mandag den 24. maj 2010

The 200 best players in the world: 94 - 83

Pretty big update with hopefully more to come in the coming days.

The 92 - 86 players were really hard to put in order, and sometimes compare, so I changed my mind several times (and probably will again).

The first player in the next update, ranked 82, is possibly the one who's suffered the biggest drop of anyone and was around top 30 early on.

Hmmm now I kind of wish I had kept track of every ranking change for every player I had made, during the months this has taken. If nothing else it could have resulted in some fun graphs...

Introduction to the list

200 - 101 (and every writeup+honorary mentions)

100 - 95
100: Jose Bosingwa - Chelsea - Portugal
99: André-Pierre Gignac - Toulouse - France
98: Andrés Guardado - Deportivo La Coruna - Mexico
97: Ricardo Carvalho - Chelsea - Portugal and Rio Ferdinand - Manchester United - England
96: John Terry - Chelsea - England
95: Mark Van Bommel - Bayern München - The Netherlands


Alejandro "Chori" Dominguez


Forward - Argentina

2009 footballer of the year in Russia made his move to Valencia in January but competing for not least David Villa and Silva's spots he predictably saw limited playing time.

If there was any chance of that limited playing time being permanent though I'd have a hard time understanding why he chose Valencia over the many other clubs interested, he was a free transfer, but I have feeling he was promised a scenario, next season the earliest, where at least one of Villa/Silva would be sold.

Now of course with David Villa making his move to Barcelona the door is certainly more open but Dominguez, despite his many goals, isn't really a striker so more than anyone else, Villa leaving, in the status quo should benefit first of all Nikola Zigic who might just explode next season if really given the chance and the rest of the service remains, whereas Dominguez is still more in competition with Silva and to some extent Mata.
Of course lineups with all three of them are definitely possible plus intriguing and of course one of Silva and Mata might very well still be sold. Especially with Valencia's interesting financial situation in mind.

When we do see more of Dominguez we'll see a very skilled technical player who has great control, pace, who can dribble. Has balance. A player capable of great first touch passes, and good passing in general, and who is a very good finisher.

Overall someone who as an attacking player pretty much has it all but unfortunately at Valencia found himself behind a couple of stars who did most of these things even better.

Make no mistake about it though Dominguez definitely has completeness to his game and can even defend relatively well as we saw when Rubin Kazan beat Barcelona at Camp Nou and against Inter as well.
Dominguez defended his forward position exemplary when Barca was in possession (all the time) and then with his pace and skill was a great threat the other way, crowning his performance by setting up the winner with perfect transition play.

Obviously Dominguez is another Russian Premier League star who I only saw when his clubs played in Europe. Therefore I could definitely be wrong about just how good he is but with likely many starts for Valencia next season, I wouldn't be surprised at all if his play makes a good case for an even higher ranking.


Claudio Marchisio


Midfielder - Italy

What he does is that he kicks people's behinds. Really hard and up in the air they go.

No, Marchisio at 23 I believe is "already" one of the better two-way players in the world with not that much more improvement to be made even, but this season, often criminally playing out of position as a left midfielder (often with real winger responsibilities, a classic case of the most complete player being the only remaining hope of filling holes in the squad) Marchisio just very rarely had a fair chance to show it, forcing me to show restraint and ranking him lower than I really think that his talents deserve.

Except for not being a winger Marchisio is a very complete player. He has very good technique like first touch and control. Even good finishing skills which, rinse and repeat, he didn't get much of a chance to show this season either.

He is 100 percent committed to teamwork and has a great engine that he really puts to use. His work-rate is nothing short of excellent.

He also has good pace and the only area where he might be lacking, the passing department where I just haven't seen anything special, he certainly isn't bad - I'm not sure his good technique and decisions make that an option even - but again he's been severely handicapped by playing out wide too much and generally for Juventus this season a complete lack of good passing options on what was a team with really poor movement.

The frustrating thing is that the left-central midfield spot wouldn't seem to suit his characteristics all that badly and we might see him in a similar role for Italy at the World Cup, but for Juventus with immobile centre forwards glued to the box like Amauri, Trezeguet (looking for crosses?) and even Del Piero not all that effective from out there anymore, plus basically a washed up Fabio Grosso also unable to provide any kind of quality width (or crosses for the statues cemented in the box), often it was Marchisio who ended up with that (winger) responsibility. A mission for him almost as impossible as when previously ranked central midfield powerhouses Sissoko and Melo at times also found themselves playing too wide...

