The British footballers fantasy league: Kevin's XI

Laurence Griffiths

I picked a lot of Manchester United players. It wasn't intentional.

We didn't forget about this, Ryan and I just got busy. We'll wrap up unveiling our squads this week, then actually get to playing out some games after we've come down from the North London Derby. Everyone is going to hate my side, because I look like a blatant Manchester United homer. I choose to believe that I do not have a subconscious United bias, and that I simply picked the best players that were available to me when I picked.

Goalkeepers

Peter Shilton - The all-time leader for England caps is rivaled by only Gordon Banks, Eyebrow's keeper, when it comes to British keepers. I picked him up 28 picks after Banks went off the board, so I was very satisfied with the value I got here. Shilton holds the unique distinction of having played over 100 times in the league for five different clubs, and he played in over 1000 league matches over four separate decades. He had his longest spell at his boyhood club, Leicester City, but is probably best known for winning the First Division once and the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest.

Scott Carson - I think I gave myself the crappiest backup keeper.

Defenders

Jack Charlton - The less famous of the Charlton brothers, Jack is one of the finest central defenders that the British isles have ever produced. A one-club man, he joined Leeds United as a kid in 1950 and stuck with the club for more than 20 years. He holds the club record for appearances at Leeds United, and was a key part of England's 1966 World Cup triumph.

Norman Hunter - I took my second central defender a bit later than most of my co-authors, and my options for truly world class players weren't excellent when I got there. I felt like, with a number of very similar guys available, the tiebreaker was familiarity. For years, Charlton and Hunter played together at Leeds, and Hunter was also a member of the World Cup-winning side. He provides some of that old English grit and bite to compliment Charlton's more well-rounded game.

Duncan Edwards - Edwards was the most famous of the Busby Babes that died as a result of the Munich air disaster. At the time of his death, Edwards had already played 177 matches for Manchester United and been capped by England 18 times. He was just 21-years-old. A wing half in the 1950s, Edwards would likely be an attack-minded right back in modern football. I, like everyone else, had a lot of trouble evaluating Edwards for this draft, but I felt like he was worth a pick at 33rd overall. Hell, he only went five picks before Owen Hargraeves.

Kenny Sansom - Here's an Arsenal legend, everyone feel free to throw things at me. He was a class left back who was an automatic starter for England for a decade, and he was named to the PFA first division team of the year in eight consecutive years.

Pat Rice - Whoops, another Arsenal great. Rice was picked up due to necessity. We needed to have someone from each home nation in our team, and Rice is without a doubt one of the six finest players to ever come out of Northern Ireland.

Billy McNeill - A key member of the Lisbon Lions, McNeill captained Celtic to a European Cup victory in 1967. The central defender never played for any other club during his professional career, and he's employed by the team as their official club ambassador. When Celtic truly was a world power, he was one of their best.

Midfielders

And here is where the Manchester United "bias" comes in. Somehow, through absolutely zero intention at all, I ended up with a starting midfield comprised of five Manchester United players. If you go back to Ashlock's original post with the first 30 players selected and you think I made a significant reach for any of these guys, you are insane.

Bobby Charlton - This decision was made for me. I love Danny Blanchflower, but Charlton falling to 3rd was a gift. I rated George Best, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton as my inseparable top three and was going to select any of them if they fell to me at No. 4. One of them did. I probably don't need to tell you about Charlton, but I might as well follow along with the theme of this series. He's widely considered to be the greatest English attacker of all time, and was a key player in the 1966 World Cup winning side. He was the winner of the 1966 World Cup Golden Ball and European Ballon d'Or, and scored 249 goals in 758 games from midfield for Manchester United.

Paul Scholes - 'In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen - the most complete - is Scholes.' -Xavi Hernandez

Nobby Stiles - The British Isles are loaded with spectacular box-to-box players, but they're light on true defensive midfielders. Why do you think Ashlock reached for Hargreaves? There simply aren't that many of them. So, I made an early move to get the man who marked Eusebio out of the 1966 World Cup semifinal. He's one of the finest ball-winners in the history of British football, and won the league and European Cup while playing with Bobby Charlton at Manchester United.

