John Barnes: Perfect XI

Watford, Liverpool and England legend John Barnes selects a surprisingly sensible Perfect XI back in December 2006.

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Peter Schmeichel

Simply one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. It was a toss-up between him and Neville Southall, but Peter pips big Nev on sheer talent. There are goalkeepers with presence who aren't much good, but Schmeichel had both presence and raw ability. He was a great shot-stopper and a fine taker of crosses, he read the game superbly, he commanded his box. There hasn't been a better player in the Premiership.


The Bayer Leverkusen player. Like Junior on the other side, he's a proper attacking full-back – very solid defensively and extremely intelligent. He's ideal for the modern game. If you look at world-class teams these days, they all have attacking full-backs. These days, the full-backs are the most important players to get wide – that's been England's downfall over the years.

Frank Rijkaard

He's perhaps best known in retrospect for his time as a midfielder, but he started off his career as a centre-back – and that background made him a very tough holding midfielder. Frank was very strong on the ball. At 6ft 3in he was extremely powerful in the air, but he was also pretty quick and could place pinpoint passes – hence his later deployment in midfield. He could play as part of the zonal system or one-on-one equally effectively. He'd be well suited to the modern game.

Paolo Maldini

Just an incredibly cool customer. He was always very comfortable on the ball, like a good midfielder. I like my defenders to be able to bring the ball up from the back and start attacks, as well as be solid at the back. You usually get one or the other, but very rarely do you get a truly fine defender who can actually step out with the ball into midfield. Paolo is undoubtedly the man for this.


Right-footed, but equally good at both left-back and right-back for Brazil. He could also play in midfield! Again, he's both good defensively and quality going forward. He could also score, and play excellent balls into the box.

Right midfield
Michel Platini

An intelligent player who scored goals. We are talking about one of the best passers of the ball ever. He's in the Beckham category of being able to land a ball on a 10 pence piece from 50 yards. He brings a sense of balance to this team.

Centre midfield
Lothar Matthaus

With Maradona and Platini in the side, I'm not going to go for more flair. Matthaus could play as sweeper or in the holding role; he was versatile and very strong. He would take no prisoners. There were very few players that could get the better of Lothar.

Centre midfield
Matthias Sammer

Another great defensive midfielder. I've seen these teams before and people have just chosen the best players – Pele, Cruyff and so on, but who's going to do the dirty work? This XI would win matches – it's not just a list of the greatest players in the world!

Left midfield
Diego Maradona

The greatest player of all time, in my opinion. I've never seen anyone do what Maradona can do. Did he scare defenders? He scared absolutely everybody! You couldn't play against him. You couldn't stop him, because he was so strong and so quick. He had awareness, and he could pass. He could do everything. He wouldn't be asked to stay out there as a left winger in my team. I'd let him play in behind the front two. He could go wherever he likes on the pitch and cause havoc.

Marco Van Basten

He's the greatest centre-forward I've ever played with or against. Quite simply, he had everything. He could dribble, was good �in the air, good awareness, great touch. For such a big man – he's 6ft 2in – to be so delicate was amazing. He played off the shoulder and his finishing was as good as any striker that has ever lived.


He was very quick, very good with his feet, had lots of pace and invention, and he scored goals. Careca would always look to get involved. I've played against these front two and they destroyed us. Careca and Van Basten would complement each other perfectly.


Neville Southall
As I say, unlucky not to get into the XI. Neville was simply brilliant right into his forties. At his peak, he was probably the best goalkeeper in the world.

Ian Rush
Obviously I played with him for many years, and he is the greatest British centre-forward I've ever seen. In terms of his ability as a goalscorer, nobody could touch him.

John Barnes

Oh, I'd love to manage this side! I didn't pick the best 11 players in the world, I picked what I thought would be the best team in the world. I've gone for a tough, ball-playing defence and a perfect balance in midfield. In addition to that, there's a front two no defence could deal with.

Interview: Ben Fairthorne. From the December 2006 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!