Legends XI – Robbie Slater

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One thing that we are witnessing more and more are the nostalgic Best XIs by former football players generally of their teammates at club and international level. Over the coming weeks we’ll be introducing the Best XIs of ex-Australian players, consisting of their teammates for club and country. Debate can then rage as to who’s Best XI is the truly the best.

Our first team to be revealed belongs to Robbie Slater. Robbie started his career playing for NSL teams St George and Sydney United. He would head to Europe where he had a brief spell at Anderlecht before making a name for himself in France with Ligue One team, RC Lens. Most Aussie fans will remember his time in England where he played for the EPL championship winning side Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United, Southampton and Wolverhampton. He finished his career with Northern Spirit back in Australia. Over the course of his professional career he picked up 44 international caps for Australia.

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GOALKEEPER

Mark Bosnich (Australian)

International Caps: 17  (1993-2000)

Premier League Appearances: 208 (81 clean sheets)

European Appearances: 16 (6 clean sheets)

Honours: Oceania Player of the Year 1997, Oceania Goalkepper of the Century 1999

Silverware: League Cup 1993/94 & 1995/96 (Aston Villa), Premier League Champion 1999/2000 (Manchester United)

Robbie and Mark were Australian teammates between 1993 and 1997 while the keeper was playing his club football for Aston Villa. Bosnich happened to also be a junior at Sydney United while Robbie was starring for their senior team. Bosnich would leave Australia to join the Manchester United youth team in 1989 but it was at Aston Villa where he made a name for himself. The official Aston Villa website ranks him as their 34th best player of all-time while the Bleacher Report has him in their top 20. For many Villa fans it seems to be between him and Nigel Spinks as Villa’s greatest ever shot stopper.

Bozzie – as he was known at Villa – was known for his exceptional shot stopping ability especially when it came to penalties. It was in 1994 when he single-handedly got Villa into the League Cup final by making three saves in the penalty shootout semi-final versus Tranmere Rovers. Picked by Sir Alex Ferguson as the natural successor to one of the greatest keepers of all-time, Peter Schmeichel, things may not have worked out for Bosnich after he left Villa despite lofty expectations but his ability was never in question.

“We’ve got the best goalkeeper around,” said Manchester United’s then CEO Martin Edwards upon signing Bosnich in 1999.

His stints at Manchester United and Chelsea showed flashes of his brilliance but unfortunately will be remembered more for the controversy. There is no doubt though at his peak he was one of the finest goal keepers of his generation.

DEFENDERS

Graeme Le Saux (English)

International Caps: 36 (1994-2000)

Premier League Apps: 327 (12 goals)

Honours: PFA Team of the Year 1995 and 1998.

Silverware: 1994/95 Premier League Champion (Blackburn Rovers), League Cup 1997/98 (Chelsea), FA Cup 1999/00 (Chelsea), Cup Winner’s Cup 1997/98 (Chelsea)

It was at Blackburn Rovers that Robbie played alongside Le Saux in their title-winning 94/95 team. The left-sided player started off at Chelsea before moving to Blackburn for £700,000 after a falling out with the then Chelsea manager, Ian Porterfield.

Le Saux on his time at Blackburn: ”"What I did notice from the moment I arrived was training and within those first few days I was absolutely exhausted because the training was so intense and so competitive.

“Every training session meant something, and that was the philosophy of the club and what gave us that incredible momentum. The rest is history – we finished fourth, second and then won the Premier League in our third season.”

After a successful time at Blackburn in which he’d be linked to Arsenal for 6 million pounds, he would make a triumphant return to Chelsea when they would shell out 5 million pounds for the defender, a then record for an English defender. Known for a fiery temper but also as a more cerebral-type of character that seemed out of place in the rough and tough English game and often caused people to vilify him and even questioning his sexuality. Not one to back down on the field or off it he became a voice in the fight against homophobia in sport as well as getting in a few scraps on the field with teammates and opponents.

When fit and not suspended, he was first choice left back for club and country for much of his career and when he played with Robbie he was arguably the best left back in the Premier League.

Julian Dicks (English)

Premier League Apps: 134 (24 goals)

Robbie rates the hard tackling left back so highly that he is willing to play him out of position to fit him in his Best XI. Known for his no nonsense defending ‘Terminator’ also possessed one of the most powerful shots in the game which helped him accrue an impressive 24 goals from defence (two more than the 22 EPL yellows he picked up).

