The English Premier League got underway a few days ago and everyone’s got involved in fantasy football. In fact, after years of being out of touch with the Premier League, I decided to play fantasy football this season. As a result, I’ve got involved with it all over again and I end up watching a lot of matches over the weekend. Given that I haven’t watched regular football for a while now, I found myself finding various holes left in certain teams by players that have left that were never really filled by anyone. It got me thinking, which players would I like to see playing together today? I restricted myself to a time-frame of this decade, I didn’t want to start posting an article that said that Di Stefano and Raul would be good to see together.
As of now, I’m keeping this list restricted to national squads. It’ll take me a while to come up with an interesting enough list regarding club football that would fit the bill, but it was much easier for me to think about World Cup 2002 and World Cup 2010 and keep my thought limited as of now to only national squads. Bear in mind that you might have tons of such combinations, but these just sprang out at me as I watched football and I thought that it would be absolutely epic to see these combinations playing together. It would be good to keep in mind that I’m talking about these players during the peak of their career.
Hey, just a minute now! You were talking about the English Premier League, then you jumped to the World Cup and you’re going to list combinations of national squads?! What the hell? Yeah well it’s my blog. Without further ado, let’s get on with the list!
1. Aimar and Messi
No surprise here, the first combination in my list involves Lionel Messi who was perhaps the most entertaining player in the World Cup. And for those of you who do know me, I’m sure you’re not surprised that I’ve got Pablo Aimar in my list. For those of you who don’t remember Pablo Aimar, let me give you a short introduction to this phenomenal player. Think about a player who’s been gifted with a coalescence of vision, top of the line skill, flexibility and an eye for goal. Now multiply this by two. Add six. You’ve got Pablo Aimar. He spent a lot of time in the Spanish League playing with Valencia and served Argentina’s national squad well. I doubt I need to introduce Lionel Messi to anyone after the World Cup.
So what is it about this combination that I think would be epic? Look at Argentina’s current squad, and then place Pablo Aimar in there. Argentina at the moment have an array of attacking options and they performed fairly well in the World Cup, but if you watched the team closely, you’ll notice that whenever Messi was involved, he was pretty much doing everything solo. Ran with the ball, got past players and then slid in a pass to someone or took a shot at goal. Maybe it’s just me, but the link up play with Messi was lacking. There weren’t enough players that were linking up well with him. Surely here and there there were instances when things seemed to gel well with him, but for me, there was a lot of solo Messi play and a lot of other players linking up to produce goals.
Throw in Pablo Aimar, and see the magic. If I’m not wrong, I think Aimar was involved in a few of the qualifying games for Argentina when they fell short of players but Maradona didn’t include him in the final squad for the World Cup. Aimar’s vision and skill would have had players running in circles around him and Messi being on the field would have left the defenders in a dilemma. Hell, come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if teams fielded five defenders and two defensive midfielders with Aimar and Messi both on the field. The link up play would have been brilliant because Aimar used to play so much like Messi with a slight reduction in speed, and he would have loved to have Messi picking up on all of his through balls and cheeky chips over the defence.
2. Valeron and Villa
Moving our focus on to Spain, the World Cup champions, would seem a little absurd. They won the World Cup! What more do you want! True, they had a great month and a half, and their midfield mix of Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Xavi is what had me impressed with them throughout. They probably had a great thing going, and although this isn’t in any way a suggestion to change their line-up, I think Juan Carlos Valeron and David Villa together would be more than just destructive. David Villa got enough through balls, enough passes from his midfield to help him score goals, and I think Valeron in there would have added to the damage.
For those of you who’re unaware of who Juan Carlos Valeron is, he’s probably the most influential player apart from Diego Tristan to have played in Deportivo la Coruna, and was an absolute genius in midfield, much like Aimar. Unlike Aimar though, Valeron wasn’t about trickery and skill, he was about playing those key balls into open areas, reading the runs of strikers and just had that uncanny ability to tear apart the most solid defence with a simple pass. One hell of a playmaker.
So let’s take a look at all the possibilities that would arise if we had these two in the Spanish squad. If you remember the Raul-Morientes era, you’ll remember that most of their goals also came from great passes from midfield, a lot of them from Valeron. He had the ability to deliver crosses in from impossible situations for Morientes to head in, to be able to leaf through balls between the defense to allow Raul to run onto them and tap them into goal. Although not a prolific goalscorer, Valeron had the ability to take the game to the opposition in tense situations and scored the winning goal against Russia in a EURO 2004 game. He wasn’t in the 2006 World Cup squad for Spain either, but I still hold him in high regard and I think that Valeron during his peak would have been a perfect candidate to help Villa score even more if that’s possible, and would have Spain an even deadlier opposition.
3. Rui Costa and Cristiano Ronaldo
If you look at the scoring record of most players, you’ll notice that they tend to score more goals and generally perform better for their club. There may be several reasons for this, but Manuel Rui Costa defied all these reasons. His record shows that he performed far better for Portugal than for Fiorentina or AC Milan, the two clubs he spent the most time with. 26 goals in 94 games for a midfielder is not bad at all, considering how competitive all the games he played for Portugal were. Rui Costa retired two years ago after playing two seasons at Benfica and for me, this is really a footballer that Portugal and the world will miss. No introduction required for Cristiano Ronaldo, if you haven’t heard of him, football fan or not, you really need to open your eyes and ears a little more.
