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Who is the most complete player in the history of football? The Ultimate One-man Team!

For decades there have been debates among football fans and in the media about one particular question: If you clone a certain player in his prime years and create a team around that player, which team would be the very best? Or in other words: Who is the most complete player in the history of football?

A lot of different types of players come up when this question is asked. Perhaps someone like Cristiano Ronaldo, who thrives in front of the goal. Will his lack of defensive skills hold him back, or will he simply outscore his opponents? Maybe someone like Koeman, who was a fantastic defender with a killer long-distance shot. Or someone like Steven Gerrard, who has played in many different positions during his career and is well balanced in both attack and defense.

Looking around online, we see some discussions like this Reddit post titled: “Who would make the best “one man team” ever?”, which inspired this article. The most upvoted comment in that post was Yaya Touré, a player who was very good in almost every area, but never considered one of the greatest of his generation.
One player picked clones of himself as the “best team of all time”, and you can probably already guess who it is:

Don’t you worry Zlatan, you’re part of the simulation! Let’s see how good you perform against some of the greatest players of all time!

Another funny example, the Bundesliga youtube channel went as far as dedicating an entire video to a team of cloned players. Good enough reason for us to include Großkreutz in our line-up as well!

And then there’s an Irish player who you might not know, but was part of a very popular stadium chant some time ago: Gary Breen. He’s definitely not one of the best players ever, but we just had to include him.

The Simulation

So how does one simulate a crazy theory like this, and get a result that would actually somewhat resemble real-life?
Well, there’s only one way, really, which is by using the Football Manager games.
FM is a fantastic football manager simulation video game, and at the same time a massive database of players, clubs, stadiums, and anything else related to football. The game’s first edition was released in 1992 (!) and has had a release almost every year until last year, with the latest installment being Football Manager 2021.
The great thing about this game is that it has a very comprehensive editor, which allows you to change almost anything in the game, like, for example, creating a new league with 26 teams consisting of cloned players…

What we did in summary:
- Created a brand new competition in FM 2019 in the country of Malta.
- Created 26 teams
- Looked up the prime years of every player in our line-up
- Copied the player’s prime year’s attributes from that year’s edition of Football Manager (alternatively FIFA/community attributes for the legends who are older than the game), and recreated them in the FM 2019 editor.
- Cloned the player 20 times (need a lot of bench warmers with a 50 game season)
- Created a decent and adaptive AI manager for every team.
- Created 3 very average keepers for every team. (we didn’t want the keepers to influence the results too much)

After about 20 test runs and a lot of trial and error, we were finally able to simulate a full season where almost nothing went wrong! (FM is not made for this kind of simulation so it took us a while to get it right, for example, we had to make sure the players wouldn’t be poached by PSG and Manchester United in the winter transfer window).
The only thing we couldn’t prevent is the manager from being sacked if the team’s board doesn’t like how things are going throughout the season. Some of the managers of the teams performing below expectations were then replaced after the winter break.

In order to decide which team is the best, we simulated a full 2018–2019 season 10 times and added up all the points, goals scored, and goals against, to create one ultimate league table.
There was no cup or European football and every team played the other team twice, just like any other European competition.

It was quite difficult to form a line-up with plenty of challengers for the title. We wanted to have a nice mix of attackers, defenders, and midfielders. At first, we had one keeper in there as well (Neuer), but, unfortunately, FM doesn’t play well with keepers on the field.

We’ve picked most players from the initial Reddit post and the discussions about our earlier Yaya Toure one-man team simulation. The following 26 players are going to battle it out for 10 seasons: some legends, some fantastic all-rounders, several specialists, and one or two for the memes.

The Results: The top 26!

26. Gary Breen — 306 points

We apologize to all the Irish readers who were dreaming of a team of Gary Breens, we hope we didn’t crush those dreams!
Gary didn’t have a great time playing against all the legends, only averaging about 30 points per season and ending last in most of them. His best season was the very last one where he ended as 20th with 44 points.
He also conceded a bit more goals than we expected for a defender and ended up as 25th on the GA list, (we won’t tell you just yet who ended last as it’s quite a surprise!)

