Religion is quite a touchy subject. It’s one that cuts across nearly every sphere of human endeavour. Tribuna.com decided to set up two teams from the most popular religions in the world. Who would win?
Christianity and Islam are the two most widely practised religions in the world.
It is estimated there are about 2.3 billion Christians and 1.8 billion Muslims in the world today. Those numbers are quite staggering.
As you’d expect, several high profile footballers have professed their faith in either one of these two religions.
Let’s take a look at a team of the best active players from these religions and predict a possible winner.
We begin with the Muslim XI
GK – Asmir Begovic
Asmir Begovic would be proud to stand in between the sticks for the Muslim XI.
Begovic was born and remains a practising Moslem. The Bosnian shot-stopper is a seasoned professional who remains relevant at the biggest thanks to a career that’s spanned nearly two decades.
Begovic spent nearly 15 years playing for a handful of clubs in England; most notably for Chelsea where he won the Premier League in 2017. The 32-year-old dons the red and black strips of AC Milan where he’s currently on loan.
RB – Sead Kolasinac
The Arsenal defender makes the Muslim XI for his versatility and robustness in defence. Sead Kolasinac is a tenacious fullback who can also hold his own in central defence or midfield.
Since moving to the Emirates in 2017, Kolasinac has been a mainstay in the Arsenal first team. The 26-year-old plays for Bosnia and Herzegovina – the country of his Muslim parents.
CB – Antonio Rudiger
When he’s in top shape, Antonio Rudiger is like an incensed bull in defence. The fact he’s Muslim makes him the most fitting player to hold things together at centre-back for the Muslim XI.
Rudiger is easy to love – the Chelsea faithful will attest. The German defender is a vocal leader, with enough tenacity, pace and technical ability to back up his roars.
LB – Benjamin Mendy
Manchester City went all out to get Benjamin Mendy back in 2017. Barring injuries, the Frenchman takes his seat among the best fullbacks in the Premier League.
Mendy was born to Monique and Mendy Snr. in Logjumeau, France. Both parents are Muslim and trace their roots to Cote d’Ivoire.
CM – N’Golo Kante
N’Golo Kante was already having a rough 2020 long before the outbreak of COVID-19. It seemed he’d lost his mojo in midfield and his fitness was seriously being questioned.
However, Kante’s recent travails only go to show he’s human after all – something we’ve all wanted to find out for some time now. Regardless, he’s still the best defensive/central midfielder in Europe on the books of many.
Born in Paris to middle-class parents, Kante is a professing Moslem and has been on a pilgrimage trip to Mecca.
CAM – Mesut Ozil
It's been an open secret for a long - Mesut Ozil is Muslim.
Ozil is of Turkish descent – a country where 63.8% of the population is Muslim.
In the aftermath of the 2018 World Cup, Ozil angrily retired from international football citing racial abuse regarding a picture he took with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He’s often criticized for his nonchalance, but Ozil is truly a superb midfielder with a touch like pure silk. It’s one quality that endeared him to Cristiano Ronaldo during their three years together at Real Madrid.
CAM – Paul Pogba
Isn’t 'Paul' a Christian name? You might wonder. It’s somewhat bewildering when you think about it. That’s how it is. A man can choose his path, regardless of name. We’ve seen a notable footballer like Emmanuel Adebayor convert to Islam. Which is quite similar to what Paul Pogba did.
In 2019, Pogba decided to take his Muslim faith seriously. He went on to post Instagram pictures and videos of his pilgrimage trip to Mecca.
CAM – Riyad Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez comes from a country where 98% of the population is Muslim. The Algerian midfielder is one firm believer in the Islamic faith.
Mahrez has witnessed a meteoric rise in his career since moving to England in January 2014. His phenomenal performances which helped Leicester win the Premier League in 2016 are well-documented.
If you’ve ever watched Mahrez, you’d agree he’s a classy player with guile and flair. The 29-year-old should provide creativity and goal-threat for the Muslim XI.
RWF – Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard’s religion is not common knowledge; even among fans of the player and seasoned pundits alike. Two things are responsible for that narrative. Firstly, Hazard rarely ever talks about his religious beliefs, which has led many to assume he doesn’t have one. Secondly, people don’t care so much about a player’s religion, they’re particular about how good he is on the pitch. And Hazard is quite good.
Hazard is indeed a Muslim, not just because his Belgian family is, but because he’s subtly revealed it in time past.
What a player like Hazard brings to the table for any team cannot be over-emphasized. The 29-year-old is a serial winner who can take a game by the scruff of the neck and make things happen.
LWF – Sadio Mane
Talk about a devout Muslim superstar footballer, Sadio Mane comes to mind. The Liverpool forward has often been pictured celebrating a goal by bowing his face to the ground – signifying Muslims prayer posture.
