The best Pro Evolution Soccer XI of all time
It's time to look back on the glory years
It might not seem like it now, but once upon a time Pro Evo was a world away from FIFA and had firmly cemented itself as the one and only football game in the hearts of most fans.
There was one simple reason for this: it was just a lot more fun.
Whilst FIFA was a stiff, turgid affair in terms of gameplay, PES was exciting and fluid, with non-stop bangers, diving headers, crunching slide tackles and most importantly, Adriano.
What would the all-time Pro Evo XI actually look like from that era?
Well, actually, it'd probably look a bit like this - if you let a true Pro Evo connoisseur decide:
I know what you're thinking. There are some names there you agree with. There are also many names that mean you are just now squinting at your phone in disgust, unable to process exactly why I have Ryan Babel and Park Chu Young dancing down the wings instead of, oh I don't know, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Christian Wilhelmsson.
Let me explain.
Goalkeeper - Lee Woon-Jae
Straight away: Who the fuck is Lee Woon Jae? Well... well.
Lee Woon-Jae is a South Korean goalkeeper who, despite not being a big name, was a hugely underrated gem in the early Pro Evo instalments. As he played for Suwon Bluewings, he was a free agent whenever you began a Master League journey, was open to negotiation and demanded a tiny salary. Better yet, he was actually really, really good. With the reflexes of a cat with really good reflexes (88 response), like an extremely nervous table tennis champion cat, and an experienced head on his shoulders (133 caps for South Korea, 88 mentality) Woon-Jae was the very foundation for any long-term Master League project.
He would never let you down, and even if you did, you were going to replace him with Buffon after a few years anyway. Weren't you. Don't lie to me. You were, weren't you? Loyalty in football is dead, all thanks to you.
Honourable mentions: Gianluigi Buffon, Dida, the one and only Shay Given
Right Back - Bernard Mendy
Look. This could have been Cafu, and that's about it really. But in the Pro Evo games we are focusing on, he was too old and would take a sharp decline faster than Brexit negotiations.
Good right backs on the game were usually sparse, Cicinho was good for a bit (unlike real life), then there was... who exactly? Paulo Ferreira? Hatem Trabelsi? GEREMI???
Absolutely fucking not. Get Bernard Mendy in, and Bernard Mendy's 95 top speed. He also had good dribbling, shot power, and, evidently, was quicker than a leopard on roller skates.
At 24, he was your right back for the next 10 years.
Honourable mentions: Literally just Cafu
Centre Back - Ivan Cordoba
Ivan Cordoba was quite possibly the single best anomaly in world football for a years. Standing at just 5 foot 8 inches in height, and weighing just 70kg, Cordoba was a fine, Colombian rib-eye of a man, but did not exactly possess the Herculean stature that would frighten strikers.
Fortunately, Cordoba made up for his relatively demure stature by, well, being an absolute fucking tank. A warp speed tank. A warp speed tank that could also jump over entire buildings, as well as just driving straight through them.
Here are a select few attributes: 90 top speed, 96 (!!!) acceleration, NINETY-SIX ACCELERATION THAT IS LUDICROUS, 99 jump (lol), 86 heading, response and stamina.
Basically, Ivan Cordoba was quicker than every striker he played against other than one man at the bottom of this list, who was in his Inter Milan squad anyway, so it really didn't matter. Not only was he faster, could literally just jump over them to win headers, he was also usually quicker to react to the ball, had the 'marking' special ability and could play right back and left back, making him arguably the most frustrating, soul-destroying player for your opposition and, therefore, the single most useful player on the game.
Ivan Cordoba was a monster, and if you didn't have him in your Master League squad, you had no idea what you were doing, quite frankly.
Honourable mentions: Luis Perea, who was basically a slightly taller version of Cordoba (5 foot 11, 84 acceleration, 98 top speed) and would make a fine alternative. But, like buying a pair of trainers from Sports Direct, it just doesn't feel right
Centre Back - Alessandro Nesta
He's Alessandro Nesta. The best defender in real life was also the best defender on the game: tall, elegant, great on the ball and despite a weirdly pixelated face, still ludicrously handsome.
Honourable mentions: Walter Samuel, Carles Puyol, Fabio Cannavaro
Left Back - Roberto Carlos
99 shot power. Get the ball with Roberto Carlos, sprint up the wing, hold down the square button, repeat. It was art, in a way. In a really sort of repetitive, reductive, flogging a dead horse kind of way. But just wait until we get to Adriano.
