Legendary Manchester United and Danish shot stopper picks a brutish yet classy team of Premier League foreign imports that he has played with, against or admired from afar. “This is without doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever been asked to do,” he tells Vithushan Ehantharajah.
Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Sar
Someone I always admired, even early in his career at Ajax and Juventus. In six years at Old Trafford, he helped Manchester United to three Champions League finals, and gave them great stability from the back.
Right-back: Dan Petrescu
Changed the way full-backs play in the Premier League, coming inside, as well as overlapping and getting involved in attacks, making him very hard to pick up. You’d often find him in the opposition box looking to get on the end of a cross, but he’d never shirk his defensive duties.
Centre-back: Jaap Stam
Exactly the right temperament you’d want from a defender – he was angry and loved defending! Never afraid to bark out orders if he wasn’t happy (we had a few shouting matches) and even scored goals; I’m struggling to think if he had any flaws. Awesome, absolutely awesome.
Centre-back: Nemanja Vidic
Came in when Manchester United were seriously lacking a no-nonsense defender. Full-blooded tackler, never afraid to boot the ball clear but very tactically aware at the same time. He’d put his foot or head in danger for the benefit of the team – as a goalkeeper you love that.
Left-back: Patrice Evra
I questioned why he was signed when United had Gabriel Heinze, but then you see what he brought to the side and you understood why. A solid defender, excellent going forward and a leader. He’s been through a difficult period this season, but there is no doubting his ability.
Right wing: Cristiano Ronaldo
What more is there to say? Gave United fans and neutrals exciting times that they’ll never forget. A great goalscorer AND a scorer of great goals. I was at Sporting Lisbon when he was in the youth team and they said he could become one of the best players in the world. They were right.
Central midfield: Patrick Vieira
A great all-round midfielder. I used to look forward to playing him because he made every one of us raise our game. Arsenal had a great side, but I firmly believe without him they would’ve been 25 per cent weaker. We had Roy Keane, they had Vieira – it was a great rivalry.
Central midfield: Michael Essien
Always seems to be where the ball is. His physicality and energy is unrivalled – he defends and attacks for the entire game, without seemingly getting tired. At his peak, he is great to watch, and it’s a shame he has had his injuries because he is on the cusp of being world class.
Left wing: David Ginola
Loved at all the clubs he played for – he seemed to have everything in his locker. I still remember the goal he scored against me when we lost 5-0 to Newcastle; he rolled Gary Neville like a striker, and blasted the ball in the top corner with his right foot. I never stood a chance.
Forward: Thierry Henry
Who else? Took him time to settle, but it was well worth the wait. Quick, graceful, intelligent – just brilliant. One of those players that goalkeepers and defenders pride themselves on playing well against (not that they got one over on him very often). More than worthy of his statue outside the Emirates.
Forward: Eric Cantona
In my eyes, he was responsible for the Premier League developing as quickly as it did. Everyone took to him, controversy or not. He oozed charisma and genius in equal measure, and is by far and away the best ever in the Premier League. It was an honour to have played with him.
I could never tell where he was going to shoot – unplayable and read the game like no other.
Played football like it was all a dream – you couldn’t even imagine some of the things that he was capable of doing with a football.
Instrumental to Porto and Chelsea’s successes. His made John Terry a better player, and Chelsea an unbeatable side.
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Jose Mourinho, for sure – two league titles in three years and a real character as well. [FFT: What about Arsene Wenger?] S**t yes! Of course Wenger – took Arsenal from the brink of mediocrity to a world-class side. Not to mention an entire season unbeaten. Yes – Wenger!
This interview was originally published in the April 2012 issue of FourFourTwo.