The best Premier League XI never to play Champions League football
“Who would you have in a best Premier League XI never to play in the Champions League?”
Out of the blue, an old chum of FourFourTwo had sent us a poser which piqued our interest. An hour, and hundreds of further messages, later there was still no consensus. We gave up.
FFT, however, is made of sterner stuff and also very bored. We pressed on, knowing Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp et al would be off limits. But so were Tony Yeboah (one season for Hamburg), Sylvain Distin (10 games for Paris Saint-Germain) and even Dion Dublin, thanks to an 18-minute cameo for Manchester United against Galatasaray in 1993. Some players were guaranteed, others less so. The search for a right-back proved especially problematic.
But, here we are. The best the Premier League had to offer with no European Cup or Champions League games allowed, not even in qualifying (sorry Duncan Ferguson, Tim Cahill and assorted other Everton players).
GK: Neville Southall
Hod-carrier, odd-jobber, floor cleaner, binman – you name it, Big Nev probably did it before becoming one of the best keepers Britain has ever produced.
Still the last keeper to win the Football Writers’ Player of the Year Award, the Everton stopper was unfortunate to be at his peak during English clubs’ European ban post-Heysel. Has recently reinvented himself as a prominent critic of Tory cuts on Twitter. When not giving away his account to random people and retweeting missing pets, that is.
RB: Stephen Carr
We’ll be honest, this was a real problem position. When you’re sat at home in your pants wondering aloud the relative merits of Steve Watson or Aaron Hughes to play on the right-hand side of your defence, you know you’re in trouble. Not least with Mrs FFT. A Spurs mainstay for a decade before they got good, he moved to Newcastle in 2004, just as they got bad. His middle name is Babeson. Settle down at the back.
CB: Gareth Southgate
The England boss is just a nice man with the countenance and demeanour of someone who should have been born in St Albans, instead of burly Hertfordshire neighbour Watford. Think hard enough and you can already hear the former Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough defender saying something pleasant about being quite happy with 32 UEFA Cup appearances. Ironically, Southgate’s laconic style was well-suited to European football.
CB: Paul McGrath
The Premier League’s first PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 1992/93 barely trained because of a knee complaint so chronic that Alex Ferguson had offered the Ireland international a £100,000 retirement package three years earlier.
Instead, McGrath moved to Aston Villa and curbed his notorious drinking habits to prolong his career longer than anyone anticipated, but missed out on Manchester United’s Champions League sojourns as a result.
LB: Leighton Baines
We know, we couldn’t believe it, either. Baines has never even played a Champions League qualifier, despite Everton’s early-noughties dalliance with Europe’s elite.
One of the Premier League’s most consistent performers in both defence and attack, Bazza had the chance to follow David Moyes to Manchester United, and thus play in the Champions League, but turned his former manager down. He is,however, mates with the Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane, so it’s probably not all bad.
MF: Matt Le Tissier
If you’re anything like FFT, Le God was the first player that came to mind for this team. Fond of a sausage and egg McMuffin on the way to training, the luxuriously talented playmaker spent his entire 16-year professional career at Southampton, despite offers from more illustrious teams.
“Our whole household was obsessed with him,” Xavi told FourFourTwo in 2016. “Every week, without fail, we’d watch Premier League highlights and Le Tissier would be scoring outrageous, sickening goals.” No Champions League football, but a tournament legend's childhood hero – Le Tiss will probably take that. He’s captain. Obviously.