Must keep going...
Anyway don't call it a comeback, but here is another cool entry:
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 - Boca Juniors, Estudiantes, Marseille, Benfica and Palermo - 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
138: Raul - Real Madrid-Spain and Ruud Van Nistelrooy - Hamburger SV-Netherlands
137: Konstantin Zyryanov - Zenit Saint Petersburg - Russia
136: Simon Rolfes - Bayern Leverkusen - Germany
135: Ze Roberto - Hamburger SV - Brazil
134 - 129
134: Mauro Camoranesi - Juventus - Italy
133: Simone Perrotta - Roma - Italy
132: Marcelo - Real Madrid - Brazil
131: Christian Chivu - Inter - Romania
130: Simäo - Atletico Madrid - Portugal
129: Marcell Jansen - Hamburger SV - Germany
128 - 122
128: Hatem Ben Arfa - Marseille - France and Goran Pandev - Inter - Macedonia
127: Rafael Marquez - Barcelona - Mexico
126: Nigel De Jong - Manchester City - Netherlands
125: Grafite - Wolfsburg - Brazil
124: Pablo Hernandez - Valencia - Spain
123: Daniel Guiza - Fenerbahce - Spain
122: Ramires - Benfica - Brazil
121: Mohamed Sissoko - Juventus - Mali
120: Dejan Stankovic - Inter - Serbia
119: Stefan Kiessling - Bayer Leverkusen - Germany
118: Frederic Kanoute - Sevilla - Mali
117: Jermain Defoe - Tottenham - England
Central defender/Right-back - Spain
Inspirational warrior captain leader of the best club and country in the world, Puyol always defends with great intensity and possesses a knack for last ditch tackles preventing goals for the opposition.
In reality he probably gets a little too much credit for all things like the above and he probably hasn't been as good this season as previously.
In fact he probably isn't even the best central defender so far. But of course this isn't position by position rankings and like some other players previously on the list, Puyol also receives credit for being a very good right-back and with that mastering two positions.
Midfielder/Defender - France
It's tempting to write a lot about Bordeaux, the soon to be not champions of France anymore (edit: actually Marseille clinched the title last night and my first thought is regretting lumping Lucho Gonzales with the other Argie playmakers thereby hurting his ranking). The good and the bad, the rise and the fall - since they've been one of the most interesting teams the last couple of years, but I'll save it for when I get to their highest ranked players which both the rise and the fall have a lot more to do with than Diarra.
Alou Diarra while also able in central defense (earning him the usual bonus points on this list) is primarily a very good defensive midfielder.
Athletic with great stamina he rarely misses a beat when it comes to defensive assignments, whether it's applying pressure or covering his position, and I'm guessing it has to do with his central defender ability that he is also one of the best midfielders at helping out the defenders in the box itself when necessary.
With the ball, and I could be wrong here since it's possible he was never bad at all, it's my impression that he has improved quite a bit in recent years, and passing or controlling the ball, where he can also put his athletic ability to use meaning great balance, aren't weaknesses anymore.
With likely the biggest stars for Bordeaux. including coach Blanc, jumping sinking ship it will be interesting to see if Diarra stays. I think Bordeaux if they can manage to keep Gourcuff still has a great centerpiece to build from and add needed depth around, but if they aren't even making the Champions League, and it doesn't look like they will after leading most of the year, then hanging on to anyone good will be very tough.
Forward - Italy
The clown prince and enfant terrible of Calcio has had another tumultuous season of ups and downs, on and off the field.
Amidst a massive media campaign trying to get him called up to the national team Cassano started the season well showing trademark brilliant attacking flair, passes and dribbles, making those voices even stronger, only to, as usual, at the first sign of adversity, self destruct, threaten to quit, and fall out with both fans and coach resulting in him being excluded from the squad and once again the team starting to do better without him.
Here is what I wrote about Cassano in the Sampdoria part of my Serie A preview (one I'd like to improve immensely next time around) before this season:
He is a talented attacking player who is creative with a lot of flair, but also someone who through sheer unprofessionalism throughout his career has been unwilling to even try and improve other areas of his game.This season it looked like deja-vu. After a bright start once again Cassano was bringing the team down with him but Del Neri took the brave decision, left him out and suddenly Sampdoria couldn't stop winning and have been putting my midtable-tag fully to shame and are currently challenging for a Champions League spot.
That's why he is playing for a midtable Serie A club and not a big one. European or Italian.
