mandag den 22. marts 2010

The 200 best players in the world: 148 - 144

Another update featuring not least 5 Argentinians sharing one ranking, and no that won't happen again.

There will be a couple of more spots shared by two players and then in the top 100 it's all one player per spot. I swear!

That five player shared spot took quite a bit of time to write and it also includes all kind of talks about Argentina and Messi, so the following writeups are a little shorter.

I've also decided that either when the list is done or maybe when I get to 100, to fix the 200-144 order. For reasons already touched upon, and perhaps already predicted back in the introduction, the lower ranked order has become pretty messed up.

The list so far:

200: Alberto Zapater - Genoa - Spain
199: Nikola Zigic - Valencia - Serbia
198: Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - Spain
197: Lucio - Inter - Brazil
196: John Obi Mikel - Chelsea - Nigeria
195: Sergio Busquets - Barcelona - Spain
194: Philippe Mexes - Roma -France
193: Anatolij Tymoshchuk - Bayern München - Ukraine
192: Theo Walcott - Arsenal - England
191: Aaron Ramsey - Arsenal - Wales
190: Pepe - Real Madrid - Portugal
189: Sergei Semak - Rubin Kazan - Russia
188: Alberto Aquilani - Liverpool - Italy
187: Clarence Seedorf - Milan - Holland
186: Diego Capel - Sevilla - Spain
185: Yossi Benayoun - Liverpool - Israel
184: Riccardo Montolivo - Fiorentina - Italy
183: Kolo Toure - Manchester City -Côte d'Ivoire
182: Yuri Zhirkov - Chelsea - Russia
181: Martin Demichelis - Bayern Munich - Argentina
180: Marouane Fellaini - Everton - Belgium
179: Cristian Zapata - Udinese - Colombia
178: Tim Cahill - Everton - Australia
177: Paul Scholes - Manchester United - England
176: Arda Turan - Galatasaray - Turkey
175: Ezequiel Lavezzi - Napoli - Argentina
174: Klaas Jan Huntelaar - AC Milan - The Netherlands
173: William Gallas - Arsenal - France
172: Shaun Wright Phillips - Manchester City - England
171: Pavel Pogrebnyak - VBF Stuttgart - Russia
170: Darijo Srna - Shakhtar Donetsk - Croatia
169: Bojan Krkic and Pedro - Barcelona - Spain
168: Ronaldinho - AC Milan - Brazil
167: Tranquillo Barnetta - Bayer Leverkusen - Switzerland
166: Stiliyan Petrov - Aston Villa - Bulgaria
165: Amauri - Juventus - Brazil
164: Dirk Kuyt - Liverpool - The Netherlands
163: Bruno Alves - FC Porto - Portugal
162: Lorik Cana - Sunderland - Albania
161: Carlton Cole - West Ham - England
160: Lukas Podolski - FC Köln - Germany
159: Felipe Melo - Juventus - Brazil
158: Craig Bellamy - Manchester City - Wales
157: Simon Kjaer and Daniel Agger - Palermo and Liverpool - Denmark
156: Alessandro Nesta -Milan-Italy
155: Aly Cissokho - Lyon -France
154: Walter Samuel - Inter - Argentina
153: Diego Lugano - Fenerbahce - Uruguay
152: Mauro Zarate - Lazio - Argentina
151: Sebastian Giovinco - Juventus and Luca Cigarini - Napoli - Italy
150: Taye Taiwo - Marseille - Nigeria, Rod Fanni - Rennes and Benoit Tremoulinas - Bordeaux - France
149: Domenico Criscito - Genoa - Italy
148: Fernando Llorente - Atletic Bilbao - Spain


A bunch of veteran Argentinian playmakers + a young one.

Juan Roman Riquelme - Boca Juniors

Juan Sebastian Veron - Estudiantes


Pablo Aimar - Benfica

Lucho Gonzalez - Marseille

Filming, not Aimar and Veron, but someone's finger!

