Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain)
Having become the youngest goalkeeper to ever start a European Cup Final in 2000, Casillas became the undisputed number one for both club and country, a model of consistency and a central figure in the four league titles and two Champions League trophies Real Madrid have won during his time at the club. However, it is for his inspirational leadership of Spain during their triumphant Euro 2008 campaign that “Saint Iker” edges onto our team, just ahead of the
other great goalkeeper of the decade, Gianluigi Buffon.
Honourable Mention: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Right Back: Lilian Thuram (France)
After playing an integral role in France’s 1998 World Cup success, Lilian Thuram became one of the most consistent and reliable European defenders of the decade. After being a central figure in France’s Euro 2000 winning side, Thuram enjoyed a superb five-year spell at Juventus, the Turin club winning four Serie A titles during his time there (although two were later stripped in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal) before moving to Barcelona where he played for two seasons before sadly being forced to retire after discovering he had a rare heart condition.
Honourable Mention: Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy)
Centre Half: Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)
A rock in the near-faultless defences of Internazionale, Juventus and Italy for much of the decade, Fabio Cannavaro is quite possibly the finest, most stylish central defender of his era. The Italian captain who led his country to World Cup glory in 2006 was the World Player of the Year in the same year, is Italy’s most capped player and is set to take part in his fourth World Cup finals this summer.
Honourable Mention: Rio Ferdinand (England)
Centre Half: Carles Puyol (Spain)
Carles Puyol has been a feature of the Barcelona defence since 1997 and the last decade has been a highly successful one for the Catalan central defender. Made captain of his boyhood club in 2004, Puyol has led Barça to three league titles and two European Cup successes since his appointment. The fast, physical defender was also a key figure in Spain’s Euro 2008 success and more than deserves his place in any team of the decade.
Honourable Mention: Alessandro Nesta (Italy)
Left Back: Paolo Maldini (Italy)
Paolo Maldini enjoyed a glittering career which spanned three decades and the “noughties” was yet another successful period for the Italian great. During the decade Maldini helped Milan to yet another Serie A title in 2004 and two European Cups in both 2003 and 2007 before finally calling it a day last season at the age of 40. A true great of European football.
Honourable Mentions: Ashley Cole (England)
Right Midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Cristiano Ronaldo may still be in the early stages of his career, but he has made a huge impact on the game since arriving at Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon in 2003. During his six seasons at Old Trafford, Ronaldo scored an incredible 118 goals in 292 appearances and inspired The Reds to three Premier League titles, an FA Cup and the 2008 European Cup before securing a move to Real Madrid at the end of last season. The Portuguese has begun life in Spain in sparkling form and looks set to establish himself as one of the game’s great attacking players over the next ten years.
Honourable Mention: David Beckham (England)
Centre Midfield: Claude Makélélé (France)
Although there are probably a host of more technically gifted, more skilful players that could have been picked in the centre of midfield, I have opted for Claude Makélélé because, in an era of relatively limited tactical innovation, the Frenchman was responsible for the huge rise in popularity of the holding midfielder in the modern era. An unfussy, efficient presence just in front of a defence, Makélélé was hugely effective at breaking up attacks and starting those of his own team from deep. The midfielder also enjoyed his fair share of success, winning two La Liga titles with Real Madrid at the start of the decade before moving to Chelsea and adding a pair of Premier League winners medals to his collection.
Honourable Mention: Xavi (Spain)
Centre Midfield: Zinedine Zidane (France)
Probably the most technically gifted European player of the age, Zinedine Zidane was the footballer who defined the decade and will be remembered as one of the game’s all-time greats. Having fired France to World Cup glory with two goals in the 1998 final, Zidane began the 2000s by guiding his country to another major title at Euro 2000 whilst playing his club football at the heart of the Juventus midfield. In 2001 the enigmatic Frenchman moved to Real Madrid for what was then a world-record fee of €78m and won a La Liga title and a European Cup as well as the 2003 World Player of the Year during his time at the Bernabeu. He may have ended his international career on a sour note with his headbut of Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final, but that will not stop “Zizou” going down as one of the finest players to have ever graced a football pitch.
Honourable Mention: Steven Gerrard (England)
Left Midfield: Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic)
Having begun the decade at Lazio, Pavel Nedved moved to Juventus in 2001 and spent the last eight seasons of his career at the Turin club. During his time with the Bianconeri Nedved was part of the side which won four Serie A titles in five years (although the final two were revoked), as well as the Serie B championship when Juve were relegated as part of their punishment in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal. Throughout the decade Nedved consistently produced a high level of performance as the playmaker in the Old Lady’s midfield, efforts he was individually rewarded for when he was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 2003.
Honourable Mention: Luis Figo (Portugal)
Striker: Ruud van Nistelrooy (Netherlands)
His powers may have been on the wane for the last year or so, but this has been a truly golden decade for Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman moved to Manchester United from PSV in 2001 and spent five seasons at Old Trafford, his 150 goals in 219 appearances for the club firing United to one Premier League title and an FA Cup during his time there. In 2006 van Nistelrooy moved to Real Madrid and helped the Spanish side to two La Liga titles in 2007 and 2008, claiming the Pichichi in the 2006-07 season. The striker ends the decade as the third highest scorer in European Cup history and is without doubt one of the most clinical finishers Europe has ever seen.
Honourable Mention: Miroslav Klose (Germany)
Striker: Thierry Henry (France)
Although some point to a lack of form at international level as grounds for criticising Henry, there is little doubt that the Frenchman is one of the most talented strikers of his generation and has produced consistently awe-inspiring performances for Arsenal and, more recently, Barcelona over the last ten years. 226 goals in 369 appearances for The Gunners comfortably make Henry one of the finest players in Premier League history and a worthy recipient of a place in the team of the decade.
Honourable Mention: Francesco Totti (Italy)
Coach: José Mourinho (Portugal)
Honourable Mention: Marcelo Lippi (Italy)
Having begun the “noughties” as manager of Benfica, José Mourinho found himself at Porto just two years later and guided the club to the 2002/03 Portuguese title before masterminding a phenomenal league and European Cup double in 2003/04 which attracted the attentions of Roman Abramovic’s Chelsea. In his three years at Stamford Bridge “The Special One” guided the Blues to two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and two League Cups to put an end to the hegemony of Manchester United and Arsenal which had dominated the 1990s and early 2000s. After his stormy departure from Chelsea in 2007, Mourinho took over from Robert Mancini at Internazionale and promptly won the Scudetto during his first season in charge. He may not have been tested at international level yet, but Mourinho has been a fresh and invigorating presence in football during the “noughties” and has enjoyed great success at all of his clubs over the last ten years.
European Team of the Decade:
Thuram Cannavaro Puyol Maldini
van Nistelrooy Henry
Manager: Jose Mourinho