I had the misfortune to turn on Talksport one night recently and listen to Stan collymore harp on in a vaguely xenophobic manner about his "team of the decade" in the Premiership. After he dismissed Robert Pires from his rightful position on the left of such a dream team, on the supposed grounds that he LAcKED END PRODUcT, i could take no more.
So here is my riposte to mr. collymore and all of his dumbass callers- especially the guy who suggested Didi Fucking Hamann in central midfield. Admittedly, about half the team will probably be the same as his, but anyway...
1. SHAY GIVEN
I suppose there's still a question mark hanging over Given, and it goes a little something like this: if he's a truly great keeper, isn't it something of an unfortunate coincidence that he seems to always find himself behind a shambolic defence? Does he lack the organisational skills that would render it unnecessary for him to be making five amazing saves every game? Or is it his relative lack of height as a goalkeeper that dissuaded any of the Big Four from ever making a move for him?
Despite these reservations, it remains that Given has been, over the last decade, an unsurpassed shotstopper in the English game. Van Der Sar and perhaps Petr cech could be seen as rivals for this spot but the former always struck me at United as a merely very decent keeper playing behind an exceptional defence, whereas the latter has suffered a crippling loss of form, understandably perhaps, since the Stephen Hunt incident.
2. GARY NEVILLE
consistency wins the day here. He's never been the most pyrotechnic of full-backs, but in terms of longevity and reliability he hasn't had much competition in the past decade. And a shedload of medals doesn't do any harm either. This was probably the easiest choice. Arsenal have had good right backs and Lauren deserves credit for his part in the glories of 02 and 04. Let's hope that in the coming years Bacary Sagna makes himself a shoo-in for the best right back of whatever the next decade is going to be called.
5. JOHN TERRY
I had to think long and hard about this one. I wanted one centre back adept at carrying the ball out, and one big stopper- so it soon became a question of Terry vs campbell. I've had to go for Terry, probably because we haven't had the pleasure of viewing his inevitable decline yet.
6. RIO FERDINAND
This is a poignant choice in a way because there is already a whiff of stagnation about Ferdinand, not just on account of his injury problems but also due to his form. As a ball-playing centre back who sweeps up behind an aggressive partner, he had serious competition from our own Bill Gallas and Ricardo carvalho. But you have to admit that for the last few years especially Ferdinand was imperious and he seemed to have a special place in his pocket reserved for Thierry Henry.
3. ASHLEY cOLE
Moving swiftly on...
11. cRISTIANO RONALDO
So far this team is populated almost exclusively by players I have an intense hatred for. What an awful decade. Here it was a battle between Beckham and the Portuguese ponce. If you gave Ronaldo Beckham's delivery, it would be frightening, but as it is Ronaldo is superior in every other department. And, apart from the ability to score a whopping forty goals in one season- comprising tap-ins, solo goals, twenty-yard thunderbolts, free kicks, penalties, and salmon-leap headers- it's his searing pace that really seals the deal and makes Beckham look a little one-dimensional.
4. and 8. PATRIcK VIEIRA and ROY KEANE
At first I was thinking of picking one of these guys, and a more obviously attack-minded player like Lampard or Gerrard to partner. But here is my logic for picking these two. Firstly, I'm playing a 4-4-2, and Gerrard and Lampard have in my view always been at their impressive best playing in a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 with two other central players to aid them with the workload and allow them to roam forward quite freely. I'm not convinced that either have proven themselves as true midfield generals in the mold of Vieira and Keane in their pomp. Perhaps this is indicative of one big change in the last few years of top-level football. Whereas a decade or so ago, we had players who played from box to box and could dominate games almost single-handedly, now midfield play is more specialist. Neither Vieira or Keane were simply holding players. Both were terrific ball-winners but could also be termed playmakers- witness Keane's famous performance in Turin in '99 where his hypnotic passing provided the platform for United's great comeback. But with the now widespread use of Makalele-style water carriers, it is usually possible to call a midfielder either attacking or defensive, and most teams have one player or even two focussed on shielding the back four. Illustrative of my point is the problem that England had with pairing Lampard and Gerrard in a 4-4-2, with neither really capable of curbing their offensive instincts. Vieira and Keane would never have had that problem. Both could drive forward to devastating effect at different times, with one always willing to drop back and add stability and solidity.
All that being said, there are still players of that ilk today. The fantastic Michael Essien could easily play in a 4-4-2, rampaging from box to box. It is an impossible fantasy of mine to see him in tandem with Fabregas, although both are now playing those aforementioned specialist roles in three or four-man midfields.
Anyway, sorry for banging on, what I really just wanted to say was, Keane and Vieira in tandem, early part of the last decade- when you were done shitting your pants, what would you do to beat that?
7. ROBERT PIRES
Despite Ryan Giggs' recent renaissance, there was only one winner of the left-wing spot. Football Writers Player of the year in 2002 after an astonishing season of roaming creativity from the wing, Pires reinvented himself subtly after a knee injury as a goalscoring midfielder who scored peaches and poached goals in equal number. He had a wonderful understanding with my team's left back, not to mention its two strikers....
10. DENNIS BERGKAMP
I've got to admit this is a sentimental choice in a way, as he is my favourite footballer of all time. But I want my team to be a work of art, not an ungainly battering ram, so there's no better man to drop into the hole and provide the ammo for Pires, Ronaldo and....
9. THIERRY HENRY
I was a bit harsh on him after that handball. He is a bit of a poser but it would be ungrateful to disregard just how staggeringly good this guy was for pretty much eight years on end. Probably, in terms of keeping up an amazing standard for a very long stretch of time, the Premiership's player of the decade. And nearly ever goal was a thing of beauty...