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Ex-Barcelona, Juventus star Gianluca Zambrotta reveals his all-time best XI!

The 40-year-old Bianconeri legend has won the lot, but who makes the cut in this awesome XI?

Prithviraj Dev | New Delhi | Updated :

While the Premier Leagues and the La Ligas rule the roost in terms of popularity these days, ask any footballer worth his salt what the Holy Grail of football is and pat will come the reply: The FIFA World Cup. Perhaps that’s why Gianluca Zambrotta, a 2006 World Cup winner with Italy, commands respect as he enters the room.

The 40-year-old was in New Delhi to promote El Clásico—Real Madrid vs Barcelona— and the former Barcelona defender sat down for an exclusive chat with The Statesman.

Considering he played for Euopean giants such as Juventus, Barcelona and AC Milan, not to forget amassed close to a century of caps for the Azzurri, surely the former fullback would have seen some modern-day greats up close.

Don’t miss: Real Madrid vs Barcelona: Gianluca Zambrotta predicts El Clásico!

“Of course, I was blessed to play with/against some of the finest,” grins the Como native.

So, an all-time top XI wouldn’t be too much of a bother?

Not at all, and without further ado, Zambrotta delves into it with a 4-2-3-1 formation:

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon

Buffon and Zambrotta enjoyed many fruitful seasons for Juventus and of course, Italy, so this isn’t a surprise inclusion.

The 39-year-old World Cup winner is still going strong for the Bianconeri and when he calls time on a glittering career at the 2017-18 season, will be placed in the topmost echelon of goalkeepers.

Gianluigi Buffon, Italy Football
Unfortunately, Buffon will not be participating at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia after Italy failed to qualify! (Photo: AFP)

 

Left back: Paolo Maldini

Another of Zambrotta’s international teammates to make the list, Maldini had a career that beggared belief.

The 49-year-old won his first UEFA Champions League title in 1989 and his last in 2007.

Maldini, the ultimate one-club man, played with Zambrotta during his final season at AC Milan.

Unfortunately Maldini never got to win the World Cup in 2006, but the fact that he was at the top of his game for nearly a quarter of a century tells you a lot about the versatile defender, who could play as a central defender or as a left back as well.

A.C. Milan, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta
Maldini (L) was a phenomenal defender for Milan and Italy both! (Photo: Twitter)

 

Centre back: Fabio Cannavaro

The last defender to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or after captaining the Azurri to a memorable 2006 World Cup triumph, Cannavaro had an exceptional career despite having an obvious vertical disadvantage.

Standing at little over 5’9, the centre-back was not only tenacious in the tackle, but tactically astute as well, perhaps that’s why he played for the likes of Juventus (twice) and Real Madrid, among others.

Cannavaro played with Zambrotta for two fruitful seasons in Turin before the Calciopoli scandal saw them pick Spain’s elite: Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively.

Fabio Cannavaro, Italy Football
Cannavaro has been coaching in the Chinese Super Leauge of late! (Photo: Twitter)

 

Centre back: Alessandro Nesta

The Italians are really dominating this defence, but such was the embarrassment of riches Italy had in the late 90s and the early 2000s.

Nesta was among the rare defenders who had an equal mix of physical and technical attributes and while he was already a big-name during his Lazio days, his move to AC Milan put him on the map in ways more than one and he never looked back.

A decade-long stint with the Rossoneri saw him win innumerable trophies and alongside Maldini and Cannavaro, he was widely regarded as one of the finest defenders of the era.

While the duo won plenty at the San Siro, their most memorable achievement will be winning the 2006 FIFA World Cup with Italy, hands down.

Right back: Cafu

Some Brazilian flair to complement the Italian steel, Cafu was an ever-present in the Serie A team of the years during the turn of the millennium.

The 47-year-old won all there is to win in modern football, from the FIFA World Cup (twice) to the Copa America (twice) with Brazil while his trophy cabinet was bursting after stints with Italian giants AS Roma and AC Milan.

Those who say Brazilians haven’t mastered the art of defending clearly haven’t seen Cafu play and Zambrotta was clearly impressed with the South American despite not having played alongside him.

Cafu, Brazil Football, A.C. Milan
Cafu will go down as one of the greatest Brazilian defenders of all-time! (Photo: Twitter)

 

Central midfield: Andrea Pirlo

A maestro in every sense of the word, Pirlo was one of many greats who hung up their boots in 2017.

