James Richardson: Perfect XI

Italian expert picks his dream line-up in March 2005...

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Gianluigi Buffon
Few could debut at 17 against Milan and keep a clean pair of shorts, let alone a clean sheet, but Gigi did. Since 23 he’s been the most expensive goalie in the world, but he’s still completely unstressed by it all. Ever seen him concede a goal and scream at his defenders? It never happens. Truth is, he’s been the best for so long now that lately he’s taken to letting goals in for fun, to relieve the monotony.

Cesar Aparecido Rodrigues

Pacy, with a good scoring record, Cesar is Brazil’s best left-back, if not as famous as their other fellow. He’s also, to the best of my knowledge, the only ex-con in my side. Back in Sao Paolo in 1994, he arranged with a gang of ruffians to rob a team director on the day he was carrying the players’ wages. Caught, he spent two years inside a tough Sao Paolo jail, and if that didn’t teach him to keep it tight at the back with Lazio, what will?

Taribo West

Yes, really. The hair braids, the lay preaching, the Wrath of God tackles; Taribo in full flow was a sight to behold, on-field and off. “That makes you want to clean you soul with Dettol,” as Channel 4 commentator Gary Bloom once said of one of many ‘Wild’ West tackles. Funnily enough, Taribo himself was later to clean my soul, leading me and the camera crew into a prayer meeting before he allowed our interview to begin.

Alexei Lalas

The only American ever to play in Serie A, the ginger lump plied his trade at Padova – don’t look for them, they’re not there anymore – where his orange goatee caused national consternation. A big guitar-strumming hippy on the side, he also released two CDs of his own music while in Serie A. Sample track? Maybe We’re All Just Kicking Balls. Genius.

Moreno Torricelli

The finest example of a rags-to-riches Serie A story, Torricelli was a rough and ready defender who was a factory carpenter playing works football until the day Juve signed him, aged 22. From the amateur leagues to the biggest club around isn’t easy, but he was good enough to make it all the way to the World Cup with Italy. He never stopped hitting the woodwork, though. Ahem.

Nicola Berti

The big cheeky lad with the quiff and the schoolboy grin, Nicola adopted me as a ‘lucky mascot’ on my early visits to Inter. He used to stroke my hair – admittedly this is some years ago – which coupled with the fact he has a girl’s name, I found friendly but disconcerting. As I later discovered though, he was one of the biggest playboys in the whole of Milan and as the heart of one of Italy’s greatest ever sides, the nerrazurri title side of ’89, he walks into my side.

Paul Ince

Il Guerriero’(the warrior) was a great player for Inter, hugely popular with the fans, who still miss him, and one of the most successful Englishmen ever in Serie A. He and his wife Clare were also always very kind with Gazetta – whenever we got blown out for an interview by other players, Paul would let us come round and film and, on request, dress up in a chicken suit. Try that with Mr and Mrs Beckham.

Attilio Lombardo

Lombardo dancing the lambada with me is an image that has long haunted many a Gazzetta viewer. ‘Popeye’ was a one off. He used to turn up to training on a scooter, which was considered very alternative back then, and he was always good-humoured. He’s in my team for his work as a tireless winger and for being a founder member with Vialli and Mancini of that classic title-winning Sampdoria side of ’91. It’s said that if the Romans had been as bad at making crosses as Attilio, Christianity may never have got started. But I’m ignoring that.

In the hole
Roberto Mancini

Call it sacrilege, but I’d pick Mancini over Roberto Baggio any day. I’ve certainly never seen anyone play with his elegance. Back-heels were his trademark; he scored once with a flying back-heeled volley from a corner, but the thing about Roberto was that he was never too much of an artist to tear into anyone in his way – referees, rivals, opposing managers, you name it.  Funnily enough, off-field he’s the most polite and elegant man you’d ever wish to meet. He’s also one of Italy’s top young managers, but secretly, he still pines for Leicester.

George Weah

Three-time African player of the year, world player of the year and a former telephone repairman, George was big, fast and powerful and used to tear through the opposition like nobody before or since. His coast-to-coast against Verona was probably the most famous Serie A goal of the ’90s, and had Milan manager Alberto Zaccheroni not decided he was actually a winger, who knows what more he would have achieved. Good Luck as President of Liberia, George!

Beppe Signori

An ideal partner for big George, little Beppe was a tearaway forward – a bit like Peter Beardsley, but with a bigger collection of Swatches (he had about 600 of them). He emerged from Zdenek Zeman’s sweatshop Foggia side of the early ’90s to become Gazza’s mate at Lazio and Serie A top scorer for three straight years. Tiny but tenacious, he once walked over hot coals to end his goals drought at Bologna – and it worked. One of the friendliest players I ever met, too.