Team of the Decade 1980-1990


Manager: Arrigo Sacchi

Bench: Pfaff, Dasajew, Shilton; Brehme, Junior, Amoros; Hansen, Augenthaler, Koeman, Ruggeri, Butcher, Migueli; Gerets, Tassotti, Kaltz; Matthäus, Tardelli, Batista; Cerezo, Souness, Fernandez; Burruchaga, Zico, Giresse; Rummenigge, Hoddle, Gullit; van Basten, Careca, Elkjaer; Rush,Valdano, Lineker

Best player: Diego Maradona

Best club: FC Liverpool

Best team: AC Milan 1987-1990

Best match: France – Portugal 3-2 after extra time, Euro 1984

A preliminary remark: when people compile Teams of the Decade, they most often restrict the meaning of the term ‘decade’ to something like the 80s or the 90s. I don’t. When I say ‘decade’, I simply mean a time span of  10 years. This post is the sixth in a series of articles in which I compile Teams of the Decade. I will work my way back in time in 5 year steps. After this post, the next one will be about the 1975-1985 Team of the Decade, the last one was about the 1985-1995 Team of the Decade. I’ll work my way back in time until the 1950-1960 Team of the Decade. I will stop there because the lack of footage for players before 1950 makes it impossible for me to form an opinion about them that is truly my own. I chose to go back in steps of 5 years, because that seems to be a good compromise. Going back in steps of 10 years is unfair towards those players who have performed the best around the turn of a decade (take Xavi, for example). Smaller steps would mean a lot of repetition: the 2004-2014 Team of the Decade won’t be that different from the 2005-2015 Team of the Decade.

Inclusion in this team is based solely on quantity and quality of performance during the respective period of time. It’s not about whether a player has won a lot of trophies, or fits some artistic ideal, even whether a player was ahead of his time in itself isn’t a criterion. It’s about performance and performance alone. You don’t necessarily have to get top marks for both quantity and quality of performance to be included. If the quality of your performances was outstanding, you will have a chance to be included even if, for example, you only performed on that level for, say, 5 of the 10 years. But the lack of quantity of performance will speak against you. Also, the chances of any given player to be included, of course,  heavily depend on the quality and quantity of performance of other players who played in the same position during the same period of time. This is all still a bit vague, but since fantasy football teams are far from being exact science to begin with, I think that’s okay. The main point that I want to emphasize is that both quantity and quality of performance matter.

I define the 1980-1990 decade as starting with the final whistle of the 1980 European Cup final and ending with the final whistle of the 1990 European Cup final.

Finally, a massive thank you to Javier from @footballiaweb. It’s an honour to have you on board as a guest author.

Toni Schumacher

Your quintessential 80s goalkeeper. Great reflexes, a fantastic athlete, able to stop seemingly unstoppable shots, great in one-on-one’s, and, maybe his greatest strength, ferociously competitive. Like his distant successor Oliver Kahn, Toni Schumacher was an intimidating presence on the field.

From what I’ve seen and heard, he was no part of the so-called “sweeper keeper” tradition of goalkeeping. He wasn’t that good with the ball at his feet and sometimes made bad and reckless decisions when leaving the box to intercept passes. However, he was pretty good at throwing the ball over long distances. This way he would initiate fast counter attacks. But by and large he was more of a conservative keeper. For an example of his qualities, have a look at the Euro ’80 match between Germany and the Netherlands.

Up until 1987 he was consistently playing at a very high level. He was named German footballer of the year in 1984 and 1986. Then his career took a strange turn. He was suspended from playing both for his club 1. FC Köln and the German national team because he published a book, “Anpfiff”. Among other things, “Anpfiff” contained informations about doping in German football. Needless to say that the powers that be in Germany were less than amused. For the rest of the decade he played for Schalke 04 and Fenerbahce Istanbul.

In a decade without one truly all-time-great goalkeeper, Schumacher makes the cut ahead of players like Pfaff and Dasayev.

Hans-Peter Briegel

If the 80s were a footballer, they would be Hans-Peter Briegel. This has a lot to do with the man-marking used back then. Most attacking players of any given team would be man-marked by the opponent in some way or another. Now, if these attacking players moved intelligently and dragged their markers with them, they could open up vast spaces for some of the more defensive players to run or dribble into (some examples in this video). Ideally, those defensive players possessed both pace and power. And they were few players who had more pace and power than Briegel did.

Die Walz aus der Pfalz. – Source

His raw physicality also made him a pretty solid defender. He basically was stronger and faster than any opponent. It’s never easy to play against someone like that.

