Picking a best XI for any team is a difficult task, but if you’re asked to pick just 11 players from the entire football world and stuff them in an orthodox formation, it’s borderline impossible.
Luckily, this brain-twisting chore is the task of around 20,000 professional footballers, who all cast their vote for FIFA’s annual FIFPro World XI.
The result constantly leads to a mixed reaction of agreement, disagreement, outrage, happiness and social media warfare.
But who has secured their place in the annual team down the years? Let’s take a look….
Dida; Paolo Maldini, John Terry, Alessandro Nesta, Cafu; Frank Lampard, Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele; Samuel Eto’o, Andriy Shevchenko, Ronaldinho.
You would struggle to find an opposing team that could cope against a spine consisting of Alessandro Nesta, Zinedine Zidane and Samuel Eto’o. Not only that, but the crafty attacking play coupled with the relentless defensive attributes of Paolo Maldini and Cafu is as close to full-back perfection as you’re ever going to get.
Gianluigi Buffon; Gianluca Zambrotta, John Terry, Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram; Kaka, Zinedine Zidane, Andrea Pirlo; Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o.
Imagine the beauty of a midfield trio of Andrea Pirlo, Zidane and 2006 Kaka? Beautiful, right? Pirlo picks the ball up deep and accurately slides it to Zizou, who plays a pinpoint through ball to Kaka who’s ghosted behind the opposition’s centre-backs and executes the finish. Perfection. We haven’t even mentioned the fact that Ronaldinho, Eto’o and Thierry Henry are just watching as this move takes place. And what about that centre-back pairing of John Terry and World Cup and Ballon d’Or-winner Fabio Cannavaro!
Gianluigi Buffon; Carles Puyol, John Terry, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta; Steven Gerrard, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo; Ronaldinho, Didier Drogba, Lionel Messi.
Enter Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Get used to them, as they’re going to be hanging around for a bit. A foursome of Ronaldinho, Messi, Didier Drogba and Ronaldo is something a manager could only dream of. Kaka and Steven Gerrard make up the more ‘defensive’ midfield roles, therefore it’s a good job you have Cannavaro, Terry, Nesta and Carles Puyol at the back with Gianluigi Buffon in goal
Iker Casillas; Carles Puyol, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Sergio Ramos; Kaka, Steven Gerrard, Xavi; Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Lionel Messi.
Iker Casillas has now taken over from Buffon’s reign, and will feature in the best XI up until 2013. Fernando Torres has been placed alongside the lethal combination of Ronaldo and Messi after an outstanding season at Liverpool, where he scored 33 goals in 46 games. You may have noticed that a little Spanish playmaker named Xavi has come in to tighten up the midfield. Keep an eye on him, he’s decent.
Iker Casillas; Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, John Terry, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Steven Gerrard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Lionel Messi.
Wow, Terry was really exceptional wasn’t he? The Chelsea defender made the FIFPro XI for the fifth year in a row. This year saw the emergence of Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra – who helped them reach another Champions League final – into the set-up, while Torres retained his spot alongside Ronaldo and Messi.
Iker Casillas; Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Lucio, Maicon; Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Wesley Sneijder, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Villa, Lionel Messi.
After Inter Milan’s sensational Champions League win, Maicon, Lucio and Wesley Sneijder were all brought into the 2010 first XI. Gerard Pique had started to emerge as one of the finest central defenders in world football, and other Barcelona superstars Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa were all selected, as Pep Guardiola started to create something special at the Camp Nou. This was also the first time the Premier League had no representative in the World XI, having had six in 2009 – including Ronaldo who moved from Man Utd to Real Madrid midway through the year.
Iker Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Nemanja Vidic, Dani Alves, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi.
The team of 2011 had many of the same faces from the previous year, and with Iniesta, Xavi, Ronaldo and Messi not going anywhere soon, it meant just one spot in midfield and one up front were up for grabs. Xabi Alonso’s wonderful performances for Real Madrid saw him grab a place in the XI, and Wayne Rooney was introduced for the first time after a successful season at Old Trafford.
Iker Casillas, Marcelo, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Xavi; Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao, Lionel Messi.
In 2012, Radamel Falcao was putting in some high-flying performances for Atletico Madrid and was rapidly turning into the best advanced forward in world football. The Colombian sits alongside Ronaldo and Messi, while Real Madrid’s Marcelo is brought into the defence in place of Nemanja Vidic.
Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva, Dani Alves; Franck Ribery, Andres Iniesta, Xavi; Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi.
A new goalkeeper has taken over from Casillas, who had been present in the last five teams. Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer was starting to prove himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Bayern’s impressive treble during the 2012/13 campaign, that saw them win the Bundesliga, Champions League and German Cup, made sure that Franck Ribery and Philipp Lahm (who surprisingly hadn’t made the team before) were included.
Manuel Neuer; Thiago Silva, Sergio Ramos, David Luiz, Philipp Lahm; Angel Di Maria, Toni Kroos, Andres Iniesta; Arjen Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi.
