Argentina all-time greatest playing XI and manager: Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona lead line-up of legends


The status of Argentina as one of the most successful nations in the world of football is indisputable. La Albiceleste, as they are popularly known, are two-time FIFA World Cup winners. They also made five appearances in the final of the tournament. They have also won the Copa America a whopping 15 times, the most wins tied with Uruguay. Besides that, they were 1992 FIFA Confederations Cup champions too and have also won Olympic gold on two separate occasions besides also finishing as runners-up twice. As such, the South American nation have always been a joy to watch in the international arena. Not only do they win on a regular basis, but they often do so while playing attractive and attacking football.

But who would make an all-time playing XI of their greatest-ever players? It’s a tough question to answer, given the number of legendary players that have worn the white and sky-blue shirt over the years.

And it is also a question we are going to attempt to answer anyway. So without further ado, let us look at what we think is the best playing XI comprising Argentina legends ever.

Table of Contents

Goalkeeper: Ubaldo Fillol – (Active from 1965-91, Argentina caps: 58, World Cup wins: 1, major career achievements: considered Argentina’s greatest goalkeeper, Notable clubs: Racing Club, River Plate, Atletico Madrid)

The man nicknamed El Pato (The duck) is still the benchmark for goalkeeping greatness in Argentina. And it is easy to understand why. Not only did he have a very long career, it was also full of success at both club and international level.

At club level he is best remembered for his spell at River Plate. There, he won seven league titles with the Buenos Aires giants. But he is also remembered for playing a key part in Argentina winning their maiden World Cup in 1978, at home no less. He could have played in the 1986 side too but did not make the final squad despite playing in the World Cup qualifiers.

Amusingly enough, Fillol used to wear the Number 5 jersey for Argentina at one point. That’s an unusual number for a shot-stopper. This is because Argentina would assign numbers not by position, but alphabetically. Eventually he had to wear the number 1 by 1986; this was because FIFA said that only the number 1 could be work by goalkeepers.

Right-back: Javier Zanetti – (Active from 1992-2014, Argentina caps: 145, World Cup wins: 0, Major career achievements: captained Inter Milan to their only treble, Notable clubs: Talleres, Banfield, Inter Milan)

The versatile and athletic full-back was unlucky to be part of the Argentina side when they were going through a lean patch of success. Yet Zanetti was rarely if ever overlooked; he made 145 appearances for Argentina, making him their third-most capped player ever.

Adept at playing on either flank, Zanetti was best known as an attacking right-back and occasionally even a midfielder. His longevity and multiple trophies with Italian club Inter Milan – 16 in total, including five leagues and a Champions League – saw him become a Nerrazzuri legend. Upon his retirement, the club retired his #4 jersey and he is their current vice-president.

Amusingly, he once collaborated with Italian singer Mina in a Spanish cover of the song “Parole parole”. This song is on her album Todavia.

Centre-back: Oscar Ruggeri – (Active from 1980-97, Argentina caps: 97, World Cup wins: 1, Major career achievements: played a key role in Argentina’s international glory in 1980s and ‘90s, Notable clubs: Boca Juniors, River Plate, Real Madrid)

The man nicknamed El Cabezón (The Big-headed One) is considered one of the finest defenders to come from Argentina. He lived up to his surname and would defend in a no-nonsense and rugged manner. And Ruggeri formed the backbone of the side that won the World Cup in 1986 at Mexico. Argentina also won two Copa America trophies (1991 and 1993) with him in the side.

Besides his rough man-marking style, he was also very good in the air and could occasionally find the back of the net too. His unique attributes saw him enjoy plenty of success at club level too. He won league trophies with both Boca Juniors and River Plate. At the latter side, he also won the Copa Libertadores. His one-year spell at Spanish giants Real Madrid saw him win a La Liga title too.

Interestingly, he was at one point Argentina’s most-capped player with 97 caps. He was even called on to captain the side after Diego Maradona was banned in 1994.

Centre-back: Daniel Passarella – (Active from 1971-89, Argentina caps: 70, World Cup wins: 1, Major career achievements: Captained Argentina to maiden World Cup win, Notable clubs: River Plate, Fiorentina, Inter Milan)

Daniel Passarella in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)

Passarella is widely considered to be one of the best – if not the best – defender to ever come from the continent of South America. He was the captain of the Argentina side that won their maiden World Cup in 1978. He was also part of the 1986 World Cup winning side, albeit mostly as a squad player.