And finally the kid

Javier Pastore - Palermo

Riquelme and Lucho have been on the list all along. Then one after another (of the others) entered the picture and I had to stop when I suddenly found myself researching "El Burrito" Ariel Ortega as well! Who I haven't seen play in years and these days apparently have alcohol rehab clauses in his contracts...

The biggest reach of this group could be Juan Sebastian Veron and incidentally he is the only one likely to play for Argentina at the World Cup.

When I first saw that he was an integral part of Diego Maradona's Argentina at 35 years of age I had a difficult time seeing any positives and I'm still very skeptic thinking it's a huge step backwards when considering the superior Argentinians out there, players who are still to come on this list, but to be fair to Veron he is actually playing pretty well.
Likely he is still too high on this list though and something of a reach but when I felt Pablo Aimar had to be included Veron just had to come along too. Otherwise he would feel left out!

As I remember it, back in the day for Sampdoria, his first club in Europe, Veron was quite the attacking midfielder and very dynamic one at that (completely unlike now) making great forward runs and looking very strong while doing it. I remember one of the very first descriptions I read of him in an old Goal magazine was that this guy was like a powerful race track horse with all his running.
Behind that description must have been tireless Serie A fan Kristian Borrel who was the only worthwhile thing about it in and who I just want to add on a further sidenote I will always be grateful to for his massive Serie A previews where he went through the defense, midfield, attack and coaching on every single team. I definitely didn't agree with everything but it was rare (and still is in a language I can understand anyway) to see something so thorough that also offered opinion and ambitiously tried to analyze tactics,coaches and players.

Anyway those early Veron impressions didn't really offer much of a glimpse of any great passing or playmaking coming coming from him but it's possible Sampdoria at the time played very direct mostly counter attacking and that's the reason the game he since became so known for got masqueraded.
Interestingly I think to a lesser extent it could be argued that there were similar circumstances at play years later when he was seen as something of a flop at Manchester United.

At his next club Parma (where he was a key player in wining a back then very strong UEFA Cup. Sometimes arguably stronger than the Champions League) and certainly the following seasons at Eriksson's Lazio (where he was perhaps THE key player in winning the Scudetto) and for the national team at the same period, was where we saw the "real" Veron.
A player with a very good work-rate who was a great distributor in midfield.

I think the best description I can come up with of my impression of him at the time was that due to his running he was always in good position to get the ball and when he got it he would always make some kind of good pass. I think if you compare him to prime Riquelme or Pablo Aimar it wasn't as much in the final third where he would consistently create or dictate, that's what Manchester United was looking for him to do and he could do that some but not enough at a high enough level like those other two and definitely not dribbling at great speed like Pablo Aimar, or anything like that, but conducting possession in midfield, the longer the possession (and from deeper) the better almost, that's where he would excel.

Now when I see him, though he has slowed down some, I still see decent work rate and movement making sure he is an passing option and the passing skills and ball control is obviously still there.
There is just less pace, and there wasn't even that much to begin with, and generally his play just isn't very dynamic. Maybe that wouldn't be a problem if he was still playing from deep in midfield and just covering ground there but from what I've seen his current role for Argentina is very much as an attacking midfielder and he just isn't much of a threat there at all, himself, when space is tight.
I think it's great in theory that whoever the skill players for Argentina will be up front (of the many still to come on this list only Messi is certain) can have Veron as an ever present wall almost that they can play against and have the ball bounce back, but it does leave them with huge responsibility to make great runs and create almost any dynamic themselves.

Apparently in South America these days Veron does a lot more. He's been South American player of the year twice while in his 30s and I can see he has a pretty good goal scoring record for his club team, but from what I've seen so far on the national team there isn't much more than solid passing coming from him.
No decisive passes or runs in narrow space and I'm not sure that's enough from an attacking central midfielder for a wannabe World Cup contender.