Is it just me or does Portugal’s current midfield not seem to be as awesome as it should be? Simao and Deco are the only two midfielders I can think of who rank in the Class A category of players for me. Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be the one running around all over the place falling over himself struggling to decide whether he should be a striker or a midfielder, or perhaps a winger, maybe all of them. Portugal lack a proper striker as of now as well, because Hugo Almeida or Liedson just don’t make the cut for me. Introducing, Rui Costa. A player so versatile that you won’t need a striker in your team. Like I mentioned, although he’s not a prolific goalscorer, but he can carry all the midfielders on his shoulders into the box and make one of them score for sure.
So what would happen if we had these two playing in the same squad? Well one thing’s for sure, Cristiano wouldn’t be running around all over the place trying to find his spot and create the game for Portugal, because Rui Costa would handle all of that. It would also provide Deco a chance of some stability and control the pace of the game from midfield. Rui Costa had the fabulous ability to control who runs where and how the entire game is played. He could watch the game happen before it happened, and then re-create the play on the field just like he’d imagined in his mind due to the precision of his game.
Bear in mind that he wouldn’t take the pace completely off the game, for that would render Cristiano useless. Rui Costa had the ability to match any style of play, no matter how fast or how slow and adapt to it with ease. He would have been able to create lots of room for Ronaldo to run into, play those quick one twos with Ronaldo unleashing him at goal and at the same time would have kept Ronaldo in check of wandering too aimlessly about. Pirlo and Rui Costa marshalled the game from the AC Milan with such tenacity that at times it was almost scary. Rui Costa would probably have been able to do the same with Deco in Portugal’s midfield. This would probably have been one of the deadliest combinations in world football.
4. Batistuta and Messi
Argentine fans knew this was coming. I think it’s quite fair to mention Messi twice in this post, for he’s been that good lately and he’s just that impressive a player. And those of you familiar with Gabriel Batistuta also known as Batigol, you probably went back in your chair, clapped your hands and a weird cry escaped you. Argentina has the ability to produce certain strikers that are nightmares for defenders. Gabriel Batistuta was definitely one such striker. He could score from anywhere, with any foot no matter who the opponent.
Like Rui Costa, Batistuta spent a lot of time in Fiorentina before he migrated to the Italian Seria A, joining AS Roma. He’d run at the defence, take shots from distance, head the ball into the goal, poach like an expert, all with the same ability. He was all-in-all, a total striker, a winger’s dream and a coach’s favorite player. Make the demand, and he will deliver no matter what the stakes. Now think about a player like him playing with someone like Messi. Don’t throw Aimar into the equation with these two just as yet, your head will explode with too much awesomeness in there.
So what would happen if Argentina’s strike force constituted of Batistuta and Messi? Absolute mayhem. There would defenders running around all over the place trying to mark one or the other, and everyone would be falling over themselves. Di Maria and Higuain would probably be sitting on the side sunning themselves while these two score a hat-trick each and trot off home. I’m exaggerating, of course. But in all seriousness, it would be a very difficult attack force to defend against. We’ve all seen what happens when Messi runs at the defence. It takes more than two defenders to contain him properly, which leaves a gaping hole for the rest of the team to flow into.
The same used to happen with Batistuta. The ball touched his foot and he’d have at least two defenders charging at him and he’d skip past both of them and get on with it. With these two up front, it would take an extremely organized, calm and capable defence to contain them. Batistuta latching onto every single through ball played in by Messi and capitalizing with accuracy, and Batistuta knowing that someone will pick up his runs and get the ball to his feet no matter how difficult the task. Would be splendid to watch.
5. Ronaldo and Pato
You got it. There can be no list in football without Luiz Ronaldo, the world’s greatest striker ever, in it. Saving the best for last, I give you a combination of two forwards who wouldn’t rip apart a defence, they’d disintegrate it. Luiz Ronaldo is my favorite player of all time, so don’t be too surprised if you feel I’m overestimating him. I’m not, I just truly believe that he’s that good and that in his prime, he was unstoppable. Ronaldo during his prime pretty much always had enough support coming in from midfield and from his attack partners, be it Ronaldinho providing passes, Rivaldo linking up with him or the tons of other Brazilian permutations and combinations tried with him.
To be honest, Brazil never played two strikers. They always had a solid midfield with Ronaldo on top to latch onto everything. If you’re thinking about Rivaldo being the other striker, that wasn’t always true. Rivaldo always played a little behind Ronaldo, almost as a left winger and fired in tons of crosses and supported Ronaldo throughout. He was probably one of the best teammates Ronaldo could have asked for during the time.
Pato on the other hand, is probably going to be next Brazilian sensation as a forward, of course if he’s given a shot at playing in the Brazilian squad and stop that nonsense that Dunga seems to believe in right now. His style is very similar to Ronaldo’s, although he’s not nearly as good, not by a long shot, but he’s a formidable opponent to have if you’re a defender. Both of them have blistering pace, Ronaldo has tons of skill an Pato has enough to get by, and generally, they’d be a dream for midfielders to have in their squad knowing that such pace up front is a guarantee of goals and a surety that one of them would latch on to through balls.
Ronaldo pretty much always had two defenders trailing him, marking him and every coach ensured that he had more than one player marking Ronaldo. Without a doubt, Ronaldo had the fastest acceleration in the game and made life hell for any defender who was even an inch out of his spot. It’s sad, because these two had a chance to play together in the previous World Cup, had it not been for some bad team selection by Brazil. Think about, Ronaldo making defenders run in circles, Pato doing the same two strikers with great skill, amazing control on the ball and an eye for goal. What more would you want out a striker duo?