He never made an England appearance although he did play for the youth and B sides and there were calls for his inclusion in the Euro96 squad until a couple of high profile disciplinary incidents ended that talk. A bonafide West Ham legend who despite just the one red card in the Premier League (8 career sending offs) his John Spencer stamp and other tough challenges sees him remembered more for physicality than football ability. Even his 2000 testimonial against Athletic Bilbao featured an all-in but to be fair Dicks wasn’t on the field at the time.

His managers, teammates and home fans though saw the true value of the dynamic defender.

“He’s a good footballer and sometimes people forget to write about that bit,” said Graeme Sounness after signing Dicks for Liverpool from West Ham in 1993.

“There was a great touch there. I wouldn’t have signed just a physical player,” former West Ham manager John Lyall said when explaining the signing of the defender from Birmingham City for £300,000.

Milan Ivanovic (Serbian/Australian)

International Apps: 59

NSL Apps: 290

Yugoslav League: 250

Honours: 1990/91 Johnny Warren Medal, 1992/93 Joe Marston Medal, Australian Team of the Century

Titles: 2x NSL Champion (1991/92, 1993/94), 2x Yugoslav League Champion (1979/80, 1980/81), 1996 OFC Nations Cup

Robbie and Milan were national team teammates from 1991 until 1997. Once described as a world class player who just happened to choose to live in Australia, Milan Ivanovic came to Australia in his prime as an experienced 28 year old defender.

He had played for the famous Red Star team of the 80s winning titles and taking on the best in Europe including the legendary AC Milan team in the 1988/89 European Champions Cup. Serbian international, Antonio Rukavina, revealed on a visit to Australia with Villarreal that Ivanovic was still highly regarded in Serbia for his time in the Yugoslav League.

He would join Adelaide City and together with Alex Tobin would form arguably the best center back combination seen in Australia at club level. They would also be regular partners at the back for their country.

Colin Hendry (Scotland)

International Apps: 51

EPL Apps: 218

SPL Apss: 63

Titles: 1994/95 English Premier League Champion, 1999 Scottish Premier League Champion, 1999 Scottish Cup, 1999 Scottish League Cup

Hendry was another teammate of Robbie’s at Blackburn Rovers. He was known as being an inspirational leader, something Dick Advocaat mentioned when he signed him for Glasgow Rangers, “I have been interested in him since I was at PSV Eindhoven but at that time he was too expensive,” said Advocaat.

“Colin has leadership, which is one of the most important qualities in football.”

Described by former Scotland manager, Craig Brown, as a “bit of a Braveheart figure” Hendry would be a perfect partner for the silky skilled Ivanovic. Not only were his tackles hard, they were usually done with laser point accuracy and timing. He was also handy at set-pieces and going forward if the team needed the lift. A real lead by example player who believed you had to walk the walk and talk the talk.

MIDFIELDERS

Matt Le Tissier (English)

International apps: 8

EPL Apps & Goals: 270/100

Honours: 1989/90 PFA Young Player of the Year, 1994/95 EPL Team of the Year, English Football Hall of Fame

Robbie and Le Tissier were teammates at Southampton of course, the only club where the mercurial footballer spent his professional career. Anyone growing up watching the Premier League in the 90s was dazzled by the sublime skills of the man who shamefully was only given 8 caps for his country. Ironically, both English managers who refused to use him more – Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle – both tried to sign him for their Tottenham and Chelsea teams. Michel Platini tried to recruit him for France but despite his surname, he wasn’t eligible.

His goals dominate Premier League Greatest Goals compilations whether it was a cheeky chip, a mazy run and finish, or an outside the box belter Le Tiss had an armory even James Bond would’ve been jealous of. Praised for his loyalty but criticised for his lack of ambition for not leaving Southampton the man perfected his craft to the point that his lack of physical attributes made little difference to the magic and consistency he produced.

“My life down here is brilliant,” explained Le Tissier back in 2002 on why he never left Southampton.

“People have always questioned my ambition. When I was a little boy I had two ambitions in my life. One of them was to be a professional footballer; the other was to play for England. I’ve achieved both those ambitions while I’ve played for Southampton. No one can take that away from me, so I didn’t have to move. I’ve never been one for wanting two million quid in the bank. If I’ve enough to get by, it’s not a problem. I don’t spend lavishly so I wasn’t going to go chasing money and risk my personal happiness because I’m happy here and I’m only half an hour from my family in Guernsey.”

He took 52 penalties in his career and missed only once and scored 209 goals in 540 appearances in all competitions. The type of player that opposition fans loved to watch and wish they had despite, as even he admits, that he perhaps didn’t do all the running one expects from players now.

