Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Soccernostalgia Interview-Part 27 Interview with English Author Mr. Robert Fielder and Craig McCracken of on Eric Batty’s World XI for the year 1992)



For this interview, I look back at World Soccer magazine writer Eric Batty’s World XI selections for specific years.

This will be a semi-regular and continuous series.

The Interviewees are:

Mr. Robert Fielder

Mr. Fielder is the Author of ‘The Complete History of the World Cup’ (2014) and ‘The Complete History of the European Championship’ (2016).


Mr. Fielder’s contact info:

twitter: @ademir2z

Book links:*Version




Mr. Craig McCracken

Mr. McCracken is the Administrator of Soccer History and retro blog, ‘Beyond the Last man’.


Mr. McCracken’s contact info:

twitter: @BeyondTLM





Photo From: World Soccer, September 1992

(Eric Batty’s World XI of the year 1992)


Soccernostalgia Question: Eric Batty was a well-respected Journalist with World Soccer from its inception in the 1960s. He was most notably very knowledgeable on Eastern European Football. Can you talk about his background and your memories of reading his articles for World Soccer?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response:  I bought my first issue of World Soccer in December 1990 and was only a sporadic reader in the 1990s so the name Eric Batty didn’t mean much to me at the time. In the early 2000s I started to subscribe to the magazine and then began collecting back issues. As I built my collection, Eric’s articles were a regular source of interest and his yearly World XIs were the particular high points. Although the World XI normally came in the final months of the year, it didn’t come in a set month and some years there wasn’t one at all which was always big disappointment. If ever I got a new issue from October to December, I always opened it hoping that it might contain another World XI. There were names in the early XIs that I’d never heard of before and I keenly added the likes of Paul Bonga-Bonga (a Congolese half-back who played in Belgium), Fahrudin Jusufi (Yugoslav full-back) and Nestor Goncalves (Uruguayan right-half) to lists of the best players of their respective eras.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  Eric was a World Soccer staple for three decades, much of that time as its editor, and he continually demonstrated his knowledge of the game across the world through his writing. To do that job he had to; the World Soccer team was not a large one and Eric would have had the job of filling in all of the writing gaps across the periodical’s global coverage of the game, meaning a broad range was essential.

A particular interest in and strong knowledge of eastern European football was one of his things though, a trait that was shared with several of the magazine’s other writers, notable Leslie Vernon and his own unquenchable love for Hungarian football.

I remember Eric as a good old-fashioned enthusiast rather than a polished football writer. He had so many ideas rattling around in his mind that getting them into print in a fluid and penetrable form could be a challenge - he was an editor who really needed the services of an editor.



Soccernostalgia Question: Eric Batty’s World XI list was a staple of World Soccer. However, his World XIs were not necessarily ‘The Best’ Team of the year.  He looked for an amalgam in his selections and sometimes the selections and formations seemed odd. Do you recall such choices?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: I think the 80s in particular were an odd period for the formations and inclusions and Eric was never afraid to pick unusual selections. For most of the 60s and 70s, the formations made some sort of sense, even if the inclusions were less orthodox. Eric seemed to have a natural distrust of some of the truly great players with Cruyff rarely making the XI, despite his continued brilliance. In the 80s, he seemed to veer away from normality and his teams became increasingly unusual. Probably the high point was 1985 where he selected seven central midfielders, one true centre-back and a sweeper in truly mad formation. You had to think that Peter Shilton, who was selected in goal, would be having a busy time of it. Continuing the unique selections, his decision to omit Diego Maradona in 1986 showed that he was happy to defy convention and a pick the players he personally liked best.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  Assembling a World XI is a very personal and very subjective thing and I’m sure that some of our own choices would appear unusual to others too. We all have certain biases - traits that we value over others and, as a result, in certain cases obviously brilliant players might be eschewed because we don’t appreciate said player’s work rate or media profile for example.

Eric undoubtedly had his biases and his quirks and, while you might not see patterns over 3 or 4 selections, when he created his World XIs over three decades those biases really stand out.

