Ronald Koeman: Perfect XI
Hans van Breukelen
I spent three years at PSV with Hans and played with him many times for the national team. I think English fans were surprised to see him go from an average Nottingham Forest team in the early-80s to winning the European Cup with PSV and the European Championship with Holland, but he was a great keeper. Big and strong, he was a hard man that strikers didn’t enjoy facing at all.
Another old PSV team mate, Gerets was one of the best attacking right-backs in the history of the game, but I don’t think he ever really got the recognition that his talents deserved. Defensively he was solid, yet what truly set him apart was his relentless capacity for getting forward.
Baresi was quality on the ball, and like all great Italian centre-halves he was hard and would stop at nothing to win the ball. Oddly, he was in his late 20s before he got the recognition he deserved, and by then, he was the world’s best defender.
There’s no way that I could pass up the opportunity to play in this team. Not too many defenders could pick out their attacking players with the type of long passes that I loved hitting. The attackers would thrive on that kind of service.
There’s never been a better left-back in the game’s history. Two-footed, and at his peak, brilliant going forward. The night Milan annihilated Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League Final, he played centre-half, as Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta were both suspended, and looked like he’d played there all his life.
The most gifted deep-lying playmaker I’ve ever seen, and most of Barcelona’s attacks came through him. He had this brilliant awareness of what was going on around him, rarely gave away the ball and had a superb range of passing. Without him, Barcelona weren’t the same team.
His move to Milan in 1988 was the making of him – Arrigo Sacchi transformed him into an aggressive, world-class holding midfielder who could score goals, too. Dunga, Desailly, Keane and Vieira all performed that role brilliantly, but Frank is the best holding player ever.
There was a period in the late-’80s when Ruud rivalled Diego Maradona as the world’s best player, and in virtually any position – centre half, winger, centre-midfield or up front. But for injuries, Ruud would’ve achieved even more than he did.
In the hole
Michael was possibly the most skilful and elegant player I ever played with. Few could dribble like he could. He could sense when a game was ready to be seized and transformed by a moment of individual brilliance. If he could have scored more goals, he would have been one of the greats.
Few left feet were capable of doing what Stoichkov’s could. His temper often got the better of him, but he was the Nou Camp’s idol. He had explosive pace and could operate on the wing or up front, and his partnerships with first Laudrup, and then Romario, were crucial to the club’s success.
Marco Van Basten
Injuries cut him down when he was in the best form of his career, spearheading Fabio Capello’s new and rejuvenated Milan side. Yet by then, Marco had already done enough to perhaps be regarded as the greatest number nine there’s ever been. People always talk about his strike against the Soviet Union in the 1988 European Championship Final, and yes, it was a great goal, but Marco scored even better goals, for both Ajax and AC Milan.
I played under great coaches like Guus Hiddink and Rinus Michels, but Cruyff shades it for me. An inspirational figure, he always wanted something more from his teams – for him, it wasn’t enough just to win; success had to be achieved in a manner that would be remembered and discussed for years.
He wasn’t the hardest working striker, but always gave you goals and never lacked confidence.
The Dutch international played a big role in PSV’s European Cup win in 1988. A terrific right-winger.
Jose Maria Bakero
A world-class attacking midfielder who was the backbone of Cruyff’s Barcelona.
Unspectacular, but for over a decade he was one of the most consistent goalkeepers in world football.
A great left foot, and one of the most committed midfielders I played with.
Interview: Daniel Ruiz. From the January 2008 issue of FourFourTwo.