27 years old now having wasted many years of his talent, he does still have time to improve, or mature if you will, but even last season while being praised by the media, there were many games, especially early on, where he didn't even seem fit, slightly overweight like in the Madrid days and when without the ball was probably consistently the worst player on the pitch, hurting his team with his lack of work/movement/effort.
As absurd as it is, while hysterical voices for Cassano being selected for the national team grew louder and louder, his team where he had been made the most important player, was slumping and slumping, flirting with relegation!
To both men's credit though, after Del Neri was sort of forced to include Cassano again when striker Pozzi got injured, Sampdoria arguably became even better and has duly continued their winning ways.
Here are some interesting comments from Del Neri on Cassano when he was recalled to the squad and the style of play:
Sampdoria boss Gigi Del Neri claims to have re-built Antonio Cassano after dropping him earlier in the spring.
Cassano has started producing world-class performances again, scoring winning goals against Genoa and Juventus.
Interviewed in La Gazzetta dello Sport, Del Neri was asked if it was courageous of him to drop Cassano.
“No, because before I took the decision I thought about it 100 times. We had a problem in attack. We needed more substance and less technique, Pozzi instead of Cassano, someone who helped the team move up the pitch, someone who pressed the opponent.
“Now, things are going better, even if it's not ideal. But in one move of his during the derby I saw the right level of anger. He'll be great when he can move like that more.
“Before Cassano couldn't manage many 30m sprints. When he plays further forward he has to sprint 10m so it's different. The question is: when will he do 30 separate 10m sprints?
To get the full picture here is what I think is a very comprehensive blog entry from Francesco on the Italian Offside page, where I'm not sure I have much to add at all:
There is little doubt that when Antonio Cassano is in form, he is right up there with Francesco Totti as the most talented player in Italy. His technique and skill is just so sublime at times and he can really give defenders headaches. However, would you say that Cassano is the hardest working player on the pitch? In a short answer: Hell no.If Cassano can continue to have good enough off the ball movement and sheer work, adding a striker element to his trequartista/lazy winger game, he will have a good case for a much higher ranking, but for the time being with his history of unmatched unprofessionalim in mind, I remain skeptic.
Cassano himself has stated many times that he hates tactics and training and learning tactical schemes and such. He just wants to go on the field and play. Cassano is practically one of those players that is very difficult to place in a restricted tactical scheme, because he is a classic fantasista who just roams the pitch and creates.
In the past Roberto Baggio had trouble with coaches because of this exact reason. Many coaches like Sacchi and Capello didn’t know where to place Baggio in rigid formations like a 4-4-2, because he was neither really a midfielder or a striker, a “9.5″ like some coaches called him (a mix between an traditional number 9 and a traditional number 10).
If you’ve watched Cassano over the past three years, you’ll notice the same thing. While technically he’s a striker, he hasn’t really been a true striker. At Sampdoria he has always played next to another striker (from Montella to Bellucci to Pazzini etc) but placed himself on the left wing and started from there. Very rarely was he anywhere else on the pitch. He would hang out on the left flank, receive the ball, and try and make something happen. That’s basically how he’s been playing the past three years. Added to that, he wouldn’t pressure the defense, and he would never come back and help defend. A real tactician’s nightmare.
Enter into the fold Mr. Luigi Delneri. The same guy that Cassano said he couldn’t understand what the fuck he was saying (from his book). Delneri has played the same formation from his miracle Chievo days. A straight, rigid 4-4-2 that relies heavily on the wing play of the two outside midfielders and the hard work of the two defensive midfielders in the center of the pitch. The two strikers are generally just two out of and out strikers. Seems like no room for a fantasista. However when Delneri was in charge of Atalanta the past two seasons, he had a fantasista on the roster: Cristiano Doni. So Delneri’s 4-4-2 was more of a 4-4-1-1 with Doni supporting Sergio Floccari. But Doni is different from Cassano. Doni is more of a true attacking midfielder that plays in the center. Cassano isn’t this kind of player. So questions arose how Cassano would fit into Delneri’s plans.
Cassano started the season perfectly, showing all of his talent and climbing up the assist charts. However he wasn’t scoring. As much as he was helping others to score goals, he only scored 3 goals up until he was frozen out of the squad back in January. Cassano still attacked from the left flank, and he would always have the ball very far from goal, so he would always pass instead of trying a shot. When Samp started to struggle, Delneri thought it was time to drop Cassano for a while and partner Pazzini with Nicola Pozzi, an out and out striker who would pressure the opposing defense and provide a physical presence.
