We’ve got 15 player profiles so far so I thought it was about time we put together a team. The plan is to put together this first draft team and then every 2 months or so we’ll reassess the first 11 and attempt to put together the ultimate team. For now I am going to go with a standard 4-3-3 formation
If you look at the 1990s there are not many footballers more intimidating than Dutchman Jaap Stam. Standing at 6 foot 3 and with a piercing stare you really didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. Stam strikes me as the sort of man, who would genuinely intimidate an opponent and when you couple that level of intimidation with talent you’ve got a very very good player.
Name: Jakob Stam
Date of Birth: 17th July 1972
International Caps/Goals: 67/3
It is hard to imagine Jaap Stam as a young man, but everybody was young once and Stam began his life in the city of Kampen, born in 1972. He began playing for his local side as a teenager and in 1992 made the step up to the professional game with FC Zwolle in the Dutch 2nd division. His talent was immediately evident and after just a season with Zwolle the Dutchman moved up to the Dutch Premiership when he joined Cambuur Leeuwarden. In many ways Stam’s progression through Dutch football smacks of a classic journeyman player. Following 2 seasons with Leeuwarden he moved to Willem II another mid-table club in Holland. Then aged 26, after less than a season at Willem II, he got his break. Eredivisie giants PSV Eindhoven came knocking.
Stam moved to Eindhoven and became an integral part of a side who enjoyed a large amount of success including the league title, Dutch FA Cup and the Community Shield in each of Stam’s 3 seasons at the club. This success attracted the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. The Old Trafford club made Stam the most expensive Dutchman and defender in the history of the game spending £10.6 million to bring him to Manchester. It didn’t take long for Stam to make an impact, as he became a daunting opponent for every Premier League team to face. With Stam in the centre of defence Manchester United won 3 consecutive league titles along with the historic treble in the 1998-99 season. His impact at Old Trafford cannot be understated but after the 2000-01 season the release of Stam’s autobiography Head to Head caused a rift with Sir Alex Ferguson who was angered by some of his comments, and sold Stam to Lazio; something that Ferguson has since admitted he regrets as he had wrongly assumed that Stam was a little past it.
Far from being past it at 29, Stam played for another 5 years at a high level. Lazio won the Coppa Italia in Stam’s final season at the club and he was then part of the AC Milan side who beat his former club in the 2004 Supercoppa Italia. Stam was again a Champions League finalist in 2005, this time as an AC Milan player, although this time he was on the losing side as Liverpool took the title. The big Dutchman finished his career back in Holland with Ajax, winning the Dutch FA cup in his final season.
One of the more successful centre backs in world football, a steely defender who could time a tackle with the best of them, Jaap Stam is undoubtedly worthy of a place in the Player Profile squad.
Having scanned the previous player profiles I’ve noticed we’re only missing 1 position and then we could put out a full team playing in a 4-4-2 formation. That position is right back and while I was getting into football in the mid-90s there were not many right backs I liked more than Lilian Thuram so he is the subject of this week’s profile.
Name: Ruddy Lilian Thuram-Ulien
Date of Birth: 1st January 1972
International Caps/Goals: 142/2
A defender who was the definition of a powerful fullback, Thuram began his career as a teenager in 1990 at AS Monaco in Ligue 1. Like most players the young defender was nothing more than a useful role player in his early seasons at the club; however, it must be said that Thuram was a valuable squad player as Monaco managed to win the Coupe de France in 1991. By the end of 1992 Monaco boss Arsene Wenger (I’m sure I’ve heard of him from somewhere) had made Thuram the starter at his position, a role he would keep for another 4 years. After playing 193 times in total for Monaco, and earning a call up to the French national team in 1994, Thuram made a move to Parma in 1996 on a free transfer.
Serie A is where Thuram would spend the best years of his career. Parma were a real contender in the Italian league at the time with such names as Thuram, Gigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro providing a bedrock for the team’s attacking players. In 1999 Parma won the UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and the Suppercoppa Italia to complete a cup treble and establish themselves as one of the premier teams of the late 90s. Thuram was often commended in the Italian media for the consistency of his performance and after the 1997-98 season the Frenchman joined up with his national squad to compete in the 1998 World Cup. It was a tournament that would define his career.
