- Top Tens
The world team of the yearBen Blackmore November 26, 2010
FIFA announced on Thursday the 55 men under consideration to form the FIFA/FIFPro World XI 2010 - better known as the world team of the year.
Voted for by fellow peers, a secret ballot of 50,000 votes will determine the strongest XI, from a list including 16 Premier League names.
The knee-jerkers out there might throw a Gareth Bale into their line-up, but ESPN's 4-3-3 formation will be based on each player's achievements for club and country over the past 12 months, including silverware as well as outstanding performance. (And yes, we are aware that we have broken the tried-and-tested rules of the Top Ten by including an 11th man...)
Brushing shoulders with the likes of Iker Casillas and Petr Cech in the FIFA nominees list, Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar's ability to stay focused throughout 90 minutes proved vital during the Italian side's run to the Champions League final. To coin a well-used cliche, the sign of a top goalkeeper is one who can be asked to do nothing for 89 minutes, and then make a match-winning save in the 90th. Cesar averaged less than three saves per match during the 2009/10 Serie A season, and almost exactly three per match in the Champions League. He is known as the best glovesman to emerge from Brazil for over a decade due to saves like the one made in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, when Lionel Messi danced his way to the edge of the Inter box, bent the ball right into the far bottom corner, only to see the cat-like Cesar reach out a right arm to turn it around the post.
Joining Cesar is compatriot Daniel Alves, who may seem an odd choice given that he played second fiddle to Maicon in Brazil's World Cup campaign. Maicon also scored six league goals and chalked up 11 assists in an excellent year for Inter, but the past month cannot be ignored. Much like when Nemanja Vidic's horror show against Fernando Torres played a huge part in costing him the PFA Player of the Year award a couple of seasons back, Maicon simply cannot be labelled the best right-back in the world after the two schoolings he received from Gareth Bale at the start of this season. Alves, for our money, is also the more intelligent footballer, and his role in freeing space for Messi should never be underestimated in Barcelona's run to the Spanish title last season.
In a year that saw Spain win the World Cup and Barcelona triumph in La Liga, it is almost impossible to separate Gerard Pique from Carles Puyol. The latter leads by example, no more so than when he headed the winning goal in the World Cup semi-final against Germany. However, our selection is based on far more than mere statistics, and anybody who saw Pique's majestic performance away at Real Madrid in April appreciates fully the importance of the former Manchester United man to the Barca side. Billed as the Ronaldo v Messi showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu, Pique kept Ronaldo off balance all night like a boxer delivering a stiff jab to his rival. That outstanding display was the zenith of Pique's past 12 months, which saw him provide as much class in the opposition area as he did in his own, as displayed with his Van Nistelrooy-like finish in the ultimately failed Champions League semi-final effort against Inter.
If one man stood taller than all others for Inter Milan during their bid for the treble, it was surely the snarling, rampaging figure of Brazilian centre back Lucio. Walter Samuel looked like the proverbial rabbit in headlights for most of his time in the Real Madrid defence, yet alongside the sometimes omnipresent figure of Lucio, he formed the heart of arguably the meanest defence in Europe - led by Jose Mourinho. Lung-busting in his coverage of the pitch at times, Lucio is a defender who frequently ends up doing the job of the right-back, the box-to-box midfielder and sometimes the striker all in one match. Mourinho, who signed the 31-year-old for the San Siro club after failing to get his hands on Ricardo Carvalho, commented: "He wasn't second choice but a great surprise. He doesn't have great feet but he defends well, he's quick and he's knows how to push the team up the pitch. He doesn't talk much but he knows how to get himself heard."
Love him or loathe him, one has to wonder how much more highly Ashley Cole would be rated if he was not born in England. A rare commodity in the fact that he is an Englishman who looks completely comfortable on a football, Cole enjoyed arguably his best season in a Chelsea shirt as the Blues won the Premier League last season. His tally of four goals and four assists from left-back was a personal best, and his combination down the left flank with Florent Malouda provided a chief supply line for the unstoppable Didier Drogba. Given the fact that Spain won the World Cup with Joan Capdevila at left-back, it may be fair to say that England's No. 3 is the envy of other nations.
