John Hartson played with some wonderful footballers in his career. Not only was he in a superb Celtic team, but he also enjoyed success with the likes of Arsenal and West Ham, among others.
He recently collated his greatest teammates into an XI for BBC Sport and to many’s surprise, only two Celts feature. Although, it is an outstanding team in fairness to the big man.
Hartson said that he could have picked two world class teams with the players he lined up with throughout his career, but these are the comments he made on those got into his best XI and why.
Goalkeeper: David Seaman
An unbelievable keeper. At Arsenal we’d do shooting practice on Friday afternoons and Seaman used to stop everything. His attitude was top class as well – he used to be mad when you beat him. And it always took a brilliant finish to do it. The size of the big fella’s hands, no wonder he stopped so may shots.
Right-back: Lee Dixon
Didier Agathe was arguably the best right-back in Europe during the two years at Celtic when we were beating the likes of Juventus and Porto. But the consistency and quality Dixon showed over 600 games as part of Arsenal’s famous back four gets him the nod.
Left-back: Gary Speed
I’ve gone with a midfielder who played left-back as captain for Wales. It’s tragic that Gary took his own life. He was so popular, everybody loved him. I still feel goosebumps talking about him because I have so much admiration for him as a player and person. Magnificent footballer and played left-back no problem for the good of the team.
Centre-backs: Tony Adams & Rio Ferdinand
Adams was a real leader of men. He was the Arsenal skipper, tough as old boots. It’s not easy to lead, but he was born for it. Tony would do things and people would just follow. And what he’s gone on to do with his Sporting Chance clinic has helped thousands of young footballers with addictions. He can be really proud of himself and is 26 years clean now from alcohol.
Ferdinand broke into the West Ham side at 18 as a midfielder. He was a Rolls-Royce of a player – so comfortable in possession. He needed to grow physically to cope with the the demands of defending against the likes of Alan Shearer. Rio went on to win titles and the European Cup with Man United and he’s among the best Premier League centre-halves in the last 10-15 years.
Central midfield: Stiliyan Petrov & Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard gave glimpses of his goalscoring potential as a young West Ham team-mate of Hartson
Lampard is Chelsea’s record scorer with over 200 goals from midfield – that is just freakish. He made the breakthrough at West Ham around the same time as Rio. Frank had great potential but I wasn’t sure he would go on to become the great player he did. He perfected the art of making runs into the box and was a brilliant striker of the ball.
I absolutely loved playing with Petrov at Celtic. He had a ridiculous work ethic, he trained as he played and gave his maximum every day. He started at right-back under John Barnes and almost left the club. Then Martin O’Neill came in and Sitilyan became a massive part of the team. He could tackle, get up and down, was technically excellent. Hristo Stoichkov is on record saying Petrov is the greatest ever Bulgarian footballer, which is some praise.
Left midfield: Ryan Giggs
Giggsy has to be in. The most decorated player in British football history, and Man United’s record appearance holder. Sir Alex Ferguson dismantled and rebuilt the United team four or five times, but Giggs was a constant. I played with him for Wales for 10 years and his quality shone through.
Right midfield: Paul Merson
Just a great talent. He and Ian Wright at Arsenal had an almost telepathic understanding. Merson could play the ball with the outside of his foot and find Wright every time.
Strikers: Henrik Larsson & Dennis Bergkamp
Stiliyan Petrov and Henrik Larsson helped Hartson thrive in Martin O’Neill’s successful Celtic side
The two greatest talents I played with. There was nothing Henrik couldn’t do. His statistics are through the roof – 242 goals in 315 games for Celtic. He did it in World Cups, European Championships. A phenomenal goalscorer, incredible work rate, and everyone knew at Celtic that he was our best player. He won us so many games. Great in the air, deceptively quick and could get across people. Just an outstanding player.
If Bergkamp played in the snow, he wouldn’t leave any footprints. That’s the balance he had. He was just silky, everything he did was class. And he scored ridiculous goals. His 100 best – every one of them could be a goal of the season contender. He was that good. A really humble guy off the pitch, so strong on it. Words can’t describe how good he was.