Barcelona midfielder Xavi said of Le Tissier, “his talent was simply out of the norm. He could simply dribble past seven or eight players but without speed – he just walked past them. For me he was sensational.”

To call him simply a footballer is somewhat of an injustice as players like Le Tiss and the kind of artistry he displayed don’t come around very often. He may have been a luxury player but a luxury that all football fans would love to have.

Ned Zelic (Australian)

International Apps & Goals: 32/3

Bundesliga Apps: 160 (5 goals)

Honours: Named in Australian Team of the Century (2000), Named in the Greatest Ever Australian XI (2012),  Selected in a World XI to play Brazil (1996)

Titles: 1994 Bundesliga Champions, 1994 German Super Cup, 2003 J-League Cup

Robbie has picked his international teammate Ned Zelic into the midfield to provide steel, poise and class. Capable of marshalling things from deep but still able get forward when needed. Ned was a Rolls Royce who glided along the pitch with such confidence.

He made headlines for Australia in the 1992 Olympic qualifier in Utrecht against a Dutch side featuring names such as Numan, Cocu, De Boer and Overmars. Zelic would grab the two goals – including the legendary sideline goal – that would see Australia head to Barcelona ahead of the more fancied Oranje.

Signed by Borussia Dortmund where he made over 50 appearances before becoming Queens Park Ranger’s record signing at £1.25 million.

“He’s a player of immense talent,” said Ray Wilkins upon signing the Aussie.

“He is versatile as an egg – he can play at the back and in midfield; he’s a good user of the ball and he has a physical presence.”

A serious injury would ruin his time in England and he’d eventually return to Germany to play for Eintracht Frankfurt and 1860 Munich with a short stint in Ligue 1 with Auxerre sandwiched in between.

His international career came to a premature end after a falling out with Frank Farina but in his time with the national team he left his mark. Australia looked a much more polished side with Zelic pulling the strings in midfield.

Harry Kewell (Australian)

International Caps: 56

International Goals: 17

Premier League Apps & Goals: 274/57

Honours: 3x Oceania Footballer of the Year(1999, 2001, 2003), 2000 PFA Team of the Year, 1999/00 PFA Young Player of the Year, AFC Asian Team of the Year (2011), AFC Hall of Fame, Voted Australia’s Greatest Ever Footballer, A-League Team of the Season (2011/12)

Titles: 2005/06 FA Cup, 2004/05 UEFA Champion’s League, Turkish Super Cup 2008

The player both Danny Mills and Rio Ferdinand described as the Gareth Bale of his time has a career filled with individual and team success yet it still somewhat feels like he underachieved. A player of immense talent widely believed to be the most gifted footballer to come from Australia that it is a testament to how good he was given this feeling of disappointment.

Debuted in the Premier League at 17 years of age as a left back, it was soon discovered his true value would come further up the pitch. His time at Leeds he established himself as one of the most sought after players in world football with every big club chasing him. In 2003, Pep Guardiola wanted to build his vision for Barca with Harry seen as a crucial part of that but the group backing Pep didn’t win the Barca election that year.

Sir Alex Ferguson made a last ditch effort to sign Kewell for Manchester United but Kewell became one of the few players to turn down the legendary manager by choosing to sign for his boyhood team, Liverpool.

In the Premier League top 10 All-Time Leading Scorers from midfield, Paul Robinson named him in his Best XI saying at Leeds he was so good that he was the only player given free reign on the pitch by his managers. Both Didier Hamann and Michael Ballack said Kewell had the ability to be anything in the game. Unfortunately though injuries did play their part in curtailing the career of the pacy winger who had the trickery, pinpoint delivery, and an unstoppable shot that terrorized any defence he faced.

Such an important player for the national team throughout his career scoring or creating some important goals along the way and often turning a match on his performances alone. Uruguay’s Alvaro Recoba paid him the huge compliment of calling him the “South American” of the team. Graham Arnold said Guus Hiddink saw Kewell as being their only “out and out match winner”.

The strikers in this team will be fed more chances by Harry than players of their caliber will need to finish off teams.