When it comes to the heartbeat of a football side, every metaphor imaginable has been applied to Barcelona's Xavi. He is the battery that makes the hands of the clock tick round, he is the string-puller of the puppet show, the matador of the bull fight. The statistics support the legend, which is what Xavi will be regarded as when he finally retires. From the 'holding role' in midfield he contributed 19 assists and six goals last season, before providing the fulcrum in the Spain machine that passed the likes of Germany and Netherlands to death. Perhaps the greatest testament of Xavi's influence is the international career of Lionel Messi, who just could not transfer his Barcelona form to the World Cup stage without his chief partner in crime.
Frustrated and under-appreciated at Real Madrid, Wesley Sneijder was Mourinho's genius purchase at Inter Milan, the man who made the entire picture come together. So often accused of setting his teams up to play too defensive, Mourinho used Sneijder to link defence and attack, and the Dutchman played his role to a sublime level. Nine goals and 12 assists in all competitions was Sneijder's statistical contribution, but it was his ability to spring Diego Milito and Samuel Eto'o on the counter that truly brought everything together. Five goals at the World Cup (albeit two that could have been counted as own goals) added to Sneijder's stock, and by the time Netherlands were contesting the World Cup final there were murmurings of discontent at Real Madrid over the one that got away.
The destroyer of Dutch dreams, Andres Iniesta kept his cool when others were losing theirs', scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final for Spain. With four minutes separating Spain and Netherlands from a penalty shoot-out, Iniesta did what he so often does - popping up with a vital, late match-winning goal. Part of the triumvirate with Xavi and Messi that makes Barcelona the most feared attacking side on the planet, Iniesta's grace with a football stands him apart from other nominees for the midfield area, such as Thomas Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Spaniard is on course to produce the best domestic season of his career this year, already matching last year's assists tally, not to mention the six goals scored ahead of December, compared to just one last season.
The subject of whether Lionel Messi is a better player than Diego Maradona was during the 1980s and '90s will only be truly settled when the 23-year-old eventually hangs up his boots. However, the fact that he even runs the Argentinian legend close shows what a footballing phenomenon Barcelona have nurtured at Camp Nou. Having netted 42 goals in all competitions in 2008/9, Messi upped his tally to 49 in 2009/10 - excluding the World Cup - and he has bagged another 21 in 22 games so far during the current campaign. His four goals against Arsenal in the Champions League - including the impish chip over Manuel Almunia - provided a 90-minute encapsulation of a player on a different footballing planet to his peers. Having won all major honours for Barcelona at club level, the major thing separating Messi from Maradona is a World Cup. South Africa 2010 was a huge anti-climax for Messi, after Argentina's defensive shortcomings were ruthlessly exposed by Germany, but his mazy solo winner in the recent friendly against Brazil suggests Messi may be about to finally transfer his club form to the international stage in the future. Maradona did not win his World Cup winners medal until he was in the year of his 26th birthday.
Cristiano Ronaldo misses out on our list mainly due to this man, who fired more goals than the Portuguese in all competitions during the 2009/10 season before truly stepping up on the world's biggest stage. Following defeat to Switzerland in Spain's opening World Cup game, Villa almost single-handedly dragged his men through the group stages, netting five goals to finish second in the race for the golden boot. The Barcelona forward is his nation's all-time leading goalscorer, and he has scored more World Cup goals than any other Spaniard. A tally of 34 goals in all competitions ahead of the summer showpiece last season earned him the big-money move from Valencia to Barca, and after a tricky start to life at Camp Nou, Villa has hit eight goals this season.
In a list dominated by players from Barcelona and Inter Milan, there had to be recognition for Bayern Munich, who won a league and cup Double before missing out on the Champions League in the final against Inter. Robben was the man for the big moment all season, scoring the goals that helped Bayern through ties with Fiorentina and Manchester United - the latter of which was arguably the greatest volley witnessed at Old Trafford. He also scored in Bayern's domestic cup final triumph, netting 24 times in total for the Bundesliga champions. The winger's main regret will be the World Cup final, when he missed a one-on-one against Iker Casillas that would have handed Netherlands a 1-0 lead.