25. John O’Shea — 349 points

Perhaps one of the most versatile players of all time, having been used as a utility player by Sir Alex Ferguson in every position, including goalkeeper. Unfortunately, he never had the skills of his fellow Manchester United players, which is also reflected in this simulation.

24. César Azpilicueta — 356 points

It appears that Jose Mourinho was wrong about his statement that a team of Azpilicuetas could win the champions league. César performed quite poorly even though overall his attributes aren’t that bad. We believe it’s a combination of his height, weight, and a couple of key attributes which he doesn’t excel in like Finishing, Heading, Strength, and Jumping reach.
Or perhaps it’s because the other players are simply better on paper and Mourinho turned this decent full-back into a world-beater.

23. Kevin Großkreutz — 359 points

Only slightly better than Azpilicueta, a 3 points difference. Kevin is one of the few players who are skilled in every position at the start of each simulated season. Initially, we thought that this would be a massive advantage, but it looks like FM doesn’t take it into consideration all that much.

22. James Milner — 387 points

We honestly thought that Milner would’ve been a top 10 contender. Like Großkreutz, James has experience in every position but it seems that, like Azpilicueta, he’s missing some core attributes to make 11 Milners work against all of these fantastic players.

21. David Alaba — 485 points

Another big surprise and basically proof that 10 Full-backs are not the players you want to build a team around. Other than Roberto Carlos, all of the Full-backs we included ended up being not in the top 20.
We still did expect Alaba to do much better since he came first in a Euro 2016 simulation by Reddit user u/astrowhiz.
Alaba’s best season was Season 6, where he ended 17th!

20. Xavi — 532 points

We made Xavi a part of this simulation to see if having 80% possession could have a positive impact on the results. It seems that it didn’t really work out that way, and his lack of strength, defense, and height resulted in the 20th spot.

19. Zlatan — 565 points

Zlatan had a great first season where he ended 9th, but it all went downhill from there. As opposed to the players who ended up outside of the top 20, Zlatan, of course, has great height, strength, and technical skills. His defensive skills are really lacking though, resulting in the 3rd most goals conceded of all teams.
Perhaps Zlatan should reconsider his personal best team of all time (11 Zlatans)!

18. Arturo Vidal — 588 points

Vidal is probably the best player who is comfortable in every position on the field at the start. But like Milner and Großkreutz that didn’t have much of a positive impact, as he ended up in the 18th spot.

17. Messi — 602 points

The greatest player of all time!!!
Except when it comes to defending because Messi has conceded the most goals out of every team in the league! We didn’t expect a top 5 finish, but 17th…?
It appears that you really need to be a more balanced player to win the league than just a fantastic attacker with sublime technique, and perhaps also a little bit taller! For your information, Messi ended only 12th on the goals scored list. Disappointing!

16. Clarence Seedorf — 650 points

The last player on this list with a negative goal difference. We’re honestly a little bit surprised as we thought that Seedorf would be a top 5 contender when looking at his legacy and skillset. We think that his height is the primary reason he didn’t make it that far.

15. Virgil van Dijk — 760 points

Virgil ended up being one of the best players of 2019. He will, however, not receive the award of being the most complete player of all time. At least not yet!
Virgil was very balanced during all the seasons, having scored 109 more goals then conceded.

14. Alfredo Di Stéfano- 799 points

The first legend ends up at 14th. Naturally, we expected di Stefano to end up much higher as he was known to be the complete footballer:

“The great thing about Di Stéfano was that when he was on your team you had two players at any position” — Miguel Muñoz

“Who is this man? He takes the ball from the goalkeeper; he tells the defenders what they have to do. Wherever he is on the field, he is in a position to get the ball. It is his influence on everything that he happens to see. I’ve never seen such a complete footballer. It was as if he had his own command center set up in the heart of the football game. He was as strong as he was subtle. The combination of his qualities was fascinating. “ — Bobby Charlton

What is lacking in his game then, making it impossible for him to at least compete with the top 5? Likely his height, strength, and defensive skills. Well, at least in this simulation and with the attributes we gave him. Perhaps we should’ve rated him a bit higher, or maybe the competition is really that strong?

13. Lothar Matthäus — 805 points

Another legend who ended up outside the top 10. Lothar was a very popular choice among Redditors to actually win the whole thing. Some of them mentioned that his height might be a disadvantage, which is likely the reason he underperformed.