There are many players you would assume would be fixtures, but actually rarely featured (Maradona, Cruyff) and formations that came and went and were never heard of again (2-1-5-1-1 or 1-3-1-4-1)



Soccernostalgia Question: The 1992 list was the very last he made prior to his death in 1994. Let’s start off with the goalkeeper position. Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel was most likely selected after Denmark winning the Euros. Veterans such as Walter Zenga, Andoni Zubizarreta and Hans van Breukelen were still in the mix. What do you think of Mr. Batty’s choice and who would have been your preference?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: I can’t argue too much with Schmeichel who was excellent at the Euros and had come off a fine season with Manchester United, helping them to the best defensive record in the English top-flight. He had a tremendous presence and was one of the few real stars of the European Championship. Among others, Vitor Baia had a stellar season for Porto and Luca Marchegiani had impressed with Torino. I was also a big admirer of Gianluca Pagliuca who was so important to the success of Sampdoria at this point. As you say, Zenga, Zubizarreta and Van Breukelen remained top keepers and Germany seemed to have a selection to choose from in Stein (even if he no longer made the national team), Kopke and Ilgner.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  Often players are rated retrospectively in fantasy teams for what they became rather than what they were at the time, though obviously Eric Batty would not be around to see the brilliant keeper that Peter Schmeichel became later in the 1990s.

He was still a very good keeper in 1992 of course, but to my eyes he had not settled especially comfortably into the role at Manchester United yet and his place in this team is purely down to his heroics over a handful of games at the European Championships.

My choice for 1992 would have been Gianluca Pagliuca of Sampdoria and Italy.



Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 42, July 1992

(Peter Schmeichel)

Soccernostalgia Question: The defense is unorthodox to say the least. Laurent Blanc is the Libero, with another libero Ronald Koeman and Central defender Des Walker as outside backs with defensive midfielder, the Brazilian Mauro Silva in front of them (based on Mr. Batty’s decision, he’s in part of the defense, not midfield). For the libero position, Koeman himself (for scoring in the Champions Cup Final) and Franco Baresi could have been chosen instead of Blanc and even Jurgen Kohler in the center of defense was a possibility. In fact, Des Walker (selected as an outside back) would have been a solid choice in center of defense as well (although he was on the verge of a nightmarish season with Sampdoria). Discuss the selections and your own preferences?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: Baresi feels like a big omission and he would definitely merit inclusion for me. He was such a great defender with his ability to read the game, his speed, his quality on the ball. At the time he had to rank among the very best players in the world, not just the best centre-backs. Koeman similarly had come off another stellar season with Barcelona, winning the European Cup and scoring the winning goal in the final with a superb free kick. His set-piece ability and range of passing were second to none, so I’d include him in the centre as well, even if he and Baresi were both nominally sweepers. Blanc and Walker are both worthy suggestions, even if they were very different players. Blanc of course gained renown, similarly to Koeman, with the number of goals he scored (albeit, not as many as the Dutchman) and was stylish and progressive in possession. Walker was the antithesis of the Frenchman, relying on his exceptional speed and love of defending to get his sides out of trouble. He had been superb with Forest and rightly lauded as among the best defenders around. He was a true “no-nonsense” centre-back. Among some of the other potential inclusions, Kohler was an excellent man-marker, maybe the best in the world alongside Pietro Vierchowod. His Juventus colleague Julio Cesar was also a fine player and I think that Rune Bratseth of Werder Bremen and Ricardo Rocha of Real Madrid would also be in the conversation. It’s hard though to pick better individuals than Baresi and Koeman.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  There was an element of overcompensation sometimes about Eric’s selections. In the early 80s he decided that as wingers were out of fashion, traditional full backs had no-one to mark and so they weren’t needed either.

It sometimes left you with odd looking teams and formations and this 1992 example looks exceedingly narrow! Any defensive selection from the early 1990s that did not include Franco Baresi would be compromised as far as I was concerned, so I’d have mirrored the back four system he thrived in, partnered by Jurgen Kohler and with fullbacks - pick any German or Italian international of the time.

I personally was never a great fan of Laurent Blanc and while Ronald Koeman was a force of nature, I can’t imagine him in the same back line as Baresi. Perhaps I’m just a traditionalist too who likes my central defenders to have complementary qualities.


Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 34, November 1991

(Laurent Blanc)


Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 42, July 1992

(Ronald Koeman)

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 42, July 1992

(Des Walker)

Soccernostalgia Question: As far as outside backs, Paolo Maldini should have automatically been chosen in those years, not to mention Stuart Pearce or Jorginho. Discuss the selections and your own preferences?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: The omission of Maldini in particular feels odd. This was arguably his prime period and there has been no finer left-sided defender that I’ve seen. He was so elegant defensively, astute in his positioning and a clean tackler. He also got forward well, even if not quite to the level of some later full-backs. To me, he was the complete defender and would be a certain inclusion. Among right-backs, his fellow Italians Bergomi and Tassotti were potential selections. Others who were in particularly good form at this point were Joao Pinto, the Porto defender, Albert Ferrer of Barcelona and Rob Jones of Liverpool, who would have been a top player throughout the 1990s but for injuries. I think Jorginho and Cafu would also be potential suggestions at this point, even if the latter’s reputation outside of Brazil was not quite fully developed. Overall, I think I’d go for Bergomi on the right, to add a bit of security for a pair of adventurous centre-backs.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  Yes, it’s really hard to make a case for Maldini not being one of the first names you would put in your team, but it ties in with Eric’s disregard for that role in that era.

