Another day, another all-time XI from one of the top leagues in Europe. Serie A was possibly the best league in the world at the turn of the century attracting players from all across the world. Both Milan teams dominated in the European competitions, whereas in the league they had tough challenges from the likes of Roma, Juventus, Parma, and many more. The difficulty in picking a Serie A all-time XI is in the defense, they have produced some of the world’s greatest defensive players ever and still continue to use the defense as a cornerstone when it comes to tactics. Although most of the European leagues have moved on to a quick-paced, high attacking style of play, Serie A has merged this with their impressive defensive capabilities.
If you missed yesterday’s All-Time XI please check out my Bundesliga article below including some of the best German internationals ever to step onto a pitch.
Goalkeeper – Gianluigi Buffon
Although this seems the easiest decision for the back line, trust me it really wasn’t. Serie A has held host to some of the greatest ever goalkeepers such as Júlio César, Dino Zoff, Angelo Peruzzi, and current Italian number one Gianluigi Donnarumma. However, I have opted for the most famous of all in Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon is a household name across the world when it comes to the conversation of goalkeepers and is even considered the greatest shot-stopper ever, juggling his name with Russian legend Lev Yashin.
Buffon is still an active member of the Juventus side aged 42 after returning from a season away from the ‘Old Lady’ when he joined PSG in 2018. He has made an incredible 891 appearances in Italy between current club Juventus and the club he started his career at Parma. Buffon holds the record for the longest streak without conceding a goal in Serie A history: over 12 league matches, he went unbeaten for 974 consecutive minutes during the 2015-2016 season, achieving the most consecutive clean sheets (10) during that run. Buffon also holds the record for the cleanest sheets and most appearances in Serie A, and with the Italy national team. He is one of the few recorded players to have made over 1,000 professional career appearances.
Breaking into the Parma in 1995 Buffon would go on to win an impressive 10 Serie A titles, 1 Serie B title (when Juventus were relegated for match-fixing), 5 Coppa Italia’s, 6 Supercoppa Italiana, and 1 UEFA Cup. At an international level, Buffon managed to win the 2006 World Cup and cement himself as possibly Italy’s best goalkeeper ever. The only trophy that has alluded Buffon up until now is the Champions League however, he has played in 2 Champions League finals.
Right Back – Javier Zanetti
Javier Zanetti was one of the most important players to ever lace up a pair of boots for Inter Milan, playing as both a right-back and a central defensive midfielder, we have opted for Zanetti to play in his preferred position as a right back. With 1,114 official games played, he is seventh on the list of players in history with the most career appearances. He is also the foreign player with the most appearances in Serie A (615) and holds the fourth-most appearances in the league. He holds the record for the most appearances in the history of Inter (858), and won 16 trophies with the club: five Scudetti, four Coppa Italia, four Supercoppa Italiana, one UEFA Cup, one Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup. He also has the most appearances as captain in the Champions League (82).
Upon his retirement in 2014 Inter Milan retired the number 4 shirt in a sign of respect to the Argentine for his commitment and heroics for the club. Zanetti earned the nickname El Tractor for his stamina and tireless energetic runs up and down the wings to aid both attack and defense. He was known amongst his teammates for consistency and fitness regime, which he has credited with prolonging his career. Zanetti was a quick, strong, and physically fit player in his prime, with outstanding physical attributes, excellent ball control, dribbling, technical ability, and acceleration. Defensively, he excelled at reading the game, and he was a good ball-winner and man-marker, although he was also effective at distributing the ball to teammates, due to his passing range and vision.
A defender who would be the calming influence on any side and with the composure to handle the big occasion, Zanetti played the game in a way the only some could dream of. A true legend not only to Inter but to the world of football.
Centre Backs – Franco Baresi and Alessandro Nesta
Two if the most decorated centre backs in the history of football, the AC Milan pairing just squeezed out some of the toughest competition for me. The likes of Lucio, Walter Samuel, Georgio Chiellini, Ivan Cordoba, and Marco Materazzi.
