Time for another instalment of the Sunday series 'My Favourite Premiership XI'. This week it is the turn of Rob McCluskey to give us a line-up of all the players he has admired over the past two decades. Rob can usually be found writing at www.epltalk.com and you can also follow him on Twitter.
I always wonder how to pick these things. I’m never sure if I want to pick a team that I feel would work in a system or if I should just pick a team of all my favourite players for sentimental reasons. I’ve decided to go for the latter in this instance, as I do have an exam coming up on Tuesday and I could waste days thinking up of the perfect strategy! I’ve gone for the traditional 4-4-2, despite its redundancy in the modern game. I’ll warn you, there will be a very strong Newcastle United feel to this team.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and we realised that there aren’t really that many truly great goalkeepers about today. One of them though is Petr Cech, a player I’ve always admired and thought highly of. A head injury like the one Cech received could really dent a goalkeepers confidence, but he came back just as strong in my opinion and I’d go as far to say he’s the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment (Sorry, Julio Cesar). His shot stopping is top quality, but it’s his organisation of the defence and communication that really wins me over. On top of all that, poor Cech has had to deal with having John Terry in his defence all these years; a man who often likes to show up on the left wing.
Prepare for a bit of a suspect defence (much like the team I support). At left back I have Aaron Hughes as I love how versatile he is and never feel he gets enough credit for how reliable he can be. I was disappointed when Newcastle sold him for a mere £1m, but I remember him best for being part of our defence that played in a thrilling Champions League campaign under Sir Bobby Robson. Next up is Philippe Albert, who I’ve mainly chosen because a certain goal he scored summarises the era in which I started supporting Newcastle as a youngster. My taste in football has evolved since I was a bright eyed 5 year old, but to completely ignore the side that originally stole my heart would be wrong. It’s somewhat a token gesture, but Albert was still a great player and will always be remembered as a hero of mine (even though Rob Lee was my hero as a youngster... because we shared the same name). Next is Nemanja Vidic, for the sheer fact that he is so consistent and steady on the ball. One of the best in the world at the moment, I’m sure he’s on a hefty wage as he’s voiced out plenty times about hating the weather in England! I was going to choose Jonathan Woodgate in this position (based on the 27 or so games he played in a Newcastle shirt), but Vidic is a top quality player who only cost Man Utd £7m. Finally, I went for John Pantsil. That’s right – John Pantsil. Any man that does a solo lap of honour at the end of pretty much every game has a place in my starting XI every week.
The midfield is Newcastle United dominated. Laurent Robert may have been frustrating quite a lot of the time, but when he was on his game, nobody could stop him. As well as that, he scored some of the most memorable Newcastle goals ever and played a part in helping us break our London jinx against Arsenal, when we won 3-1. Gary Speed is a player I still question why we ever sold. At the time, people generally gave the reason that he was “getting on a bit”. In truth he was still a great player, as shown by his longevity playing for Bolton where he made us rue his departure in some ways. I always have great respect for Gary Speed as he was a great player no matter where he went, and although he can’t really be considered one of the all time greats, he always did a job and very rarely gave a bad performance. Alongside him is another Chelsea player; Michael Essien. So much energy and a great team player, Essien could fit into any team in the world. He’s one of the main reasons Frank Lampard is allowed to stay advanced up the field so many times, because he knows he can rely on Essien to track back and do a lot of the work. Although in a season or two, I suspect that Essien will be replaced in this line-up by Yaya Toure; someone who has instantly impressed me this season with his more advanced role. Finally, who else on the right but Nobby Solano? Newcastle’s very own trumpet maestro was a fantastic servant to the club and another player who put his heart and soul into every game. Bringing him back to Newcastle was probably Souness’ best decision in his short time at Newcastle. I remember my old housemate who is an Aston Villa supporter is still furious to this day that Villa sold Solano back to us.
Choosing two strikers was probably the hardest part of deciding my favourite XI (maybe one of the hardest moments of my life) and I sadly had to leave out Paolo Di Canio and Gianfranco Zola. As a Newcastle United supporter, I have to pick Alan Shearer. It’s not even a token gesture because he’s my club's greatest ever player either. Alan Shearer has a lot of sentimental value for me as he was dependable and arguably the greatest finisher the English game has ever seen. When he was managing us in the season we got relegated, all my housemates at University constantly wondered why Shearer didn’t pull a shirt on and put himself up front. They more than likely had a point too, our strike force was woeful that season and Shearer probably still had twice the skill they did. My second choice is Thierry Henry, for the simple fact he was easy to watch and an exciting player. Henry wasn’t just a striker, but a play maker and one of those rare characters that can completely change a game in a second with one bit of amazing skill. I was still disappointed however when I got to see him for the first time at a game St. James’ Park and he was quite poor. Still though, Newcastle won that game which was the most important thing.
So yeah, that’s my team. Probably aim towards a top five finish...I guess. Nothing too outlandish.
Thoughts, comments and opinions please...