Capable of essaying a number of roles in midfield, the 39-year-old was perhaps best suited to a deep-lying playmaking role and after a decade-long stint with AC Milan, he thrived in the twilight of his career at Juventus and was the lynchpin of the Azurri side that won the FIFA World Cup as well.

Why Milan let him go on a free will forever be a mystery but clearly had it been down to Zambrotta, his compatriot would never have departed the San Siro!

Andrea Pirlo, Juventus F.C., Andrea Pirlo Retirment
Pirlo was a joy to watch with his metronomic style of play! (Photo: AFP)

 

Central midfield: Xavi

It’s not a coincidence that Barcelona’s domination in club football began at a time when Spain were imperious in international tournaments for one man was the hub of both Blaugrana and La Roja’s squads.

Xavi, despite not having an abundance of physical attributes,  was a force to be reckoned with during his 17 seasons with La Blaugrana.

A graduate of La Masia, the 37-year-old was team-mates with Zamrbotta for two seasons when the Italian was in Catalonia and the Spaniard is a pretty obvious pick.

Xavi, F.C. Barcelona
Xavi (C) only played for one European club throughout his career: His beloved Barcelona! (Photo: Twitter)

 

Left wing: Zinedine Zidane

When ‘Zizou’ was Zambrotta’s teammate at Juventus, the Bianconeri were giving the mighty AC Milan a run for their money and the French midfielder’s sensational displays were a major reason behind their run to two UEFA Champions League finals.

Unfortunately his spectacular headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final on Zambrotta’s compatriot Marco Materrazzi is his last significant contribution as a player, but Zidane evoked awe nearly every time he stepped onto the pitch.

Graceful pirouettes, mazy dribbles, sumptous volleys, you name it, and the man who won every trophy there is to win in modern football, could do it.

A World Cup and Euro winner with France, Zidane won it all with Real Madrid as a player and is now winning everything as a manager. Ideally not suited to a role on the wing, ‘Zizou’s’ pedigree was such that he would have shone in defence if played there.

Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid C.F.
Zidane’s managerial career has gotten off to a sensational start! (Photo: AFP)

 

No.10/Central attacking midfield: Lionel Messi

By Zambrotta’s admission, the finest player he has ever seen.

Of course, the Italian is not the only admirer of the diminutive Argentine, whose effortless ability is matched only by his propensity to shatter each and every manner of goalscoring record.

A living legend for Barcelona and among the few in this XI to be active, the 30-year-old has dominated world football for the last decade or so and is on the verge of footballing immortality if he can manage the small matter of a World Cup next summer.

Messi was teammates with Zambrotta in the mid 2000s at Barcelona, a time when the Argentine was far from the finished product, but quite obviously, left an indelible mark on the hard-to-please Italian.

Lionel Messi, F.C. Barcelona, El Clásico
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner bossed the recent El Clásico as well! (Photo: AFP)

 

Right wing: Ronaldinho

Before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there was Ronaldinho.

The mercurial Brazilian ran rings around the best defenders in the world and did it all with that toothy smile of his, endearing himself to millions of impressionable young fans and inspiring countless others to ‘play beautiful’.

Blessed with arguably more natural ability than even Messi, the flashy Brazilian perhaps could have achieved even more than he already did had he not been so fond of the nightlife.

Still, winning the La Liga, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup along with the Ballon d’Or isn’t a bad trophy cabinet and Zambrotta’s former Barcelona teammate deservedly makes the cut.

Ronaldinho, F.C. Barcelona
The Barcelona legend is on the verge of retiring and his infectious smile is sorely missed these days! (Photo: AFP)

 

Centre forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

If there’s one thing no footballer can ever match Zlatan Ibrahimovic in, it’s self belief.

Supremely confident, bordering on pompous, the maverick Swede has been a serial winner all his life.

A well-travelled career has seen him play for the likes of Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris-Saint Germain and currently, Manchester United.

At 35, Ibra is certainly in the final stages of his career, but what a player the outspoken striker has been.

Perhaps the finest target man in recent memory, Ibra’s goalscoring record speaks in five different leagues for itself, even accounting for a turbulent stint with La Blaugrana.

Zambrotta’s teammate at Juventus and AC Milan both, the Swedish striker competes the XI and the ‘lion’ is perhaps the best player to play at the apex of this star-studded setup.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Manchester United F.C., Premier League
Ibra has been dominating the Premier League of late! (Photo: AFP)