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Middlesbrough and Barcelona legend Gaizka Mendieta picks his Perfect XI: Juninho is in – but Raul and Jaap Stam only make the bench

Gaizka Mendieta, formerly of Valencia, Lazio, Middlesbrough and Barcelona
(Image credit: Getty)

Gaizka Mendieta played for Valencia, Lazio, Middlesbrough and Barcelona in a career in which he was lauded as one of Spanish football's most celebrated players ever. 

And he played with some cast, too. Not only for his country but at club level, where the midfielder made two consecutive Champions League finals among other achievements. 

FourFourTwo sat down with him to ask what a team of his best ever team-mates would look like. 

Gaizka Mendieta Perfect XI

(Image credit: Future)

Gaizka Mendieta picks his Perfect XI – Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas

“Look at what he’s achieved with titles and appearances as the No.1 goalkeeper for Real Madrid and Spain. I’ve played with a lot of terrific goalkeepers, but Iker was part of the generation which changed the national team – not to mention the game internationally – so that makes him the best we’ve ever had.”

Centre-back: Roberto Ayala

“Roberto was amazing: aggressive, but good technically and he could mark anyone. He wasn’t the tallest defender, but because he was strong, clever and could jump, he was hugely talented. We used to score loads of goals from corners and free-kicks with him.”

Centre-back: Carles Puyol

“For Casillas with Real, see Puyol at Barcelona. Carles wasn’t the most skilful or attractive player to watch, but he was always going at 150 per cent – you knew he was reliable and that whoever he was playing, they wouldn’t touch the ball. He could play at right-back as well, and was adaptable.”

Centre-back: Alessandro Nesta

“Alessandro had really high standards all the time. He was dependable and played at the top for so many years with Lazio, Milan and Italy – and in many different formations, too. It didn’t matter which partner he played with, he always won trophies. He’s a brilliant guy.”

Right midfield: Juninho

“He wasn’t with me for that long at Middlesbrough, but I loved playing with him. As soon as I arrived on loan in 2003, we had a fantastic connection. He probably had better years when I wasn’t there, but I also played against him when he was at Atletico Madrid – so I’ve seen both sides. He was very generous for a forward player.”

Central midfield: Pep Guardiola

“Such a talented player. I remember watching Pep when he was 17 at Barça, and his passing... you couldn’t get the ball off him. He knew what was happening before he got it and you couldn’t do anything. He could also score because of the vision he had. I remember his debut with Barça and it was like, ‘Wow’ – he would move the ball as slowly or quickly as it needed to go.”

Central midfield: Pablo Aimar

“I only played with ‘Pablito’ at Valencia for half a season in 2000-01, but it was great to be alongside him. I remember when he first arrived [from River Plate] that January – the connection was immediate. A joy to watch.”

Central midfield: Deco

“Simeone was so clever and enabled me and the other midfielders to have plenty of freedom. I’d much rather have had him on my team than the opponent’s, that’s for sure! He was a winner, 100 per cent.”

Left midfield: Kily Gonzalez

“Kily was rapid, and the desire and drive that he showed in games was contagious. He was skilful and capable of scoring goals, and like a typical winger he could put in crosses or cut inside to make danger.”

Centre-forward: Patrick Kluivert

“Something incredible about Patrick was his ability to control the ball and run with it – for a man of his height [6ft 2in], there was so much that he could do. He’d hold play up and link with his midfielders or other strikers, and was elegant. He’s a top guy – we get on well and are still in regular contact.”

Centre-forward: Fernando Morientes

“Like Kluivert, he could do many other things – he jumped and hung in the air like Michael Jordan. Fernando was great at Real Madrid and on loan at Monaco, where he got two goals against Real to knock them out of Europe [in 2004]. Even though he was a Real man, I’m sure he was still glad to score!”

The manager: Luis Aragones

“He managed Valencia in 1995-96, when I was 21. There were some big players, but he’d say to me, ‘We’re turning to you – if you continue like this, then you’ll play’. He’d never bulls**t you.”

Substitutes

Jaap Stam

Fernando Hierro

Raul

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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. Over his time on the brand, he has interviewed the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Jack Wilshere, written pieces ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career, and has been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals, working for FFT