The year 2017 has been a painful year for football lovers all over the world, as some of the most legendary footballers decided to hang their boots. Many names that fans around the globe have idolized and loved decided to call it a day this year and left the field with heavy hearts filled with many happy and some bitter memories. Let us take a look at some of the football great in this ‘Legends XI 2017’ lined-up in a 3-4-3 formation.
Gianluigi Buffon (ITA) Goal Keeper
Goalkeeping is a thankless job for you won’t be cheered for hundred acrobatic dives and selfless saves made, but remembered for one unforgivable error. Still, a handful master and fulfil the art of becoming the ‘last line of defence’ with unflinching concentration and spectacular athletism. But Gianluigi Buffon is one of the very few to have mastered that art.
Fondly addressed as ‘Gigi’ by the fans, the tall Italian announced his sudden retirement from international football this November following Italy’s astonishing failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia. The 39-year-old veteran shot-stopper, who debuted for the Azzurri’s in 1997 guarded their net for a record 175 times, had earlier said that he will hang his boots after next year’s grand tournament. However, it was an anti-climax as his illustrious career came to a abrupt end after stalemate against Sweden in the World Cup qualifiers.
With eight Serie A titles, four Coppa Italia and one UEFA Cup with Juventus, he also lifted the 2006 World Cup in Germany. However, a Champions League glory still evades his basket after three unsuccessful finals. Buffon also announced that this would be his last season in club football as well.
Ze Roberto (BRA) Left Back
NBA has Robert Parish, cricket got Brad Hogg and football...?
The highly competitive and demanding professional circuits make it difficult for players even in their early thirties to survive in the top leagues. And then there is Brazilian Ze Roberto who "finally" retired from the game at 43!
It is still a wonder why the defender was left out of the national squad by gaffer Luiz Felipe Scolari for the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup despite him having had a brilliant run with German side Bayer Leverkusen earlier that year. This denied the Samba ace a much-deserved world cup in spite winning a La Liga with Real Madrid before claiming four Bundesligas and German Cup doubles with Bayern Munich across two spells.
Aged 41, he joined Palmeiras, and by the time he was finally finished, there were 10 goals and 11 assists from 133 appearances for the side. Phew!
Martin Demichelis (ARG) Centre Back
Martin Demichelis signed for Bayern Munich in the 2003 summer from River Plate and claimed four Bundesligas and German Cups before leaving for Spain's Malaga.
For the British fans, he is the stout Manchester City defender who lifted the league title in 2013-14, fouled Leo Messito to give away a decisive penalty during Champions League and finally was heavily trolled for being cheaply beaten by Manchester United's young Marcus Rashford in a one-on-one.
Demichelis represented Argentina on 51 occasions and was part of the squad that finished runners-up to Germany at the 2014 World Cup.
Philip Lahm (GER) Right Back
Modern football cares a lot for the safety of players on the field and hence dutiful defenders can always expect a card for a dangerous-looking slide or tackle they commit. Lahm remained the defensive wall of Bayern Munich and Germany for about 15 years and till the time he announced retirement this June, the short, brisk and disciplined defender was not sent off a single time ever.
The German Football Association recently declared him the honorary captain of the side for his contributions to the national side. He led the triumphant “German Tanks” who defeated Argentina in the final to lift the World Cup in 2014, following a famous 7-1 rout of hosts Brazil in the semifinal.
Xabi Alonso (ESP) CDM
Long range shots, curving corners, holding game, counter-attack, Tiki-Taka… you name it, and Alonso got it! So little are the things that the versatile midfielder has not done for the clubs he has played for be it Liverpool or Real Madrid. The central midfielder bid farewell to the game alongside Philip Lahm after playing three seasons for Bayern Munich.
The Spaniard won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euro twice in 2008 and ’12 under legendary captain Iker Casillas. Alonso’s generation witnessed the divide between Barca and Real players within the national side getting serious than ever before, despite the team’s super performances. He was also part of Liverpool’s epic Champions League triumph in 2004-05.
Andre Pirlo (ITA) LM
For fans, there is the clean shaved Pirlo – the sharp and fearless midfielder who can pass on the ball to attack no matter the how vicious the defense might be, and then the bearded Pirlo – a textbook example of adaptation and fitness, the elixir for all ageing footballers.
Best known for the “Panenka penalty” that send the English goalkeeper Joe Hart floundering in the Euro’12, Pirlo is a true legend by all means.