David Beckham - I had a very hard time selecting Beckham. On one hand, he was overrated for years on end because of his free kicks and fame. On the other hand, his delivery really has been world class for the better part of two decades, and he fits my team very well. Not because he's a former United star, you jerks, but because he's about as technically sound of a right winger as you're going to find in Britain. With Charlton and Scholes, I can keep the ball better than the rest of the sides in this exercise, and Beckham fits the rest of the team. This dude was rock solid for Madrid and Milan. He's taken a beating from meatheads on $30k a year in MLS. He's been everywhere and done it all. He deserves plenty of criticism for being a complete knob most of the time, but I think it's caused people to devalue his footballing talent. He went from the most overrated footballer in England to the most underrated in a period of about seven years.

Ryan Giggs - I don't care what Cliff Jones did for the club we support. You can't justify Mechanick taking him over Giggs for reasons other than sentiment. It's outrageous. Giggs is beyond a shadow of a doubt the most consistent footballer that has played in my lifetime.

Ian Callaghan - While he's certainly no superstar, Callaghan was a great all-around midfielder to pick up late in the draft. He's Liverpool's all-time appearances leader, and his list of trophies won is impressive: Five First Division titles, two European Cups, two FA Cups. He's a brilliant late-game sub, either to pack the midfield and hold onto a lead, or to provide a more balanced/attacking option than Stiles if we need a goal.

Bobby Lennox - This is my second Lisbon Lions member, an explosive left winger with a knack for scoring goals. Lennox was voted to Celtic's all-time best XI by their fans. Legend has it that Bobby Charlton once said that he could have played forever if he had Lennox by his side. Lucky for Bobby, he'll have Lennox as a game-changing sub in this exercise.

Darren Anderton - With my final pick, I decided to take a beloved Tottenham Hotspur star, and one that leaves us wondering what could have been. Until his injury-plagued 1995-96 season, Anderton was a star on the rise. Injuries continued to plague his next two years. He recovered to become a very solid professional into the early 2000s, but he was never the same. Could he have been a true Tottenham and England legend if he never got hurt? It's tough to say.

Strikers

Geoff Hurst - Because of the incredible depth at the striker position in this draft, I decided to sit on a striker for a while. With my 11th round pick, I filled out my starting XI with the only player to ever score a hat trick in a World Cup final. Besides that famous World Cup, Hurst also scored just about once every other game over his 49-game England career and scored double-digit goals in the top flight 11 times. He scored more than 20 goals in three seasons. He was picked 39 spots below Michael Owen.

Wayne Rooney - Don't like this pick? Get over it. He can play two positions and his strike rate is better than -- wait for it -- Michael Owen. He was called a player on the decline and was thought of as generally shit in a year where he scored 11 league goals. He then scored 27 the next season. I picked him after Robbie Fowler. This is absolute lunacy. Rooney in the 15th round is a gift. If you guys come back to this in 10 years, you will be pissing yourself laughing that Rooney fell to 88.

My team is displayed in red and white because seriously screw you guys.

football formations

I have my team set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, and I think that we should be able to control the ball well with two wingers that are probably more technically adept than they are athletic -- though Giggs was pretty dang fast in his prime -- along with two absurdly technically gifted players in Scholes and Charlton and a ball-winner in Stiles. Edwards is going to get up the flank more frequently than Sansom, and Stiles/Beckham will need to account for that.

I envision my team being less able to create fast, counter-attacking goals than all other teams in this competition, but I feel like I have the strongest and most well-balanced midfield, and that my team will be able to control games. With the best English attacker ever in the hole and Beckham's set pieces, we're going to get a lot of goals out of nothing.

Know when Barcelona plays a team that they're obviously superior to, but that poses a significant threat, and they sit on a 1-0 lead by not attacking much and just holding possession really easily? I think this team would do a lot of that whether I coached them to or not. I didn't go into the draft looking to do that, I just picked up what I thought were the best available players early, then built around them. I thought Charlton and Scholes were the best available players when I selected them, and my subsequent picks were based on what was needed to help them play their best. Since I picked up Stiles, I really don't know who's going to be able to win the ball off Scholes and Charlton.

Now, go ahead and call me a United homer.

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