This was down to issues with Diego Maradona and then-coach Carlos Bilardo. Even then, he is the only player to have won two World Cups with Argentina. Given the type of player he was, it is only fitting that he has this honour. Passarella was an old-school defender who could also score plenty of goals.

Indeed, his record of 134 goals in 451 matches remained a record for a defender until he was surpassed by Dutch defender Ronald Koeman. Passarella was an excellent leader – even being dubbed El Kaiser in reference to Franz Beckenbauer – who posed a threat in either box. Few if any have matched his unique style of play.

Left-back: Silvio Marzolini – (Active from 1959-72, Argentina caps: 28, World Cup wins: 0, Major career achievements: won multiple domestic trophies with Boca Juniors, Notable clubs: Boca Juniors, Ferro Carrill Oeste)

It is rare that a player who only played 28 times for his country is considered the best in his position. Yet that was the case with Marzolini. Till date is seen as the finest left-back to pull on the Argentina jersey.

Marzolini’s biggest recognition came during the 1966 World Cup in England. He made the best playing XI of that edition of the tournament. He also turned out for La Albiceleste in the 1962 edition of the tournament prior to that.

At club level, he enjoyed a fair bit of success with Boca Juniors. He won five leagues there in his 10-year spell. Interestingly, he would come back to the club as coach to win the league once again. He coached a star-studded team including Maradona and Ruggeri.

Defensive midfielder: Javier Mascherano – (Active from 2003-20, Argentina caps: 147, World Cup wins: 0, Major career achievements: won two Olympic gold medals with Argentina, Notable clubs: River Plate, Liverpool, Barcelona)

Never the flashiest of players, Mascherano more than made up for his lack of style with plenty of substance. The beauty of Mascherano’s game lay in simplicity; his excellent tactical reading of the game, combined with a dogged streak and propensity to tackle meant he was the perfect defensive shield.

His passing game should not be overlooked though. He also possessed stamina that occasionally saw him deployed as a full-back or advanced midfielder. Nevertheless, it was in the holding role where El Jefecito or “The Little Chief” earned his reputation.

He had a stellar club career too, excelling at Liverpool and even Barcelona. Interestingly, he only scored the one goal for Barca in 334 appearances. That came from a penalty kick in a league game in 2016-17 against Osasuna. Indeed, he has only scored 5 goals throughout his entire career.

Central midfielder: Sergio Batista – (Active from 1981-99, Argentina caps: 39, World Cup win: 1, Major career achievements: Won World Cup as player and Olympic gold as coach, Notable clubs: Argentinos Juniors, River Plate)

Batista is another one who makes the list despite not playing a lot of games for Argentina. Not that he was an unknown or anything; quite the contrary, Batista is remebered as one of the country’s best midfielders in the early ‘80s.

He was particularly excellent at Argentinos Juniors, where he won two leagues as well as a Copa Libertadores. His showings for the club saw him get a call-up to the side in late 1985. He would then impress to the point he became a first-choice player for the 1986 World Cup.

Batista ended up playing in every single game, becoming a key part of the side that would go on to win their second World Cup. He also remained an integral part of the side till 1990. But after that year he never turned out for the national team again. Nevertheless, being a key part of a legendary side means he warrants a spot in this list.

Central midfielder: Osvaldo Ardiles – (Active from 1973-91, Argentina caps: 51, World Cup wins: 1, Major career achievements: played a key part in Argentina’s maiden World Cup win, Notable clubs: Belgrano, Huracan, Tottenham Hotspur)

Osvaldo Ardilles
Osvaldo Ardilles in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)

Ardiles was a key part of the side that won the 1978 World Cup. Nicknamed Piton or python by his brother due to possessing snake-like dribbling skills, it was these skills that made him such a success at both club and international level.

Ardiles was not someone who was extremely prolific but he was very creative and did not hesitate to get stuck in if the situation so demanded it. Indeed, it was this combination of skills that saw him become a cult hero at Tottenham Hotspur.

