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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The perfect team?

Equipped with history books, a map and a calculator, Giancarlo Rinaldi attempts to build a side capable of winning the Scudetto from the last 30 years of Stranieri
What have a Kenyan, Honduran and a Liberian done that no Englishman or Spaniard has achieved? It might sound like the preamble to a formulaic joke, but it is actually a historical fact about Serie A. The answer is, quite simply, they have won the Scudetto in the years since foreigners were allowed back into the Italian game in 1980.

The list of title-winning nationalities is a broad one indeed. No fewer than 32 different countries can boast at least one of their sons having got his hands on a League title in the last 30 years. Could analysis of their distribution help us to build the perfect team of foreigners for those three decades?

Probably not, but how would a greatest side of the period shape up? By studying the composition of all the teams to win the Scudetto since Eugenio Bersellini’s foreigner free Inter side of 1980, I tried to assemble the finest and most successful group of players imaginable. It proved an entertaining and testing exercise.

I decided to pick a classic squad of 16 in proportion – more or less – to the input of Stranieri to championship winning sides. That meant, approximately, three Argentines, two Brazilians, two Frenchmen and one each from Serbia, Croatia, Uruguay, Portugal, Holland, Germany, Colombia, Sweden and Chile. In truth, a Dane could have sneaked in there too but I gave myself an extra player from Argentina at the expense of the likes of Michael Laudrup and Preben Elkjaer. I hope they don’t mind.

It turned out to be a tough task, probably a controversial one. There was a delicate balancing act to be carried out between nations, clubs represented and playing positions. And due to the inclination of Italian teams to buy attacking foreigners, it is a side with more flair going forward than in defence. Nonetheless, I reckon it could give anyone a game.

The restrictions I set myself, however, meant a lot of great names missed out. The ones that spring to mind are Zinedine Zidane, who lost out to Michel Platini, plus George Weah and Andriy Shevchenko who had to be omitted due to their nation’s relative lack of success. But my biggest regret is probably not managing to crowbar Gabriel Batistuta in there somehow – but no matter how much I tried, I just could not squeeze him in there.

STARTING XI (4-3-1-2)
Julio Cesar (Brazil/Inter) – Five times a champion with the Nerazzurri, he has been one of the most consistent and successful net-minders of the modern era. His speed of reaction is second to none and in top form he can seem unbeatable.

Lilian Thuram (France/Juventus) – Having first found fame in Italian terms with Parma he became a stalwart of the Bianconeri defence. Happy in the centre of the back four, he is pressed into action at right-back for this team.

Paolo Montero (Uruguay/Juventus) – A man more likely to see red than anyone else in his team but also a natural winner. He helped the Bianconeri to five League wins and wrote his name in some unwanted record books along the way.

Ivan Ramiro Cordoba (Colombia/Inter) – Another tough nut defender to form a central defensive pair of destroyers with Montero. If they both manage to stay on the pitch it is hard to imagine anything or anyone getting past them.

Javier Zanetti (Argentina/Inter) – Could slot into midfield too but selected here in the full-back’s role he adopts with class and consistency. A serial winner with Inter and a real leader, might help to keep the other South American defenders calm.

Toninho Cerezo (Brazil/Sampdoria) – The heart and lungs of Samp’s only Scudetto the leggy Brazilian sees off more illustrious countrymen thanks to his versatility. A great defensive cover in midfield but also always ready to break into attack.

Dejan Stankovic (Serbia/Lazio & Inter) – Juventus fans did not want him but they could have done with his drive and determination at the centre of their side. A vicious shot and uncompromising tackling are among his finest attributes.

Zvonimir Boban (Croatia/Milan) – A player from the second wave of great Milan sides he was a lynchpin in many of their successes. Headstrong and talented, he combined both quantity and quality to enormous effect.

Michel Platini (France/Juventus) – Le Roi was the first Serie A superstar Straniero of the new era. His panache was perfect for the Juve style and even though he only won a couple of titles, he remains a legend to this day.

Diego Maradona (Argentina/Napoli) – Just two Scudetti, perhaps, but what triumphs. He brought the city of Naples to life, upset the dominance of northern sides and played glorious football. Simply the best Straniero.

Marco Van Basten (Holland/Milan) – With just one space for a Dutchman, Ruud Gullit, Edgar Davids and Frank Rijkaard might be offended but there could only be one inclusion. The finest striker seen in Serie A in the modern era.

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