David Beckham, Andres Iniesta, Zinedine Zidane – which midfield maestro was the greatest to light up the Euros?
Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Micah Richards ranked the greatest midfielders of the European Championship in the latest Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast.
To hear how they made their final selections, make sure you listen to the podcast on BBC Sounds.
David Beckham – England (Shearer: 10th, Richards: 10th)
Beckham is England’s third most-capped player with 115 appearances, behind Peter Shilton (125) and Wayne Rooney (120). The former England captain scored 17 goals for the Three Lions and played in two European Championships: 2000 and 2004.
Shearer: He had the great technique of moving the ball a yard or two and whipping it out of your feet – it sounds simple, but not many people could stop him.
Richards: I passed it to him once, went round him, and he passed it back to me – I’m thinking, “Why on God’s earth are you giving the ball back to me!?”
Beckham has this aura. He was a superstar – I was star-struck. He was a global superstar, but so humble.
Paul Gascoigne – England (Shearer: 9th, Richards: 9th)
Attacking midfielder Gascoigne scored 10 goals in 57 games for England, including a spectacular volley in a 2-0 victory over Scotland in the Euro 96 group stages, which is widely recognised as one of the most iconic goals in recent history.
Shearer: Brilliant, natural talent. He was unbelievable – and everyone got on with him, everyone loved him. He was the idiot of the dressing room, but he was a nice idiot.
Lineker: Every single day he would do something to someone – some ridiculous thing – such as coming in an hour early and leaving a poo on the dressing room floor – you shouldn’t laugh, but…
Lothar Matthaus – Germany / West Germany (Shearer: 6th, Richards: 8th)
The1991 Fifa World Player of the Year, Matthaus played in four European Championships and a joint-record five Word Cups. He lifted the World Cup trophy with West Germany in 1990, gained 150 caps and scored 23 goals.
Lineker: I played against him in the World Cup semi-final. He was your archetypal up-and-down engine in midfield – old school. Steven Gerrard, Bryan Robson – that kind of player.
Shearer: He was a brilliant midfielder, he could put his foot in as well. He wasn’t shy to do that.
Andrea Pirlo – Italy (Shearer: 8th, Richards: 6th)
Deep-lying playmaker Pirlo is Italy’s fifth-most capped player with 116 caps. He was a World Cup winner in 2006 and played in three European Championships: 2004, 2008 and 2012 – the latter saw him score a Panenka penalty to help knock England out of the quarter-finals.
Richards: I was at Fiorentina and he was at Juventus – watching him, he was just effortless.
His touch, his technique, everything about him was amazing. He was elegant, he had his hair stroked back and all that – I wanted to be Italian!
Luis Figo – Portugal (Shearer: 7th, Richards: 7th)
Figo won 127 caps for Portugal – a record which has since been broken by Cristiano Ronaldo – scoring 32 goals. The playmaker, who famously left Barcelona for Real Madrid in 2000, helped his country reach the Euro 2004 final, where they were beaten by Greece.
Shearer: I played against him. As an all-rounder, as a winger, fit as. He could get up and down quick.
He was such a clever player and scored some great goals as well. He carried Portugal for a while, a bit like Ronaldo does now. He was an excellent player, superb.
Lineker: He could control a pig’s head! Barca against Real Madrid – Real Madrid went to the Camp Nou and someone threw a pig’s head at him!
Michel Platini – France (Shearer: 5th, Richards: 4th)
Former Uefa President Platini is the joint-leading all-time goal scorer at the European Championships, level with Cristiano Ronaldo, with nine goals. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner won the 1984 tournament with France, scoring nine goals (including two hat-tricks) in five games.
Lineker: What a player. I actually played half a game with Platini. It was the Rest of the World against an English league XI, which sounds a bit odd but I was at Barcelona at the time.
Every run I made I saw Platini’s vision and passing ability – let alone the fact he scored a load of goals as well.
Ruud Gullit – Netherlands (Shearer: 4th, Richards: 5th)
Ballon d’Or winner Gullit captained the Netherlands side that won Euro 98. The versatile midfielder scored 17 goals in 66 games for his country. He later managed Newcastle United for a brief period.
Shearer: We had a night out together in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup and I said: ‘You know, if you’d been this nice when you managed me, you might still have been manager of Newcastle!’ But what a player.
We played Sunderland at St James’ Park. I got to the dressing room and found out I wasn’t playing. The team sheet was up on the board, he didn’t even tell me – he left me and Duncan Ferguson out. That was it – Sunderland beat us and he got sacked the next morning or left.
I went to see him and I took the kids into school early and parked at 8:30, thinking, ‘I’m gonna be first in there’ – but Big Dunc was already there and screaming at Ruud before I got into the office. That was it, he was gone.
Xavi (Shearer: 3rd, Richards: 3rd) and Andres Iniesta – Spain (Shearer: 2nd, Richards: 2nd)
Spain had not won a major tournament for 44 years before 2008. They then dominated European football for the next six years, winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, with iconic duo Xavi and Andres Iniesta running the midfield. Xavi has 133 caps, Iniesta has 131 and both scored 13 goals.
Shearer: Can you imagine being lucky enough to have played up front in either the Barcelona or Spain team with Xavi and Iniesta?
Richards: That’s why we get so excited when we see people like Phil Foden – not because I’m comparing him to them, but because of the way he moves on the ball, the way he gets into the spaces.
Shearer: Normally, I’d laugh at you for comparing any young player to Xavi and Iniesta, but I wouldn’t with Foden.
Zinedine Zidane (Shearer: 1st, Richards: 1st)
Three-time Fifa World Player of the Year Zidane won Euro 2000 with France and was named Player of the Tournament. He was a World Cup winner in 1998, the same year he won the Ballon d’Or, scoring twice in the final. He is France’s fourth-most capped player with 108 caps and 31 goals, having played in three European Championships.
Shearer: The best player I ever played against, by some distance as well. All of these players made the game look very easy, but he was so good, it was outrageous. Left foot, right foot, balance – his balance was just scary.
Lineker: It was his grace. He was a big guy, but he was balletic – the way he’d bring down the ball – he was an artist. A gorgeous footballer, who could score brilliant goals and create.