Marchisio will probably never be a good winger but he certainly has the characteristics (including ability with both feet) to thrive in 3 man midfields. It might even be what suits him best but there needs to be mobility around him. At least one forward who has good movement (including out wide) in the final third, Anelka for Chelsea the last couple of seasons is a great example, and a good attacking fullback coming forward consistently is also a must.

It's difficult to predict exactly what system Italy coach Marcello Lippi will use at the World Cup. Like last time around I have a feeling we'll see several, but I'll be surprised if we won't see at least some Marchisio in a left-central midfield role, and with Grosso officially out of the squad, opening up the left-back door for Criscito, and with also a very mobile forward up front like Di Natale, it should work a lot better than what we saw for Juventus.


Michael Carrick

Manchester United

Midfielder - England

A player who on the surface rarely looks impressive and because of it is seldom held in high esteem by most fans.

You could even say that many of his attributes are pretty ordinary. Especially those that would make a good attacking midfielder which he just isn't anymore, at least not for a very good team.

He just doesn't have pace or good enough control to be consistently effective in the final third and in one of the more unexpected recent turn of events has in my opinion been surpassed there by midfield partner Fletcher who these days looks better going forward than Carrick.

But what Carrick does have is actual deep lying playmaking ability, a great range of passing and especially when that is combined with a strong physical presence, which Carrick has become, then you have a very valuable player.

Martin Jol put it rather simply this way: Michael's biggest quality is to move play from defence to attack and win the ball. Because of him, other players play better.

I think since those words were spoken Carrick has become, maybe even much better, defensively and he has a lot of responsibility there, creating the situation where all of Carrick's best work, the defensive, but rather uniquely for a British player I think, also the attacking contributions takes place further back, often in the defensive midfield.
Especially on a team like Manchester United who'll mostly control inferior opponents. That is just not very eye catching compared to where a lot of the game takes place, in the opponent final third, so I feel Carrick's contributions further back are terribly overlooked and sometimes ironically even completely forgotten the first mistake or sign of inadequateness he'll make when venturing forward.

There is just something potentially extremely valuable in a player who can make a good attacking contribution as far away from the opponent goal as possible. He doesn't even have to go forward to contribute thereby not compromising the defense. It's just a great risk reward scenario best exemplified with a player like Andrea Pirlo who by doing that to perfection became the most important player on Champions League and World Cup winning teams.

Carrick doesn't have anywhere near Pirlo's other technical skills, restricting him much more to play deep or get exposed, and from there isn't even as good a passer but he is gifted in very important (you could say tactical) areas nonetheless, defensive work (better than Pirlo)+range of passing, off the ball movement being a consistent passing option and while it might not be the great difference maker day in and day out in your average Premier League fixture, just like Pirlo not seldom wasn't in your average Serie A game, against x-defensive opponent, in certain games against certain opponents Carrick with his skill-set can be the most valuable player on what is a very good team, playing at the highest level, for that he deserves credit.


Darren Fletcher

Manchester United

Midfielder - Scotland

Good footballer? Mean bully?

Well, he has kind of turned into both the last couple of years making him a valuable player for Manchester United.

Few are so effective constantly harassing opposition players legally and illegally (at least anywhere that's not the English Premier League!). He'll huff and he'll puff, kick you to the ground. Whatever it takes. He is a monster, said Sir Alex Ferguson!

Of course had he not seemingly improved in others areas the last couple of years he wouldn't be anywhere near this list. Or become a United starter for that matter. It's possible he was always hard working defensively, did his best for the team and so on, but at some point he just became big, mean and strong making those crucial parts of his game all the more effective. Even making him one of the best at what he does.

How much things like his technique has really improved the last couple of years I'm not sure but what is always clear is that not routinely looking bad in those areas (with the ball) is helped a great deal by having strong balance and Fletcher these days certainly has that.

