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First it was ranking teams by their under-25s, followed by ex-players; now it’s by birth years. No one plays the hypothetical XI quite like B/R Football.
We return with another fantasy exercise, ranking the best birth-year XIs. We took the best teams we could make out of players born in the same year and compared them, side by side, forming this order.
We went from 1985 to 2000, totalling 16 XIs, as it got quite difficult to fill out the teams with 11 recognisable names beyond those dates—world-class 35-year-old wingers and full-backs are in short supply, as are world-class 17-year-old centre-backs!
All players are judged on their current ability or level of performance.
See what you make of our choices and let us know if you’d crown a different No. 1!
GK: Lukasz Fabianski
DEF: Jesus Navas, Lukasz Piszczek, Gary Cahill, Aleksandar Kolarov
MID: Fernandinho, Luka Modric, Borja Valero, Pablo Hernandez, Salomon Kalou
FWD: Cristiano Ronaldo
It perhaps shouldn’t surprise that the oldest team is the weakest—even with the mighty Cristiano Ronaldo leading it!
There are some really strong parts to this XI: Ronaldo up top, Modric and Fernandinho in the middle, and the full-back pairing is pretty impressive considering they’re 34 years of age.
But filling the entire squad out with top-tier quality wasn’t possible, with the wings proving particularly difficult. That’s a position that peaks early and often drops off substantially, leaving us Leeds United’s Hernandez and Hertha Berlin’s Kalou.
Centre-back, curiously, is also weak, but that might be more of a random quirk than a signal (Giorgio Chiellini, for example, was born in 1984).
GK: Alessandro Plizzari
DEF: Sergino Dest, Ozan Kabak, Marash Kumbulla, Alphonso Davies
MID: Sandro Tonali, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Ferran Torres, Vinicius Junior
FWD: Erling Haaland
It also perhaps shouldn’t surprise that the second-weakest team is the youngest! Like with the Golden Oldies, they’ve got some superb players already flourishing, but most are still developing, so the selection is pretty inconsistent.
The rise of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Alphonso Davies this season does a lot to boost this team’s stock; those are three best-in-class options regardless of age limits.
The weakest point is probably the centre-back pairing, which is to be expected given it is a position with a later bloom and peak.
GK: Manuel Neuer
DEF: Theodor Gebre Selassie, Sergio Ramos, Diego Godin, Nacho Monreal
MID: Andres Guardado, James Milner, Joao Moutinho, David Silva
FWD: Mario Mandzukic, Edin Dzeko
As we saw with 1985’s selection, once you start creeping towards the mid-30s range, it can be harder to fill out the entire XI with top-tier quality.
There’s a real contrast in this team: You have the likes of Neuer, Ramos, Silva and Dzeko, all players at the top of their game; and then there’s Selassie, struggling against relegation with Werder Bremen, and Monreal or Guardado, who have dipped beyond their peak.
It’s still a good side—one that would push for Europe in any of the top five leagues—but the standards in this ranking are very high, as you’ll soon see.
GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma
DEF: Reece James, Matthijs De Ligt, Edmond Tapsoba, Owen Wijndal
MID: Declan Rice, Nicolo Zaniolo, Samuel Chukwueze, Joao Felix, Moussa Diaby
FWD: Kai Havertz
This is an incredibly exciting, high-potential XI. 1999’s best is extremely promising, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if every one of these players is at the top of the game in a few years (some already are).
Havertz’s new-found brilliance as Bayer Leverkusen’s striker makes him a snug fit leading this line, and he’s got a colleague in Diaby to feed him ammunition, plus the mercurial Felix and nifty Chukwueze.
The central defensive pair are smooth on the ball and physical in defence, while the full-backs boast athleticism and a well-rounded game. Donnarumma, the best young goalkeeper in the world, minds the sticks.
As a whole they’re a little off the best teams in this list, but that’s to be expected, as the players themselves aren’t the finished product.
GK: Vicente Guaita
DEF: Gerard Pique, Leonardo Bonucci, Jan Vertonghen
MID: Antonio Candreva, Arturo Vidal, Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi
FWD: Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema, Luis Suarez
The 1987 collection is fierce in the middle and lethal up top but struggles badly at full-back, making it perhaps the most lopsided team of the 16 featured.
In order to avoid a full-back pairing of Gabriel Mercado and Ivan Strinic, we’ve selected a sturdy back three but complemented it with makeshift wing-backs: Candreva is familiar with the position, but Matuidi is less so.
Messi and Suarez know each other inside out from club level, and a forward as clever as Benzema will no doubt slot in seamlessly, making it a true trio, rather than a tandem.
There’s legs in the middle and a workmanlike attitude, so the team is probably better than the sum of its parts…but without that sensational forward line it would be challenging 1985 for bottom spot.
GK: Andre Onana
DEF: Benjamin Pavard, Gianluca Mancini, Lucas Hernandez, Oleksandr Zinchenko
MID: Rodri, Arthur, Julian Brandt
FWD: Kingsley Coman, Timo Werner, Leroy Sane
Whereas all of the teams up to this point have been a little inconsistent in their quality, 1996 is the first in the list that has a consistent feel to it throughout.
By that, we mean there is no weak link but also no true star of the game. They’re almost all around the 8/10 mark: very good but not quite elite…for now.
Speed defines the attack; all three of Coman, Sane and Werner are absolutely rapid. Speed also somewhat defines the defence with the recovery ability of Mancini and Lucas, while Onana will sweep up and ensure a possession style is maintained.
Options for midfield were plentiful, leading to some tough calls. We had to leave out Dele Alli, Giovani Lo Celso, Fabian Ruiz and Lorenzo Pellegrini!
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GK: Thomas Strakosha
DEF: Alvaro Odriozola, Milan Skriniar, Clement Lenglet, Ferland Mendy
MID: Angel Correa, Joshua Kimmich, Adrien Rabiot, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Serge Gnabry
FWD: Anthony Martial
1995’s selection contains several players who have made big waves this season.
Kimmich has been incredible since moving back into central midfield; Mendy’s had a big hand in Real Madrid’s improved defensive solidity; Gnabry’s having a monster season with Bayern Munich; and Correa’s re-found his groove at Atletico Madrid.
Everyone else in the XI has performed to a predictably strong level bar perhaps Odriozola, who has lost his way a little but is still a promising talent.
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GK: David De Gea
DEF: Kyle Walker, Rafael Toloi, Daley Blind, Marcos