Introduction to the list
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
147: Juan Roman Riquelme, Juan Sebastian Veron, Lucho Gonzalez, Pablo Aimar and Javier Pastore - Argentina
146: Alexis Sanchez - Udinese - Chile
145: Tom Huddlestone - Tottenham - England
144: Gerard Pique - Barcelona - Spain
143: Raul Meireles, Porto - Joao Moutinho - Miguel Veloso, Sporting Lissabon - Portugal
142: Bacary Sagna - Arsenal - France
141: Eljero Elia - Hamburger SV - Netherlands
140: Marko Marin - Werder Bremen - Germany
139: Giuseppe Rossi - Villarreal - Italy
Forward - Spain
Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Striker - Netherlands
That at 32 years of age there are several much better strikers than Raul, club and country, doesn't make him a bad player.
The previous seasons when he was relative healthy and unlike now actually started games Raul proved that he is still a really good goalscorer netting 20+ in both of those seasons.
This season however he has only started 8 games in La Liga and there are even rumors he'll be leaving Real Madrid at the end of the season. On the one hand if he feels he still has something to offer (and my ranking would suggest so!) I can understand if he wants to go somewhere he can get more playing time, but of course on the other hand anything than having this unique (especially post-Bosman) undisputed legend/champion/symbol finish his career at the club where he since the age of 17 earned that status, just seems wrong.
Raul still has that will to win and technique that for years made him one of the best in the world but the pace that is so needed to go along with that is if not lost then definitely diminished.
He'll still work hard off the ball in the attacking midfield area but with the ball these days he doesn't have the pace to be an effective player there and even though his team work is as great as always he's never been what you would call a great creative player when removed from his striker position, which several coaches did over the years.
No these days once and for all his effectiveness has been reduced to the box area and even there with less pace, individually he just can't create like he used to (for an example his own shot so to speak) and is much more dependent of the work of others compared to back when he was at his best.
Now that's not a disaster or anything, it's the reality for most players, strikers too, it just means that Raul at 32 years of age is far removed from the excellent level the likes of Higuain, Torres or David Villa currently are displaying.
Doesn't make him a bad player.
Then what about the man they called horse-face?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy who I confess is a last second entry, thought of in the middle of the Ze Roberto writeup, the last of its kind definitely, who wasn't anywhere near the list when I first compiled it and didn't even get much closer through one adjustment after another. Is he a bad player cause with age he is having an increasingly hard time staying healthy?
Yes health is a skill and if your health is bad it seriously hurts your value to your team and naturally your rank on this list. In Nistelrooy's case so bad it meant he almost didn't make it.
However what he brings when he plays, all in all I think is just enough to justify including him. Justify a much higher placing than this with so few games under his belt in the last couple of seasons, absolutely not, but here at 138 with another former great player both spiraling down the ranks? It made sense to me at least, so here he is. I do feel bad about having him ahead of the top ranks in the new order but that's the case with a lot of players.
Why he is on I'm sure is known to anyone reading this. It's the same reason it's always been with Ruud. The only difference is the massive negative that is his health, but as usual when where and whenever he plays, he is an amazing goalscorer. Right up there with the best in the world and very few can even rival his work in the box where he just continues to be extraordinary.
I'm not saying even when healthy he is as good as he used to be. Serious injuries has robbed him of the pace that made him close to unstoppable for PSV and the first seasons for Manchester United where you would even see him dribble and create goals on his own machine-like, but strength, placement and finishing skills in the box have made sure that despite all the injuries whenever he has played the goals would always come.
And they'll keep coming I predict, which also has to do with him being included. After rehabbing like a man possessed to continue his career he found himself way down the pecking order when he finally did come back at Real Madrid. The situation Raul is also in. Nistelrooy however got out and has landed in what I think is a very good situation in Hamburg, both for him and his new team.
With a lot of attacking midfield and forward talent already in place, some to be found on this list, a great presence in the box is exactly what Hamburg needed. And for Nistelrooy what better way to enjoy the last time of his career than in an attacking league with the kind of service that almost guarantees a striker as good as him to rain in the goals. In the process it might even land him a World Cup spot and national team comeback?
The great challenge won't be scoring, that comes easy to Ruud Van Nistelrooy, it will be staying healthy.
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Midfielder - Russia
I just couldn't let go of including this wonderful player on the list and the only reason he is not ranked higher is some last minute restraint.
The Russian Premier League players are hard to rank since it's not a league I watch other than in glimpses. Glimpses only occurring when national icon Michael Laudrup takes the Spartak hotseat and whaddayaknow suddenly football from Russia was on danish television! That didn't last very long though and here I am back in the dark.
