by Daisy Cutter
In recent years Portugal has become known for producing a certain type of player seemingly on a whim: the extravagantly gifted attacking midfielder/wideman who is as comfortable on the ball as a stoner in a onesie.
Partly in mischief we have filled up the entire sub’s bench with them so God help this side if Carvalho limps off with a calf strain 20 minutes in but there is also a serious point to including this abundance of trickery. If the ‘Golden Generation’ of the 90s and early 2000s had been blessed with a world class finisher then the Selecção would surely have a major honour in their football federation headquarters. Instead they had to make do with Nuno Gomez and Pauleta.
At the back it gets worse. Much worse. This is admittedly some claim but in their entire 98 year history Portugal have never once unearthed a truly great defender. In a perverse kind of way you have to quite respect that.
Even so, with a frontline containing Figo, Ronaldo and the incomparable Eusebio – with the artful Rui Costa pulling the strings behind them – this is a team that could potentially terrorise any Greatest XI imaginable.
GK Vitor Baia
The list of great Portuguese keepers is a short one. Some would say its non-existent. Ricardo would be a contender here were it not for his over-reliance on punching and propensity to flap on the rare occasions that he opted to open his fists so instead ex-Porto and Barca stopper Baia gets the nod between the sticks. With 80 caps that spanned the entire 1990s he’s a more-than-dependable inclusion and quite simply you don’t safe-keep eleven title-winning sides without being an outstanding number one.
RB Jorge Costa
Shifted across from his more familiar central role – look, it was either this or Abel Xavier, hair and all, and Costa did play in this position as his career wound down – ‘the tank’ provides some much-needed solidity to a side overly blessed with style. Costa captained Porto to both UEFA Cup and Champion’s League success under Mourinho before somehow finding his way to Charlton Athletic.
One of the most prominent African-Portuguese players of the 1960s Hilário went on to captain his nation for three years but is primarily remembered for his contribution to their semi-final run in ’66. A Sporting legend having remained there for the entire duration of his fourteen year career amassing three titles along the way.
CB Vicente Lucas
Mozambique-born colossus and man-marker supreme, Lucas was the rock upon which Portugal’s Os Magriços ’66 World Cup campaign was founded. Four years before the honour was passed onto Bobby Moore this hard but fair gentle was considered by Pele to be the greatest defender he had ever come up against.
Retired aged just thirty due to an eye injury sustained in a car accident.
CB Ricardo Carvalho
Arguably the finest Portuguese centre-back of all-time with a Baresi-esque combination of silk and steel. Though not particularly tall Carvalho is immense in the air in either box and possesses an unnerving positional sense that consequently makes everything look so easy. An immaculate player who has been Mourinho’s defensive lieutenant at three different clubs.
I’ve a confession to make: I’ve never really understood the hyperbolic fuss surrounding this chunky galáctico from Lisbon. His wife yes, but the player himself has always left me somewhat cold. Having witnessed his head-up dribbling on many occasions I admire his many virtues but feel the acres of lavish praise devoted to the supposed jewel of the Golden Generation to be somewhat exaggerated. Even so, the thought of him carving mazes with Ronaldo is a mouth-watering prospect.
CM Mario Coluna (capt)
A fearsome inside-left “O Monstro Sagrado” (‘the sacred monster’) bossed the Stadium of Light midfield for sixteen years displaying not only immense stamina and strength but a touch so sublime that he was employed in a number of different roles by coaches desperate to best utilise this phenomenon. Eventually the matter was settled – he would start in the centre then play everywhere.
The Benfica legend returned to his native Mozambique once they secured independence in 1975 where he became the President of the Football Federation before serving as the countries Minister for Sport
CM Paulo Sousa
A suave and stylish enforcer who won the Champion’s League for two different clubs (Juventus and Borussia Dortmund) tragically this wonderful player’s career was persistently plagued by injury. Despite this he managed to accrue an impressive 51 caps for his country and, following a mixed spell in England coaching, he now manages Videoton of Hungary.
RM Rui Costa
A particular favourite of mine due to his majestic stint at Fiorentina but that’s not important here. What is relevant is that the deep-lying magician was one of the brightest stars of the Golden Generation; a technically superb maestro who could place a ball on an escudo.
A winker and diver he may be but Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro is like watching Fantasia on fast-forward. His poise, power and pace, all working in perfect harmony is a joy to behold and while his set-pieces defy physics his goal-scoring stats in Spain (110 in 99) simply defy belief. Maradona may as well have had a stump for a right leg; Messi’s heading and ability to rise to the big occasion remain in question….is Ronaldo the most complete player of the modern age?
The stats speak for themselves – 727 goals in 715 games for Benfica. 41 in 64 for Portugal. 11 league titles. 9 goals in 6 at the 1966 World up where he almost single-handedly inspired the Selecção to a third-place finish. European footballer of the year and Ballon D’Or recipient in 1965.
Eusébio da Silva Ferreira was a national sprint champion at 100, 200 and 400 metres in his teenage years. Allayed to a sharp footballing mind and stupendous ability is it any wonder that the Black Pearl has been immortalised on stamps, in bronze and forever in minds and hearts by all who love the game.
During a brief and disastrous spell at Upton Park Futre swapped his number 16 shirt for John Moncur’s 10 by offering his team-mate a spell golfing at his villa in the Algarve. That was when he career was on the wane however. At his peak, as a slight and tricky winger for Atletico Madrid he consistently proved to be a mesmerising threat.
Another who endured a disappointing spell in Blighty, ‘Art’ Deco was so much more than the insipid spirit we witnessed at Stamford Bridge. In the 2004 Champion’s League final for Porto this wily schemer tore Monaco apart putting on one of the finest individual performances ever seen in the tournament’s rich history. Deco was pure class.
A devastating right-winger who scored 175 times in 369 appearances for Benfica’s ‘dream team’ of the 1960s.
Retired from international football following a personally successful but nationally disappointing World Cup in 2010 Simao’s flamboyant wing-play made him a firm fan’s favourite at Barcelona, Benfica and Atletico Madrid.
The only striker on the bench and should this side require a late winner who better to bring on than one of Sporting Lisbon’s legendary ‘five violins’, an attacking quintet that romped through the 1940s Primeira Liga (or the Primeira Divisão as it was known back then) scoring goals for s***ts and giggles. With an astonishing 331 in 187 the Angola-born hit man has the best strike rate in the history of football.