Neymar, Pogba & Ronaldo: The Worst Best Starting XI We Could Imagine

Talent doesn't guarantee success. It doesn't take a genius or Ph.D. in history to know this. 

In the 2003-04 season, for example, Real Madrid boasted a ridiculous lineup including David Beckham, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, and Luis Figo. Halfway through the season, it looked as if they were going to steamroll everybody: They won their group in the Champions League and they topped the La Liga table. Los Blancos were humming. 

Then everything fell apart. 

After losing the Copa del Rey final in March, the team was ousted from European play by Monaco in the quarterfinals, and in Spain they lost their last five games (!) — and seven of their final 10 — to finish the season in fourth place. 

It happens in other sports too, of course. There's the bronze-medal Dream Team of 2004 and many editions of the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Yankees. 

So on a vaguely related note I decided to think of 11 top players in the world and put them on the same team in the worst possible combination. Here are the rules:

  1. Each player must be the only representative of his team (i.e., can't choose two Barcelona players, much as we may wish to).
  2. The player has to be considered one of the better or best at his position in the world (I may have cheated a little bit here, but I tried relatively hard to abide by the rule).

That's pretty much it. So here's the worst best starting 11:


Manager: Antonio Conte 

Luis Suarez

Cristiano Ronaldo | Neymar | Raheem Sterling

Paul Pogba | Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Marcelo | Harry Maguire | David Luiz | Kieran Trippier

Manuel Neuer

First of all, I should acknowledge that, yeah, this is obviously a very good team and is probably going to do some serious damage no matter what. But I think otherwise I've selected a pretty dysfunctional group of players, both as individuals and in tandem interactions, both in the "explosive personality" department and in terrible tactical combinations.

What's more, I added Antonio Conte to the mix as manager with a formation he doesn't really like but which, with this group of players, he essentially has to run. (I suppose he could also try a 4-2-4, but let's leave it like this for now). 

Let's get to the issues. Some are inherent (Neymar is a walking issue), some are caused by smaller combinations in a unit or flank, and some are caused by the fact that Conte is steering the ship. 

First, with the insanely intense and pressing Conte as manager, this is a team filled with guys who aren't really committed to defensive intensity. Even Max Allegri last year at Juventus could only get Ronaldo to retreat to the final third in the waning moments of a close game. Try telling Ronaldo, Neymar, and Suarez that they've got to be pressing for 90 minutes. Not going to end well! 

The next thing that jumps out to me is the absolutely shreddable left side of this team. This is probably the weakest link. Sure, in theory a Marcelo-Pogba-Ronaldo connection sounds like a walk in goal-scoring dreamland, but if the opponent has any pace on the right side — hell, even if they have one great right winger — my confidence level in the defensive abilities and commitment on that side is not very high. 

Looking at the attackers, I just can't imagine a Ronaldo-Neymar-Suarez trio getting along very well, and if they are getting along, I can't see them ever passing to poor Sterling on the right wing, who's a fantastic player probably going to be starved of touches in this scenario. This is going to cause a ripple effect of mood swings, really deflating Sterling and discouraging him from helping out Trippier in the fullback position. 

Speaking of the defense — how Maguire is going to sell for €75 million or whatever the price is now is beyond me, but the market says he's one of the best center backs in the world so I put him in here. The main liability under the pressing and Conte situation is his lack of pace; he's going to get burned one-on-one in counter-attacks with this outfit, since 90 percent of the team is going to be idling about in the attacking third; Luiz is just kind of shrimpy. 

The midfield is a thing that may happen — actually, we could wind up seeing Milinkovic-Savic and Maguire join Pogba at United; wouldn't that be something? — and again on paper it sounds very good. Offensively speaking, it'd be dynamite. Both Pogba and SMS are silky smooth, creative, and can whip the ball around the field. Neither, though, is what you'd call a defensive stalwart; nobody is going to mistake one of those guys for Casemiro.

Finally, Neuer isn't very good anymore; it's science. 

So there it is: the definitive worst best 11 in soccer. Let us know on Twitter if you've got an alternative worst best 11.

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