Perhaps the most random team was selected in 2014’s Ballon d’Or ceremony, with Paris Saint-Germain’s David Luiz and Angel Di Maria making the first XI. Arjen Robben’s inclusion alongside Ronaldo and Messi was also slightly surprising. Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and PSG’s Thiago Silva rightfully earned their place in the side.
Manuel Neuer; Marcelo, Thiago Silva, Sergio Ramos, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Luka Modric, Paul Pogba; Neymar, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Once more La Liga dominated as eight of the starting XI were selected from the Spanish top-flight, four players each from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Elsewhere, Thiago Silva of PSG was the only Ligue 1 representative, while Juventus’ Paul Pogba and Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, were the sole picks from Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga. In total, there were five changes from the FIFPro XI selected in 2014 with Bayern’s Lahm and Robben among those to drop out. Ronaldo and Messi were included for the ninth successive year.
Manuel Neuer; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric; Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi.
Antoine Griezmann, who was in the top three for the Player of the Year award, bizarrely missed out of the Team of the Year. Neuer represented Bayern as the only player not to play for either Barcelona or Real Madrid, although Dani Alves spent the second half of 2016 at Juventus. Thiago Silva, Neymar and Pogba all dropped out of the XI from the previous season.
Gianluigi Buffon; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Leonardo Bonucci, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric; Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi.
Just three changes came in the 2017 FIFPro XI with Buffon making his first appearance since 2006 after helping Juventus reach the Champions League final. Barcelona forward Neymar also regained his place from 2015, replacing Luis Suarez while Leonardo Bonucci took over from Gerard Pique.
David de Gea; Dani Alves, Raphael Varane, Serigo Ramos, Marcelo; Luka Modric, N’golo Kante, Eden Hazard; Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo
Five changes came in 2018 as Leonardo Bonucci’s fall from grace allowed Champions League and World Cup winner Raphael Varane to slip into the defence. David de Gea’s miracle season saw him pip everyone else to the goalkeeper spot. Chelsea pair Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kanté edged their way into the team for their World Cup exploits. Finally Kylian Mbappé emerged from Neymar’s shadow, powered again by World Cup glory, and replaced his Brazilian team-mate as the third forward.
Alisson Becker; Sergio Ramos, Matthijs de Ligt, Virgil van Dijk, Marcelo; Eden Hazard, Luka Modric, Frenkie de Jong; Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe
Just the four changes last year. Bearded beauty Alisson comes in goal whilst for the outfielders Sergio Ramos’ Teflon Don status was doubly confirmed as even the inclusion of two new centre-backs in Champions League winner Virgil van Dijk and teenage sensation Matthijs de Ligt couldn’t force him out of the side. Ramos made it nine straight selections (10 overall) as he moved to to right-back. Marcelo had the worst season of his career but is similarly impossible to dislodge so stays in for his fifth straight pick (sixth overall).
Midfield miracle Frenkie de Jong (of Ajax and now Barcelona) replaces N’Golo Kanté. Meanwhile the front three retained their places, even though everyone and their mum voted for Sadio Mané in their actual top threes for The Best, somehow Kylian Mbappé got in ahead of him.
Alisson Becker; Sergio Ramos, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alphonso Davies; Kevin De Bruyne, Thiago, Joshua Kimmich; Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo
Another year, another SIX changes to the team with a lot of Liverpool and Bayern Munich players coming in for winning the Premier League and Treble respectively. Trent Alexander-Arnold joins Liverpool teammates Van Dijk and Alisson in the back line while Ramos made it 10-in-a-row and Alphonso Davies kicked Marcelo out for his role in Bayern’s dominance.
There was a completely new midfield of Thiago, Kevin De Bruyne and Joshua Kimmich, replacing Eden Hazard, Luka Modric and Frenkie de Jong, again very Bayern-heavy. And completing a frightening attacking trio, in place of Kylian Mbappe, was Robert Lewandowski – who was also named The Best Men’s Player.
Gianluigi Donnnarumma; David Alaba, Leonardo Bonucci, Ruben Dias; Kevin De Bruyne, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante; Erling Haaland, Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo
Just four players kept their spots from 2020 for the latest FIFPro World XI which also brought a new formation, a very attacking 3-3-4. There’s a completely new back line with Gianluigi Donnarumma and Leonardo Bonucci honoured for their Euro 2020 win with Italy, while David Alaba and Ruben Dias made their World XI debuts. Kevin De Bruyne was the only midfielder to keep his place, with N’Golo Kante and Jorginho joining him having helped Chelsea win the Champions League – Jorginho also added the European Championships.
The formation change meant there was a new addition joining Messi, Ronaldo and Lewandowski, who also scooped up The Best Men’s Player for the second consecutive year. And the fourth attacker is less of a man and more of an android, with Erling Haaland recognised for yet another baffling season in front of goal.