goes by where I wonder, “what if”. The Chelsea roots are long gone now and the Egyptian King strolls into Liverpool’s greatest XI on the right-hand side, as he is does in mine.

There’s nothing more to say here except that we should expect a statue of him outside Anfield.

Striker: Didier Drogba

The King of Stamford Bridge will lead the line in any team I ever pick. Didier Drogba was the ultimate big game player- those seated at the Emirates as well as the Allianz Arena can vouch for this.

There’s always a smile on my face, seeing his iconic celebration and to this day, I do my own version when seeing the Ivorian legend follow it up with the smoothest knee-slide you’ll ever see.

It’s clear as day – Drogba was the ideal Premier League striker. For any aspiring No.9’s that dream of playing in the biggest and best league in the world, study the Champions League winner’s game and you’ve done your due diligence.

Despite him being a monster on the pitch, he was an angel off it.

It always inspired me to witness Didier give so much back to Ivory Coast. Building hospitals, schools, charities and also being a UNICEF brand ambassador have further cemented his iconic status within the African subcontinent.

A legend for so many reasons.

Left-winger: Cristiano Ronaldo

Let’s face it, we have witnessed the greatest era in the history of sport. Tennis elevated to the unforeseen levels with Federer, Djokovic and Nadal at the helm. Basketball is where it is now with the likes of LeBron, Curry and the late Kobe setting new levels.

And football wouldn’t be the behemoth it has become, if not for two incredible players that are simply superhuman at this point. But I want to put one of them under the microscope and that’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

From the drive to be the best version of himself to even being referred to as a “machine” like seasoned greats like Zlatan just prove Ronaldo is built different. And I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t awe-inspiring to me. Some writers prefer the Ronaldo at United in his first stint, but I prefer his stint in Spain.

It was a match made in heaven between possibly the greatest club on the planet and a man so willing to die as a legend that he is for me, numero uno in terms of being at the very top we have ever seen.

Cristiano Ronaldo has nothing to prove anymore. As he continues to bury his opponents for a living, let me sit back and enjoy witnessing his unparalleled greatness.

The Best of The Rest

Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer

If Pep believed that he could play Manu could be his side’s first attacker, then so do I.

I guess the only reason I’m benching the German keeper is because I’d get a super sub in any case- whether it was for a penalty shootout, to pick a gorgeous pass when chasing a lead or pulling off a tackle that has centre-backs taking notes.


Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk

Picking a central defender to partner Terry in was always going to my biggest problem in choosing this XI. Regardless, Big Virg has been a gladiator that simply cannot be bypassed.

If there’s a centre-half who could make Lukaku look powerless, its the Dutchman.

VVD rightly deserved to be the runner-up in the Ballon D’Or race after winning the Champions League in 2019 and continues to set the standards for centre-backs.

Attacking midfielder: Kevin De Bruyne

As a Chelsea fan, I apologize on behalf of Jose Mourinho for letting a gem such as him go.

KDB is the complete package of a midfielder and I’m so blessed to have witnessed those incredible assists and rockets for goals for all these years. That’s what makes him my favorite rival player in the Premier league.

Right-winger: Angel Di Maria

Angel Di Maria is as magical a left-footer as any and one that sits at the top of my list.

His perfectly weighted passes and silky footwork are a treat to witness as he’s on the wrong side of 30.

An immaculate footballer.

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