Baresi mainly played as a sweeper or as a central defender, and spent his entire 20-year career with Serie A club Milan, captaining the club for 15 seasons. He is considered one of the greatest defenders of all-time and was ranked 19th in World Soccer magazine’s list of the 100 greatest players of the 20th century. With Milan, he won three UEFA Champions League titles, six Serie A titles, four Supercoppa Italiana titles, two European Super Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups.
With the Italy national team, he was a member of the Italian squad that won the 1982 FIFA World Cup. He also played in the 1990 World Cup, where he was named in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team, finishing third in the competition. At the 1994 World Cup, he was named Italy’s captain and was an integral part of the squad that reached the final, although he would miss a penalty in the resulting shoot-out as Brazil lifted the trophy. Baresi also represented Italy at two UEFA European Championships, in 1980 and 1988, and at the 1984 Olympics, reaching the semi-finals on each occasion.
Whereas fellow AC Milan defender Nesta is also considered to be one of the best centre backs of his time and also as one of the greatest defenders ever, he was best known for his pace, artistic tackles, elegance on the ball, distribution, and tight marking of opponents. He made over 400 Serie A appearances in a 20-year career spread between Lazio and Milan, winning domestic and European honours with both clubs.
Later in his career, he played in Major League Soccer (MLS) for the Montreal Impact, and for Chennaiyin FC of the Indian Super League. Nesta is a four-time Serie A Defender of the Year and a four-time member of the annual UEFA Team of the Year. In 2004, he was named as one of the Top 100 greatest living footballers as part of FIFA’s 100th-anniversary celebration.
Nesta was a member of the Italy national team for a decade from his debut in 1996, earning 78 caps in total. At the international level, he competed at the 1996 Olympics, three UEFA European Championships, and three FIFA World Cups. Nesta was a member of the Italian team that won the 2006 World Cup, and he also represented the Italian side that reached the final of Euro 2000.
Left Back – Paolo Maldini
I imagine most people reading my centre back choice thought I was going to miss out on possibly the greatest Italian player of all time. But I’ve opted for Maldini playing out wide rather than through the centre of the defense.
He is widely regarded as one of the greatest ever defenders, and as one of the greatest players of all time. As the Milan and Italy captain for many years, he was nicknamed “Il Capitano” (“The Captain”). Maldini held the record for most appearances in Serie A, with 647, until 2020, when he was overtaken by Gianluigi Buffon. He is currently serving as technical director for Milan, as well as being co-owner of the USL Championship club Miami FC.
Maldini spent all 25 seasons of his playing career in Serie A with Milan, before retiring at the age of 41 in 2009. He won 25 trophies with Milan: the UEFA Champions League five times, seven Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia, five Supercoppa Italiana titles, five European Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, and one FIFA Club World Cup. Maldini won the Best Defender trophy at the UEFA Club Football Awards at the age of 39, as well as the Serie A Defender of the Year Award in 2004. Following his retirement after the 2008–09 season, Milan retired his number 3 shirt.
Maldini captained Italy for eight years and held the record for appearances as Italy’s captain (74) until he was again overtaken by Cannavaro and Buffon. With Italy, Maldini took part in four FIFA World Cups and three UEFA European Championships. Although he did not win a tournament with Italy, he reached the final of the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000, and the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1988. He was elected into the all-star teams for each of these tournaments, in addition to Euro 1996.
Central Defensive Midfielder – Daniele De Rossi
Another tough decision for this position, I got it down to two but eventually chose Rossi over Gatusso.
De Rossi made his professional debut with Roma during the 2001–02 season and made his Serie A debut the following year. With the club, he won the Coppa Italia twice in 2007 and 2008, and the 2007 Supercoppa Italiana. He was named Serie A Young Footballer of the Year in 2006, and the Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year in 2009. De Rossi inherited the captaincy of Roma at the start of the 2017–18 season, following the retirement of Francesco Totti, during which he helped Roma to the Champions League semi-final for the first time in the Champions League era.
