My Historical Euro All-Star X1

Twenty-four teams will contest the European Football Championships in France this year. Surprisingly only nine teams have won the tournament with twelve finalists in total, since the contest began in 1960.

I have come up with an all-star team selection of players spanning the lifetime of the championships. My inspiration was a select UEFA 50 list used for a competition, and members of the list had to fulfil at least two of the following criteria:

Featured in at least a semi-final

Featured in a team of the tournament (ref: ToT)

Featured as the Euro top scorer (ref: TS)

Featured in an iconic moment (ref: IM)

From 1960-1976 only four nations competed for the title of European Champions. This increased to eight from 1980-1992 and then sixteen from 1996-2012. As a result some names I expected to see as a UEFA option were not offered, for example Cruyff and Kahn.

Anyway, I’ve decided to comprise my team of players who can represent every winning country and two other finalists. My players represent every decade the tournament has been played. So here is my All-Star XI team using a 4-3-3 formation:

PETER SCHMEICHEL: Goal Keeper: 1992 winner Denmark (ToT)

I thought about having Yashin the Soviet Union keeper for 60 & 64 instead of Schmeichel but wanted the big Dane between the posts. Interestingly from the keeper options; (Buffon, Casillas, Yashin, Schmeichel and Zoff); Yashin has been the ONLY keeper EVER named European Player of the Year, which is a travesty.

GIACINTO FACCHETTI: Defender left-back: 1968 winner Italy (ToT)

FRANZ BECKENBAUER: Defender centre-back/sweeper: 1972 winner Germany (ToT). Germany has also won in 1980 & 1996.

ANTON ONDRUS: Defender centre back/sweeper: 1976 winner Czechoslovakia (ToT).  He also won the bronze medal in 1980.

SERGIO RAMOS: Defender right back: 2008 & 2012 winner Spain (2012 ToT). Spain’s previous win was in 1964.

MICHEL PLATINI: Midfielder: 1984 winner France-(ToT), player of tournament & TS (9). France won again in 2000. I had grave reservations in naming Platini due to his recent fall from grace in the game, but I wanted another player from the 80s. My more natural French choice is, and always will be, Zinedine Zidane the French captain in 2000.

THEODOROS ZAGORAKIS: Midfielder: 2004 winner Greece-(ToT), player of the tournament.

DRAGAN DZAJIC: Midfielder (left winger): 1968 finalist Yugoslavia-(ToT in 68 & 76). Yugoslavia was also a finalist in 1960.

MARCO VAN BASTEN: Striker: 1988 winner Netherlands-(ToT), best player of the tournament, TS (5), IM (volley against Soviet Union in final)

VALENTIN IVANOV: Striker: 1960 winner Soviet Union-joint TS (2). Also a finalist in 1964.

CRISTIANO RONALDO: Striker: 2004 finalist Portugal-(ToT 2004 & 2012). He has scored six goals in the Euro Championships so far.

I liked the idea of having strikers from the infancy of the European Championships through to its more mature years. Van Basten was the obvious choice to me for the “middle years” and so I avoided Denmark’s Brian Laudrup from 1992 and picked Schmeichel instead. This meant Ivanov for the Soviet Union could represent the early years in my strike force.

The only Euro finalist without a representative is Belgium from 1980 beaten 2-1 by Germany. There wasn’t any player from that country mentioned in the list of fifty.

My substitute’s bench would include at least one player to cover each position.

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy finalist 2012, (ToT 2008 & 2012).

Midfielder: Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic finalist 1996, (ToT 2004))

Defender: Paolo Maldini (Italy finalist 2000, (ToT 1988, 1996 & 2000)

Striker: Alan Shearer (England semi-finalist 1996-(ToT, TS (5) and second most prolific scorer in the Euro championships with a total of seven goals. Only Platini has scored more goals (9) but Cristiano Ronaldo may over take both men if he has a good 2016 tournament!

Muhammad Ali a Sporting Icon of Our Time

The great boxing icon Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd 2016 aged 74, the news heralding worldwide tributes to his legacy. I would like to add my own thoughts on the subject, having seen and heard only a little of the “official” news tributes.

At a very young age I began taking an interest in the noble art of boxing, and Muhammad Ali was probably the first “big name” I can remember hearing about and watching. Ali graced the ring with a swagger and an elegance that belied his heavyweight fighting category. Some of his battles would enter into boxing folklore legend, “Rumble in the Jungle” (Foreman v Ali: Zaire: 30th October 1974) and “Thrilla in Manila” (Ali v Frazier: Philippines: 1st October 1975). These took place well before my sixth birthday and helped foster in me a love of boxing as a sport. To me, no one could match Muhammad Ali’s greatness in the heavyweight ring.

I have always enjoyed good interview programs and Michael Parkinson’s encounters with Ali were particularly memorable. Muhammad Ali always came across as a supremely confident man (some would say arrogant), who was like a breath of fresh air, as he spoke his mind in a most articulate and mesmerising way. On discovering Ali threw his 1960 Olympic gold medal into a river after being disrespected in his native US, I felt he was a man of principal. That same principal saw him change his “slave name” Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali on his conversion to Islam. Ali also refused to fight in the Vietnam War in the late 60s, and consequently the boxing authorities shamefully banned him from the sport for 3.5 years, and stripped away his boxing titles. All these actions highlighted Ali as a man of principal in an era when the United States of America was still in the grip of deep racial inequality. Muhammad Ali was a man of his time and of his people, who managed to transcend the shackles of his country’s treatment.

Muhammad Ali was a once in a generation athlete. Like Eric Liddell a man who didn’t sacrifice his religious principles during the 1924 Olympics. Yet Eric ran to feel God’s pleasure in a 400m gold winning effort. Like Jesse Owens who by winning four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics, singularly routed Adolf Hitler’s belief in white supremacy. Ali was a man of his people, in a similar way I guess, to Cathy Freeman representing her Aboriginal heritage in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Ali was a man with an incredible aura who earned hard won respect from the sporting fraternity, rather like Sir Alex Ferguson. The boxer who described himself as “The Greatest” clearly had an ego as big as “The Special One” Jose Mourinho. In these two iconic men of football we see glimpses of the qualities of greatness that made Ali unique and a worldwide sporting phenomenon.

Muhammad Ali spoke his mind and didn’t give a damn who heard, or what they thought. Today’s sport is extremely sanitised and demands a universal conformity that makes athletes appear bland to the point of insignificance. As a result we can truly say there will never be a sports person like Ali again. And the world will be a poorer place for it. RIP Muhammad Ali your legacy will live on.