Honourable mentions: Ashley Cole, Cristian Chivu, John Arne Riise
Centre Mid - Juninho Pernambucano
A few of you will be reading this and asking yourself why Alvaro Recoba, the king of swing, isn't in this team. The simple reason I am going to offer you is that he can't actually play in central midfield, which is the position I required here and that I don't want too many Inter players in this team (they were overpowered because they were Pro Evo creator Shingo 'Seabass' Takatsuka's favourite team, hence Adriano being a demigod).
The real reason is that I love Juninho Pernambucano, and he was better in real life. Don't @ me. Recoba, in reality, was just... a bit disappointing. Obvious talent, quite lazy with it. People are typically enamoured with Recoba's notorious 97 swerve rating, meaning you could basically turn any shot into a frisbee-style missile.
Whilst that was undoubtedly effective, it didn't quite match Juninho's very true to life set-piece wizardry, which basically made you a goalscoring threat from any free-kick in the opposition's half (99 free kick accuracy, and they would have given him 100 if they could). Enough practice and you could have virtual Juninho living up to his name and spanking them in from close to halfway and, honestly, there was nothing better. There was no greater joy.
Honourable mentions: Alvaro Recoba and perpetual screamer merchants thanks to the middle shooting special ability Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard
Centre Mid - Pavel Nedved
Pavel Nedved on this game was arguably the perfect footballer, which is quite close to what the Czech midfielder was like in the real world, but still.
He possessed a 96 stamina and 96 shot power (which, as you have noticed, is extremely important on this game) as well as basically every other attribute firmly in the 80s, which meant that Nedved was an unstoppable force from midfield on the game.
Nedved would beat players like a winger, crunch people like Edgar Davids in his pomp and distribute the ball like Andres Iniesta in a blonde, choppy wig.
Oh, and he could shoot from anywhere off both feet. Like I said, unstoppable.
Honourable mentions: Nobody else comes close
Right Wing - Park Chu Young
You, an idiot: Haha, Park Chu Young is that shit Arsenal reject
Me, an intellectual: Park Chu Young was actually the best all round wonderkid on the game, who again, you could sign for practically nothing on Master League (it was before the ill-fated Arsenal years) and would eventually turn into the perfect attacking inside forward.
Honourable mentions: All actual good wingers and Christian Wilhelmsson, who was a joke for some reason
Left Wing - Ryan Babel
Another Premier League flop here in the form of Ryan Babel, who would start Pro Evo 5, for example, aged only 18. Even so, he was deadly, possessing electrifying pace and a great right foot. You could pull off mazy dribbles with the Ajax youngster safe in the knowledge that he had the ability to finish them off with a rising drive from the edge of the area, and even better, he could play on both wings or upfront.
Honourable mentions: Arjen Robben, Laurent Robert, Vicente
Centre Forward - Obafemi Martins
99 top speed and 99 acceleration. That is all.*
* It's actually not all. 97 agility, 96 dribble speed, 95 jumping. Ridiculous.
Honourable mentions: Henry, Eto'o, Shevchenko, original Ronaldo, Totti, Crespo. You know, all the actual really, really good strikers
Centre Forward - Adriano
There probably isn't anything that needs to be added about Adriano on Pro Evo. Just look at the absolute state of this:
Adriano didn't so much warp a game of Pro Evo as alter completely. This was L'Imperatore's kingdom and we were all just living in it.
He was basically impossible to defend against and would simply charge through any defence he was faced with like the proverbial bull through a china shop. Except Adriano would go through the shop next door also containing valuable, breakable goods and then cross the road afterwards, and rampage through whatever was over there as well. Probably a musical instrument place. Maybe a conservatory showroom.
About to get tackled? No problem, Adriano's 98 balance will ensure that you never lose the ball. 40 yards from goal? No problem, just hold down sprint and occasionally change direction slightly. Or just shoot! It will almost definitely go in, usually bang in the top corner or simply straight through the keeper and shit, if it doesn't, it will win you a corner. A corner? Don't worry, use said corner to cross the ball to Adriano, who will either power home a bullet header or launch his gigantic cinder block legs 10 feet in the air for a bicycle kick that would make Cristiano Ronaldo eat his Puskas award.
This was playing with Adriano; a complete fantasy of ridiculous goal after ridiculous goal, but that was also just playing Pro Evo, and being young or slightly younger again, and that's why we will always remember it.