The highlight of Briegel’s club career was winning the 1984-85 Serie A with Hellas Verona. In the era of Platini and Maradona, Hans-Peter Briegel was widely considered to be one of, if not the, best player in Serie A that season. Briegel mostly played as a box-to-box midfielder for Verona. In the German national team however, he was fielded as a left wing-back. In a decade without any truly outstanding left-back, Briegel makes the team in this position. Do I think Briegel was an all-time-great? No, he lacked the footballing talent for that. But in an age in which physicality was king, Briegel was an outstanding footballer in his own way. And once he gained speed and was running at the opponent’s defense, there was little that could stop him. A bit like Cristiano Ronaldo in that regard. (And thereby I have made the oddest comparison in the history of football blogging.)

Karlheinz Förster

Looking at Försters position in the above graphic, one could think that I play him as a defensive midfielder. That is not the case. Förster was an old-school man-marker and I want to play him as such. As a man-marker he has no fixed position, he will go wherever his opponent goes (at least when the other team got the ball).

The usual defensive scheme used by man-marking teams in the 80s, Germany and Argentina ’86 for example, was to play two wing-backs, two man-markers and one libero. My team is a bit different. I field two liberi and one man-marker. Förster plays against the opponent’s most dangerous attacker and the rest of the defense defends zonally.

Förster is often called the quintessential 80s man-marker. While that statement is not necessarily false, I want to add some qualifications. Given the rather brutal nature of the game back then, one could think that Förster, being described like that, was an overly aggressive player. While he was no saint, he wasn’t your typical hard-man either. He did commit a few fouls, he tackled a lot, he sometimes hurt opponents, but by and large, and given what other defenders did back then, he cannot be described as a particular unfair player. He was tough, but not brutal.

Unlike most of the central defenders to feature in one of my teams, Förster wasn’t some kind of ‘playmaker in defense’. However, he knew about his limitations and acted accordingly. With the ball at his feet, he kept things simple. In a time when very few teams pressed high up the field, his footballing limitations weren’t a major weakness.

Karlheinz Förster was famous for his consistency, both in a single game and over the course of his career. While he, like every other defender in history, made mistakes, he was a very dependable player.

Given that Förster was a regular for the German national team in several big tournaments, I watched quite a few games with him on the pitch. When I take a look at my notes on those games, I find that I have never noted Förster as playing a particular good game. Thing is, the same is true for the players he marked. If Förster plays well, you will hardly notice him. He won’t feature in the game. But neither does his direct opponent. In a weird and very 80s-football kind of way the famous quote about Busquets applies to Förster as well: You watch the game, you don’t see him. You watch him, you see the whole game, 80s style.

Franco Baresi

My ‘Player of the Decade ’85-’95’ has also earned a starting place in this team. Now Franco Baresi rose to real international prominence only when playing for Sacchi’s Milan in the late 80s and at Italia ’90. Also, he did not become a starter in the Italian national team until after the 1986 World Cup, when Scirea retired. This might nourish a suspicion that Baresi does not have enough quantity of performance to show for to earn a place in this team.

So what I needed to do was check if Baresi’s performance level in the first half of the decade was as high as it was later on. From what I saw, the answer has to be a resounding yes. Take the Serie A match between Milan and Juventus during the ’83-’84 season for example. Milan gets an early red card and Juve goes on to win the game. However, the man of the match, by some distance, is Franco Baresi. Playing as a very attacking libero, he time and time again breaks up Juventus’ attacks and initiates Milan’s own offensive moves. And not only does he play the first pass, he often makes surging runs deep into the opponent’s half, looking to combine with his fellow players. If anything, he was more dynamic back then. Milan may have been a pretty mediocre team in the early/mid 80s, but Baresi was certainly no mediocre player. He towered head and shoulders above his teammates. And regarding the national team: Well, the guy blocking his path was Gaetano Scirea. And unlike the Italian coach at that time, I field both of them at once.

Gaetano Scirea

Scirea reminds me a bit of Philipp Lahm. As with Lahm, you get that impression of pure class when you’re watching Scirea. You can’t really point to something in particular in his game that gives you this impression (until you take a closer look), but you somehow know immediatly that you’re watching a class player. Like Lahm, Scirea was known for his outstanding consistency. He hardly ever had a bad game. From what I’ve seen, this reputation is entirely justified. Like every other player in football history, Scirea made some mistakes during his career, but they were very rare. He was surrounded by an aura of quiet confidence. He would get the job done without needing to make much of a fuss about it.

