In the history of football, the first decade of the twenty-first century was certainly eventful. Manchester United, managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, were celebrating a treble season, while Arsene Wenger was putting together a team for the future at Highbury. Real Madrid began the Galactico era, while Barcelona was in the midst of a rebuilding process. This era saw the advent of teams like Paris Saint-Germain, Inter, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur, who were ready to compete with the aforementioned for European slots. We also saw an injection of cash into the game as a result of the TV rights deal and the ultra-rich owners' purchases of Chelsea, Manchester City, and PSG.
Here we take a look at the best XI from the decade. The formation is 4-3-3. Some would undoubtedly disagree with the World Team Of The Decade - even we were perplexed by this list - but that is the joy of the sport.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Buffon became the most expensive goalkeeper in the world when he signed from Parma to Juventus for €52 million in 2001. He was a key figure in Italy's 2006 World Cup victory. Buffon is by far the best goalkeeper of his generation, and there's a good chance he'll go down in history as the greatest shot-stopper of all time. He's still going strong, having recently signed for Parma, his youth club. Buffon is the most capped player in the history of the Italian national team, with 176 caps. He is also the eighth most capped footballer of all time.
Right-Back: Javier Zanetti (Argentina)
Zanetti began his professional career in Argentina, with Talleres and subsequently Banfield. From 1995 to 2014, he was a member of the Italian club Inter Milan, where he also served as captain. He ranks seventh on the all-time list of players with the most official games played, with 1,114. He made 858 appearances for Inter and won 16 titles with the club, including five Scudetti, four Coppa Italia, four Supercoppa Italiana, one UEFA Cup, one Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup. He made 143 appearances for Argentina's national team, reaching the Copa América finals in 2004 and 2007.
Centre-Back: Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)
Cannavaro, a centre-back, spent the majority of his career in Italy. He moved from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2006 after spells at Internazionale and Juventus. With Real Madrid, he won consecutive La Liga titles in 2007 and 2008. In 1994 and 1996, he was a member of the Italy team that won consecutive UEFA European Under-21 Championships. After gaining his first senior cap in 1997, he led his country to the final of UEFA Euro 2000, when he was selected to the tournament's best squad, and he was named captain in 2002. Cannavaro was voted FIFA World Player of the Year in 2006, making him the first and only defender to win the title. In 2006, he was also awarded the Ballon d'Or.
Centre-Back: Lilian Thuram (France)
Thuram was the epitome of a good defender. With Juventus and France, he won numerous awards, including Euro 2000, and excelled at both right-back and in his preferred centre back position. Thuram began his professional career with Monaco and spent almost 15 seasons in the top flight in France, Italy, and Spain, including important periods in Serie A with both Parma and Juventus before finishing with Barcelona. With 142 appearances for France between 1994 and 2008, he is the most capped player in the country's history.
Left-Back: Roberto Carlos (Brazil)
Carlos is largely regarded as one of the greatest left-backs in history, and he was also a free-kick expert throughout his career, with bending shots reaching speeds of over 105 miles per hour. He was runner-up in the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1997. In 1996, he joined Real Madrid and enjoyed 11 tremendously successful seasons with the club, appearing in 584 matches across all competitions and scoring 71 goals. He won four La Liga crowns and three UEFA Champions Leagues during his stint at Real. He participated in three World Cups, helping Brazil reach the final in France in 1998 and winning the tournament in Korea/Japan in 2002. In 1998 and 2002, he was named to the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team.
Defensive Midfielder: Patrick Vieira (France)
Vieira established himself as a dominant box-to-box midfielder during his nine-year Premier League career. From 1999 through 2004, he was named to the Premier League PFA Team of the Year six times in a row. During his time at Arsenal, he helped the team to a long run of success, winning four FA Cups and three league titles, one of which was unbroken. In his country's successful campaign at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, he played in the final, and he was a key member of the team that also won Euro 2000. He was also a significant member of the team that finished second in the 2006 World Cup.
Midfielder: Steven Gerrard (England)
Gerrard played central midfield for Liverpool and the England national team for the duration of his career, captaining both. In 2005, Gerrard was awarded Man of the Match after leading Liverpool to their fifth European title, coming back from a 3–0 deficit to overcome Milan in the game that became known as the Miracle of Istanbul. Gerrard won two FA Cups, three League Cups, the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, FA Community Shield, and UEFA Super Cup throughout his 17 years at Anfield. With 114 caps and 21 goals for England, Gerrard is the fourth-most capped player in the country.
Midfielder: Zinedine Zidane (France)
For the better part of a decade, Zidane was France's big man, winning Euro 2000 before leading his country to the 2006 World Cup final at the age of 34. In 2001, he transferred to Real Madrid for a then-world-record sum of €77.5 million, which remained unsurpassed for the next eight years. Zidane won a La Liga title and the UEFA Champions League during his time in Spain. He was named Player of the Tournament after winning UEFA Euro 2000. At the 2006 World Cup, he was also awarded the Golden Ball for Player of the Tournament.
Right-Winger: Thierry Henry (France)
Henry's impact on the decade can be summarised as follows: Arsenal's greatest goalscorer of all time, France's greatest goalscorer of all time. Henry was a lightning-quick striker who was unstoppable when cutting in from the left flank, scoring 226 goals in 370 appearances for Arsenal, and was their key man during the fabled Invincibles season of 2003-04, when they went the full season without losing a league game. Henry has now won every major trophy in the game, including two Premier League titles and a triple of Champions League, La Liga, and Copa del Rey in an excellent second season at Barcelona last season.
Striker: Ronaldo Nazario (Brazil)
Ronaldo has influenced a generation of strikers as a multi-functional striker who added a new dimension to the position. He has been voted World Player of the Year three times and has won two Ballon d'Or trophies as an individual. Ronaldo has 62 goals in 98 appearances for Brazil, making him the third-highest goalscorer in the country's history. Ronaldo won the Golden Ball for Player of the Tournament in the 1998 FIFA World Cup after helping Brazil reach the final. He was part of a front three that won the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which included Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. In the final, Ronaldo scored two goals and was awarded the Golden Boot as the tournament's best scorer.
Left-Winger: Ronaldinho (Brazil)
While several of the legends on this list were outstanding for the whole of the decade, Ronaldinho was probably only at the top for two to three years. With Brazil, he won two La Liga titles, a Champions League, and a World Cup, in addition to the Ballon d'Or. Ronaldinho got 97 caps and 33 goals for Brazil throughout his international career, and he played in two FIFA World Cups. Ronaldinho, in his height with Barcelona, was the closest thing to unplayable since Diego Maradona's heyday.