Whilst I've never really gone to a huge amount of football matches, or at least not with regularity anyway, I thought it would be quite interesting and fun to compile a team of some of the best players that I’ve had the pleasure of watching live in a stadium. So after putting a decent amount of thought into it, here we have it.
Júlio César: (England vs. Brazil, 06/02/13)
Brazil’s number one for a huge period of time – picking up 87 caps – as well as being an integral part of Inter Milan’s domination of Italian football in the latter end of the last decade, Júlio César is my pick for the best goalkeeper I’ve seen live.
Ashley Cole: (Various)
Arguably the best in the world in his position for a good part of his career, Ashley Cole's ability to adapt under different circumstances and combine the defensive and attacking requirements placed upon the modern full-back made him a world class asset for Arsenal, Chelsea and England. By quite some distance the most impressive that I’ve seen in the flesh in his position.
John Terry: (Various)
He's not exactly a fan favourite when it comes to the England national team, but in terms of defensive instinct it was almost impossible to look past John Terry for this selection. One of the most natural defenders of this generation, the consistency of his positioning and reading of the game is and always has been incredible; as well as him having a somewhat strangely understated quality in possession.
Jerome Boateng: (England vs. Germany, 19/11/13)
Deciding who to partner the former England captain was a tough choice, though I opted for Jerome Boateng and I feel justified with that given the fantastic balance of attributes that he possesses. A very modern centre-back with great technique to match his defensive qualities, he’s really thrived at Bayern Munich and particularly under Pep Guardiola to become one of the best around right now.
Dani Alves: (England vs. Brazil, 06/02/13)
Dani Alves was pretty much a shoe-in for the right-back spot due to a lack of any real quality competition – but nonetheless it's a hugely deserved choice. Though his end product is far from consistent at times, he constantly provides an outlet with superbly-timed runs from deep and seeing this live really helps to provide a true picture of how effective this can be with regards to the development of play.
Toni Kroos: (England vs. Germany, 19/11/13)
So few players look as comfortable on the ball as Toni Kroos and having the pleasure of watching him in person not only reinforces but enhances that opinion. He’s astoundingly efficient in possession, yet also has a physical robustness and dynamism about him which makes him suitable for not only fulfilling but thriving in any midfield role which you could ever want him to operate in.
Steven Gerrard: (Various)
Without counting, I'm pretty sure that Steven Gerrard is the player that I've seen live on the most occasions; multiple times for England and three for Liverpool. Having dragged the latter (the club I support) to success almost on his own at times, he’s an iconic figure to me and has played an instrumental part in some of my best footballing memories; so although he isn’t necessarily my favourite player in terms of style, to be able to watch him so often has been an honour.
Neymar: (England vs. Brazil, 06/02/13)
Neymar's trip to Wembley came at a time where, for most in England, this was the first opportunity to actually watch someone who was largely regarded as just some kind of 'YouTube sensation'. Odd glimpses showed promise on the day though there was nothing hugely convincing, but the fact it was a mid-season friendly which nobody cared about didn't save him from the inevitable confirmation of his fraudulence which followed from the general English public and media. It's fair to say that his performances for Barcelona and Brazil since then have disproved those idiots, however.
Ronaldinho: (England vs. Brazil, 06/02/13)
Though far from at the peak of his powers by this point, and in a game where he had a penalty saved as well, Ronaldinho is arguably the most talented player I've ever seen live. Everything about him oozes majesty even now; and it was great to watch someone who was not only one of the best of this generation, but also a player who has produced so many of the moments of magic which have become ingrained into my memory ever since my interest in football began as a child.
Gareth Bale: (England vs. Wales, 06/09/11)
The likes of Ronaldinho had a strong influence on the development of my greater preference for exploits of grace in comparison to those of power and physique, but it’s almost impossible not to be amazed by Gareth Bale’s explosiveness. His performance on the day was rather restricted as a result of being reduced to little more than a component of the system, although the devastating impact he can have was becoming increasingly apparent at this point in time – and of course has done to an even greater extent now.
Luis Suárez: (Various)
Picking the best striker I've watched was challenging, given how there's been very little between them at their own peaks, but in terms of both technique and how exciting they are Luis Suárez has to come out on top. His winning mentality and sheer intensity is one of the things which stands out when watching him, given his consistency of pressing and making runs to drag defences out of position for gaps which he can exploit, but he also has the special ability of completely changing the tempo of an attack to suit his will.
I also thought that, for the sake of it, I may as well do a list of substitutes as well.
- Pepe Reina (Liverpool vs. Trabzonspor, 19/08/10)
- Per Mertesacker (England vs. Germany, 19/11/13)
- Rio Ferdinand (Various)
- Marco Reus (England vs. Germany, 19/11/13)
- Alexis Sánchez (England vs. Chile, 15/11/13)
- Fernando Torres (Liverpool vs. Trabzonspor, 19/08/10)
- Robert Lewandowski (England vs. Poland, 15/10/13)
And there we have it.