Wednesday 20 August 2014
In the first of a series of Best XIs selected by former Barclays Premier League players, Fabrice Muamba, who racked up 167 appearances in the competition for Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers before retiring to focus on his recovery from a cardiac arrest suffered in March 2012, picks the best players he played with or against.
Muamba was a regular in the England Under-21 team and became a fans' favourite at Bolton after cementing his place in central midfield during four Barclays Premier League campaigns. His heart stopped for 78 minutes after collapsing in Bolton's FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur towards the end of the 2011/12 season, but he staged a remarkable recovery and, after retiring in August 2012, Muamba has pursued a career in the media and has been involved in a number of community initiatives.
Muamba opts for a 4-4-2 formation including 10 Barclays Premier League title winners. The 26-year-old played alongside and pitted his wits against some of the most distinguished players in Barclays Premier League history, and has selected a side calling upon the respective precision and power of Paul Scholes and Patrick Vieira in his old position in midfield and the pace and guile of Arsenal and Chelsea legends Thierry Henry and Gianfranco Zola in attack. The latter is the only player in this vastly experienced team not to have claimed a Barclays Premier League title-winner's medal.
GK: Joe Hart
Muamba: "I played with Harty in the England Under-21s. He is very commanding and works extremely hard in training. His distribution has got better and better. Being able to play regularly and play alongside some of the best players in the world has improved his game."
RB: Gary Neville
"I only played against him once, but his positioning was exceptional. He knew the game so well. When he was playing against an experienced player he wouldn't get tight on him because he knew he could run past him, but when he played against an inexperienced player he would be very tight to you to the point where you didn't have time to turn or do anything. He was clever and very consistent."
CB: Gary Cahill
"He's come on in leaps and bounds. His move to Chelsea has improved the defensive side of his game and he can score goals."
CB: Nemanja Vidic
"You knew you could rely on Vidic to put his body on the line. Where some people might duck out of challenges he will put it where it hurts and take one for the team."
LB: Ashley Cole
"Coley is the second-best left-back in the world after Philipp Lahm, who is just better than Ashley. There are not many players who can keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet for a whole 90 minutes. When we were coming through at Arsenal, Don Howe used to keep talking about Ashley, Ashley, Ashley. And sometimes he would come over and train with us and when he did you wanted him on your team because he could defend better than anybody else. Positionally there is no better defender."
CM: Paul Scholes + Patrick Vieira
"With Patrick you get the physical side and he can also play. With Scholes you get distribution the and attributes he brings to the team and he's got the devil in him, too. Everybody wants a player like him who will laugh with you but at the same time will put you down when needed."
LW: Robert Pires
"He was one of the best one-touch footballers to wear an Arsenal shirt. I don't think Arsenal will ever have such a complete winger as Pires in this modern age. He was intelligent. Technically, he was fantastic. He went through a bad patch when he was injured but when he came back you could see the difference he made to the team. He scored top goals, too."
RW: Cristiano Ronaldo
"With Ronaldo you get the same Ronaldo for Madrid and for Portugal. His goal record is phenomenal. When he was at Manchester United he was good, but when he went to Madrid he added another 20 or 30% to his game. He's on another level now. If I were a defender I would not like to play against him."
CF: Thierry Henry
"He didn't make Arsenal but his was a vital contribution to that successful Arsenal side. He was so fast and so lethal. You had to play with him to see how good he was. Even if you gave him two yards he could still run past you."
CF: Gianfranco Zola
"He was a genius. He was similar to [Dennis] Bergkamp. The difference is one was taller than the other but ball control, vision, those guys made the Barclays Premier League what it is today. We've been blessed to have so many individually talented guys like them. They deserve to be recognised."
For more on Fabrice Muamba's story, read his autobiography, "I'm Still Standing". Click here for more