onsdag den 2. juni 2010

The 200 best players in the world: 82-77

Unfortunately I got a little stuck with this entry when I came to the final central defenders to appear on the list.

I went back and forth in my head, if this was really right, the highest ranked at 77, and had to revisit and think harder about my original ideas for ranking them the way I have. Hopefully it makes some sense at least. I'm sticking with it anyway! So yeah, that rambling is in the Chiellini writeup and could or should probably have been even longer.
It's possible it is something I'll try to expand on when I get to some of the best central midfielders who in my mind have become the most important, with the most impact, "defenders".

Also in this entry, some France World Cup stuff, quite a few links (some youtube) that I of course all recommend and not least a poll!

Who really is the best central defender in the world? Do vote.

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

94: Alejandro "Chori" Dominguez - Valencia - Argentina
93: Claudio Marchisio - Juventus - Italy
92: Michael Carrick - Manchester United - England
91: Darren Fletcher - Manchester United - Scotland
90: Miralem Pjanic - Lyon - Bosnia-Herzegovina
89: Santi Cazorla - Villarreal - Spain
88: Samir Nasri - Arsenal - France
87: Luis Suarez - Ajax - Uruguay
86: Mario Balotelli - Inter - Italy
85: Alberto Gilardino - Fiorentina - Italy
84: James Milner - Aston Villa - England
83: Mikel Arteta - Everton - Spain


Thierry Henry


Forward - France

Oh how the mighty have fallen. It's easy to forget now but Henry had a very good season last year and was an important part of Barca's historic improvement under Guardiola where they improved 20 points and 37 goals (and won everything instead of nothing!) with most of the same players intact from the previous season under Rijkaard.

One very noticeable change when Guardiola took over was the immediate high pressure on the ballholder from the Barca attacking players once possession was lost, and it was there playing on the left that Henry made such a change compared to when Ronaldinho had been moved out there under Rijkaard.
Henry actually thrived doing this kind of defensive work. Had he been asked for the more "defensive defensive" approach of consistently tracking back covering his position, be disciplined who knows how successful he would have been, but this very aggressive approach that often paid quick dividends on the attacking front (while on the defensive became a major obstruction to the counter attacks that had been killing them under Rijkaard, and is now arguably the biggest tactical trend out there for attacking teams) was something Guardiola very much had the Barca forwards, including Henry, buy into.

It seems like a distant memory now, but across competitions Thierry Henry actually scored 36 goals last season and despite advancing beyond 30 years of age always being something of a worry for players relying as much on athleticism as Henry have, I think few could have envisioned just how bad things would become this the follow up season.

The main issue isn't even a drastic decline of skills, because while it's certainly clear he isn't at his Arsenal peak anymore, when he was one of the very best players in the world, it's not really clear to me at least, just how much slower or weaker he has become, simply because of the fact that he seems completely unable to have almost any kind of decent healthy spell these days and therefore is never in anything that's near top condition.

The extraordinary pace and body control that time and time again made him glide past, and free of, defenders who never stood a chance. Then the fantastic finishes. It's just not there anymore. Not there anymore to such an extent that you wonder, what is next for Henry? He isn't good enough for Barcelona any longer where Guardiola this season, it became clear, just gave up on him.

There have been talks of retreat to Major League Soccer which then would kind of be Henry giving up as well...

The more imminent challenge is of course the World Cup where he is France captain and for years of course a certain starter.

I won't pretend that replacing Henry with someone I'm certain is better at the moment would suddenly make Domenech's team play up to their talent. There are many issues and throughout his reign, with the notable exception being four years ago at the World Cup where various legends turned back the years for one last dance, something (Domenech is the most sensible answer) has stopped them from playing well.

Two of the constants under Domenech has been, of course Henry, and then almost uninterruptedly a defensive midfield duo of (in the last few years) Lass Diarra and previously ranked Toulalan. The latter due to sad circumstances where Lass Diarra because of serious illness will miss out on the World Cup, has now been broken up, and Domenech has an interesting (to some completely obvious) decision. If he wants to install a similar player into the lineup, it could be yet another Diarra, Alou, and continue with what hasn't really been working, but what he does seem to strongly believe in, or alternatively he could insert a player with different characteristics thereby changing both tactics and style. Perhaps even drastically.

I think if he does that and at the same time just happens to also replace that other constant, Henry, who unless he'd show clear signs of doing a kind of repeat of the 2006 legends turning back the clock, just isn't good enough compared to what both Malouda and Ribery can do as left forwards or what Anelka (Domenech has bizarrely left out Benzema who I could also have added) and I strongly suspect Gignac as well, can do as strikers.