FORWARDS

Alan Shearer (English)

International Caps: 63 (1992-2000)

International Goals: 30

Premier League Apps & Goals: 441/260

Honours: 1994/95 EPL Player of the Season, Euro ’96 Golden Boot, 3x EPL Golden Boot, 2x Players Player of the Year, 1994 Football Writers Association Player of the Year, 3rd place in the 1996 Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year, Inducted in English Hall of Fame

Silverware: 1994/95 English Premier League Champions

It was at Blackburn that Robbie and Alan were teammates in the 1994/95 Premiership winning team. Not much needs to be said about this English football legend that his record above can’t tell you. Best remembered for his stints at Blackburn Rovers and Newcatle United, the lethal finisher has the most goals in Premier League history with 260 in 441 appearances. Wayne Rooney is the only active player within 100 goals of Shearer.

A strong physical presence who was good in the air and  hit the ball – as Robbie would say – “with violence”. He scored over 30 EPL goals in a season three times in his career and more than 20 another four times. In all competitions he played around 734 games for 379 goals.

Mark Viduka (Australian)

International Caps: 43

International Goals: 11

Premier League Apps & Goals: 240/92

Honours: Oceania Footballer of the Year (2000), SPFA Player’s Player of the Year (2000), 2x Johnny Warren Medal (1993/94, 1994/95), SPL Top Goalscorer (1999/2000), Alex Tobin OAM Medal

Titles: 1994/95 NSL Championship (Melbourne Knights), 3x Croatian Championship (Dinamo Zagreb; 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98), Scottish League Cup (Celtic 1999/2000)

Dukes is considered by most Australian football fans as the best striker to come out of Australia and for many the best player. A strong physical presence he danced on the ball with the grace of Baryshnikov. Could hold the ball up for his teammates or dribble through a crowded penalty box with equal ease. A lethal finisher that played in his teammates with deft touches and cheeky backheels.

Robbie’s international teammate was rated by English midfielder Stewart Downing as the best player he’s played with.

“Just his presence, his goals, and his all-round ability,” explained Downing of why he picked the Aussie forward over Suarez or Gerrard.

He is the 16th fastest player to reach 50 goals in Premeir League history which puts him above the likes of Didier Drogba, Eric Cantona, and Dennis Bergkamp. Seen as a long-term replacement for Gabriel Batistuta who is considered one of his generation’s best strikers and his record at the time matched up well with the Argentinian great.

Danny Mills recently called Viduka ‘unplayable’ on Fox Sports when asked about his former Leeds teammate while Rio Ferdinand told Les Murray he couldn’t understand why Viduka didn’t move to one of the big clubs like his Manchester United. In 2001, Real Madrid coach Vicente Del Bosque once described the Aussie as “almost the perfect striker” was prepared to bid a reported £22 million before interest cooled.

Viduka by himself, let alone with his strike partners in this side, would give any defence a headache.

Chris Sutton (English)

International Caps: 1

Premier League Apps & Goals: 255/83

Scottish Premier League Apps & Goals: 130/63

Honours: 1997/98 Premier League Golden Boot, 2003/04 SPFA Player’s Player of the Year, 1993/94 Norwich Player of the Season

Titles: Premier League winner (1994/95), 4x Scottish Premier League winner (2000/01, 01/02, 03/04, 05/06), 3x Scottish Cup winner (2001, 2004, 2005), Scottish League Cup winner (2000/01)

The powerful striker completes the three man forward line in Robbie’s side. He, like Shearer, was a teammate of Slater’s at Blackburn. Bought from Norwich City for a then record amount paid for an English player (£5 million) on the back of a 25 goal season. He and Shearer formed the second most lethal partnership in Premiership history scoring 49 goals in 42 games in their Championship winning season. SAS as they were known would move on to Chelsea and Newcastle respectively once again becoming the two most expensive transfers for English players. Sutton’s transfer to Chelsea was £10 million and became the 5th highest paid by an English club.

Sutton who was described by Arsene Wenger as a “dangerous” player was the first big English signing by Gianluca Vialli.

“He can be a tough player on the pitch, which is something sometimes that we missed last season and he’s got a great personality,” Vialli told reporters.

It didn’t turn out as plan for Sutton at Chelsea with the goals drying up. This saw a move to Glasgow Celtic which reinvigorated him. Going on to win indivdual and team honours before returning back to England. He finished his career playing 535 games and scoring 193 goals in all competitions. A fall out with Glenn Hoddle when he was on the verge of the English team saw him limited to the one cap as a sub in a match against Cameroon.

 

Adam Howard

Adam is one of the founders of Football Central and the creator of OSAussies.com.  He has followed the career paths of Australian footballers playing in leagues all over the world.  Born in Adelaide and currently residing in Hiroshima, Adam brings a unique perspective to Australian football.  He is an ardent supporter of Australia's domestic competition and national team.

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