12. Jamie Carragher — 822 points

We included Carragher not because we thought he’d end up high on the list, more so because of this video, where Sky Sports simulates a team of Carragher's vs. Nevilles.
We certainly didn’t expect him to outperform the two legends above, but he did, what a surprise! Carragher ended up being 2nd in Season 2!

11. Johan Cruyff — 826 points

How would the master of “total football” compete against all of these physically strong and tall players? We already saw that Xavi and Messi’s Barcelona DNA didn’t really work out. And neither did Cruyff’s, ending on a slightly disappointing 11th spot. He was, however, the 3rd highest goalscorer overall!

10. Wayne Rooney — 830 points

Young Wayne Rooney was an absolute beast on the field. His work ethic, great physical and attacking attributes made up for the lack of defensive skills, putting him in a very respectable 10th place!

9. Cristiano Ronaldo — 830 points

Not a number 1 like many expected, it seems that the “greatest athlete to ever play the game” does not have the required skills to be the most complete player. Ronaldo had the exact same amount of points as his former teammate Rooney, which is quite a surprise. We assumed that Ronny would kick Rooney’s butt when they would go head to head, perhaps worth to test in a new simulation! Another fun fact: neither Rooney nor Ronaldo has made it to the top 3 in any season.

8. Sergio Ramos — 864 points

While getting by far the most red cards, as expected, Ramos still made it all the way to the 8th spot, combining great defensive skills with being lethal in front of the goal!

7. Roberto Carlos — 897 points

With a height of only 169 cm, you’d say that Roberto Carlos would get similar results as Alaba and the other full-backs.
Couldn’t be further from the truth! Roberto Carlos compensated for his height with his fantastic defensive and attacking skills, and won the first simulation with 119 points. The highest amount out of all the team across all the seasons! Roberto was also the 2nd highest goalscorer overall.

6. Dirk Kuyt — 911 points

Dirk had an awful first season with only 62 points. After that, he got steady top 5 rankings and even a win in season 9! Keep in mind that prime Dirk was quite some time before he was put on the left-back position by Louis van Gaal. The only positions he was comfortable in before was as a striker, attacking midfielder, and on the wings. Look at his physical attributes though!

5. Franz Beckenbauer — 912 points

“Der Kaiser” was one of the favorites to win. Only slightly worse than fellow countryman Matthäus in attack but much taller and stronger in defense which gave him a top 5 spot!

4. Steven Gerrard — 923 points

Gerrard’s seasons were quite different from each other. Not even in the top 10 in season 1 and 2 but winning season 5 and 6. Overall, it seems that Fernando Torres’ statement about Steven Gerrard being the most complete footballer of all time is not far from the truth!

3. Yaya Touré — 933 points

Reddit’s number one pick was a good choice! Yaya was a fantastic and complete player, hitting all the marks required to almost win it all (like the rest of the top 3): Tall, strong, experienced in a couple of positions, good in defense and in front of the goal, and a great technique.
Yaya is the most complete player of those of which we had the Football Manager attributes available, which also makes him the most complete player of the last 25 years!

2. Ronald Koeman — 974 points

A killer free-kick gets you to the second spot, it seems! Obviously, Koeman has much more to offer: A great presence on the field, fantastic in defense, and one of the best long shots of all time!

1. Ruud Gullit — 1040 points

Ruud Gullit is the most complete player of all time! (That is if you consider our simulation a good reflection of reality.) It makes sense though, when you compare him to all the other players in the line-up. He’s basically what you get if you add the other players of the top 5 together and make him a 191cm beast of a man! The epitome of total football.

“Ruud Gullit is a great player by any standards. He has all the skills. He’s not afraid to do things with the ball. And he looks as if he’s enjoying every second of it. By my reckoning that’s what makes him an even better player than Maradona. Both have the key quality you will find in all the best players: balance. You just can’t knock them off the ball. It was the same with Pelé, Beckenbauer and Cruyff.” — George Best

Final League table

Below you will find the ultimate league table with the points of all the 10 seasons, goals scored, goals against, and goal difference.

The ultimate league table:

The ultimate league table: All seasons

I ran a couple of simulations related to football/soccer and I might publish more!

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