My choice of full-backs from that era would be anyone you like from Italy or Germany - Bergomi, Maldini, Brehme, Reuter, Berthold. Those roles happened to the weakest ones in the brilliant Dutch team and other strong nations like Argentina and Yugoslavia were not well-stocked there either.

Brazil would become a real force here of course, but not quite by 1992.



Soccernostalgia Question: The midfield is made up of Frank Rijkaard, Srecko Katanec and Brian Laudrup. No arguments on Rijkaard as he was in top form in an unbeaten Serie A season with AC Milan and along with Marco van Basten was the only foreign-player untouchable in AC Milan’s 1992/93 team. Brian Laudrup was beneficiary of Denmark winning the Euros. Others in contention could have been Lothar Matthaus (though his pre-Euros injury probably counted against him in this selection), Dejan Savicevic was struggling at this point at Milan, Gascoigne was just returning after more than a year out injured, Thomas Haessler did well in the Euros but not as good at club level and Brian Laudrup’s own brother Michael may have had a claim with his performances with Barcelona. Discuss the selections and your own preferences?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: Rijkaard is one of the few certainties here. He was such an excellent all-round footballer, either in midfield or central defence and an absolute favourite of mine. He was also exceptionally consistent. His level throughout the late 80s, through to his retirement was never short of world class. An honourable mention for Didier Deschamps as a possible inclusion as well. Among the central midfielders, Matthaus hadn’t had his best season but was a real class act. His drive and determination in the centre were first rate and I’d be inclined to pick him. Katanec had enjoyed a good season with Sampdoria but was never really a world class performer. A few other potential inclusions were Fernando Hierro who had enjoyed a superb season with Real Madrid, Igor Shalimov who had really impressed at Foggia and two youngsters who would go on to play with great distinction over the next ten years, Demetrio Albertini and Pep Guardiola. In terms of the Laudrup brothers, Brian had an excellent Euro 92 with his pace and direct running, one of the real bright sparks for the Danes. I would though choose his brother Michael. His passing was exceptional and he was such an important figure in Cruyff’s Dream Team. He would be an excellent choice to dictate the play in my midfield. I should call out as well Ruud Gullit, such a wonderfully complete figure, even if not at his absolute peak at this stage. Enzo Scifo, on the back of a great season for Torino, Hagi of Real Madrid, Rui Barros and Andreas Moller were others who had shone at club level. I also had a real admiration for Abedi Pele, who was a magical figure in the great Marseille side of the era.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  I’m not a particular fan of Eric’s 1992 midfield at all for several reasons. Firstly, I think that Mauro Silva, Rijkaard and Katancec, while all fine players, all somewhat perform similar functions. Secondly, I think because of this repetition you have a midfield that is far too narrow and lacking width. Brian Laudrup should really be playing on the right side if he’s playing anywhere in the team, though I would have Roberto Donadoni in that role personally.

To add more creativity, I’d probably add in either Michael Laudrup or Enzo Scifo.



Photo From: World Soccer, July 1992

(Brian Laudrup)

Photo From: 1991-92 Calciatori Panini

(Srecko Katanec)

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Hors Serie 12, 1993

(Frank Rijkaard)

Soccernostalgia Question: For his preference as one of the wingers, Mr. Batty selected little known Italian Alessandro Orlando of Sampdoria. Strange selection to say the least as Orlando was not really a regular for any of his clubs: Juventus, Fiorentina and AC Milan and mainly bounced from club to club. What do you think of this choice?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: This goes down as one of the really odd choices that Eric made. It’s hard to quite understand it. Italy had the likes of Donadoni, Lentini and Lombardo at this stage who were all wingers of real renown. I’d have any of them ahead of Orlando. I won’t choose any wingers but the one I’d be most inclined to include would be Ryan Giggs. His pace, dribbling and quality on the ball made him the most exciting talent in British football at this point and were earning him deserved comparisons with George Best. He was a brilliant player and this was arguably the most thrilling period of his career.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  Alessandro Orlando was an attacking left back. There was a right sided midfielder named Angelo Orlando who played for Inter at the time, but in reality, I think this is a misprint and that the intention was to name Attilio Lombardo of Samp in that role.



