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Rio Ferdinand's toughest ever Champions League XI

Rio Ferdinand's toughest ever Champions League XI

Rio Ferdinand's toughest ever Champions League XI

Steven Gerrard may have had the Hollywood passes but now Rio Ferdinand’s got the Hollywood makeup.

Starring in The Substitute, a new Heineken campaign which sees the former Manchester United defender switching places with an office worker so the fan doesn’t miss his Champions League game, Ferdinand’s been transformed by Robert Kurtzman, he behind the film prosthetics from Scream to Hulk.

To mark Ferdinand’s stunt, we asked him to assemble his all-time toughest Champions League opponents into a dream team. Electing for a 4-3-3, his XI won’t disappoint you.

Victor Valdes [goalkeeper]

"He was great, so comfortable with his feet. He was almost like a sweeper in the Barcelona defence in his heyday. Part of a team that changed the way football was played, he beat me twice in two cup finals. He was so underrated at Barcelona, because his team had the ball 70 per cent of the time. Ask a kid these days what makes a good goalkeeper and they’ll say they've got to be a good shot-stopper and have to be good with their feet."


Roberto Carlos [left-back]

"Part of the Galacticos at Real Madrid, a maverick in how he played, Carlos was the first modern day left back who became renowned for his attacking skill. He revolutionised that position. Luckily he didn’t score one of his swerving free kicks in the games he played against me, but his skills on the ball were obvious to see."

Cafu [right-back]

"The train. An absolute machine. The energy he had running up and down the touchline, doing it with a smile on his face, was a pleasure to watch. Cafu was a better defender than his compatriot Roberto Carlos but both transformed those full back positions."

Roberto Ayala [centre back]

"I played against Ayala as a young lad at Leeds when he was at Valencia. We played in the Champions League semi-finals and they beat us 3-0. We’d been scoring freely and didn’t get one against them. He was phenomenal, outstanding. He was 5’10 but could jump like he was 7’3. He was a typical Argentinian player: strong, resolute, aggressive, quick – all the attributes you need to be a top defender."

Paolo Maldini [centre back]

"Very composed, perfect athleticism and so good looking it was a joke. Strikers were probably put off the game just watching his cheekbones for 90 minutes. He was a mainstay, a one-club man for AC Milan. A top player."

Sergio Busquets [holding midfielder]

"The most efficient player I’ve ever played against. Makes the right decision 99.99 per cent of the time whenever he receives the ball, usually one touch, and his positional play is fantastic. It was a tossup between him and Claude Makalele but he offers me more on the ball. He just goes under the radar but he needs to be talked about. Kids need to know that if he doesn’t feature, Barcelona don’t play the same."

Clarence Seedorf [midfield]

"Our game at Old Trafford in the Champions League against AC Milan might be remembered for Kaka’s stunning solo goal, but the man that impressed me most on the pitch was Seedorf, who was absolutely unplayable that day. Equally comfortable on both feet, he understood and read the game so well. I think he’s one of the most underrated players of our generation. Quick, strong and could receive the ball under pressure and still score great goals."

Xavi [midfield]

"Everything runs through him in terms of dictating the play. Whenever anyone was in trouble, he was who they looked to. In that period during his peak time with Barcelona he was just untouchable, you couldn’t get near him. He wasn’t overly quick, or strong, but he could manipulate the ball better than anyone."

Lionel Messi [right forward]

"When marking a player like Messi, the key is not letting him turn. Don’t let him turn and face you, keep him going back to his goal, or sideways. If you do, you’ve done your job. But it’s easy preparing for that on the training pitch or the video room because when you get on the pitch, where he’s receiving the ball, his teammates are playing him balls down the side or away from our defenders. He’ll drop deep, then he’ll go forward. Those things add up into making him the player he is. If he doesn’t play, as in the games we played, the game’s ours. He’s difficult to get hold of, to impose yourself physically on. He’ll pop it off one touch, sometimes he’ll take a few touches and surprise you. He’s built an argument that he’s in the best two or three ever."

Cristiano Ronaldo [left forward]

"Another player with ridiculous ability, we’re lucky to be living in an era where these two are doing what they’re doing. He hadn’t scored in four games and the other day reporters were questioning him – are you winding me up? No wonder he gets angry. The difference with Messi and Ronaldo at the moment is that Messi is playing in a team built for him to play him, with a better team ethic. Real, on the other hand, they’re still individuals who create moments on their own, like Cristiano."

Ronaldo [striker]

"When he scored a hat-trick at Old Trafford he got a standing ovation, and that tells you how good he was. Of course, for me, the centre-back playing against him, that was deeply embarrassing, only rubbing salt to the wounds. I blame Fabian Barthez! Still, he was some player though. During my time with England playing in the World Cup game against Brazil, he was the first player to make me think, 'Wow, he is on another level’. He didn’t score in that game but did a few moves that made me realise I needed to go back to the drawing board. No player that I played against in my career had the general movement he had."