Best XI

This month we opted to come up with our very own choice of some marvellous players who unfortunately, never quite got an opportunity to showcase their skills on the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.

These extra-ordinary footballers were no ‘mere mortals’ but were plain unlucky not to have participated in the FIFA World Cup. This Best XI team can give any good team a ‘run for their money’.  

Let us see who they comprise (not in any particular order) –

I – Bernard ‘Bert’ Trautmann (Ger)

Bernard ‘Bert’ Trautman

 Bernhard Carl “Bert” Trautmann, OBE (born 22 October 1923) is a German former professional footballer who played for Manchester City from 1949 to 1964. Brought up during times of inter-war strife in Germany, Trautmann joined the Luftwaffe early in World War II, serving as a paratrooper. He fought on the Eastern Front for three years, earning five medals including an Iron Cross. Later in the war, he was transferred to the Western Front, where he was captured by the British as the war drew to a close. One of only 90 of his original 1,000-man regiment to survive the war, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. Trautmann refused an offer ofrepatriation, and following his release in 1948 he settled in Lancashire, combining farm work with playing as goalkeeper for local football team, St. Helens Town.

Performances for St. Helens gained Trautmann a reputation as an able goalkeeper, resulting in interest from Football League clubs. In October 1949, he signed for Manchester City, a club playing in the highest level of football in the country, the First Division. The club’s decision to sign a former Axis paratrooper sparked protests, with 20,000 people attending a demonstration. Over time, he gained acceptance through his performances in the City goal, playing all but five of the club’s next 250 matches.

Though recognised as one of the leading goalkeepers of his era, he never played for his native country. Trautmann met with German national coach, Sepp Herberger in 1953, who explained that travel and political implications prevented him from selecting a player who was not readily available, and that he could only consider including Trautmann if he was playing in a German league. Consequently, Trautmann’s international isolation prevented him from playing in the 1954 World Cup, in which his countrymen were victorious. Trautmann’s only experience of international football came in 1960, when the Football League decided to include non-English players to represent the League in representative matches for the first time. Trautmann captained the League against the Irish League, and also played against the Italian League.

 II – Steve Bruce (England)


Steve Bruce

Born in Corbridge, Northumberland, he was a promising schoolboy footballer but was rejected by a number of professional clubs. He was on the verge of quitting the game altogether when he was offered a trial with Gillingham. Bruce was offered an apprenticeship and went on to play more than 200 games for the club before joining Norwich City in 1984.

In 1987, he moved to Manchester United, where he achieved great success, winning the Premier League, FA Cup, Football League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup. He also became the first English player of the twentieth century to captain a team to The Double. Despite his success on the field, he was never selected to play for the England national team. Commentators and contemporaries have described him as one of the best English players of the 1980s and 1990s never to play for his country at full international level.

III – Matthias Sammer (Germany)

Matthias Sammers

Sammer played for his hometown club, Dynamo Dresden from 1987 to 1990, the club his father, Klaus had played for and managed. He was one of the first notable East German players to join a Western club after the German re-unification when he signed with VfB Stuttgart in 1990 (the first being Andreas Thom, who joined Bayer Leverkusen from BFC Dynamo). He then went on to play with Italian clubs Internazionale (1992–1993) and Borussia Dortmund (1993–1998). He won two East German championships with Dynamo Dresden (1989, 1990) and three German championships (1992 with VfB Stuttgart, 1995 and 1996 with Borussia Dortmund). During his time in Dortmund, he also won the UEFA Champions League in 1997. Sammer also scored the last ever goal for the East Germany football team before re-unification.

IV – Nigel Winterburn (England) 

Nigel Winterburn

Winterburn was born in Arley, Warwickshire. He began his career with Birmingham City but never played for the first team, though he did earn youth caps for England while with the club. He joined Oxford United, but never played for their first time either, and then in 1983 he was signed on a free transfer by Dave Bassett to join Wimbledon, who were on a steady climb up the divisions after gaining promotion from the non-league pyramid six years earlier. Wimbledon achieved promotion to the First Division in 1986 and Winterburn earned England Under-21 honours. In their first season within the elite they achieved a top-half finish and got to the quarter finals of the FA Cup, when they were beaten by eventual finalists, Tottenham Hotspur.

Winterburn won the Wimbledon supporters Player Of The Year in each of the four seasons he spent at Plough Lane. George Graham was seeking a long-term replacement for captain Kenny Sansom and in the summer of 1987, Arsenal paid Wimbledon £350,000 and Winterburn went to Highbury.

He is best known for his role alongside Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Lee Dixon, forming a celebrated defensive line in the Premier League and European football during the 1990s.

V – Lee Dixon (England) 

Lee Dixon

Dixon was a boyhood Manchester City supporter. He began his professional playing career in the lower divisions. On leaving school in 1980, he joined Burnley as an apprentice in 1980, turning professional in 1982, then signed for Chester City (where he experienced finishing bottom of the whole Football League in 1983–84), Bury and later Stoke City.

Dixon was signed by Arsenal boss, George Graham in January 1988, following the departure of England right back, Viv Anderson to Manchester United. This was the first time that Dixon had played in the First Division.

