We could have done a Best XI. But does the world need one more testament to how seminal Pelé was? Here is the Badass XI, a tribute to players who were great, but also cool in their own unique ways. Machismo and force of personality were strongly selected for. We’re also suckers for classy, steely-eyed Italians. Apologies to George Best and Eric Cantona, who never appeared in a World Cup. This team won’t be doing a lot of tracking back, but good luck trying to wrest the ball from them.
F: Diego Maradona [Argentina]
Pelé did everything right. Maradona did everything wrong, most often deliberately. The Argentine was a cad, a cheat and a cocaine addict. He never took care of himself. He had few traits that spur one toward success in life. But he definitely had it. Without Maradona, Argentina would be a land of meat, military dictators and soccer thugs. FIFA had to invent a second “Player of the Century” award, after Maradona crushed Pelé in the popular vote.
F: Johan Cruyff [Netherlands]
Cruyff looked like a rock star of the era, and played like one. His most famous performance ended in defeat. His most famous move resulted in nothing. Nonetheless, he still set a tone with the Netherlands, Barcelona and Ajax that his predecessors, some all-time greats in their own right, were only trying to emulate.
F: Garrincha [Brazil]
Soccer’s ultimate soloist. Garrincha is regarded as soccer’s greatest dribbler. The “Olé” chant purportedly began with him running circles around defenders, just to screw with them. He cared about two things, football and women. He pursued them with such tunnel vision he (possibly apocryphally) did not understand Brazil had won the 1958 World Cup after the final.
M: Zinedine Zidane [France]
Few men can pull off being a fashion icon and an embodiment of athletic grace and beauty, while also being flagrantly bald. Zidane won everything there was to win, with a style fit for an art film. He’d do it differently, given a second chance. But is there more of a badass way to leave the game then leveling a dick with a devastating head butt?
M: Carlos Valderrama [Colombia]
Valderrama passed with a precision and restraint that was the antithesis of his beaded jewelry and ridiculous blonde afro. He even made late 1990s MLS cool for a hot minute there.
M: Andrea Pirlo [Italy]
Pirlo’s passes are like silk. He scores goals Ronaldinho finds filthy. His trademark is the freaking panenka. There’s also the flawless style, the suave, late career beard move and his vineyard in Brescia. The only thing that can humanize Pirlo? Being forced to wear football equpiment.
M: Socrates [Brazil]
Socrates was captain of Brazil’s 1982 World Cup team, the coolest of Brazil teams. He also earned a medical degree while playing professional soccer and led one of the major pro-democracy protest movements against Brazil’s military dictatorship. He looked phenomenal in a head band, which is difficult to pull off. Unfortunately, he cultivated his drinking and smoking habits with a bit too much zest.
D: Paolo Maldini [Italy]
Maldini is the consummate gentleman, on and off the pitch. He’s basically the anti-John Terry. Widely believed to be among (if not the) best defender of all time, he had more than 1,000 appearances for Italy and AC Milan and one red card, in a friendly. Maldini lost the 1994 World Cup Final, but lifted the Champions League trophy five times. He also brought unparalleled steely-eye game.
D: Fabio Cannavaro [Italy]
Cannavaro captained Italy to a World Cup triumph and won the Ballon d’Or. He did it all will being that, absurdly handsome. As if that was not enough, there are unconfirmed rumors he was the Italian player Dolce and Gabbana had to “digitally reduce” for decency in the infamous 2006 World Cup underwear ad.
D: Franz Beckenbauer [Germany]
The list just wouldn’t have been complete without “Der Kaiser.” Great defender, great on the ball, great leader and an imperious arrogance that earned him that nickname. It’s hard to do something more badass on a soccer field than stay on the field for a 120-minute World Cup semifinal after suffering a broken clavicle. We’ll forgive him his possible involvement in FIFA corruption.
GK: Gigi Buffon [Italy]
Goalkeepers, as in hockey, tend to be weirdos. It’s hard to find one who is cool. Scorpion Kicks? Cool. Imprisonment for involvement in a kidnapping scandal and jarring plastic surgery? Not so cool. Buffon is the choice because, if we are spending this much time remixing an anthem for this team based on Lou Reed tracks and Beastie Boys B-sides, we need someone to emote the shit out of it.
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