The French team, playing as the host nation, started the tournament well winning all 3 group games and conceding only once (a penalty in a 2-1 over Denmark) before moving onto the knockout stages. Thuram, dropped for the Denmark game, returned to the lineup and France continued their impressive run; beating Paraguay, with a Laurent Blanc Golden Goal, and Italy, on penalties after a 0-0 draw, to set up a semi-final match with Croatia. This is the game that defines Thuram. Early in the 2nd half the defender was badly at fault as Davor Suker gave Croatia the lead and seemed to take it upon himself to take his side to the World Cup final single handed. Less than a minute after Suker’s goal Thuram burst into the penalty area and levelled the scores, and he wasn’t finished. 20 minutes later the man born in Guadeloupe struck again from the edge of the area to give his side a lead they would never surrender.
Those 2 goals are the only goals Thuram would score in an international career that would consist of 142 games, something I doubt worries him too much.
Following the World Cup, Thuram returned to Parma and was a part of the aforementioned UEFA cup winning side and continued to play at phenomenally high level. He was also a part of the French Euro 2000 winning side, although there were no goal scoring heroics from Thuram this time. A year after the European Championship success Parma were hit by financial trouble and Thuram, along with a number of other big names, were sold off as the team attempted to balance its books. Juventus came calling and spent an impressive £25 million on the full back. In the early 2000s the Turin based side could boast an incredibly expensive defensive unit consisting of Buffon, Cannavaro, Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta and Jonathan Zebina. The money spent on the defenders worked out pretty well for Juventus, as they won 4 league titles (although admittedly 2 of them were won due to money spent elsewhere, see Calciopoli scandal) as well as reaching the 2003 Champions League final, only to lose on penalties to AC Milan. Following Juventus’s relegation for their role in the Calciopoli Scandal Thuram moved to Barcelona for a little over £4 million. He would retire at Barcelona in 2008 after 2 years that were largely affected by injury trouble and the fact that Barcelona had the likes of Rafa Marquez and Carlos Puyol available to select in Thuram’s position.
One of the most powerful fullbacks of his generation Thuram retired in 2008 and has since become politically active, something he was also involved in during his playing career, which adds a further level of gravitas to the Player Profile team. Yet, whatever Lilian Thuram does with the rest of his life he will always be remembered for one night, on the 8th July 1998 at the Stade de France.
I’ve written a lot about players who made their careers in the late 90s- early 2000s, the Ronaldo’s, Zidane’s and Bergkamp’s of this world. That is simply because those are the players I have seen play the most, the majority of their careers have been played out in the 15 or so years I have been following football. The subject of this week’s profile had some of his best years long before I, and many of you, were born or interested in football. However, his talent was such that even at the back end of his career he was still playing at a phenomenally high level. The Maradona of the Carpathians – Gheorghe Hagi
Name: Gheorghe Hagi
Date of Birth: 5th February 1965
International Caps/Goals: 124/35
The career that spawned so many nicknames (the aforementioned Maradona of the Carpathians, The Commander and The King) began at Farul Constanta in 1982 aged 17. The prodigious talent didn’t even finish his first season at Constanta before being signed by Sportul Studentesc where he really began to make a name for himself. His robust attacking style drew many plaudits and aged just 18 he was called up to the Romanian national team. He would continue to play for the national team for the next 17 years. Hagi’s career at Sportul Studentesc was littered with moments of brilliance and it was fast becoming obvious that he was head and shoulders above his opponents. Over his 4 year career at Studentesc Hagi scored 58 times in 108 games; that is just over 1 goal every 2 games, from midfield. His talent was such that in 1987 reigning European champions Steaua Bucharest signed him from Studentesc on a 1 game loan, solely for the purpose of him playing in the European Super Cup against Dynamo Kiev. Bucharest won the game 1-0, guess who scored the goal?
Yes, it was Gheorghe Hagi. Unsurprisingly Bucharest were reluctant to see him return to Studentesc so they signed him on a permanent basis. A frankly ridiculous run of trophies ensued. In 3 seasons at Steaua Bucharest Hagi, and his teammates, won the league and cup double each season and also managed to reach the final of the European cup in 1989. His ridiculous run of goals continued: 97 league games and 76 goals. Again, I’m stressing he was not a striker, he was a midfielder and these goals are not scruffy 2 yard tap ins. Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mTnWfbXk28
Following the 1990 World Cup, in which Hagi represented a Romanian side who were knocked out in the second round on penalties by the Republic of Ireland, Real Madrid came calling and Hagi left the Romanian league for Spain. It has to be said that he struggled to adapt to the Spanish style of play and after 2 years he moved to Italy to join Serie B side Brescia. In his own inimitable way he helped Brescia return to the top division of Italian football and travelled to America to represent his country in the 1994 World Cup. He scored one of the more memorable goals of the tournament with this strike against Colombia:
The question was did he mean it? Because he is Gheorghe Hagi I’m going to say he did.