Photo From: 1991-92 Calciatori Panini

(Alessandro Orlando)

Soccernostalgia Question: For the center forward position Marco van Basten is the choice and that was not up for discussion at that point as he was in superb form with AC Milan. Upfront he is partnered up with Bebeto. This is a strange choice as Bebeto had been stagnating for some time but was on the verge of regaining his form with Mauro Silva at Deportivo La Coruna (1992/93). Other choices may have included Hristo Stoichkov (excellent at Barcelona), Jean-Pierre Papin (his early troubles at AC Milan most likely counted against him) and Gianluca Vialli (recently transferred to Juventus) and Dennis Bergkamp, a rising star at Ajax and in the Euros. Discuss the selections and your own preferences?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: This was a great generation of centre-forwards and Van Basten was the best of the lot. He was graceful, strong, clever and a superb finisher. He had no weaknesses in his game. It’s one of the great tragedies that he wouldn’t play again after the 1992-3 season. Among other strikers Papin was also superb and had enjoyed a number of fine seasons at Marseille; a spectacular finisher who struck the ball so well. Lineker had signed off from European football with a great year at Spurs before moving to Japan and Vialli was another brilliant player. Any of those would be worthy inclusions but Van Basten deserves his place. Alongside him I’d really like to include all three of Baggio, Bergkamp and Stoichkov but can only choose two. They were each in prime form at this point, capable of changing games with their brilliance. Given I can only pick two, I’ll have to leave out Stoichkov, and include Baggio from the left and Bergkamp the right. They’d give Van Basten plenty of ammunition. In respect of Bebeto, it seems a slightly strange choice but he made a superb start to the season at Depor and ultimately ended up with 29 goals in the 1992-3 season. I also think he could have played well with Van Basten, because he was a really clever player and an excellent foil for another forward.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  The inclusion of Bebeto does seem something of a surprise, much as you could say about Mauro Silva being chosen in midfield. Maybe Eric had a thing for Deportivo La Coruna at the time, though neither player had been in Spain all that long when he would have prepared this selection.

Stoichkov would have seemed a much better choice for me as he could play off the left and not occupy the same spaces as Van Basten - something that Papin did when the pair teamed up at Milan.

Bergkamp was up-and-coming but not quite at this level for me in 1992. He would have played behind Van Basten in a number ten role and, to be honest, this is a selection that needs more width rather than more creative central players.


Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Hors Serie 12, 1993

(Marco van Basten)


Photo From: Onze-Mondial, Issue 47, December 1992

(Bebeto and Mauro Silva)

Soccernostalgia Question: From the players you chose as part of your preferences, which ones do you feel are noteworthy omissions?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: Baresi and Maldini in particular feel like big omissions. I think they were clearly exceptional players at this point in time with a fair claim to being the best players of all time in their individual positions. Perhaps you can point to the fact that Italy hadn’t qualified for Euro 92 as a fault in their credentials but Serie A was clearly the strongest league in the world at this point and Milan the best team in it.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  See previous answers



Soccernostalgia Question: From Mr. Batty’s choices, which ones do you believe are incorrect?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response: The Orlando selection is an odd one and Katanec feels a little unusual. I think all of the others have some merit and each of the other ten enjoyed high level international careers. Orlando in contrast was probably not among the 5-10 best Italian wingers of the 1990s.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  Most of them! I disagree with a lot of individual player choices, but also feel that Eric’s team suffers from a lack of balance in the traits of the players he has selected.


Soccernostalgia Question: On balance, how do you regard Mr. Batty’s choices for that year?


Mr. Robert Fielder’s Response:  I’d say this is one of Eric’s less orthodox selections, both in terms of formation and personnel. It’s quite an unbalanced team, lacking in width (though Orlando and Laudrup could play wide if needed) and feels a bit disjointed between attack and defence. The inclusions of Koeman, Rijkaard and Van Basten all make perfect sense and their international familiarity would certainly have helped. It’s certainly not his most unusual side though and there’s nothing outrageous in there. I think his willingness to go against the grain was one of the things that made Eric Batty such an integral part of the brilliance of World Soccer and why his selections always proved so interesting.


Mr. Craig McCracken’s Response:  Eccentric, but that was part of the charm of Eric’s World XIs. There is not one single year when there is not some plainly odd player or tactical or formational selections that leave you scratching your head.

Let’s just say that for all the great players who featured over the years, not many of his teams would have ever won a football game if they had the chance to play.

Photo From: World Soccer, September 1992

(Eric Batty’s World XI of the year 1992)

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