My Favourite XI

If I could pick a football matchday squad…

Goalkeeper: Paul Bastock (St. Albans City)
A Boston United legend and all-round nice guy, Paul Bastock appeared between the sticks for The Pilgrims an incredible 625 times. ‘Bazza’ then went on to play for sides such as Scarborough, Dagenham & Redbridge and currently, at the age of 41, is plying his trade in the Conference South with St. Albans City. He was a calm, collected figure at the back for Boston between 1992 and 2004 and has been a fan-favourite wherever he has gone. A Lincolnshire legend, he was voted Boston’s ‘all-time cult hero’ in 2005, a decision that I cannot, and will not, disagree with.
Centre back: Lucas Radebe (Retired, ex-Leeds United)
“This is my hero”, said Nelson Mandela in describing former-South African defender Lucas Radebe. ‘The Chief’ joined Leeds United in 1994 and was appointed captain within four years. As skipper, Radebe saw Leeds finish fourth in the Premier League in 1999 and, the following season, the Whites finished third. A serious knee injury meant that he missed out on their Champions League run, where they reached the semi-finals under manager David O’Leary. Radebe’s sheer class at the back, as well his sterling reputation off the field, has earned him a place in my Favourite XI.
Centre back: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
Alongside Radebe in my not-so-revolutionary 3-4-3 formation is another former Leeds United player. Ferdinand is, in my opinion, one of the greatest central defenders England have ever produced. He’s been at the heart of Manchester United’s defence since 2002 and has won four Premier League titles, not to mention the Champions League in 2008. He continues to be one of my favourite footballers to watch with his composure on the ball and reading of the game. Although, I do wish he’d learn to stick to 140 characters on Twitter.
Centre back: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
“Urgh, another Manchester United bias team”, I hear you cry. Well, if you play Rio Ferdinand, you have to play Nemanja Vidic. Right? Probably not, but the big Serbian’s power in the air, strength in the tackle and attacking threat in the opposition’s penalty area make him one of the best defenders currently in the Premier League.
Right midfielder: David Beckham (LA Galaxy)
Quite simply my favourite footballer. Ever. I remember going down to the local park regularly, trying to teach myself how to ‘bend it like Beckham’. I of course failed miserably, but I won’t hold that against him.
One of the finest crossers of the ball to ever grace the game, ‘Becks’ has enjoyed a fabulous career and given me some fantastic memories, both at United and with England. He continues to be a fine professional and has taken that bold step (for an Englishman in recent times) to go and play abroad. A phenomenal England captain, sensational footballer and, from what I can tell, a ruddy good bloke to boot.
Central midfield: Zinedine Zidane (Retired, ex-Real Madrid & Juventus)
Without a doubt, one of the best footballers ever. Zidane won the World Cup in 1998 and the Champions League in 2002 and it was his technique on the ball that made me realise that, actually, English players weren’t all they were hyped up to be. ‘Zizou’ has been described as a “magician”, “the greatest of all time” as well as a “monster”. His record both at club and international level cannot be argued with and, let’s face it, that headbutt was simply glorious.
Central midfield: Paul Gascoigne (Retired, ex-Newcastle, Spurs & Boston United)
From one technically gifted midfielder to another, Paul Gascoigne is the most famous person I am ever likely to meet. When I say “meet”, I of course mean I stuck my hand out in his direction after a game down at York Street (the home of Boston United) and he shook my hand. He may not have actually looked at me but, still, one of the greatest English footballers, ever, has shaken my hand. Although he only played a handful of games for Boston it was a great privilege to see him play. An incredible footballer, it really is sad to see him in the state that he is in.
Left midfield: Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
When a 37-year-old signs a contract extension to enable him to play one more year for one of the best sides in the world, you know you’ve got something special. Some say that the Welsh Wizard is overrated but his ability on the ball and his speed and determination, never mind his loyalty and unbelievable stamina, make him one of the true greats of world football. His love for the club, as well as his relatively quiet lifestyle outside of the game, make him a perfect role model for all young footballers, and some older ones too.
Striker: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
From one excellent role model to a not-so-great one, in recent times anyway. Wayne Rooney, though, did have a massive impact on me as a child. I remember watching ITV’s The Premiership whilst I prepared for my Sunday League match that day.
The sight of a fresh-faced kid coming on against Arsenal and unleashing a rocket past David Seaman is etched on my memory. “That’s what I’m going to do today”, I said to myself. I spent the whole match stood up front, isolated as my team got hammered 4-0 that day, but Rooney was certainly an inspiration for me and lot of other kids. I’ve lost a little bit of respect for him in the last year (in fact, quite a bit of respect) but he’s still an incredible footballer and I know (read: hope) he’ll get back to his defence-destroying and net-busting self very soon.
Striker: Alan Shearer (Retired, ex-Newcastle United)
Another inspiration for me and a man that I idolised, Alan Shearer was the goalscorer. I didn’t score many goals in my short time as a ‘footballer’ but when I did I’d always wheel away and do that celebration. Well, either that celebration or Robbie Keane’s, but there’s no way he’s getting in my XI. Shearer was a complete forward, scoring an incredible 379 goals in 733 appearances, and I’m sure he’d lead my front-line expertly well.
Striker: Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid)
When I was around ten years old I asked my parents to get me a Manchester United shirt. “Do you want Beckham on the back?” my mother said to me. “No, I want Forlan.” At the time, I came in for rather a lot of stick from mates who simply didn’t appreciate how good a player Forlan was (I will never forget seeing him score two goals against Liverpool, making Jerzy Dudek look like a complete muppet in the process).
I must have been some sort of footballing genius because now Forlan is regarded as one of the best strikers in the world. He’s won the Europa League with Atletico Madrid as well as the European Golden Shoe, twice, most recently in 2008. He was a star at the 2010 World Cup and was named in the ‘All-star team’. Who’s laughing now, huh?
Alex Stepney (Retired, ex-Manchester United)
A goalkeeper that, I don’t think, is recognised nearly enough, Alex Stepney made over 400 league appearances for United, keeping 175 clean sheets for the club. A United legend, he started his career at Tooting & Mitcham United [Terrors represent! – Ed] in the early-60s and went on to play for Milwall and, for a short while, Chelsea, before joining United in 1966. Stepney starred in the European Cup Final in 1968, a game which I will never tire of watching on DVD.
Paul McGrath (Retired, ex-Aston Villa)
Formerly of Manchester United but probably better known for his time with Villa, McGrath is arguably the best Irish defender ever. His power and composure at the back were nothing short of incredible and his autobiography is without a doubt the most interesting, and at times chilling, book I have ever read.
Sami Hyypiä (Bayer Leverkusen)
I love a loyal footballer. The Finnish defender spent ten years at Anfield, during which time he won two FA Cups, the UEFA Cup, the Champions League and two League Cups. A classy, determined centre back, Hyypiä was a fantastic servant to the English top flight.
Neil Redfearn (Retired, ex-Boston United)
He’s played more than a thousand first team games in a career that has spanned 24 years with clubs such as Bolton Wanderers, Doncaster United and of course Boston United. He was a goalscoring midfielder and like Bastock was always a fan-favourite.
Ronaldo (Retired, ex-Real Madrid, Barcelona, Brazil)
A few people have already picked Ronaldo in their favourite XIs so there’s not really much I can say about O Fenômeno that hasn’t already been said. Frankly, the best striker I have ever seen. The reason he’s on the bench? Ronaldo guaranteed you goals, and every side needs a super-sub.
This article was originally published on TwoFootedTackle.

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