mandag den 30. august 2010

The 200 best players in the world: Transfer updates

I'm currently writing on an entry that will be the last one before some different entries with the aforementioned promised team reports/previews of the new season.

In the meantime though, with the transfer deadline closing in fast, here is a list of all the players on my list (so far) who have since changed clubs:

Alberto Zapater from Genoa to Sporting Lissabon
Nicola Zigic from Valencia to Birmingham
Sergei Semak from Rubin Kazan to Zenit Saint Petersburg
Alberto Aquilani from Liverpool to Juventus
Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool to Chelsea
William Gallas from Arsenal to Tottenham
Bruno Alves from Porto to Zenit Saint Petersburg
Craig Bellamy from Manchester City to Cardiff
Simon Kjaer from Palermo to Wolfsburg
Luca Cigarini from Napoli to Sevilla
Sebastian Giovinco from Juventus to Parma
Raul Meireles from Porto to Liverpool
Joao Moutinho from Sporting Lissabon to Porto
Miguel Veloso from Sporting Lissabon to Genoa
Raul from Real Madrid to Schalke 04

Hatem Ben Arfa from Marseille to Newcastle
Rafael Marquez from Barcelona to New York Red Bulls
Ramires from Benfica to Chelsea
Deco from Chelsea to Fluminense
Toni Kroos from Bayer Leverkusen to Bayern München
Andre Pierre Gignac from Toulouse to Marseille
Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea to Real Madrid
Mario Balotelli from Inter to Manchester City
James Milner from Aston Villa to Manchester City
Thierry Henry from Barcelona to New York Red Bulls
Robinho from Manchester City to AC Milan
Klaas Jan Huntelaar from AC Milan to Schalke 04
Mauro Camoranesi from Juventus to Stuttgart
Rafael Van der Vaart from Real Madrid to Tottenham?

Even among the notables there were plenty of movement:

Joe Cole to Liverpool
Milos Krasic to Juventus
Stephen Ireland to Aston Villa
Mamadou Niang to Fenerbahce
Leonardo Bonucci to Juventus
Andres Ranocchia to Inter on loan at Genoa
Aleksandar Kolarov to Manchester City
Sami Khedira to Real Madrid
Christian Poulsen to Liverpool
Carlos Eduardo to Rubin Kazan
Filipe Luis to Atletico Madrid
Hernanes to Lazio

mandag den 9. august 2010

The 200 best players in the world: 61 - 56

I'm tempted to write some team reports with thoughts about various clubs for the upcoming season instead... but yes I should wait and I will until the transfer window is closed. Even if that means clubs will have played already. That should only improve the reports anyway.

So on with the list instead we go and this did get pretty long rather than my original intent of getting down the list maybe even in a hurry:

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

82: Thierry Henry - Barcelona - France
81: Thomas Müller - Bayern München - Germany
80: Ivica Olic - Bayern München - Croatia
79: Branislav Ivanovic - Chelsea - Serbia
78: Nemanja Vidić - Manchester United - Serbia
77: Giorgio Chiellini - Juventus - Italy

76: Marcos Senna - Villarreal - Spain
75: Lass Diarra - Real Madrid - France
74: Francesco Totti - Roma - Italy
73: Antonio Di Natale - Udinese - Italy
72: Emmanuel Adebayor - Manchester City - Togo
71: Mirko Vucinic - Roma - Montenegro
70: Antonio Valencia - Manchester United - Ecuador
69: David Pizarro - Roma - Chile
68: Dimitar Berbatov - Manchester United - Bulgaria

67: Juan Manuel Vargas - Fiorentina - Peru
66: Robinho - Manchester City - Brazil
65: Patrice Evra - Manchester United - France
64: Michel Bastos - Lyon - Brazil
63: Seydou Keita - Barcelona - Mali
62: Javier Zanetti - Inter - Argentina


Ashley Cole


Left-back - England

Cashley to say the least isn't the most popular player but he is an excellent left-back nonetheless.

He has great fullback stamina. Times his forward runs very well and has the necessary skills to be comfortable in the opponent half when doing it. There are definitely even more talented fullbacks at attacking out there than Cole but he is effective (his crossing especially is good, as well as his control) and he has great physical tools.