Mane is one player who gives his all every time he’s out on the pitch. No surprise he plundered 18 goals and provided 12 assists before COVID-19 rudely interrupted.
CF – Mo Salah
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is another Muslim footballer who needs no introduction. Born and raised in the Islamic country of Egypt, it’s not hard to see why he's Muslim.
Since returning for a second spell in the Premier League in 2017, Salah has risen to become one of the best forwards in the game. No goalkeeper can be comfortable with Salah shooting off that wicked left foot of his.
A look at the Christian XI
GK – Gianluigi Buffon
Born in Carrara, Italy, there aren’t many goalkeepers as decorated and revered as Gianluigi Buffon.
Buffon was born and baptized a Catholic. Oftentimes, he’s been pictured making the sign of the cross (symbolic to Catholics) during a game.
Many other Christian goalies could’ve manned the sticks for the Christian XI, like Alisson Becker for instance; we just couldn’t overlook this ageless and legendary Juventus icon.
RB – Dani Alves
Dani Alves was born in Juazeiro, Brazil, to a family crazy about football. Although he doesn’t talk much about his beliefs, the defender grew up in a Christian home and is still a Catholic.
Alves is attributed to be the most decorated player in football history with 40 trophies. He currently lines up for Sao Paulo in the Brazilian top-tier.
CB – David Luiz
David Luiz is among the most devout Christian footballers still active. On many occasions, Luiz has gone public with his Christian faith. In 2011, Luiz was photographed laying hands and praying for fellow Chelsea teammate Fernando Torres.
When he's in his element, Luiz is as good as any top defender in Europe.
CB – Thiago Silva
Thiago Silva is another Brazilian defender who has professed his Christian faith beyond crosses hand gestures on the pitch. For a player who’s from a country with the bulk of its population Orthodox Christians, it's unsurprising he's one.
Silva has matured into a decorated superstar who earns million per week. He’s a lucky chap though; Silva almost counted for an aborted child due to poverty.
LB – Andrew Robertson
Andrew Robertson comes from a country that’s predominantly Christian; however, that isn’t enough to say the player is Christian.
The fact he attended a Roman Catholic High School adds credence to the narrative that ‘Robertson’s always been a Christian.
Robertson is a revered left-back who can stroll into the first team of any team in Europe. What can he bring to the Christian XI?
CM - Andres Iniesta
Someone asked if Andres Iniesta is retired. He’s not. The Spanish legend currently plays for Vissel Kobe in the Japanese first division.
About his faith, Iniesta is a devout Catholic who doesn’t hide his belief from the public. In 2010, Iniesta promised to go on a Catholic pilgrimage if Spain won the World Cup – he kept that promise.
Iniesta is unarguably among the finest midfielders ever to lace a football boot.
CAM – Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling grew up without a father but was well-catered for by his mother who brought him up in the Christian way. That must’ve impacted his life because we’ve seen him quote Bible scriptures in some of his tweets.
Sterling is an exciting player who brings pace and cutting edge to his team. Would be interesting to see him lineup alongside other Christian superstars.
CAM – Neymar
Neymar is a man of flamboyance and grandeur, but it takes nothing away from his Christian belief. During the 2016 Olympic Games, the Brazilian superstar wore a bandana inscribed “100% Jesus” to make the point clear.
Neymar’s brilliant career has been plagued with injuries, still, there’s very little he can’t do with the ball at his feet.
LWF – Cristiano Ronaldo
At least 80% of Portugal population are Catholics. The family of Cristiano Ronaldo is one.
"I go to church every week,”. "I am Catholic and I go to thank God for everything he gives me.” - Ronaldo was quoted by Mirror in 2018.
Ronaldo lives and breathes goals – even at 35. There’s precious little to say about this extraordinary player that’s not common knowledge.
RWF – Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi does one pose almost every time he scores. He runs to the corner and lifts both hands as if in gratitude to a Supreme Being. Well, it’s no secret Messi is a catholic which means he’s a Christian. You can also tell by the cross gestures he makes so often.
What more can be said about this incredible player without sounding like a broken record?
CF – Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez isn’t one of those players who hide their religious belief. Suarez has shown over and over again that he’s Christian. Not with his biting antics though. During the 2018 World Cup, he put up pictures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, alongside a photo of his family in his dressing room space.
At 33, Suarez isn’t as brilliant as used to be, but he’s still a terrifying striker in European football.
Both teams are pretty solid and loaded with quality in all departments. The Christian XI looks like the scarier team with the likes of Messi and Ronaldo bearing down. But they’re the older team with these top dogs well into their 30s.
The Muslim XI has a more robust team with better balance. That would come handy in dampening the attacking firepower of the Christian XI. If they ever meet in a football match, the Christian XI could win 2-1.