Scirea (pictured here) and Baresi surely mark the high water marks for Italian central defenders. Luckily I didn’t have to choose between them. – Source

Compared to Baresi, the other great Italien libero of that period, Scirea’s game was a bit less spectacular. Baresi made these surging runs, playing multiple one-two’s in a row and using all the dynamic he had due to his low centre of gravity. Scirea was a bit, and only a bit, more conservative. He, too, was a sweeper in the mold of Franz Beckenbauer, who would frequently leave his position behind the other defenders and join his team’s attacking game. But he did so in a more cautious way than Baresi. These differences however  shouldn’t make us forget that ultimately they were very similar. Both of them were highly intelligent liberi, who used, above all else, their superior understanding of the game to help their team both defend and attack.

Sadly, Scirea died in a car accident in 1989. He finished his career a year before that. Despite that his inclusion in this team was beyond any doubt. Right up until the end of his career he played at a very high level. And the only other central defender who had a similarly high peak during the 80s was Baresi, who is also included and therefore no rival for Scirea’s place.

Here’s a great portrait on Scirea with some links to videos of him at the end.

Giuseppe Bergomi

It’s safe to say that the 80s weren’t a great time for full-backs. Hans-Peter Briegel, while not necessarily my kind of player, played some good tournaments for Germany and had that outstanding season with Verona, hence I chose him as left-back. Things don’t look much brighter on the other side of the defense. The 80s lacked a truly great right-back as far as I know.

Eric Gerets has a pretty high profile, but what I saw from him didn’t impress me. Manfred Kaltz on the other hand did impress me, but from what I’ve read by 1984 he was past his peak. (Hard to check up on that because he quit the German national team in 1983.)

So in the end I chose Guiseppe Bergomi as right-back. While most people might remember his as the Inter captain of the 90s, he actually played most of his international football in the 80s. Bergomi was the youngest squad member of the Italian national team that won the World Cup in 1982, playing in three games including the full 90 minutes of the final.

Bergomi could play both as a right-back and as a central defender. As a right-back he was a pretty conservative player. He focused on shutting down the opponent’s winger and did comparatively little else. But given the conservative nature of the game at that time, this wasn’t really a problem. Bergomi simply was a very solid and reliable defender. There are certainly worse things to be than that. As with Briegel, Bergomi is not an all-time-great in my book, but due to the limited quality of his rivals, I think he has earned the spot.

Jean Tigana

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Jean Tigana: „Tigana was a box-to box midfielder noted for his great movement, teamwork, pace and tireless stamina. Tigana was also responsible for the defensive game and often went forward to create opportunities for his teammates.“ I can’t argue with that description. Tigana simply was a very good allrounder. In a team containing no true defensive midfielder but rather a deep-lying playmaker in the person of Bernd Schuster, Tigana plays in central midfield, shielding Schuster and doing the dirty work for him. He’s the Marchisio to Schuster’s Pirlo so to say.

I mainly watched Tigana play for the French national team. He was a starter for France at World Cup ’82, Euro ’84 and World Cup ’86, forming the so-called „Carré Magique“ together with Platini, Giresse, and Fernandez. So far, I haven’t seen him play a bad match. He’s the kind of player who might make a mistake once in a while, but you’re basically guaranteed that he will make up for it – even if that means covering every blade of grass on the pitch twice. But please don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t all brawns. You don’t become a member of the Magic Square just by running a lot. Tigana was a technically and tactically sound player. Not necessarily a genius like Platini, but a fine footballer nevertheless. So far the best game I have seen of Tigana was France’s first match at Euro ’84 against Denmark.

Tigana’s greatest rival for a place in the team was Lothar Matthäus. The Matthäus of ’85-’95 would have made it into the team easily, had he been up for selection. By the late ’80s Matthäus had reached a peak that was arguably higher than Tigana’s best. However, Tigana takes the spot because up until ~1987, he was the better player of them two. During the early-mid 80s, Matthäus was much more one-dimensional than what he would later go on to become. Therefore, Tigana wins the spot due to his superior quantity of performance.

Bernd Schuster

written by Javier from @footballiaweb

In the 1980 European Championship, a 20-year-old blond German impressed the whole continent with his performances in the tournament. His name: Bernd Schuster, dubbed “Der Blonde Engel”. Suffice it to say that he won the Silver Ball Trophy even though he only participated in two matches of Germany’s four-match campaign (vs the Netherlands and the final vs Belgium). Suffice it to say, too, that right after the tournament, he was signed by FC Barcelona.