He is fast and strong. Both characteristics put well to use when it comes to tackling, and I think generally when it comes to his significant completeness at the position, it's his defending that sets him apart from most others.

One on one which is always a common situation out wide, he is great and his team defending is very good as well. You don't find him caught out of position and his strength, pace and timing makes him good at participating in back-four play, marking and defending in the box (and whereever next cause he has great range) when opponent possession for an example is on the opposite wing.

At 29 he does have some injury history (but of course also seasons of not missing a single beat) and is definitely a player depending heavily on athleticism, so it will be interesting to see how long he can stay on top.
Generally for fullbacks on this list, the gaps between them aren't as large as all the players in other positions packed in would suggest.

There are even fullbacks outside the list that I don't think are that far off, and who should probably have been included, since after all this is an important position.

But while ignoring left and right, with just three rather obvious fullbacks left to go - let's take a look at their internal order using new order as well as the honorary mentions :

4. Ashley Cole
5. Javier Zanetti (his midfield play a significant part of his ranking of course. While very good I don't think he is a better left-back than Evra for an example)

6. Patrice Evra
7. Branislav Ivanovic (his centre-back credentials also playing in but not as much as Zanetti's midfield play. He really impressed me at right-back)

8. Jose Bosingwa
9. Marcell Jansen (I haven't included Vargas, Marcelo and Bastos since their fullback play isn't that big part of their rankings. Jansen is trickier since it's clearly bigger but he is playing more and more wing instead it seems and that of course is a big part of his ranking)

10. Bacary Sagna
11. Domenico Criscito
12. Benoit Tremoulinas
13. Taye Taiwo
14. Rod Fanni
15. Aly Cissokho (actually I probably got carried away and overrated Cissokho overall here but then again the same can be said about at least the two above (or moreso even) so now I'd put him over those two)

16. Darijo Srna
17. Yuri Shirkov

Some notable omissions (where I'm sure I'm forgetting some people):

Fabio Coentrao
Joan Capdevilla
Alexandr Kolarov
Gareth Bale
Alvaro Arbeloa
Gael Clichy
Eric Abidal
Filipe Luis

Well all of those to various extents definitely belong on the list (making me look dumb) I think with perhaps the first real stumbling block for many of them, if we're talking the fullback position only, being Sagna at number 10.

Clichy I think still has the most upside if he'll defend reasonably. He is just pure speed and athleticism going forward.

Bale and Kolarov would have their rankings helped by their wing play but may just be the "worst" fullbacks. Very good players though.

Filipe Luis I'll reserve judgment on till I've seen him some more. I suspect he is very good though.

Coentrao to some extent the same, even if he had close to flawless periods for everyone to see during the World Cup.

Arbeloa I feel is underrated and would actually put him ahead of both Abidal and Capdevilla who could be on the down, meaning I'd probably put them at the bottom but ahead of Taiwo and Fanni at least. Abidal helped along by some versatility.

All in all then (and this is tough - more putting in order - just what I don't need):

Gael Clichy at 11 behind Sagna but with a good chance to surpass him in my book with an impressive season.

Kolarov who I'm a little skeptical about when it comes to playing in a back-four at 13 behind Tremoulinas

Coentrao just behind Kolarov

Then Bale who still has to prove some in the longterm and possibly not even at this position...

Then Arbeloa. Him also ahead of the Ligue 1 guys.

Filipe Luis the same and probably it will turn out that he is ranked too low.

And finally

and Abidal


Andrea Pirlo


Midfielder - Italy

One of the best and most valuable players of his generation, being the most important contributor to both Champions League triumphs as well of course a World Cup win.

I first remember seeing him for Inter (don't have any memories of him from even earlier than that for Brescia) when in a game as a young attacking midfielder he came off the bench to replace Roberto Baggio.

With his supreme technique in all actions with the ball he immediately stood out and I was convinced right from his very first touches that this was the next great Italian number 10.

He didn't look particularly fast back then either, a little fragile too, but his first touches standing out in a game even more back then than it would now and then his godsend passing seemed levels above everyone else.