With 616 appearances for Roma in all competitions, he is the club’s second-most capped player of all time, behind Totti. He subsequently joined Argentine club Boca Juniors in the summer of 2019 and retired from professional football in January of the following year.
From his senior international debut in 2004, until his retirement from the national team in 2017, he earned 117 caps and is Italy’s fourth-highest capped player of all time. With 21 goals, he is the highest-scoring midfielder for Italy post-World War II and Italy’s all-time second most prolific midfielder behind Adolfo Baloncieri. He was part of the 2006 FIFA World Cup-winning squad. The tough-tackling defensive midfielder was known for being a consistent player with a deadly long shot and very high footballing IQ.
Central Midfield – Andrea Pirlo, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona
3 of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game. Pirlo, Platini and Maradona are considered as footballing royalty and have all stamped their names into the history during their time in the Serie A.
Considered to be one of the greatest deep-lying playmakers of all time, Pirlo was renowned for his vision, ball control, technique, creativity, passing, and free-kick ability.
Pirlo began his club career in 1995 as an attacking midfielder with hometown club Brescia, winning the Serie B in 1997. He signed for Serie A club Inter Milan a year later, but limited game time and loans away from the club saw him sold to cross-city rivals Milan in 2001. There, Pirlo matured into a world-class deep-lying playmaker and won two Serie A titles, two UEFA Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, a FIFA Club World Cup, a Coppa Italia, and a Supercoppa Italiana.
He departed Milan for Juventus in 2011, where he won four consecutive Serie A titles, as well as two Supercoppa Italiana titles, and another Coppa Italia. At the international level, Pirlo played 116 matches for the Italian national football team, which is the fifth-most of all time. He made his senior debut in 2002 and captained his nation to a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics. Pirlo was instrumental in Italy’s triumph at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, winning the Bronze Ball and being elected to the Team of the Tournament.
Tactically, Pirlo was capable of playing in several midfield positions but was usually deployed by his club and national teams as a central midfielder, in the role of a deep-lying playmaker, due to his vision and passing accuracy. A highly technical and creative player, Pirlo is regarded by players, managers, and pundits as one of the greatest ever players in his position; throughout his career, he was considered as one of the greatest midfielders in the world and of his generation, and as one of the greatest Italian players ever.
During his career, Platini played for the club’s Nancy, Saint-Étienne, and Juventus. Nicknamed Le Roi (The King) for his ability and leadership. Despite primarily serving as an advanced midfield playmaker, he was a prolific goalscorer; he won the Serie A capocannoniere award three consecutive times between 1983 and 1985 and was the top scorer of Juventus’s victorious 1984–85 European Cup campaign.
Platini was a key player of the France national team that won the 1984 European Championship, a tournament in which he was the top scorer and best player, and reached the semi-finals of the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
Platini is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time and is regarded as one of the finest passers in football history, as well as one of the best ever penalty kick and free-kick specialists to have played the game. A quick, versatile, elegant, and intelligent offensive midfield playmaker, with a unique ability to read the game and bend the ball from set-pieces, he was renowned in particular for his ball control, technical ability, dribbling skills, creativity, range of passing, and vision, despite his lack of notable physical or athletic attributes.
Maradona is widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time. He was one of the two joint winners of the Fifa player of the 20th Century award. Maradona’s vision, passing, ball control, and dribbling skills were combined with his small stature (1.65 m or 5 ft 5 in), which gave him a low center of gravity allowing him to maneuver better than most other football players; he would often dribble past multiple opposing players on a run.
An advanced playmaker who operated in the classic number 10 position, Maradona was the first player in football history to set the world record transfer fee twice, first when he transferred to Barcelona for a then-world record £5 million, and second, when he transferred to Napoli for another record fee £6.9 million. He played for Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, and Newell’s Old Boys during his club career, and is most famous for his time at Napoli and Barcelona where he won numerous accolades.