Following the World Cup Hagi became one of the few players to have played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona when he joined the Catalan club. The 2 years he spent in Barcelona were largely unremarkable and he joined Galatasary in 1996. After joining the Turkish side aged 31 Hagi’s career was subject to a renaissance as he became part of one of the most successful periods in the club’s history. He was part of a team that won 4 consecutive league titles and, in 2000, the UEFA Cup. This was a first for a Turkish club and served to cement Hagi’s place in the hearts of Galatasary’s fans.
Following his retirement in 2001 Hagi took up management, most notably at Galatasary and as the coach of the Romanian national team. In 2011, following a poor run of results during his 2nd stint as Galatasary boss he was sacked and has since become a UN Ambassador.
Hagi was a mercurial talent, like many of the players I have written about, he had the ability to produce something out of nothing and completely take over a game. While his hot headed nature may have got him in trouble from time to time it is inarguable that on a list of players you would want to see in full flight Hagi would be right up there. Welcome to the team, “Commandante.”
In the form of Paolo Maldini we’ve already got a legendary one club man playing centre back for the Player Profile team so let’s give him a partner. Tony Adams played his entire 19 year career at Arsenal and carved out a role as one of the most dependable players in the team’s history and arguably one of the greatest leaders.
Name: Tony Alexander Adams
Date of Birth: 10th October 1966
International Caps/Goals: 66/5
The Romford born defender joined the Arsenal youth ranks in 1980 aged 14 and made his full debut 3 years later. After 2 years as a bit part player Adams became a regular feature in the defence as a back 4 of Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould and Adams would provide Arsenal with a bedrock for years to come. The first of the 13 competitions that Arsenal would win during the Adams era was the League Cup in 1987 with a victory over Liverpool. In the same year Sir Bobby Robson gave the 20 year old his full England debut.
In 1988, aged 21, Adams was given the captain’s armband, a role he would not relinquish until his retirement 14 years later, and continued to maintain a high standard of play. He was a key member of an Arsenal side that won the Division One title with virtually the last kick of the season as Michael Thomas had it “Up for grabs now!” against Liverpool in 1989. Arsenal were also the winners of the penultimate Division One title in the 1990-91 season losing only once all season. By this time Adams had also become one of the integral members of the England team.
Incredibly, despite playing at such a high level Adams was battling alcohol addiction, he has admitted playing at least 1 game whilst drunk, and became one of the most high profile recovering alcoholics around. It has to be said the culture around Arsenal at the time was very drinking heavy and it is to Arsene Wenger’s credit that he managed to change the culture when he took over in 1996. Adams was a big part of that, Wenger stuck with him as captain and believed that he could kick the addiction and that faith in such an important character is arguably what helped change everything about the club.
Adams rewarded Wenger’s faith by leading the club to a league and FA cup double in the 1997-98 season. Adams scored the final goal of the season to provide a perfect end to the season:
The goal epitomises Wenger’s style of play, Steve Bould plays the ball forward and it is his centre back partner Adams who gets on the end of it to score. The goal has special significance to me personally as somewhere in that crowd is a little 7 year old version of me going absolutely mental, but I digress.
Another league and FA Cup double was secured in the 2001-02 season which made Adams the only player in English football history to captain a team to a league title in 3 different decades. With the way that football is going now I would be very very surprised if that record is ever equalled. Adams retired from playing at the end of that season and began a career as a manager soon after, although it has to be said he has not been particularly successful in that aspect of his career.
Voted the 3rd best player in Arsenal’s history Adams has been given the nickname “Mr Arsenal” and was honoured with a statue outside the Emirates stadium along with Thierry Henry and Herbert Chapman. A great player and pairing him with Maldini would undoubtedly make this side tough to beat. If we’re looking for a captain I know who I’d choose.