Not long ago this was almost unthinkable but there are even stories of Domenech prior to his 30 man World Cup squad selection, traveling to Barcelona and asking Henry not to go to the World Cup as a protagonist but as a substitute.

Like I said it's hard to predict how this will all play out. On the one hand the team looks to finally see change from what just hasn't been working and on the surface you would say things can only get better but with Domenech no one should be surprised at all if he'll still manage obstructing attack to the point of stagnation, but now also with an added negative bonus of a worse defensive foundation...

And then like Lizarazu talks about in the above James Horncastle column there is also the whole issue of how the legend, the captain, Henry will react to limited playing time. Team cancer on the blue horizon? Wouldn't be surprising.

The only thing I'm sure of is that it's going to be very interesting to see what happens next and simply adding to the intrigue is the group they're are in. South Africa, Uruguay and Mexico are the tricky opposition and I think its the one group where I can see almost anything happen and basically anyone go through in any kind of order.


Thomas Müller

Bayern München

Midfielder/Winger/Forward - Germany

Tall 20 year old athletic freak who must be a dream to have on a football team. Müller can play several positions well and combines superb work-rate, attacking and defending, team work and quick movement to make him already one of the best players in the world without the ball. There I said it.

He'll operate effectively anywhere in the final third and with his prolific pace and constant running is very difficult to properly mark.

With the ball he is a little more inconsistent (or how scary would he be?). On the wing he definitely has the ability (and agility) to make piercing runs with it at great speed, or if central make quick turns once he gets it, but will at times fail to control passes that look rather simple.
My perhaps incorrect theory is that he is often very ambitious with his first touch and that will make him look below par sometimes. No matter what it is though, subpar technique, great ambition or poor decisions, improvements can definitely be made. But make no mistake about it, this already an excellent player. One who sooner rather than later will have a good case for an even higher ranking.


Ivica Olić

Bayern München

Forward - Croatia

He runs, he runs and he runs. He runs really fast!

Olic has probably been one of the more underrated players for years now but at 30 not least thanks to some splendid Champions League performances he is finally getting some well deserved attention.

He is an incredible hard worker who is always on the move and is consistently a passing option when the team is in possession. There he is comfortable getting the ball both on the wing and of course when as a striker he makes runs down the middle. Overall Olic is just a true everywhere-man in the final third.
Then when his team isn't in possession he will consistently be the first man to defend and his pressing at this point has become legendary.

If you put those things together he must be one of the most annoying forwards you can face as a defender. A true pest to play against where there is never a moment of rest. He is either constantly on the move looking for space doing everything he can to escape marking, and then immediately when his team doesn't have the ball, it's the exact opposite and he is right in your face looking to win it back.

All of those mental and physical attributes would in my book have earned him a good ranking standing alone but Olic even has considerable skill. Best is his ball-control allowing him to make some really sharp turns when running high speed with the ball, but he is also a good finisher and how many goals he scores is only down to what role he plays on the team, which brings us to his versatility where he is strong (fast and skilled) enough to play both as a winger and as a forward in just about any system you can imagine.

Quite simply a wonderful player to have on your team.


Branislav Ivanovic


Right-back/Central defender - Serbia

It's possible I was late to the party but for me Ivanovic was one of the major revelations this season. A total beast.

As the season started and Ancelotti was rotating between him and Bosingwa on right-back I was pretty critical cause I thought of Ivanovic as primarily a central defender and Bosingwa as one of the best right-backs in the world. Even if I could see Ivanovic being very good defensively, I always thought Bosingwa was underrated in that part of the game and in no way a liability.

Of course it wasn't long before Bosingwa was out for the season with injury and Ivanovic starting became permanent, and with that, a reality where there was now no way to avoid gradually starting to see, not just this Serb oaf playing out of position over someone I thought very highly of but an excellent right-back in his own right, and not just doing defending mind you, where he added a third defender (actually Cole is no slouch either) able do centre-back type of defending in the backline, but a player who with his athleticism and great team-work was effective going forward as well.

Make no mistake about it, Ivanovic while physically strong like a centre-back, has pace too, and his powerful, often overlapping, runs in the final third throughout this season would have made many good fullbacks proud.

Even his technical ability is pretty good and more than once this season you saw him with power and control beat his man in the opponent half. Either fully to make a run into the penalty area, or more common, simply to deliver one of his surprisingly good crosses.

I actually do think now that Ivanovic is one of the best right-backs in the world and while there are people ranked lower who arguably rivals him as a fullback, he is another player who has received quite the ranking boost because he is a very good central defender as well.


Nemanja Vidić

Manchester United

Defender - Serbia

Tough as nails defender who with great strength and aggression is perhaps the best man to man defender in the world. If close to the attacking player, chances are that the attacking player's chances, are not good at all!