There is no doubt though that it's a league that's become stronger and stronger for quite a while now. That obviously wouldn't happen without many good players so not having any on the list would seem like a mistake.
I included Rubin Kazan captain Sergei Semak as sort of a cadeau to that team's success and at the time of writing the great job they did against the best team in the world, Barcelona.
To be fair though Russia has a number of central midfielders at a similar level who would have a decent case for one of the lower places and then there is Ruben Kazan's best player and unanimous 2009 player of the year in Russia, Alejandro Dominguez, who has since perhaps unwisely switched to forward rich Valencia, he is someone who is still to come on the list.
2008 player of the year Zhirkov (Zyryanov incidentally was 2007) I included when he was yet to make his Chelsea debut and in the new order have him at 176. Likewise tank center forward Pogrebnyak also having his first season outside of Russia, he too made the list.
Other high profile former successful Russian premier league strikers with good cases are Vagner Love and Roman Pavluchenko. The latter was coming of a terrible start for his new club Tottenham and under new manager Harry Redknapp was yet to be given much of a chance. That has since changed and if I was to include him right now I think he could go as high as 160-159-158, or something like that.
If it was 2008 Vagner Love would be hard to overlook but if as he apparently did, started to slump or play bad in what is still a non top league, I don't think you should be included on this list.
Instead with seemingly almost every decent Brazilian player going the opposite direction he made his way back to his home country where of course I have even less of an idea how he is doing. Therefore all in all no Vagner Love on this list!
But of course these are all former Russian Premier League stars which I guess is pretty telling. It's when they leave we get a chance to watch them after all. Just think about how many years the highest ranked Russian player on this list, Arshavin played without getting noticed outside of Russia and Zyryanov (who I will get back to!) even worse sadly "already" 32 years of age and soon, if not already, declining, him I only got to see when Zenit started outplaying teams in Europe in 2007 and the national team under Hiddink finally stopped under achieving that same period.
Take this quote from Arsene Wenger about Arshavin (who he would later sign of course) during EURO 2008:
"Russia is the only country where a guy like him comes to the attention of the world at the age of 27. Suddenly, you discover him. It's not possible. You know every 21-year-old in France, Germany, Italy etc, but in this case we knew his name – but we had to see him play in a tournament like this."
But what about the current best players (other than Zyryanov!)?
Well other than Rubin Kazan who I've already covered and where Semak was also named defensive midfielder of the year, the obvious place to look would be CSKA Moscov who are enjoying a great Champions League run but then as these things often go had a subpar league run, finishing 5th.
The main creative force on that team seems to be Milos Krasic and it's possible he could end up as one of the big omissions on this list but from limited viewing he is still not a player I have a great idea of and how good really is. Other possible stars of the future would be Keisuke Honda and former Russian young player of the year, still only 19, Alan Dzagoev.
Back in their defense however I'm a little upset I missed out on what could have been the most correct shared ranking of all had I just included identical twin beasts Aleksei and Vasili Berezutski.
Also in defense quickly establishing himself as one of the better left-backs in the league 18 year old Georgi Schennikov looks really good especially going forward in a Zhirkov kind of way but has big holes in his defensive game.
Perhaps it should also be noted that Krasic wasn't even the best right winger in the RPL last season.
That honor goes to pacy Vladimir Bystrov who played a big part in Spartak Moscow's resurrection from recent nightmares and tellingly he was also the most fouled player in the whole league.
In the middle of Spartak's run though he would make an in season 15 million euro switch to Zenit (yes lots of money in Russian football), the club where he started his career. There his great form continued, maybe even improved, but I've seen some reports that it was that switch which cost him the player of the year award that instead went to Dominguez.
Zenit this season (just starting in Russia) managed by former Roma 4-6-0 revolutionary Luciano Spalletti, will have both Bystrov and Zyryanov (as well as Denisov who is another very good looking player AS WELL AS former Torino best well kept secret -actual good playmaker- Alessandro Rosina) and if I was in any way religious I'd be saving a little prayer that they'll get through Champions League qualification so we get to see whatever comes out of this very intriguing mix. As well as getting to see wonderful play from Zyryanov for perhaps the final time.
Thankfully indications are that he is still going strong. He was named left midfielder of the year for starteres! A place where I haven't seen him play all that much but he is a very versatile player and with Bystrov checking in on the right that's where we'll see him from now on I guess.