That balance and underrated technique has even made him the more effective Manchester United central midfielder going forward in the final third which on this list is always a nice feather in the hat, and I suspect a key element in making his midfield presence even greater (see Palacios writeup) making him a valuable figure for his team Manchester United time and time again, sooner or later, winning the midfield battle.


Miralem Pjanić


Attacking midfielder - Bosnia-Herzegovina

A player who will almost inevitably challenge for a much higher ranking sooner rather than later.

Apart from his already well known technical skills which combined with his acceleration is a good weapon, what's impressed me most when I've seen him this season is the maturity he displays. He is 20 with not much experience at the highest level at all, yet he often looks like a veteran. He makes good decisions showing clear signs of being a great reader of the game, and even his teamwork is impressive featuring good off the ball movement making him a passing option and when it's time to defend he does what can to take care of his position.

On set pieces his striking of the ball is extraordinary and he is a great threat whether it's direct shots or indirect deliveries, towards the goal.

How much of it has to do with Lyon's style and tactics is hard to say, it is also entirely possible that it's more in Europe than it is in France, but when it comes to passing I see Pjanic very often go for the direct stuff like quick one touch forward passes trying to set up combinations with an immediate aim to create or longer deliveries like crosses into the box making good use of his kicking technique.
He is not exactly warming the ball from what I've seen but I don't think what inevitable will be a bit hit or miss should be confused with lack of ideas or creativity. What he does with his passes often seems to be the most difficult (or ambitious) of options and that he has as much direct success with it (12 assists this season) is impressive and a very good sign for the future.


Santi Cazorla



At his best Cazorla is a true technical wizard capable of almost anything with a football.

Unfortunately for much of the last year he has has struggled finding form and good health coming back from serious injury, he only started 16 La Liga games hurting his ranking, and despite signs of finally being back to his best, towards the end this season, it has resulted in him not being called up for the Spain Word Cup squad where he'd actually been a regular the last couple of years.

With a summer's rest then, definitely look for Cazorla to have a strong rebound season next time around with plenty of trademark dazzling moves, pace and creativity.


Samir Nasri


Attacking midfielder - France

One of the players seeing the most swings in rank on this list having both been something like at least 20 places lower and as much as 30 places higher.

For much of the season once again I wasn't really that impressed with Nasri game in and game out but at some point during the second half of the season he really started to make his mark on the team, and at times in the injured Fabgregas absence, even making it his own with performances suggesting a much higher ranking. But whether it's the surroundings fault or not, then after that great spell Nasri kind of fizzled out again and I don't think you can say yet that he's really made his mark in the Premier League. At least not in the way that his talent arguably suggests that he should.

Nasri has well known impressive technical skills including being a good passer of the ball and has ball control and enough agility to be a good dribbler. He has good acceleration on the first meters and an underrated work-rate.
Fitting Arsenal he is comfortable central, functioning well even in narrow conditions displaying vital for Wenger's vision very good ball retention skills, while on the wing he perhaps isn't the most effective.

His superior technical skills put him ahead of quite a few better performers and whether it's with or without Fabregas playing alongside him, he deserves credit for his part in Arsenal still being able to enforce their style against the large majority of teams on their way to third place behind Chelsea and Manchester United, where remember they were close much of the way, but personally I'm still missing that great spell of difference-making effectiveness in order to really catapult him up the rankings.


Luis Suarez


Forward - Uruguay

He scored 35 goals in 33 games this season!

His virtual free role in the final third for Ajax has proved nothing short of a devilish nightmare for Eredivisie opponents this season who have just not been able to mark him AT ALL.

How well that goalscoring would translate into a better league with better defending I'm not sure. I'm actually a little skeptical how much of a goalscorer he'd really be, but his technique and great movement, especially with more or less a free role to roam around, would make him certainly a very good forward for a lot of teams.

A tricky player to rank since he still plays in Holland but without blowing his dominance there totally out of proportion and ranking him too high, I think rewarding Suarez for all that difference making in games with a ranking around here is okay...

With apologies to Ajax fans, but hopefully the club will get paid plenty for their sorrows, I'd really like to see Suarez in a better league next season and get a better picture of just how good he really is.

