World XI of our Lifetime: Feola’s Firebrands

World XI of our Lifetime: Feola’s Firebrands

Following on from the XI of our lifetime World Football Index podcasts which were released earlier this year, there will be a series of posts on the site containing the XIs picked on the pods, as well as some new XIs picked by the WFI writers.

This is one of the latter.

There were several rules on the podcast version, but they were rarely adhered to.

One was that they must now be retired, but this was flexible. Another was that the player must have played during the lifetime of the person selecting the team, and ideally they’d have seen them play.

Goalkeeper – Rogerio Ceni

Most goalkeepers go through phases of being a bit iffy. Whether it be dropping crosses at a strikers feet, mis-kicking the ball, getting sent off, or getting lobbed from distance, nearly all stoppers go through a rough patch…

…apart from those who take free kicks and penalties.

Rogerio Ceni was the heir to José Luis Chilavert, the great Paraguayan goalkeeper and free-kick specialist.

Ceni spent his entire senior career at São Paulo, and played a total of 1238 games for the club.

Unfortunately, when the Brazilian keeper retired at the end of last year, with 17 Brazil caps to his name, the world of football lost one of its last great outfield goalies.

Having scored a total of 152 goals, he wasn’t just a novelty act for São Paulo, and his set-piece prowess was as good as some of the best outfield free-kick takers.

He could also do the job of defending his goal when he wanted to, as demonstrated the man of the match award he won for his heroics between the posts when São Paulo won the World Club Cup against Liverpool in 2005.

Ceni is the goalkeeper, and no matter who comes next, he’s on free kicks and pens too.

Right Back – Cafu

No explanation needed.

Centre Back – Lúcio

One of the best strikers on Pro Evolution Soccer.

Centre Back – Daniel Agger

Liverpool could do with this guy at his peak now.

Left Back – Denis Irwin

The versatile Manchester United full-back was in every pack of stickers in the 1994 Premier League sticker collection.

Midfield – Fernando Redondo

Who wouldn’t want something like this from a holding midfielder?

Midfield – Clarence Seedorf

Part of that Ajax team which won the European Cup in 1995 under Louis Van Gaal.

He won Champions Leagues, league titles, and cups at all three of his European clubs (Ajax, Real Madrid, and AC Milan), and almost pushed an unlikely Botafogo side to a title win in Brazil.

Attacking Midfield – Jari Litmanen

Another player from that Ajax team, which was real. That Ajax team did happen and it wasn’t imagined.

Jari Litmanen was the most erudite of attacking play-makers in the most cultured of sides, and he was from Finland, and he can play ice hockey too.

Jari Litmanen didn’t learn football, football learnt Jari Litmenen.

Winger – John Barnes

Scoring from the half-way line against Southampton past a scrambling Dave Beasant.

He scored at the Maracana too, apparently.

Forward – Giuseppe Signori

Amongst hazy memories of 90s football, there is Giuseppe Signori and his hair, darting across the telly on Channel 4 on a Sunday morning, wearing what looked like a Man City shirt.

Everyone was him in school the next week (OK most were Roberto Baggio).

Striker – Ronaldo

At his best O Fenômeno was the best.

Former Argentina and Real Madrid forward Jorge Valdano once said of him that “he’s not a man, he’s a herd,” and the quote sums him up perfectly. He was something else. He was plural.

He wasn’t a man taking part in the game. He was the game.

Even when the speed had gone due to numerous knee problems, he was still one of the coolest men around in front of goal, as demonstrated by this goal from the 2006 World Cup in Germany against Ghana. It was to be his last goal for Brazil.


Manager – Vicente Feola

The manager in charge when Brazil won their first World Cup in 1958.

He instructed attacking winger Mario Zagallo to track back and help the defence,

“Brazil had used a traditional 4-2-4 formation up till then, and without much success. In 1958 I ended up being an important player for Feola, who had me pushing forward when we were in possession and then tracking back into midfield to support the left-back Nilton Santos when we weren’t. I’m very thankful for his philosophy on the game. He didn’t just come to me and say ‘Play like that’, but he’d seen what I was doing at Botafogo, and that was the first real tactical shift in Brazilian football.”

Mario Zagallo

He’s rumoured to have once fallen asleep during a game, and that’s fine as these players are good enough to get the job done.