With Cassano the team won, but slowly realized that they needed quality up front. Cassano was re-integrated into the side and with Pozzi’s injury it meant Delneri was kind of forced to use him. However, if you’ve been watching Sampdoria in recent weeks, you’ll notice that Cassano has been playing in a somewhat new position. He is now more of a striker. He is no longer hanging out on the left flank waiting for the ball. Delneri said in a recent interview that Cassano has excellent scoring abilities but most of the time he is too far away from goal to use them, so he wanted to push Cassano forward and allow him to play closer to goal where he could finish off chances rather than create them. Delneri’s decision has been working. Cassano has scored in 4 of Samp’s last 5 games, and all but one of them (the midfield volley vs. Juve) have been inside the area and very opportunistic, Pippo Inzaghi-like goals.
If you watched the Samp-Genoa derby this past weekend, you could have noticed the changes to Cassano’s positioning. For the 55 minutes he was on the pitch (he had to be subbed due to injury), Cassano was more advanced than Pazzini on the pitch. Pazzini was more withdrawn and doing a lot of dirty work opening up spaces and such. Cassano was advanced and when Samp attacked you could notice that Cassano was much higher up the pitch than Pazzini. His goal is a prime example of the new position change. The old Cassano would’ve been outside the area on a set play like that. But the new Cassano was positioned at the far post perfectly, waiting for Guberti’s header and positioning himself excellently in the space next to Moretti where he beat him to the ball. A real goal poacher-like goal.
When reading Del Neri's comments, Cassano doesn't really sound like a striker to his liking after all but more of a desperate measure and trouble can definitely still appear if the differences between the two men, as I suspect, are just too deeply rooted.
Ideally of course Cassano wouldn't be in stringent 4-4-2s at all but the paradox is that Cassano's weaknesses in many ways invite such tactics for his team.
But really he should just be on a better team with better players (right?) in well working fluid systems suiting his attacking strengths but that's another chance he has also blown again and again, for club and for country, on and off the field, the question is will he ever get another?
How he does in Del Neri's exact opposite to all of that, ironically could be the ultimate decider.
Good luck Antonio.
Attacking midfielder - Portugal
The above picture just to prove there actually were good times for Deco at Chelsea!
Of course that player of the month award was in the opening month of last season where then manager Felipe Scolari, in the long run ill advisedly, had made Deco something of a centerpiece in a very unMourinho like blue brazil version of Chelsea.
That didn't end all too well but looking back now it's a nice illustration of the kind of style where Brazilian born and bred Deco almost couldn't help himself but thrive, and how basically ever since that was aborted, he hasn't been able to help himself from under-performing.
It was therefore tempting to drop Deco even further but for the time being, he is a dangerous 32 where things can go downhill fast, he isn't really much worse I don't think than when he was considered one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe.
He has that great attacking midfield off the ball movement where he is consistently able to make himself a passing option and of course when he gets the ball his ability with it is well known making him for the better part of his career something of an ideal passing partner where space is tight central in the final third - but further back too Deco's good work rate ensures that he can contribute there as well.
One problem is that at Chelsea exploring that passing option isn't really all that optimal for the players around him a lot of the time or sometimes not even possible for what, if you compare to other teams where Deco has featured, is rather average ability to participate in an effective short passing game.
Not that there is anything wrong with that, on the contrary, Chelsea and most of their players are still at their best when it's a lot more Mourinho than it's Scolari. Something Hiddink understood and practiced to perfection but an area where current manager Ancelotti constantly struggles to maneuver in one direction or the other mostly ending somwhere in between the two. Not bad certainly but not quite great enough to have cemented the title win that the superior squad he has to work with suggests that he should have.
For Portugal Deco is still an important player and at 32 with an uncertain future the World Cup could be the last time we see Deco at his playmaking best.
Attacking midfielder/Winger - Wales
Almost 20 years at the highest level, especially for an attacking player you could say, is nothing short of astounding but that's what Ryan Giggs is closing in on.
When he first broke through he was an explosive almost unstoppable left-winger who's pace made the opposing fullbacks look silly several times, every single game.
