Following the publication of our Serie A team of the 1980s and 1990s articles, it was only natural we would tackle the 2000s next. After the golden era of the 1990s, the 2000s had a lot to live up to – and it had it all. As well as showcasing some incredible footballing talent, the 2000s gave us the Calciopoli scandal, a debt crisis that threatened to bury the Italian game and a World Cup triumph for the national team. After compiling a shortlist, asked our Twitter followers to choose one player for each position. The result was this formidable-looking team. But, as usual, there were a few surprise omissions.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
“Gigi” Buffon was, without doubt, the goalkeeper of the decade – and perhaps even the best goalkeeper of all time. He started the decade with a huge £32m move from Parma to Juventus, making him the most expensive keeper in history – a record that would stand until well after the decade ended. He won Serie A in his first season – the first of his nine league titles with the club – and smashed record after record. He stayed with the club during the Calciopoli scandal, while winning a World Cup at the same time. His professionalism was exemplary and he managed to change his game after a back injury. Buffon is probably the best in his position there has ever been.
Cafu is one of Serie A’s best foreign imports. The Brazilian spent the first eight years of the new millennium dominating the right flank of football pitches across Italy. Nicknamed il pendilino – the express train – Cafu was a master of the overlapping run and an integral member of the Roma team that won the Scudetto in 2001. Although famed for his attacking style, Cafu also was a very reliable defender. He joined Milan in 2003, where he won another league title and, at the age of 36, a Champions League winners’ medal in 2007. He retired the following year as Brazil’s most capped player and the only footballer to have have played in three straight World Cup finals.
Centre-back: Alessandro Nesta
If one man made defending fashionable in the 2000s, it was Alessandro Nesta. He was uncompromising yet elegant. Composed yet flagrantly cynical when required. His reading of the game ensured that even against Serie A’s greatest forwards – and there were plenty during the 2000s – he often came out on top. Christian Vieri called him Italy’s greatest defender in a generation and Zdenek Zeman, one of the most attacking coaches in Italian football history, claimed that he was “the best defender in the world for many years and could take them all on playing on his own.” As well as winning the World Cup in 2006, Nesta won three league titles (one with Lazio and two with Milan) and two Champions League titles during the decade.
Centre-back: Fabio Cannavaro
Fabio Cannavaro was the universal defender, able to play anywhere across the back-four and perform the role with calmness and authority. His intelligence, versatility, skill, stamina and pace made him indispensable for his clubs and country for much of the decade. A reference point of excellence for those around him, he enjoyed a sustained period of greatness in the early 2000s which culminated in a World Cup win and Ballon d’Or in 2006.
Left-back: Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini deserves a place in the team of every decade he played in. He brought class, professionalism, a respect for history and a determination for winning to Milan. There is no question he is the best left-back of all time and when you read the list of what he has won in the game it seems endless..
Defensive midfielder: Daniele De Rossi
An idol for Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi was one of the world’s most complete midfielders during the second half of the decade. He was passionate and tenacious – perhaps to a fault given his collection of yellow and red cards – as well as being blessed with great vision and positional sense. The Rome-born midfielder brought steel and authority to Roma’s play, protecting the defence and complementing the flair and genius of Francesco Totti, who De Rossi would eventually replace as the Giallorossi’s captain the following decade.
Regista: Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo is like no other footballer on the planet. He represents the inscrutable beauty of the game in human form, like an avatar of the footballing Gods sent to vindicate followers and convert non-believers. Pirlo delivered a one-man golden age of football and remains the past, present and future of the game.
Attacking midfielder: Kaká
The sight of Kaká gliding across the San Siro turf, with the ball under his spell and defenders at his mercy, became iconic during the 2000s. The Brazilian had an aura. His crowning moment came in 2007, when he inspired Milan to Champions League glory and picked up the Ballon d’Or for his troubles. His virtuoso goals against Celtic and Manchester United captured him at his majestic best. Two years earlier, on that fateful night against Liverpool in Istanbul, he exhibited the poise and precision that also made him a world-class creator, laying on one of the greatest assists in modern Champions League history for Hernán Crespo. It was a pleasure to watch him play.
Forward: Alessandro Del Piero
Alessandro Del Piero won three league titles and the Champions League in the 1990s but, if anything, he topped that in the 2000s with another three Serie A titles and the World Cup in 2006. He was a superstar and a leader, captaining Juventus for almost the whole decade. His partnership with David Trezeguet was legendary and, like Buffon, he played for Juventus in Serie B after winning the World Cup. By the time he left Juventus in 2012, he had made more appearances and scored more goals for the club than anyone in history.
Striker: Andriy Shevchenko
Andriy Shevchenko beat out stiff competition to earn his place in our team. Pitted against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Christian Vieri and Luca Toni, the former Milan forward won almost half the vote in our Twitter poll. His movement, finishing and ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck made him a nightmare for even Serie A’s toughest defenders. Marco Materazzi tried to rough him up on numerous occasions, but with little success.
Before his move to Chelsea in 2006, Shevchenko played 296 times for Milan and scored 172 goals for the club. Only Swedish legend Gunnar Nordahl scored more for Milan. Shevchenko won the Champions League in 2003 and was top scorer in Serie A the following season as Milan won the league and he lifted the Ballon d’Or.
Forward: Francesco Totti
Francesco Totti gave us so much in the 2000s. Exquisite chips against Lazio and Inter, a sensational outside-of-the-boot volley at Sampdoria (a goal that brought a standing ovation from the home supporters) a telepathic partnership with Antonio Cassano and some of the greatest assists of all time. A one-club man, Totti led Roma to a league title in 2001, only the third in their history. Following his highly emotional retirement in 2017, he has been treating the futsal world to some of his wondergoals.
Mister: Carlo Ancelotti
Kind, humorous and the epitome of calmness, Carlo Ancelotti arrived at Milan in 2001 and immediately fostered a winning mentality. His decision to deploy Andrea Pirlo as a deep-lying playmaker was a masterstroke that transformed the team’s attacking threat and ushered in a new period of success. Despite only winning one Serie A title with Milan, his haul of seven other trophies – including two Champions Leagues – was enough to convince voters he deserved to manage our team of the 2000s.