I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on my couch since I was finally able to hunker down and wait out this period of social distancing to keep the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum. In trying to keep my mind from turning to mush with boredom, I’ve been turning to brain games and thought exercises, thinking out everything from alternate histories to fantasy worlds.
It was in the middle of these that I saw an interesting little thought exercise on The Good Phight, one of our sister blogs here at SB Nation dedicated to Philadelphia Phillies baseball. Inspired in turn by a tweet he had seen, writer Ethan Witte posed an interesting question: Compose the lineup you would turn to if you had to submit a team to play a game with your life on the line.
It struck me as a fun little brain teaser, and one that could be easily transposed to any team in any sport — so I’ve decided to bring it here to BWRAO.
Now, the rules of the original post were rather open. Every player on every team in the history of baseball was open to him. That was probably for the best, considering the unfortunate (from my point of view) fact that the Phillies haven’t exactly been a legend factory throughout baseball history. In our version, however, I’m going to limit my available pool to just Juve players, although like the original post I’m making the entire history of the club eligible for selection. Any player selected would be inserted at the peak of their Juventus career.
So, who would I send out onto the field with my life on the line? Here’s my XI, which for the record, will take a 4-3-1-2 formation.
GOALKEEPER: GIANLUIGI BUFFON
When I can pick the greatest goalkeeper of all time, why waste time? Buffon was one of the game’s best even at the most advanced stages of his career before he first departed the club, and by the rules of this exercise I get him at his absolute peak circa 2006. This is the biggest of no-brainers.
RIGHT BACK: LILIAN THURAM
There haven’t been a whole ton of all-world right backs in Juve’s history, recent or otherwise. Stephan Lichtsteiner is a sentimental favorite of mine, but I’m going with head and not heart on this spot and going with Thuram. He gets the slight edge over the other main contender, Gianluca Zambrotta. The latter was a more dangerous attacking threat, but over my time here you probably all know my preference for fullbacks who defend first, and boy did Thuram defend. Dude was a rock, and while he wasn’t as refined going forward as Zambrotta he could still pose a danger moving up the flank.
CENTER BACK: GAETANO SCIREA
The silky-smooth Scirea perfected the libero position in the 1970s and early 80s. He brought a lot of what we saw Leonardo Bonucci do at the height of his powers — he just did it first and better. His ability to read the game from the back line was unmatched, and his technical ability allowed him to cut off attacks before they began. Combined with his ability to distribute the ball from the back — and even break into the midfield to help orchestrate when he judged it prudent — he could do it all. His life was cut tragically short, but his status as one of the team’s greatest players will never waiver.
CENTER BACK: CLAUDIO GENTILE
It’s only right to pair Scirea with his regular partner in Juve’s back line. A counterpoint to the highly technical Scirea, Gentile was a bone-cruncher. He was the guy you called in when you needed to kick the crap out the other team’s star player. His performance against Diego Maradona in the 1982 World Cup is the stuff of legend, and he brought that brand of play to every game he ever played for Juventus. While he is often thought of first as a hard man, he was as skillful as he was tough, combining the two qualities to devastating effect for opponents. He was only ever sent off once in his career — and that was for a second bookable offense following a handball. He and Scirea made the perfect pair, and certainly made a defense that I’d trust with my life.
LEFT BACK: GIORGIO CHIELLINI
I’m taking a bit of a liberty here, but it does work.
It’s easy to forget that Chiellini started his career at Fiorentina as a left back. At this point in his career there would be no way he could handle playing on the flank, but remember, I’m getting him in his prime, and he was playing on the outside for Italy as late as 2012. Chiellini is another wonderful blend of technique with the dark arts, and all those bombing runs he makes out of the middle will serve him well when he has to get forward. There are probably more efficient attackers who could go in this spot, but Chiellini’s grinta is something I’d want on any team playing for me. He gets the go here.
MIDFIELDER: ARTURO VIDAL
If you read my blurb about him in our Team of the Decade post, you know how much I love Arturo Vidal. He was the engine that helped begin the Streak, and at his peak under Antonio Conte was undoubtedly the most complete midfielder on the planet. He was a tenacious defender, an excellent passer, and a high-level goalscorer all in one package. An absolute force that Juventus has yet to fully replace even four years later, I would pick peak Vidal as the centerpiece of any team.
MIDFIELDER: ANDREA PIRLO
Giuseppe Marotta pulled off one of the greatest transfer deals in the history of the sport when he signed a supposedly washed-up Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer. All he did was trigger a huge shift in the dynamics of Italian soccer.
Pirlo’s abilities need no description here. He was the great orchestrator, a man who could see an attack out of thin air and then make it possible with his pinpoint passing. His set-piece ability was likewise unparalleled.
His career was revitalized in black and white. He was the best player on the incredible unbeaten team of 2011-12, and was just as good or better the next year as Juve consolidated their hold on calcio. By his final season his powers had finally begun to truly wane, and injuries hurt him as well, but getting the Pirlo of that first year goes a long way toward ensuring success for any team.
MIDFIELDER: ZINEDINE ZIDANE
Zidane was usually deployed in a more forward role. I have other designs on the attacking midfield spot, but I still want Zidane’s incredible abilities in my team, so I’m dropping him back a bit.
Zidane was one of the greatest players of his generation, and for good reason. He was never a volume goalscorer, instead doing his job setting up the strikers with his incredible passing ability and dribbling skills. His presence in this spot would make it nearly impossible to defend the midfield. Who do you focus your attention on when two of the greatest playmakers in the history of the sport are on the field at the same time? With Vidal doing the dirty work, this midfield would cause headaches for anyone who played them.
TREQUARTISTA: PAVEL NEDVED
One of the few men in history who you bump Zidane out of the hole with and not be laughed out of the room, Nedved was a fantastic player who could play anywhere along the attacking front. Normally a winger, he had the vision and passing range to play as a trequartista, and was a constant threat to score on his own with his powerful left foot and driving runs into the box. He also brings the kind of intensity I like to see in any player in any position.
STRIKER: ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO
There isn’t really much to say here. Arguably the greatest player in Juventus history gets an automatic spot on this list.
STRIKER: CRISTIANO RONALDO
It’s not news to any regular readers of this site that I’m far from a Ronaldo stan. Frankly, I don’t really like the guy. But when faced with the prospect of putting together a lineup with my life on the line, it would be stupid to exclude one of the greatest players in the history of the sport just because I don’t like him. Ronaldo can conjure goals out of nowhere — and given the skill level of the rest of this lineup, it’s likely he’ll have plenty of service.
Dino Zoff (GK) — Buffon before Buffon.
Gianluca Zambrotta (D) — A high-level backup at either fullback spot.
Ciro Ferrara (D) — Another hard-nosed guy in defense to hold down the center of defense.
Marco Tardelli (M) — Someone to do some dirty work in midfield if Vidal gets frisky and picks up a booking.
Paul Pogba (M) — He was a phenomenon when he was more concerned with what he did on the field than off it, as he was from 2012-14.
Filippo Inzaghi (F) — Dude could make a goal out of a quarter-chance.
Mario Mandzukic (F) — A personal choice. He lived for goals in big games, and his work rate tracking back would be useful late on.