At Napoli, Maradona reached the peak of his professional career: he soon inherited the captain’s armband from Napoli veteran defender Giuseppe Bruscolotti and quickly became an adored star among the club’s fans; in his time there he elevated the team to the most successful era in its history. Maradona played for Napoli at a period when north-south tensions in Italy were at a peak due to a variety of issues, notably the economic differences between the two. Led by Maradona, Napoli won their first-ever Serie A Italian Championship in 1986–87. Goldblatt wrote, “The celebrations were tumultuous. A rolling series of impromptu street parties and festivities broke out contagiously across the city in a round-the-clock carnival which ran for over a week.
Napoli would win their second league title in 1989–90, and finish runners up in the league twice, in 1987–88 and 1988–89. Other honours during the Maradona era at Napoli included the Coppa Italia in 1987, (as well as a second-place finish in the Coppa Italia in 1989), the UEFA Cup in 1989, and the Italian Supercup in 1990. Maradona was the top scorer in Serie A in 1987–88, with 15 goals, and was the all-time leading goalscorer for Napoli, with 115 goals, until his record was broken by Marek Hamšík in 2017.
Right Striker – Alessandro Del Piero
Del Piero is one of the greatest Italian players of all time and one of the greatest strikers of all time. A technically gifted and creative supporting forward who was also a free-kick specialist, Del Piero is widely regarded by players, pundits, and managers as one of the greatest players of his generation.
A prolific goal-scorer, he is currently the second-highest all-time Italian top-scorer in all competitions, with 346 goals, behind only Silvio Piola, with 390 goals; he is also the joint ninth-highest goalscorer in Serie A history, with 188 goals, alongside Giuseppe Signori and Alberto Gilardino.
After beginning his career with Italian club Padova in Serie B in 1991, he moved to Juventus in 1993, where he played for 19 seasons (11 as captain), and holds the club records for most goals (290) and appearances (705). During his time at the club, he won six Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia, four Supercoppa Italiana titles, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the UEFA Intertoto Cup, and the Intercontinental Cup. After leaving the club in 2012, he also spent two seasons with the Australian side Sydney FC; he retired after a season with Delhi Dynamos FC in the Indian Super League, in 2014.
At the international level, Del Piero has also represented the Italian national team at three FIFA World Cups and four UEFA European Football Championships, most notably winning the 2006 FIFA World Cup and reaching the final of UEFA Euro 2000 with Italy. He is the joint fourth-highest scorer for the Italian national team, with 27 goals, alongside Roberto Baggio, and behind only Silvio Piola with 30 goals, Giuseppe Meazza with 33 goals, and Luigi Riva with 35 goals; with 91 appearances for Italy between 1995 and 2008, he is also his nation’s eleventh-most capped player of all-time.
Left Striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
There could only be one man, the man who doesn’t do tryouts and the man with the most confidence on and off the pitch, Zlatan. He is one of the most decorated active footballers in the world, having won 31 trophies in his career. He has scored over 550 career goals and has scored in each of the last four decades.
Ibrahimović began his career at Malmö FF in 1999 and signed for Ajax two years later. At Ajax, Ibrahimović gained a reputation as one of the most promising forwards in Europe and departed two years later to sign for Juventus. He excelled in Serie A in a strike partnership with David Trezeguet, before joining domestic rivals Inter Milan in 2006, where he won the Capocannoniere (Serie A top scorer) in 2008–09 and won three consecutive Serie A titles.
In the summer of 2009, he moved to Barcelona in one of the world’s most expensive transfers, before returning to Italy the following season, joining Milan. With them, he won another Serie A title in the 2010–11 season, after spells away with PSG, Manchester United and LA Galaxy Zlatan returned to AC Milan at the start of 2020.
Ibrahimović has been described by ESPN as being “good in the air, quick, tall, strong and agile, he plays well with his back to goal and boasts some of the best finishing, vision, passing and ball control around.” A versatile and well-rounded footballer, from a tactical standpoint, Ibrahimović is capable of playing anywhere along the front line, due to his ability to both create and score goals for his team, although he is most often deployed as a striker, due to his composure and eye for goal.