Not helping is that Messi for Maradona's Argentina is more of a second striker operating centrally than he is for Barcelona, paradoxically resulting in fewer goals. For Barcelona Messi has space to create on his own. There are two more forwards and there are dynamic midfielders. For Argentina the midfielder is non dynamic Veron and there is only one more forward. Instead there are a couple of wingers, one of those Di Maria on the left could be a good forward in 3-forward line but on the right (English first division star!) Jonas Gutierrez spends way too much time occupying the space Messi could fill so much better.
Basically the less Messi finds himself playing with his back to the goal, the better. It's when he is facing the goal that virtually anything is possible! Taking away any amount of time Messi is facing the opposition goal just can't be a good thing.
20 something years ago similar was the case with Maradona himself, now here he is messing Messi up, WHY?

Unlike Veron, one that was always very dynamic, and I'm largely guessing still is (or he wouldn't be on the list) is Pablo Aimar.
In his heyday he was the important creative spark for Rafa Benitez Valencia side that won two La Liga titles and the Uefa Cup.

Then darker times followed struggling with fitness but he still had at least one season for Zaragoza where together with compatriots Diego Milito and Andres D'Alessandro under the attacking guidance of Victor Sanchez, where he once again was spellbinding.

Still only 30 a lot of indications suggest that Aimar is having one of those spells or close to it at least once again (but sadly maybe for the last time so this is kinda a reward) at Benfica, this time with players such as Di Maria, Ramirez and Saviola, who currently are showing some of the best attacking football in Europe.

With his great speed and ball control even in the tightest of spaces Aimar is exactly the kind of player who can make such an attack click.

As far as more traditional playmaking ability goes when it comes to passing he is different than Riquelme and Veron, in that he has so much better acceleration and is such a dribbling threat, that his passing is mostly short and direct in quick combination attempts with others meant to take advantage of just that.

His obvious weaknesses are everything physical. At similar height Messi for an example is a powerhouse compared to Aimar.

That's not a problem that Lucho Gonzalez has. He is probably the least talented of these Argentinian playmakers. So much so that you could say when comparing him directly to them actually calling him a playmaker is a stretch.

He can't be the flashy spark that is Pablo Aimar at his best or control a team like Riquelme or Veron, but he is more of a complete player who is a very good attacking midfielder.
He has good technical ability including great passing skills plus the very good work rate (that puts the others to shame) and pace that makes him a threat without the ball making runs coming from behind. He also has a really good shot.

This season is his first at Marseille and with probably more defensive duties than what he was used to at Porto where he was El Comandante leading them to league glory, it's not like he has taken everyone at Stade Velodrome by storm through (the perhaps anticipated) attacking contributions, but unlike the others where if that didn't happen they wouldn't have much value at all, with Lucho Gonzalez you still get a really good team player.

Joining these veterans is 20 year old Javier Pastore . He is the rare extremely talented Argentinian player who IS NOT getting the new Maradona tag thrown at him or even the latest disturbing trend, the new Messi tag. No instead, and I'm not really sure if it's any better, Pastore is often referred to as the new Kaka!

They're similar in build and one can hope it's only a matter of time before Pastore starts using that better and adds more physical elements to his play. The potential is certainly there and there really is no reason to play like you're 170 when you're actually just short of 190!

More good news for Pastore is that when it comes to passing and general creativity he is actually showing things that Kaka mostly doesn't have in his game.
From standing still positions he can actually make plays and shows many signs of good vision.

Standing still is also a problem though. To become a great player he needs more tempo in his game and has to make better runs both with and without the ball. He will probably never be the fastest of guys and it's not realistic to expect that he can somehow add the burst of speed that a big guy like Kaka somehow has (or had uh oh) but simply by becoming stronger and get better balance, I think could do wonders if added to his extraordinary technical skills.

In many ways it's extremely impressive what he can do standing still while under pressure and again it's the size/skill combination that does it but it's when he hopefully starts doing it more while on the move that he'll become a great player.