He was a playmaker in every sense of the world. Placed in front of the defence, he would lead the team’s game interpreting what was best for the team at every moment. And that was possible because he was capable of all kinds of passes. His trademark long balls gave him a dimension that allowed him to adapt to different styles. He could play both with short-pass combinations, and precise long balls, with all the benefits that that provides. And he could do both in the same match. That versatility allowed him to play under such different managers as Udo Lattek, César Menotti, Luis Aragonés or John Toshack, to name just a few.

But he was by no means a static player who would stay in his playmaking position, he was a very dynamic player. Often he would run forward, and combine with his more attacking-minded teammates to give an assist or a defence-breaking pass, or to score himself, which he did quite often for a player in his position. Another of his outstanding virtues were his free kicks. Elegant in all his movements, he took free kicks with the same elegance and lobbed the ball over the wall and into the net more often than not.

Schuster started off the decade at 1. FC Köln, where he was essential in leading the team to the 1980 German Cup final. After the Euro, he went to Barça. During Maradona’s spell in Catalonia, the duo would partner up as genius players often do. During Terry Venables’ 84-85 league-winning season, he was the team’s compass, throwing long balls for the strikers. One of his best matches in his 8-year run at Barça was during that season at Valencia. The next season he would lead the team to the European Cup Final.

After a series of problems and courtroom battles with the club, he switched allegiances and went to arch-rivals Real Madrid. There he would improve an already great team who had won three leagues in a row and who would go on to win two more with the German playmaker.

Always a controversial player wherever he went, his strong character and other off-the-pitch issues which aren’t the subject of this profile caused him problems with the German federation. He voluntarily retired from the Nationalmannschaft after only 21 matches and he missed their important feats throughout the decade. That probably denied him the international consideration he deserved, and maybe even back home in Germany. Nevertheless, he was a true football great and he deserves to be in any 1980s all-star team.

Diego Maradona

This is the second time that Maradona appears in one of my Teams of the Decade. He wasn’t named “Player of the Decade” for the 1985-1995 one, because his career as a top class player basically ended in 1990. However, this time things look rather different. 1980-1990 is exactly the timespan during which we saw El Diego at his best. And at his best, he was the best – at least of his time. Therefore he is named “Player of the Decade”. I think this decision should be uncontroversial. The 80s featured some outstanding players (Platini, Scirea, Zico, etc.) but they all lack quantity of performance to be true contenders to Maradona’s throne. That is not to say that his career didn’t have its ups and downs during the time in question – more on that later on – but by and large the 80s simply were Maradona’s decade. He stands heads and shoulders above the competition.

Now, one observation that I made while watching Maradona play was that his playing style changed quite a bit during those ten years. More so than most people remember. At Barcelona, for example, he was very much the cliché “Gambetta” player. He often dropped deep into the midfield, received the ball, turned, and started some mazy dribbling run. Anyone who has watched a bit of Messi during the last couple of years will have no problem to picture the action. Actions like this can be found during all phases of his career. But they are not nearly as prominent in his playing style during the second half of the 80s as one should think. Take the 1986 World Cup, clearly the pinnacle of Maradona’s career (although not a one man-show). People remember his solo goals against England and Belgium (and the “Hand of God” incident), but these actions, while obviously brilliant, weren’t very representative for his game at that point of time. By 1986, and even more so in his later years at Napoli, Maradona was a player doing a lot of one-touch lay-ups in midfield, thereby cleverly destroying the opponent’s man-marking scheme. He still did some dribbling, yes, but rather few of these corkscrew-like vertical runs that most people think of when they picture Maradona’s playing style. So Maradona changed during the 80s. I don’t want to judge if for the better or for the worse, because both the younger gambetta-Maradona and the older one-touch-Maradona were brilliant in their own right.

People sometimes say that Maradona only became a truly outstanding player when he transfered to Napoli in 1984. Granted, they say, he was pretty good while still playing in Argentina, but his first attempt at the big stage, both at the ’82 World Cup and at Barcelona, was a disaster. Diego only became D10S during the second half of the decade and especially at the ’86 World Cup. While I agree that Maradona peaked during the second half of the decade, I’m not willing to say that he wasn’t an absolute outstanding player in his earlier years. Take his years at Barcelona. The reason why his stint there wasn’t a full success was that he was injured or ill for long spells and had trouble with the manager and club executives. But when he was fit to play, he usually was brilliant. I watched all three Clasico’s from the 1982-83 season (La Liga & Copa final) and Maradona was the best player on the pitch in every single one of them. That doesn’t sound like a disaster, does it? And even as early as 1980, he was tearing England apart at Wembley. So while there may be a grain of thruth in people saying that Maradona hit the heights only after he came to Napoli, it is a massive overstatement.