Suarez will also be at the World Cup of course where him and Atletico Madrid star Diego Forlan are one of the most interesting attacking duos around. They actually seem to do a lot of the same stuff and Suarez should at least watch his back for the more box orientated Palermo striker Edinson Cavani.
Of course both Forlan and Suarez score plenty of goals in the box but Cavani does have aerial ability and more of a physical presence. Something that could be needed.

No matter what, it's good news for Uruguay though, the more options the better, and once Forlan starts declining Suarez and Cavani both born in 1987 ensure that the future is safe, and on that note also watch out for another Palermo Uruguayan striker, 19 year old Abel Hernandez who at least athletically could be more gifted than all of them.


Mario Balotelli


Forward - Italy

In record time one of the most controversial players in Italy who right from day one almost has found himself caught up in often very negative attention from the surroundings. Fans, coaches, fellow players and media, take you pick, feeling all provoked.

How much of that is the color of his skin and how much of that is his personality, or both, is a discussion for another time, I'll focus instead of what is the 19 year old's astronomical talent for which the sky seems to be the only limit.

Balotelli probably has the best size/pace combination-potential out of anyone. That alone of course is massive and can lead to greatness.
He is big and technical enough to at some point develop into an excellent box presence and he is more than fast enough with and without the ball to take advantage (and find for himself even) space anywhere on the pitch.
So far due to Mourinho's mostly 4-3-3 tactics it's the latter taking place on the wing that's been more common and often impressive enough in itself, but I think it's once we'll see him more as a striker (whether second or centre-forward) instead of wide, that the real magic will start to happen.

The only thing still lacking there is bit too much of a winger mentality sometimes, even when central, where he doesn't always play up to his size so to speak and gets out muscled where he really shouldn't and either goes down or give up. Even if it will often result in a foul, which is rarely a bad thing no matter how unpopular, I think he could play stronger.

There is also no reason for him not to start improving in the air where he should have all it takes to become a dangerous weapon as well.

As a wide forward on the attacking front there are really few complaints. His work rate could be better, as well as his decision making, actually that's more general weaknesses, but his pace and technique overall makes him very good out there.

It's defensively that he just can't do what Mourinho wants from his wide forwards and more than anything it's that which has often kept him out of the 4-2-1-3 starting lineups, where especially against good teams Mourinho wants that fluidly to transform into a 4-5-1 when defending then right back when attacking, and Balotelli like many others before him, for Chelsea as well as Inter, tried and tested by Mourinho, overall was a hindrance to that working on a high enough level. At least the very high level needed to win a treble.

It's sometimes blurred by his erratics but another very positive sign I'm seeing from Balotelli adding to his athletic gifts, is some real final third creativity. I don't know if he picked it up from Ibrahimovic or what, but he does seem to have some real playmaking ability expressed through delicate touches and passes setting up teammates.

Also worth noting of course is his powerful shot.

So if one was to sum it all up, technically and athletically Balotelli is a very good player already and with upside since he'll only get stronger, but predictably enough for a 19 year old and perhaps especially for one under such scrutiny, and unique pressure you could say, the holes in his game are all mental related.
How, when and if that area will improve is another impossible discussion but hopefully it's more maturity related, than it is unwelcome surroundings unwilling to change that are holding him back.


Alberto Gilardino


Striker - Italy

Even during the periods where Gilardino was often criticized for his shortcomings in all things related to technique, including below-par finishing turned into a complex when he was at AC Milan, there was one important area where I always found him very elite; those without the ball perfectly timed runs or cuts of his in between defenders, and rather uniquely not even necessarily when having space or his team in transition, but in the narrowest conditions sometimes, just gliding in between say the fullback and centre-back, finding himself through on goal with a great chance to score.
He needs the pass of course and especially when that's been coming from Andrea Pirlo it has been a thing a beauty, but just because Pirlo is a great passer from deep, do not underestimate the great run which (especially with pass coming from deep I think you can say) is just as important.
It's definitely one of the things I'll be looking forward to see at the World Cup. That connection. If it's still there.

At Fiorentina, Gilardino has still been doing that and in Montilivo back in central midfield he has someone with at least somewhat similar potential for passing, but especially this season with Pazzini gone for good and the final downfall of Adrian Mutu, Gilardino without a strike partner alone up front in mostly 4-2-3-1 has found himself much more playing with his back to the goal, so therefore we have seen less of those runs.