Zyryanov with his great stamina and work rate he has been able to take care of central midfield work throughout his career and with his vision, intelligence and ball control he'll also create from attacking midfield whether it's on the wing or central.
Zyryanov (Zyrianov or Zuruanov, I'm seeing all three out there) is a unique mix of complete central midfielder, wing and playmaker all rolled into one great player.
Midfielder - Germany
The Leverkusen captain has really struggled with injuries lately and is having to come back from knee surgery twice between last season and now.
He started this season well enough and early on was another great influence in steering Leverkusen to the top of the Bundesliga table but then injury reappeared and late January he underwent a second knee operation.
That these troubles after years of game in game out service have surfaced during a World Cup year of course makes it extra bitter for Rolfes and I wonder if his place in the squad, let alone as the starting central midfielder he was establishing himself as, isn't now in serious danger.
Recent German national team central midfield mainstay Torsten Frings is long gone from contention, coach Joachim Löw has made that clear some time ago, but there is still plenty of competition from old names and new.
If we start with the oldest first, Michael Ballack, has slowly but surely seen the more defensive midfield roles mastered at Chelsea find their way onto the national team as well and even the younger but still national team veteran, Sebastian Schweinsteiger, for club team at least, is occupying more of a central midfielder role than before this season at Bayern München and doing well.
The most interesting of the younger names such as Sami Khedira and especially the more attacking midfielders such as Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos and the versatile Thomas Müller aren't direct competition for Rolfes, but they're still players it would (or should!) be tempting to make room for various places in the attacking midfield, by placing certain starters Ballack and Schweinsteiger further back.
To describe what Rolfes bring to the team I like this quote that I found from Raphael Honigstein:
Sometimes you feel that German football specifically invented this type of player to lull the competition into a false sense of security before a tournament ("They've got who in midfield? Ha, ha, ha. Oh bugger, they're in the semis again").
It might not look impressive, the balance his teamwork brings to a team but it's valuable.
Most impressive is probably Rolfes stamina that has to be one of the best around and it makes sense that he is known as a workhorse also when it comes to training. If that stamina and the impressive work rate and ground covered that comes with it is the reason he can do his job without being a so called "midfield destroyer" I don't know, but much more important anyway than flying around in tackles is being in the right defensive position. Actually if you do too much of the first it could easily be a sign of the latter lacking. That's not the case with Simon Rolfes and that's a good thing.
He isn't just a runner though but has enough skills to be a good two way player and perhaps most noteworthy his nice first touch passing game that's very valuable to the players mostly in front of him.
If it wasn't for his current injury problems he would be ranked higher and both Leverkusen and Germany will be better with a healthy Simon Rolfes.
Midfielder - Brazil
A long time ago when he first arrived in Europe, Ze Roberto was a left-back and if I remember correctly at the time Brazil's second choice at that position.
Of course it just happened to be so that the team who signed him Real Madrid in their typical way of doing things not so sensible when it comes to transfers had already secured Brazil's undisputed number one at that position none other than Roberto Carlos.
Carlos of course would go on to have a great career at Real Madrid before losing his speed and towards the end fading badly.
Ze Roberto on the other hand went on to only play a handful of games for Madrid cause there just wasn't room for him, but perhaps in part thanks to Roberto Carlos stronghold of the left-back position, sought new territory in midfield, central and wing, and is still going strong now 13 years later aged 35.
Unbelievably after Ze Roberto left Real Madrid they signed another one of the best left-backs at the time Croatian Robert Jarni who had been excellent for years but also found himself behind Carlos.
Anyway to get back on track Ze Roberto has had a good long career in Germany with many seasons in both Leverkusen and Bayern München where he won four championships and over the years has even amassed 84 Brazil caps.
If this was last season where he was a most of the time starter on an underachieving Bayern side I probably would not have included an old player like Ze Roberto on this list and would question if he had that much more to offer at the highest level, but for his new team Hamburg he is having a very good season. Especially in the beginning he was quite sensational before getting injured but it's not like he is playing bad since coming back.
For a 35 year old he isn't slow but he is definitely more at ease in central attacking roles these days, and have been for a while, where he can exploit and find space not with great winger like pace, but through great technical skills and creativity. Those are definitely his main assets and always will be but to really function in a central midfield role, even if attacking, in a top European league, the work rate has to be there, defensively as well, and Ze Roberto still brings that which is impressive.
There was some controversy when he missed a mid-season training camp like Brazilians heading back to Europe after visiting home sometimes do, but the lazy Brazilian football player cliche isn't one you can put on Ze Roberto. He is in excellent condition and puts it to use.