That continued on a consistent level for many years where he was always one of the best in the world but sometime already during those years for tactical reasons that right now escape me but I'm sure is related to Ferguson's eternal love for the 4-4-1-1 in a move that likely tremendously helped prolonging his career years later, Giggs began to also play games in central roles, improving him as a player in almost every area where his blinding speed couldn't carry him. I won't claim to know if that's where he developed vision but it's where he first got the opportunity to really showcase it, not just blast into space past a poor fullback, but to pass the ball under pressure. Become an intelligent footballer. Make plays.
It's also where I think he first really learned to contribute to team defense removing liabilities there which even if the attacking player never becomes a great defender still is of huge value to his team.
So once Giggs step by step started losing his pace, a critical time where most winger's careers start to dwindle, Giggs had already become a complete player with many other facets to his game than just speed and could continue at a high level for years to come.
Now it has to be said, a high level, definitely having reached a low point. Earlier in the season when I first started this list Giggs had some immaculate performances featuring great playmaking from mainly the left wing, not with pace but intelligence and passing, kind of current Ronaldinho-like, but with actual team work, and I moved Giggs up very high in the rankings, but following that not much happened and he hasn't really been involved in that many games and when he has it's often been quite underwhelming.
That's definitely to be expected at age 36 but also what makes it very hard to rank him above players to come who can contribute at a high level in game after game.
Defender - Belgium
Despite coming under scrutiny here Thomas Vermaelen has been one of the revelations of the season and perhaps the best defender in England since joining from Ajax.
Other than being an excellent defender he is also a complete player with good technical abilities that he can put to use starting possession. Something very important for a team with Arsenal's style.
He is strong in the air whether it's defending someone like Peter Crouch or when he is in the opponent box on set pieces.
Man to man he is one of those defenders that can really outmaneuver opponents off the ball but he is even more impressive when almost expanding what's a normal central defender zone and commanding great areas with great effectiveness. He is a prime example of one of those defenders with a great defensive range.
Now at times that means we'll see stuff like what ZonalMarking points out in the article above but in at least some of those examples, there is already allowed too much space by poor positioning from other players and Vermaelen is the kind of defender with enough talent to try and save those situations. Overall that's not a bad thing as long as he isn't overestimating his ability resulting in a negative success rate. See Cannavaro these days. As long as it doesn't become negative gambling it's great to have a defender like that. The real problem is if there is a consistent lack of good team defending, whether pressing or covering, then even a defender as good as Vermaelen will get to "look bad" at times. But at least Arsenal, in all honesty a bad team when not in possession, with Vermaelen has a defender good enough to at least try, and often succeeding cleaning up the mess.
Midfielder - England
One of the toughest players to rank in a while. My brain is screaming that he should be higher but my instincts demand the exact opposite. He's been high, he's been low, he's been sorta everywhere really.
There are a quite a few things to like about Barry, even if few people seem to. He is physically very good and rarely injured. He is consistent. He is versatile and has functioned in a number of different roles and positions during his career.
It's when thinking about just how exactly does he function that all the doubts I have really start appearing, even when it comes to his main responsibility in recent years, operating the defensive midfield.
I'm just not fully convinced that Barry is a really good defensive midfielder but more of an all round midfielder almost trapped in that role. Yes he works hard and is strong. There is no problem with his positional discipline either. So much so that time and time again you find yourself missing the younger Barry who made great forwards runs playing for Aston Villa.
Then to make that aspect even more confusing, even if it seems he does very little, his offensive numbers for whatever they are worth in this sport are actually really good even at this (defensive) stage of his career. There is definitely contribution from him there, one way or the other, and it's a big part of why my brain wants him higher, and that he is where he is even, for someone I see, maybe wrongly, losing the midfield battles to the opposition (defensive midfield specialists overcoming the allrounder you could say) a little too often to be considered elite.
That Barry is slow and uncreative wouldn't really mean much if I was sure he was very good defensively. That added with his goal and assist tally + versatility would suggest a very high ranking, despite nothing flashy.
For now though he is a complete midfielder putting only some of that completeness to use in a defensive role where he works well defensively and distributes the ball safely, just not as good as the specialists and even though the naked attacking numbers are there (from set pieces?) and that certainly has put him ahead of quite a few of those specialists, it isn't enough to have him up there with the very best.
In the final third, with apologies to his certainly capable left foot, I'm just not seeing quite enough talent coming from him. Not enough to put him ahead of the best defensive midfielders, overcome the defensive deficit so to speak, or the more complete midfielders, which most will be, other than the true elite defensive ones, when we get to the top ranks.