His finishing has improved in recent years though and that way, this season at least, making up for those Gilardino-through-on goal chances perhaps being more rare.

He is also stronger these days with better balance and that combined with improved technique meant that, despite me never really seeing him as a target-man type, that his play also in this area has become pretty impressive, and is possibly a reason that neither Toni or Amauri (other than poor form) were selected for the World Cup.

Always very hard working Gilardino, while Fiorentina was still in the Champions League, was asked to carry a lot in attack and rarely got relief in some tough 3 games every 7-8 days stretches, with Fiorentina simply having no replacements, and he did start to look very unfresh around the time they were unluckily knocked out by Bayern, which then became a major reason for Fiorentina's disappointing league form I think. There just wasn't enough depth for a two front battle which is a real shame cause at times they did show a very high level. But didn't have enough depth to in anyway sustain it.

Gilardino did however get some rest towards the end, where for Fiorentina there wasn't much to play for anyway, so hopefully he'll be fresh for the World Cup where just like in qualification, where he ended Azzurri top scorer, he'll very likely be the first choice centre-forward.


James Milner

Aston Villa

England - Midfielder/Winger

Milner is a very versatile and complete midfielder able to play left,right and central who is strong both physically and technique wise.

He has the kind of range to his passing meaning that whether playing as a winger, where many players are far more flashy, but less effective, or as a central midfielder, he is virtually a guarantee to assist goals.

Even though he is capable when it comes to dribbling and has pace to be a transition threat into open space, there are of course wingers who are more gifted in those areas, but Milner uses his technique intelligently and with the way he can kick the ball often doesn't need any time, or to create much space for himself at all, in order to make good deliveries.

He is also good on set pieces.

Milner has fantastic work-rate and is reliable defensively. Not only covering his wing but impressively there is enough rugby-like robustness to his physique that he can battle his ground centrally as well. How many good wingers can make THAT claim? And overall his team-work is intelligent and exemplary.


Mikel Arteta


Midfielder - Spain

Due to a knee ligament injury suffered last season unfortunately Arteta was out for large parts of this one as well.

Therefore I did consider not including him, but once he made a strong return featuring several classy performances from January and onwards it was clear he had to be included.

Still, it is something that has hurt his ranking and I do worry about him a little bit, since rightly or wrongly, I'm not sure if coming back he was as dynamic as before the injury.
Of course even if I'm not wrong that could easily have to do with him playing primarily central midfield when he returned and not the more attacking and/or wider roles that we also used to see him in regularly over the years.

But not worrying at all was the level of his play where skill and intelligence reading the game were apparent immediately.
Arteta has excellent technique in all areas with a range of passing featuring some real playmaking ability whether it's shorter passes or crossing, he also has very good ball control and shooting ability.

Needless to say almost, he is also good on set pieces.

With hopefully everyone healthy next season Everton looks to have a really strong midfield. So strong manager David Moyes could face some serious dilemmas.

Fellaini who also got injured is in my opinion so excellent that there is still no players listed I (now) wouldn't rank him ahead of. Tim Cahill is easily defying my writeup of him earlier, questioning if he had slowed down, and has played to his usual standards ever since and young Jack Rodwell I strongly suspect is already so good that he almost just has got to play and looks like an incredible talent. There is also the reliable Osman, usually very solid, and then on the wings, Bilyaletdinov and Pienaar had good looking seasons. Pienaar even among the honorary mentions here!

Especially if Aston Villa loses previously ranked James Milner to someone very willing to spend, I have a hard time seeing them stay ahead of Everton but unfortunately for the Toffees, even though I think their midfield looks almost Champions League caliber material, rivals like Tottenham (even if now for the first time competing in the Champions League as well will be an interesting challenge they're still a club in great condition who will have a good squad no matter what) and especially Manchester City looks to get even stronger.

Unfortunate as well, is when I think of their strikers I feel much less mouth watering compared to the midfield.
Not that they are bad at all, with Saha and Yakubu (Jutkiewicz the wild card??) there is certainly much ability there, but they're not of the same caliber as the midfield in my opinion, a midfield it should be a dream playing in front of, and I really do think, one just one, even better striker than what they already have could take this team to a level that I think would shock people.

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