In conclusion: he may not have been as good a player as Messi, but Diego Armando Maradona certainly was the best player of the 80s.

By the way, my favourite footage of Maradona is the video of him as a child, still uncorrupted by shady advisers and drugs, juggling with the ball. Sky was the limit.

80s football. – Source

Michel Platini

There will be a longer profile on Platini in the next blogpost, so I’m going to keep this short. Roughly up until 1985, the French playmaker was one of the best players in the world. Platini was one of 2-3 key players of the great Juventus side of the early 80s and the undisputed leader of the French national team that reached the semi-finals of the ’82 World Cup and won Euro 1984. From 1985 to 1987 Platini’s career was on its way down. By the time of the ’86 World Cup he was no longer at his very best. So Platini doesn’t get top marks for quantity of performance. The main reason why he still makes the team is that his biggest rival for the spot, the Brazilian Zico, has the same problem. His career, too, was on its way down by the middle of the decade. From what I’ve seen, Zico was past his peak as early as 1984, making his mark for quantity of performance even worse than Platini’s. Since both of them had a similar peak in my opinion, Platini has a slight advantage over Zico when it comes to selecting players for this team. As I said, more on him in my next blogpost.

Hugo Sanchez

One of the great penalty-box-strikers in the history of the game. What Gerd Müller was for the 70s and Romario was for the 90s, Hugo Sanchez was for the 80s. Actually, his playing style can correctly be described as a blend of Müller’s and Romario’s style. He was a bit more flashy than Müller (scoring bicycle-kicks and the likes) but less of a dribbler than Romario was.

Sanchez was the kind of striker who usually only needed one contact in some decent (or half-decent) position to score. Perhaps the greatest testament to his quality as a ‘fox in the box’ kind of player was the 1989-90 season. Playing for Real Madrid, Sanchez scored 38 goals in that season. Each and every one of them with a first touch finish. Here’s the video. If you watch it, you will notice that while all his goals are scored with one touch, less than half of them are what one could categorize as a ‘tap in’. He also scored from headers (diving headers  especially), penalties and free-kicks. So while it is true that Sanchez was a penalty box phantom, he wasn’t one-dimensional. (The same goes for Gerd Müller by the way. But more on him in one of my next blog posts.)

Sanchez in a rather cool shirt. – Source

In the short paragraph before every one of my “Team of the Decade” blogposts, I emphasize that my selection is based on quality and quantity of performance. Ideally, I only want to pick players who performed at a very high level for an extended period of time. Playing one good season at the biggest stage is a tremendous achievement, but in order to be a truly outstanding player you need to show consistency. And that’s why Sanchez’ place in this team was never in any doubt. Here are the numbers of goals he scored in every La Liga season during the 80s: 8, 15, 12, 19, 22, 34, 29, 27 & 38. A five times winner of the “Pichichi award” for the best goalscorer in La Liga, he won four of these prizes in a row. That’s consistency! That’s the kind of quality I’m looking for.



6 thoughts on “Team of the Decade 1980-1990

  1. I don’t know whats odd about comparing Briegel to Cristiano. Both lack the movement and the technical capabilities to be considered an all time grat but beat their opponents by physicality 😉

    It think he would not qualify because of quantity of performance, but whats your opinion on Preben Elkjær Larsen? Very few real strikers are so fun to watch in this decade.

    Id like to say something but my knowledge is very limited in this time. I hope you keep up the great work 🙂


    • They do have some similarities, but then again: which two things don’t share any similarity whatsoever?

      I have watched too little of Elkjaer to have a truly well-informed opinion about him. From what I saw, he seems to be a technically competent striker who likes to participate in his team’s combination game. But I could be entirely wrong with that statement.

      I think from a tactical point of view both Scirea and Baresi are among the most interesting players of the decade. It would be very interesting to see them in today’s football. Maybe they are both the past and the future of defending.


      • I’ve always been a big fan of Elkjaer-Larsen myself and I am happy to see him on the bench Art least. Well deserved!
        In my opinion no one since has had his unique (and quite odd) combination of abilities.
        Maybe you get a picture of his style if you imagine him as a mixture of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ivica Olic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That certainly sounds like a unique combination of talents. I was aware of him being somewhat special because the guys love him.

        Having a look at the bench, I realise that I kind of forgot about Rudi Völler. Does he deserve a place and if yes instead of whom?


  2. This is a difficult request , when the 80s are in question
    gol. Dasaev
    def. Eric Gerets , Scierea , Edinho , Brehme
    mid. Matthäus , Platini , Zico , Maradona
    att. Butragueno , Elkjaer


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