It took a while for Dixon to be given a first team role at Highbury. With England international Kenny Sansom at left-back, the equally left-sided Nigel Winterburn had been a guarded success in the unfamiliar right-back role, though Dixon did make his debut against Luton Town in February 1988 and played six times in total before the season ended. In the new season, Winterburn moved across to left back, allowing Dixon to take over the No.2 shirt, which he duly did for well over ten years. Displaced Sansom left Arsenal the following winter.

Dixon was a marauding right-back, ever willing to support his winger, David Rocastle and his attacking skills were still noted even though his main job (and the main priority of the side as a whole) was to defend. He also had a short spell during this period as the club’s penalty taker.


VI – Bernd Schuster (Germany) 

Bernd Schuster

Schuster was an important part of the FC Barcelona team during the 1980s, leading the game from midfield and scoring many goals. His club president, Josep Lluís Núñez and some trainers like Helenio Herrera, Udo Lattek, Terry Venables and Luis Aragonés had difficult relations with him. He won, however, the European Silver Ball in 1980 and Bronze Balls in 1981 and 1985. At age 21, in 1981, he received a bad injury on his right knee by Athletic Bilbao defender, Andoni Goikoetxea.

His move to Real Madrid was controversial due to the strong rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid. Bernd Schuster’s style complemented the group of home-grown Madrid players known as la Quinta del Buitre who led the team to a dominance of the Spanish Championship through the 1980s.

Bernd Schuster signed with Atlético Madrid in the fall of 1990 and helped improve the performance of Atletico’s traditional games based on back-passes. His long precise passes helped restore Atlético Madrid as a prominent club.

In 1993, Bernd returned home to Germany to play for three seasons with Bayer Leverkusen. Despite his contributions, the club was unable to capture Bundesliga and German Cup titles but his performances inspired much of the country to push for a place for him in the 1994 World Cup squad. In the national TV-Station ARD “Goal of the year” election Schuster won the first three places in 1994.

He was part of the West German side that won the 1980 UEFA European Football Championship in Italy, appearing in two of Germany’s four matches. His performances there helped him earn the Silver Ball Trophy honour as Europe’s second best player in 1980 behind Golden Ball winner, and Germany team-mate Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Overall, Schuster won twenty-two caps for the West German national team and retired from the German national team at the age of 24, due to his repeated disagreements with the German Football Association, then national team manager, Jupp Derwall and teammates, including Paul Breitner. His refusal to take part in a match against Albania, in order to be home for the birth of his second son David, caused a sporting scandal at the time.

According to Schuster himself, his premature retirement from the German National Team was due to a major disagreement with the managements of both Barcelona and the German National Team on either side of a friendly match against Brazil.

VII – Valentino Mazzola (Italy)


Valentino Mazzola

Mazzola’s career with Venezia started modestly, with a tenth-placed finish in 1940 and a twelfth-place finish the next season. In 1941, however, the team won the Coppa Italia Final against Roma and finished third in the league in 1942.

Mazzola then made his debut for the national side on April 5, 1942, when he scored a goal.

As they finished third in the league, Venezia were only a single point behind Torino, who promptly began to take notice of Mazzola. The only problem was that Juventus had a verbal agreement with Venezia that they would sign Mazzola. However, Torino eventually offered two hundred thousand lira plus two players and won the player’s signature.

Although the deal was intended to be kept secret, news of the upcoming move got out and as Venezia played Torino, the crowd began to taunt Mazzola, calling him a “sell-out”. An outraged Mazzola clenched his fists and promptly led Venezia to a 3-1 win.

With Torino, Mazzola won the wartime league title in 1943. In 1944, the championship ended early, but Mazzola managed to score 10 goals (in context, however, Silvio Piola scored 31).

In 1946, Mazzola helped the team to the title, which they won over Inter Milan by 13 points. The next season, Torino won the title again, beating second-placed Juventus by 10 points. In 1948, Torino broke numerous records, including ending the season with the biggest ever advantage over the second-placed team (they beat Milan to the title by 16 points) and on May 11, 1947, Torino provided 10 of the 11 players who took to the field against Hungary. Mazzola played 12 matches with the Italian National Team and scored 4 goals.

In the 1948-49 season, Torino won the last title they would get until 1976. Mazzola scored 109 goals in the Italian Championship with Venezia and Torino over 8 years.

Despite suffering from illness, Mazzola was determined to attend the match he had organised for Torino, in Lisbon, in 1949. On May 4, on the return journey from the game, the aircraft carrying Mazzola and the rest of the team crashed, killing everyone on board and leaving only one first-team player at Torino alive.


VIII – George Weah (Liberia) 

George Weah

As the future goal-scoring master looked for his golden ticket, he worked for the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation as a switchboard technician, whilst playing in Liberia for Young Survivors, Bongrange Company, Mighty Barolle and Invincible Eleven.

It was at Invincible Eleven that Weah caught the eye of the visiting scouts: not only did his 24 goals in 23 games win his side the title, but also earned him his much awaited move abroad.