While a very good tackler capable of destruction, Vidic also specializes in always getting a foot or his head

in front of whoever he is marking.

To prevent chances he is someone who really will do anything it takes.

In the air he is virtually unbeatable and while very much similar to most central defenders athletically he isn't the quickest, something like his agility shouldn't be underrated.

Much of why the last pack of centrebacks were ranked where they were, and not higher, was discussed here (Ferdinand, Carvalho, Terry) and while I do feel especially Ferdinand, but Carvalho as well, are more gifted than Vidic in some areas - Ferdinand's positioning and reading the game - Carvalho able to defend and make a difference with more range to it than Vidic - and both of them superior technically - health especially in Ferdinand's case, some decline in Carvalho's, sees Vidic despite some health issues on his own, but still very much in his prime playing consistently great, jump ahead of them and for a short while at least become my highest ranked centreback in the world.


Giorgio Chiellini


Defender - Italy

My last remaining reservation when it came to Chiellini's claim as the next excellent Italian defender was his sometimes reckless brutality. At times he seemed intent on proving himself as a hardman rather than a great defender and because of it would unnecessarily commit hard fouls bringing disadvantage to the team in the form of either red cards or freekicks in dangerous places. He was dangerously flirting with entering Materazzi territory instead of breaking into the great defender territory, where his talent so strongly suggested he belonged.

Ironically, this the worst Juventus season in my memory, was the season where that all changed, where you'd see Chiellini cool, calm and collected practice his art, often spotted with a smile on his face and even in great adversity showing no signs of frustration leading to stupidity or to the violence that plagued him earlier in his career.

Now with that gone, only the good remains. As far as tackling goes I'll rate him a little bit below the previous 4 ranked centrebacks but he is still very good.
In direct man marking I also think he is a little bit behind certainly Vidic ( better technically though) but also Carvalho/Ferdinand when at their best, but again he is definitely strong enough in that area as well to make it close.

Where he is ahead of the likes of Vidic, Ferdinand and Terry is speed. As a former left-back he has good pace for a centreback and he uses it to great effect defending greater areas than for an example what Vidic can manage.
Seeing Chiellini at times this season basically being a one man central defender army playing for at least two, was some of the most mind boggling impressive defending I've ever seen.
It should never be like that of course in a team defense that functions, but nonetheless seeing someone in a game at times simultaneously manage defending left back, defensive midfield and both centreback positions was extremely impressive to watch.
Obviously I'm not saying he was in many places at once, that's impossible, but time and time again he was there to cover holes that were appearing all over the place, and with that, showed me at least, that here was the central defender with the best range to his defending out of anyone.

Of course range won't do it alone and if he wasn't very strong, a good tackler, quick with great timing and good in the air, then range can only do so much, but when very gifted at the same time, it does wonders, or least as much wonder as a central defender can do in a game where team defending is much more important than any one individual defending great.

Individually I rate him as the best centreback currently in the world but to get anywhere it's the team that has to defend well, and while a centreback's negative impact concerning defending can still be greater than those in other positions, the positive impact concerning defending can be as great coming from almost any other position. Maybe even indirectly from the forwards who for an example I'd argue had the most negative impact in Chiellini's team, Juventus, defensive failures this season.
Late (fat) Ronaldo at Galacticos Real Madrid is another of my favorite examples and of course late Ronaldinho as well, both for Barcelona and currently for Milan.

It's not as negative as the (maybe not so) hypothetical defender in the back-four who keeps scoring own goals but one rotten apple in any position can create imbalance damaging the team defending and then adjusting to that tactically might just damage the team's ability to score goals, which again, arguably in many ways will make the defending more difficult, which then... well you get the picture... It's just a neverending evil circle affecting winning and losing and in many ways also in there is why I've ranked players the way I have.

Who individually contributes most to a team's chances of winning?
And unless I decided to give tremendous credit to countless of defenders for not being really poor, for not being Frank Sinclair and by default almost causing defeats, that means players in positions contributing more, defending, attacking or both, in more places than deep in your own half which arguably with the speed and skill of players nowadays isn't even that more important to defend, than say certain midfield areas (depending on tactics of course), then these players, at the highest level at least - who the most important players are on lower levels might actually be quite different - judged by me to be doing more than the defenders doing less will of course have to predominantly be ranked higher throughout this list.

And with that, here we have it. The last central defender on the list ranked 77. Had I been more idealistic I could have probably followed through on my ideas even stronger and had everyone much lower - if ranked at all! But it's not all black and white of course and so far the list have been full of players where you could always find some kind of negative justifying being put behind a central defender if at the highest level, but that's over with now and the rest of the list will all be players who I think with their characteristics can contribute more to a team than any current centreback, and the higher we go of course, the less close that will be.

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