He was actually called up for Argentina's recent friendly against Germany but didn't get to debut and isn't likely to go to the World Cup either. Nor do I think he should but with Maradona you just never know.

Last but not least we have Boca Juniors legend Juan Roman Riquelme.

They really don't make them like Riquelme anymore. He is an old school passing maestro number 10 80s style who doesn't do anything when his (and in Riquelme's case I really do mean HIS) team isn't in possession and when they have the ball lots of the play will go through him and his impulses on the given day.

He's been back in Argentina for a few years now and it's a long time since I've seen him play so I really don't know what his level is currently. It's possible he should be even higher and it's possible he should be much lower.

What I do know is that his game relies less on athleticism than almost anyone and even if he's declined in those areas it's not the greatest loss.

I do think it's important that he at least has a work rate meaning good movement when his team is in possession.
When at his best for Villarreal that added a good goalscoring dimension to his game. It wasn't just awesome free kicks and penalties and before their fallout he was like a fish in water (not just making it better) but benefiting from Pelligrini's flexible possession system.

Riquelme is pretty slow, lazy and not strong at all. But he is a superb technician with great passing skills and radar vision to go with it making him one of the best playmakers of his generation and in many ways the last one of his special kind standing.
He was never willing to make any tactical sacrifices, change his role or playing style or try to improve even to fit in with how the game has been changing. A unique player.


Alexis Sanchez - Udinese

Winger - Forward


Sanchez despite great displays here and there hasn't really made his mark just yet in Serie A. Partly due to injuries and partly having to adjust. In South America though, even at only 21, he has already been a sensation and star for quite few years, and could if things go well for Chile become one of the stars at the World Cup.

It's for Chile you really see the best of him and occupying the right wing where he fits right into coach Bielsa's tactics.
With his explosiveness (few are faster on the first meters) and skill (in Sanchez case cannonball of a player is a very fitting description) he is a constant threat going forward in their fast paced passing game and through his strength and great energy he is a very needed weapon defensively in a pressing game so high up the pitch, featuring tons of individual defending, that it can sometimes look like full court pressure in basketball!

It's possible that's something that will get punished at the World Cup but it's definitely fun to watch and so different from what you usually see in Europe. Perhaps especially from national teams not as fine tuned (very needed to even attempt this I think) as club teams.

Sanchez playing for Chile is one of the things I'm most looking forward to at the World Cup and hopefully in Serie A as well next season Udinese will have a better platform for Sanchez to really take the league by storm like he's so been threatening to do for a while.


Tom Huddlestone - Tottenham



Huddlestone is someone who I didn't notice until this season and hopefully I'm not getting fooled in putting him on the list. My instinct actually says put him higher but I'm gonna show some restraint.

In short what I'm seeing is someone who can become a very good midfield general, if he isn't already. That is an extremely valuable thing to have in your possession if you're a football team.

Huddlestone is very strong physically and his passing, especially if you were to hand out style points, is nothing short of majestic.

With Huddlestone and Jack Rodwell for Everton (not slow like Huddlestone and who I would also have liked to include but he just hasn't played enough yet) the England central midfielders still to come on the list face serious competition very soon.


Gerard Pique - Barcelona



Ranking the Barcelona defenders is pretty hard. The team concedes fewer goals than anyone but most of that of course is through the (ball!) control they have of almost every single match they play.

Their defenders don't even have that much defending to do, or at least less than everyone else, and when you finally do see them actually defend it can easily be them struggling to defend with most of the team caught forward. Or themselves since they push up so high.
As much as that can make them look worse than they actually are, the superb defensive record on paper on the other hand can make them look better.

Pique is big and strong with superb technique, good passing is a must for a Barcelona defender of course.
I think he is strong man to man, with still a little way to go positionally, and good health and lack of blunders (+ in some ways starting for both the best club and national team in the world) is what seals the deal in making him the top ranked central defender so far!

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