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Football Manager, Real Madrid edition: Pick the all-time best starting XI

Our aim was not to pick a collection of the best players we've seen with our own eyes who played for Real Madrid, but those who would actually work best together.

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Every once in a while, many soccer magazines around the world publish their best lineup of the season, of all times or of a certain club’s history. Although it is quite fun to pretend to be a manager with unlimited resources and the Marty McFly - Doc Emmett Brown couple in the staff, most of the times these lineups end up sharing common faults, such as the lack of defensive players or the accumulation of #10s all around the field.

In this piece, some members of Managing Madrid staff have configured a Real Madrid all-time starting lineup, but aiming to be realistic and competitive. We have tried to select balanced lineups that could be engaged in serious games throughout a whole season, and not only in Globetrotter-like exhibition games. Of course, all players chosen will be considered to be at their primes.

Daniel Girela

Starting XI: Casillas; Panucci, Hierro, Ramos, Marcelo; Redondo, Modric, Di María; Zidane; Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo Nazario.

Coach: Carlo Ancelotti.

Subs: Illgner, Roberto Carlos, Pepe, Alonso, Seedorf, Figo, Raúl.

Real Madrid - Football tactics and formations

As I am only twenty-six, I decided to only pick players from the 1990s and on, which excludes Real Madrid legends like Di Stéfano, Puskas, Gento, Amancio, Schuster, Juanito or Butragueño. Raúl, my favourite player when I was a child, was possibly the first name that came to mind, but I don’t think he would stand a chance against Ronaldo Nazario or Cristiano Ronaldo upfront, who might be able to break any defence by pure brute force.

Built around a 4-3-1-2 system that was chosen, basically, to select Zidane in his best position, this team would have many features of last season’s 4-3-3 devised by Ancelotti, with The Prince Fernando Redondo taking Alonso’s spot. Panucci’s defensive capabilities could compensate the lack of work of Ronaldo in his wing, while Marcelo could be unleashed in the left thanks to the titanic efforts by Ángel Di María. With Ramos and Hierro guarding the box, Casillas should not have any serious trouble against aerial threats and his almighty reflexes would suffice to neutralize all other occasions by our rivals.


Starting XI: Casillas; Salgado, Hierro, Ramos, Carlos; Alonso, Modric, Ozil; Di Maria; Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo Nazario.

Coach: Jose Mourinho

Subs: Illgner, Marcelo, Pepe, Redondo, Zidane, Figo, Raúl.

Real Madrid - Football tactics and formations

Like Dani, my early years of being a Madrid fan were in the early 90s but since the 2000s provided some of the best players this club has ever seen, I’ll be going with those for the bulk of it (otherwise the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento would be no-brainers). My shape is a 4-2-3-1, which I normally strongly dislike, but has the potential to drop back into either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-4. The team would be managed by Jose Mourinho as his pragmatic approach would mold his expressive superstars and control their overly individual efforts, though it was incredibly difficult to not pick Carlo Ancelotti.

Initially, the first thing that catches the eye is no Zinedine Zidane in the starting XI. While he’s undoubtedly one of the greatest players ever, I prefer Mesut Ozil’s consistency and selflessness to feed the superstars around him over Zidane’s sublime individual skills which would sometimes go missing. To his left is Cristiano Ronaldo, hardly a difficult decision, with Ronaldo Nazario up top. On the right was the difficult choice for me and while I would often get irritated with his play on the wing, this team needs a hard worker like Angel Di Maria opposite of Ronaldo to drop back and provide defensive cover while feeding the attacking two stars on offense with his crosses. Luis Figo is the tempting option, but this needs to be as balanced of a side as possible.

The midfield might also provide a bit of a surprise with no Redondo but in my opinion Xabi Alonso was the world’s most complete two-way midfielder in his first 2-3 seasons at Real Madrid. Him serving as a defensive anchor while launching the counterattack, as well as his organizational and calming skills, is a must. Luka Modric joins him as the ultimate shuttler and jack-of-all trades. The defense was relatively simple to pick as the somewhat psychopathic tendencies of Salgado would finely counter Carlos’ physical flair. Ramos would be paired with a calming influence in Hierro while both being able to provide a source for goals in a jiffy. Iker Casillas is a no-brainer in goal.

Lucas Navarrete

Starting XI: Casillas; Salgado, Hierro, Ramos, Roberto Carlos; Redondo, Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo; Figo; Raúl, Ronaldo Nazario.

Coach: José Mourinho

Subs: Diego López, Marcelo, Pepe, Modric, Seedorf, Guti, Van Nistelrooy.

Real Madrid - Football tactics and formations

Could you play a real football match defending with just 5 players? Probably not, but if Isco, James and Di María can play as central midfielder, why couldn’t Zidane? I decided to choose Salgado as the right-back although he wasn’t that great defensively. His intensity couldn’t be matched, you have to give him that.

The four players upfront are undisputed although I was tempted to include Van Nistelrooy in the Starting XI ahead of Ronaldo Nazario.

Either way, this team should be exciting to watch and nearly unstoppable on offense. With Ramos and Hierro defending really high up the pitch and Roberto Carlos and Salgado tracking back constantly, maybe even the defensive line could work.

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