Ardiles, alongside teammate Ricardo Villa, had joined the English club after the 1978 World Cup. Ardiles would enjoy a fruitful 10-year spell at the club, winning the FA Cup in 1981. Indeed, the only reason his spell at the club ended was due to the Falklands War.

Right-forward: Lionel Messi – (Active from 2004-present, Argentina caps: 151*, World Cup wins: 0, Major career achievements: multiple honours with Barcelona, five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Notable clubs: Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain)

Lionel Messi in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)
Lionel Messi in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)

What is there to be said that hasn’t been said already? Messi, even in what is the twilight of his career, continues to bedazzle audiences around the world. And besides a World Cup, the little boy from Rosario has won absolutely everything that there is to be won. Champions Leagues? Check. League titles and domestic cups? Check. Club World Cups? Check. Multiple Ballon d’Or trophies? Check.

The greatness of Messi, however, does not lie solely in his accolades. No, the diminutive genius amazes people due to his skill on the ball, propensity to beat a man from anywhere, and score goals few would believe possible – on a freakishly regular basis, it is worth mentioning.

Messi’s accomplishments at Barcelona are so gigantic that one often feels he is the victim of his own success. The ordinary for him is unattainable by a large chunk of footballers – even those in their prime. And while his playing career is not over, it is fair to say that he belongs comfortably among all the legends to have ever pulled on an Argentina shirt.

Left-forward: Diego Maradona – (Active from 1976-97, Argentina caps: 91, World Cup wins: 1, Major career achievements: was Argentina’s main man as they won 1986 World Cup, Notable clubs: Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli)

Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona file photo. (Image: Twitter)

While the current generation of football fans debates over Messi and Ronaldo, in the ‘80s and ‘90s the debate was over Maradona and Pele. This is despite the fact that both played in different generations and also had different playing styles.

Pele was primarily a goal-scorer; he might have often played just behind a traditional striker, but it was his goalscoring that took precedence. Maradona, on the other hand, could do it all. Whether it be dribbling, party tricks, outrageous goals, free-kicks, penalties, finesse shots, power shots… there was little El Diego could not do.

Perhaps more notably, Maradona inspired and led by example; a born leader who rallied troops not just with words but with his actions. He played a key part in the rise of Napoli from relegation-battlers to champions of Italy. He is revered in Barcelona, Boca Juniors, Argentinos Juniors, Newell’s Old Boys… and everywhere else he might have played.

Controversial off the pitch but a genius on it, Maradona defined football for a whole generation. And he remains the yardstick by which Argentina fans measure greatness.

Striker: Gabriel Batistuta – (Active from 1988-2005, Argentina caps: 77, World Cup wins: 1, Major career achievements: Argentina’s second-highest international goal-scorer, Notable clubs: Newell’s Old Boys, Boca Juniors, Fiorentina)

Batistuta earned the nickname ‘Batigol’ due to his propensity for regularly finding the back of the net. Far from a regular poacher, he could score from a distance quite often, possessing an accurate volley especially while on the move.

Indeed, he was Argentina’s leading goal-scorer with 54 goals in 77 matches before 2016, when he was surpassed by none other than Messi. He is also Argentina’s leading goal-scorer in World Cups, having scored a total of 10 goals. Incredibly, he is the only man to score a hat-trick in two editions of the tournament.

Batistuta’s eye for goal was notable at club level too. He won titles at Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors and River Plate before moving to Fiorentina in Italy. With them, he was at his prolific best: he scored 167 goals in 269 appearances over the course of 9 seasons at the club. He remains a Viola and Albiceleste legend.

Manager: Carlos Bilardo

Carlos Bilardo
Carlos Bilardo (L) and Diego Maradona in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)

Bilardo’s tactical acumen could be seen even in his playing days at Estudiantes, so it was little surprise when he went on to become their manager. His first spell at the club was mixed as he twice failed to win the Copa Libertadores.

However, his second stint saw the side play attacking football that caught the eye of many, including the media and the top brass at the Argentine Football Association. He became the manager of the side in 1983, and would remain in that position until 1990.

He won the 1986 World Cup and almost did the same four years later, only for Argentina to lose out to West Germany by the narrowest of margins. Still, his influence on the world of coaching remains undeniable. He was even named the 29th greatest manager of all time in a 2013 World Soccer list.

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