After a decade-long service at AC Milan, he went on to join rivals Juventus and anchored the Old Lady’s midfield for four seasons. Not many would have enjoyed such success following a free-agent deal like he did, as he lifted the Serie A all the four years – which was the double of what he got with Milan! The fifth-most capped player for Italy went on to join MLS side New York City FC and officially announced his retirement this November at the age of 38.
Francesco Totti (ITA) LCM
Another contemporary of Buffon and Pirlo, Totti is a legend at the club level with AS Roma for his passion and loyalty towards the club. Affectionately called the “Prince of Rome” or “Capitano” by the fans, he had denied multiple transfer offers throughout his career to remain with his childhood club till retired this May after 24 long seasons of selfless football.
Totti is the second all-time top scorer of Serie A after Silvio Piola, and won the league once in 2001 and the Coppa Italia twice. True his trophy haul is astonishingly modest for someone of such quality, but it is players like Totti that keep the faith in the sport going, underlining that football has much more to it than the multi-billion extravaganzas. Grazie Capitano!
Frank Lampard (ENG) RCM
Three Premier Leagues titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and finally the UEFA Champions League… Chelsea’s legendary midfielder has won it all in his 21- year long career (which also included time at West Ham United and Manchester City), and is the all-time leading scorer of the Blues with 211 goals from 649 appearances.
Lampard announced retirement in February, following a contract expiry at New York FC, playing down offers from several top-tier clubs including Swansea City. The English “Golden generation” consisting the likes of himself, Terry, Gerrard etc going trophy less at the international stage will remain one of the bitter ironies of the game ever. Losing the 2004 Euro quarter-finals to Portugal in a shootout after his extra-time equalizer, and getting a signature long-ranger wrongly disallowed against Germany in the 2010 World Cup is just two among the many memories he lived in the field.
Kaka (BRA) RM
Two majestic goals, one each at the club and international level are more than enough to remember the gifted Brazilian forever. Kaka made a young Messi look ordinary, when he comfortably charged away with the ball, not allowing the Argentine to get anywhere near him, all the way from the middle line to the box, to score his side’s third in a friendly at Wembley in 2006.
The second goal too came in England a year later in Old Trafford, when AC Milan was taking on United in the Champions League semis. The elegant runner beat four men, forced two to collide and one to slide in a course of unsuccessful attempts to stop him from scoring a wonder goal that eventually shattered the dreams of an all-English final.
Kaka’s career is wonderfully complete on one level, but painstakingly depressing in another. The only man to claim the Ballon d’Or in the era of Messi-Ronaldo rivalry, he has won it all that a footballer can dream of. Still, the later part of his career was abrupt with injuries and poor form. The playmaker rejected a world-record offer from Manchester City due to family reasons, to later join Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2009. He had some great runs along with Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema before being dropped to the status of a “super sub” by Jose Mourinho and returning to Milan in 2013. He scored his 100th goal for the side before leaving to join the MLS with Orlando City.
When Kaka put a halt to his playing career in December, it was “end of an era” moment for Brazilian football as he was the only player left in the field from the 2002 World Cup winning squad.
Dirk Kuyt (NED) LF
The epitome of the ''work-horse'' footballer stereotype, Dirk Kuyt announced his retirement in October, less than a week after playing what must have been the most enjoyable game of his entire career.
How much better can it get than having scored a hat-trick on your final day of the season to seal a first title for your side in eighteen years! Dirk Kuyt will go down as a legend in Rotterdam and also Liverpool where he played over 200 games scoring 51 goals. At the national level, he was part of the squad that came second and third in the 2010 and ’14 editions of the World Cup.
Rickie Lambert (ENG) RF
Perhaps the only little-known name in the team, Rickie Lambert could be the only late bloomer as well.
Lambert, who won 11 caps and scored three goals for the Three Lions, hangs up his boots after 701 professional games and 241 goals for nine clubs in the top four divisions.
Having spent the majority of his career in the lower leagues, earning a promotion from each division, Lambert realised his ambition of playing in the Premier League for Southampton at the age of 30. His excellent form for the Saints earned Lambert a call-up to the England squad for the ill-fated 2014 World Cup in Brazil and a subsequent move to Liverpool.
What a journey it has been Rick! Thank you for reminding us nothing is impossible.
Bench (Special mentions): Alvaro Arbeola (ESP), Scott Parker (ENG), Antonio Cassano (ITA), Paul Robinson (ENG)