Weah moved to Europe in 1988 when he was signed by Arsène Wenger, the manager of Monaco, who Weah credits as an important influence in his career. At Monaco, Weah was a member of the team that won the French Cup in 1991. In the 1990s Weah subsequently played for Paris Saint Germain (1992–95), with whom he won the French league in 1994 and became the top scorer of the UEFA Champions League 1994–95; and AC Milan (1995–1999), with whom he won the Italian league in 1996 and 1999. In 1995 he was named European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year. Weah also became famous at Milan for scoring a wonder goal against Verona at the San Siro. After leaving Milan in January 2000, Weah moved to Chelsea, Manchester City and Olympique Marseille in quick succession, before leaving Marseille in May 2001 for Al Jazira FC, in the United Arab Emirates.

As successful as he was at club level, Weah was not able to bring over that success to the Liberian national team. He has done everything with the squad from playing to coaching to financing it, but failed to qualify for a single World Cup, falling just a point short in qualifying for the 2002 tournament. All this led to Weah being known as one of the best footballers never to have played in a World Cup.

IX – Ryan Giggs (Wales) 

Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs is the most decorated player in English football history.[1] He also holds the club record for competitive appearances. During his time at Manchester United, he has won 12 Premier League winners’ medals, four FA Cup winners’ medals, three League Cup winners’ medals and two Champions League winners’ medals. He has two runners’-up medals from the Champions League, three FA Cup finals and two League Cup finals, as well as been part of the team five times when it finished second in the Premier League. In recent years, Giggs has captained the team on numerous occasions, particularly in the 2007–08 season when regular captain, Gary Neville was ruled out with various injuries.

Giggs has a number of personal achievements. He was the first player in history to win two consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year awards (1992 and 1993), though he did not win the PFA Player of the Year award until 2009. He is the only player to have played and scored in every season of the Premier League and he also holds the longest run of successive scoring seasons in UEFA Champions League history (11). He has been elected into the PFA Team of the Century in 2007, the Premier League Team of the Decade, in 2003, as well as the FA Cup Team of the Century. Giggs holds the record for the most assists in Premier League history, with 269.

At international level, Giggs played for the Welsh national team prior to his retirement from international football on 2 June 2007, and was once the youngest player to ever represent his country. Wales only played in the World Cup in 1958 under the tutelage of Jimmy Murphy, the former United assistant manager of Sir Matt Busby.

[1]“Ryan Giggs wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2009”

X – Alfredo Di Stefano (Argentina-Columbia-Spain)


Alfredo- di- Stefano

Alfredo Stéfano Di Stéfano Laulhé, born into a family of Italian immigrants from Capri, is a former Argentinian footballer and coach, widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. He is mostly associated with Real Madrid and has been instrumental in their domination of the European Champions’ Cup during the 1950s, a period in which the club won the trophy in five consecutive seasons from 1956. Di Stéfano played international football mostly for Spain, but he also played for Argentina and Colombia.

Di Stéfano, nicknamed “Saeta rubia” (“blond arrow”), was a powerful forward with great stamina, tactical versatility and vision; who could play almost anywhere on the pitch. He is currently the fourth highest scorer in the history of Spain’s top division, and Real Madrid’s second highest league goalscorer of all time, with 216 goals in 282 league matches between 1953 and 1964.

In November 2003, to celebrate UEFA’s Jubilee, he was selected as the Golden Player of Spain by the Royal Spanish Football Federation as their most outstanding player of the past 50 years. He was named by Pelé as one of the “top 125 greatest living footballers” in March 2004 (in September 2009 he said Di Stéfano was the best argentinian player “ever”). Di Stéfano was voted fourth, behind Pelé, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff, in a vote organized by the French weekly magazine, France Football consulting their former Ballon d’Or winners to elect the Football Player of the Century.

XI – George Best (Northern Ireland)


George Best

George Best (22 May 1946 – 25 November 2005) was a footballing great from Northern Ireland, who played for Manchester United and the Northern Ireland national team. He was a winger whose game combined pace, acceleration, balance, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to beat defenders. In 1968, he won the European Cup with Manchester United, and was named the European Footballer of the Year. When fit, he was an automatic choice for Northern Ireland, but he was unable to lead them to World Cup qualification, despite being capped 37 times and having scored nine goals.

In 1999, he was voted 11th at the IFFHS European Player of the Century election, and 16th in the World Player of the Century election. Pelé named him as one of the 125 best living footballers in his 2004 FIFA 100 list and Best was named 19th, behind Gerd Müller, at the UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll. In his native Northern Ireland, the admiration for him is summed up by the local saying: “Maradona good; Pelé better; George Best.”

He was one of the first celebrity footballers, but his extravagant lifestyle led to problems with alcoholism, which curtailed his playing career and eventually led to his death in November 2005, at the age of 59. His cause of death was multiple organ failure brought on by a kidney infection, a side effect of the immuno-suppressive drugs he was required to take after a liver transplant. In 2007, Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine named him as one of the 50 most stylish men of the past 50 years. In 2011, he was voted ‘Best Manchester United Footballer On Earth’.


Krishnendu Sanyal is a Manchester United fan and worships Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane. Krish is a management grad by education and an accidental entrepreneur by occupation. He can be reached on twitter @kriacked or at

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