I didn't quite understand why Inter sent him out on loan back then but it was a time where they had several highly paid star forwards in their squad making playing time a challenge for everyone.
Indeed an aging Baggio was soon forced out as well only to end up having several impressive seasons, being the (divine pony tail) man again, at Pirlo's former club Brescia.

But to name some of the rich Inter attacking talent at the time. They had:

Ronaldo, Vieri, Zamorano, Djorkaeff, Baggio, very promising at the time Nicola Ventola and the year(s) Pirlo was loaned out the likes of young stars Recoba, Seedorf and Mutu had joined as well.

I'm not exactly sure how Pirlo did in those loan spells at Reggiana and then back to Brescia again for the 2000/2001 season meeting up once more with the legend Baggio but it did make me remember and search for this in retrospect fascinating goal against Juventus where as a clear sign of things to come Pirlo number 5 on his shirt regista style from deep central midfield with a trademark deep through ball finds Baggio who with his usual elegance turns it into a goal behind a perplexed Van der Sar in the Juve goal.

Elsewhere in the year 2000, Pirlo lead the azzurrini to the European Championship picking up the player of the tournament award in the process.

However the real breakthrough came when AC Milan decided it was a good idea to invest in the obvious young talent (imagine that!) and secured him for maybe, maybe not €18 million in one of those not uncommon Serie A deals at the time involving many players back and forth at strange prices, maybe or maybe not, to create some nice false profit in the books...

He started out in the attacking midfielder role but at some point came the important change into a deep-lying playmaker. A historic change that helped pave the way for the major successes mentioned in the opening lines of this writeup. European Cups. The World Cup.

It was a move I have always hailed Ancelotti for making but I recently learned that he doesn't even (to his credit I guess! Most coaches I'm guessing would love that on their cv) take credit for it himself.

This is from his autobiography:

"Pirlo really helped me out. He approached me one day and suggested that he could play in a deep position, just in front of the back four. I was extremely sceptical. He was an attacking midfielder, his tendency was to run with the ball. And yet, it worked. He became one of the best in the world in that role. I stuck Seedorf out wide, with Rui Costa and Rivaldo behind the lone striker and - presto! - there was my 4-3-2-1, or Christmas Tree."

All the more reason to hail the great player then which suits me just fine.

Pirlo would probably have become a very good trequartista too. Even with the complications involved of being such in this era of football. And while he isn't fast or strong enough to be a great goal scoring threat up there, it's not like he didn't consistently with technique and vision do great things in the final third too, it's just that the one area where he is truly unique, and still best in the world, the accurate passing, through balls even from sometimes way deep would largely be taken out of his game. There are others with tremendous range of passing and its always valuable, but Pirlo combines it with great vision and superb ball control.

It was incredibly valuable to have a player who even from deep in midfield would be a threat in attack. A threat to create a chance or a dangerous situation out of , or from rather, nowhere almost.

For Italy in 2006 it meant the team could attack with pinpoint effectiveness and be dangerous with only few players coming forward. Many teams nowadays playing defensive will attack with only few players to keep their defensive shape and men behind the ball when possession is lost again, but even in transition it will often be difficult to be dangerous cause you're sitting deep a long way from goal and maybe doesn't have enough individual quality to erase that deficit so to speak and manage to be a threat with only so few people attacking.

The team we saw do it best last season was Inter in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona where sitting deep they made minimal possession extremely effective by as often and quickly as possible seeking out their one skilled passer, Sneijder who would then make excellent quick one touch passes of many ranges to one of only 2-3 players making runs forward ahead of him. The rest of the team behind could then comfortably concentrate on keeping their defensive shape. They were already managing to be dangerous attacking with only 3-4 players.

Pirlo at important times for Italy and Milan was in the unique position rarely matched by anyone else that the very next second after having created something in attack he would be in position to defend. Simply cause he hadn't moved! That simple. That true. He was back in or near his own half ready to defend having created from deep.
It's very hard to do effectively even remotely consistently and needs a unique player to pull it off but when realized I almost can't emphasize enough the value I think it has, or imagine even a greater risk reward scenario for your team.

This is also why I've struggled finding the right ranking for him and I'm still not sure. One thing is comparing him to the players he is just ahead of, Ashley Cole, Vargas or Zanetti. They're so different it's almost impossible, but also when looking at Pirlo isolated it is very tricky. Because in theory despite whatever athletic decline he has seen, and it can look serious at times, somewhere on some team, he could still have that value. Those skills are still there.