With 142 appearances for the Brazil national team, he is the most internationally capped Brazilian player of all time. He represented his nation in four FIFA World Cups between 1994 and 2006 and is the only player to have appeared in three consecutive World Cup finals, winning the 1994 and 2002 editions of the tournament, the latter as his team’s captain where he lifted the World Cup trophy. With Brazil, he also took part in four editions of the Copa América, winning the title twice, in 1997 and 1999; he was also a member of the national side that won the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Known for his pace and energetic attacking runs along the right flank, he is regarded as one of the greatest full-backs of all time, one of the best defenders ever to play in the Italian Serie A, and as one of the greatest Brazilian and South American players of his generation.
At Roma Cafu won the Scudetto in 2001, followed by the Supercoppa Italiana. It was during his tenure at Roma that Cafu earned the nickname Il Pendolino (“The Express Train” or “The Commuter”). Despite making the Coppa Italia final in 2003 with Roma, he moved to Milan after turning down a move to Japan with Yokohama F. Marinos. With the Rossoneri, he won his second career Scudetto in 2004, followed by his second Supercoppa Italiana, and he played in his first UEFA Champions League final in 2005.
He is often referred to as Er Bimbo de Oro (The Golden Boy), L’Ottavo Re di Roma (The Eighth King of Rome), Er Pupone (The Big Baby), Il Capitano (The Captain), and Il Gladiatore (The Gladiator) by the Italian sports media. A creative offensive playmaker renowned for his vision, technique, and goalscoring ability, Totti is considered to be one of the greatest Italian players of all time and Roma’s greatest ever player.
Totti spent his entire career at Roma, winning a Serie A title, two Coppa Italia titles, and two Supercoppa Italiana titles. He is the second-highest scorer of all time in Italian league history with 250 goals and is the sixth-highest scoring Italian in all competitions with 316 goals.
Totti is the top goalscorer and the most capped player in Roma’s history, holds the record for the most goals scored in Serie A while playing for a single club, and also holds the record for the youngest club captain in the history of Serie A. In November 2014, Totti extended his record as the oldest goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history, aged 38 years and 59 days.
A 2006 FIFA World Cup winner and UEFA Euro 2000 finalist with Italy, Totti was selected in the All-Star team for both tournaments.
Throughout his career, he played predominantly as a classic number 10, functioning either as an offensive-midfield playmaker or as a supporting or deep-lying forward behind the main striker; only in the later years of his Roma career was he mainly employed as a lone striker. An elegant, world-class, and technically gifted attacking midfielder with a good knowledge of the game, Totti was a tactically versatile player, capable of playing anywhere along the front line, and was also occasionally deployed as a winger or as a central midfielder under Zdeněk Zeman, and most notably as a false-9 under Luciano Spalletti and Rudi Garcia.
Kaká made his professional club debut at age 18 at São Paulo in Brazil in 2001, and his performances with the club led him to join Serie A club Milan in 2003. In Italy, Kaká helped Milan finish runners up in the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final with him being the top assist provider of the tournament, and named the UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year. Two years later, he led Milan to win the 2007 UEFA Champions League Final and was the tournament’s top goal scorer.
His performances saw him win the FIFA World Player of the Year, the 2007 Ballon d’Or, the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year, and the IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker awards. Although his stint in the Serie A was short and sweet, the Brazilian magician’s best playing days were while he was at AC Milan.
Regarded as one of the best players of his generation, Kaká has been described on the FIFA website as having the “capacity to glide almost effortlessly past opponents, provide defense-splitting passes and score consistently from distance.” During his prime at Milan in the mid to late 2000s, and prior to the injuries he suffered at Real Madrid which affected his mobility, Kaká was a quick, agile, hard-working, highly skillful, and creative team player with great pace, ball control, movement, and balance, capable of dribbling past defenders in one on one situations as well as during counterattacks.
And that’s my All-Time XI for the Serie A, there are notable absentees from the team such as Fabio Cannavaro, Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, and many more. Let me know in the comments below who would make your squad and who you would replace.