Is he by now just a specialist then needing the perfect conditions but then if that's in place can be the most valuable player putting the team over the top, on to glory?

And should that mean an even lower ranking then or how about much higher, since in some ways you could say that's also at least one mark of an elite impact player...

The 2009/10 season for Pirlo despite difficult conditions, that I shall touch upon soon, was actually better I thought than the previous one. Mainly he stayed healthy (well until it really mattered at the World Cup SIGH) and I found myself impressed with his work rate and durability game in and game out.

The surroundings weren't kind to him though.

Around him there was less defensive protection than ever. One Veteran Ambrosini did his best but other than that I don't think there were many teams in Europe defending with less players than Milan consistently found themselves doing.
Opponents often had a free pass to the Milan penalty area and I'm still surprised the consequences suffered, in the form of more embarrassing defeats, weren't worse.

In attack they had very little movement in front of Pirlo. Attacking fullbacks who he has always had radar-like connections with when coming forward, think prime Zambrotta, Cafu or Grosso, were a clear weakness for the team and there wasn't much there for him to work with.

Of the front three the only one with good movement and not least pace was Pato and he struggled with health, so for good and bad, Pirlo in many ways, as the rest of the team, was reduced to hand the ball over to Ronaldinho, permanently parked on the left-wing, no need (or conditions you could say) for Pirlo to make special passes at all, and then just see what the Brazilian's genius could create.

Quite a lot actually if you had people up there near him. Something Pirlo was also forced to at times, and while that did mean goals and a team usually dangerous, it resulted in a very unbalanced team and generally very bad conditions for Pirlo who is so good in a team attack that has pace and movement. But for Milan found himself on a team where it was much more about individuals. Either up front trying to create on their own or in the back among the unfortunate few (not uncommonly including Pirlo somewhere) forced to defend on their own.

There simply was no team for Pirlo to put over the top.

Current Andrea Pirlo is still an excellent passer, Short and long with vision. His first touch is great and his skills at times means he can still go past people without pace. I also think he has good stamina and he continues to be an expert on set pieces.

He is very slow though and at times to such an extent it's possible to mistake him for a zombie out there slowly wandering around with an empty stare just lusting for some ball.
This also has made him easier to mark and he is still very much a target for the opposition. Then with so little movement around him he can be made to look pretty bad at times losing the ball in costly areas.

Defensively like already talked about his greatest value has always been that he is there back in position behind the ball ready to defend his zone and that actually is more important than tackling anyway but by no means is he a good defensive player (especially not now) and he needs protection in the form of defensive midfielders around him as his slowness duly prevents him from having any kind of range to his defending and if he is forced to press will look completely out of place.

All in all I'm still not sure where to rank him but for Milan and Pirlo's sake I hope their coach Allegri (one of Italy's most promising) will find a way around Ronaldinho (and indirectly Berlusconi perhaps) and create a more balanced side than what we saw from Leonardo.


Mario Gomez

Bayern München

Striker - Germany

Gomez needs to think of happier times:

Okay so it really hurt he claims, and that does make sense of course, but a goal is a goal and lately Gomez is in another harmful situation (possibly here hurting his behind in the process) sitting on the bench not able to score the goals he loves so much and which over his still young career he has netted at a fantastic rate.

A year ago it was 24 in 30 league starts (37 in all). Then 23 in 28 across all competitions. In 06/07 there was 14 in 22 and even when still finding his feet in the Bundesliga the year before that, amidst many substitution appearances, it was for what its worth 7 goals in 6 starts.

But here he is at Bayern, their best striker by some margin I still believe, on the bench.

For starters you can only have so many attackers in a lineup and Bayern have two excellent ones in the form of Ribery and Robben both somewhere higher up the list.

Then there were the impressive form of two of my favorites (and I can definitely see why any coach would feel similar!) Olic and Müller who both contribute, as talked about in their writeups of course, in different ways with different things than Gomez does. Then if the coach in connection with all the other players in the lineup, feels that's what makes the team better, then it doesn't really matter if another player isolated on his own is better individually ( not least if those other things are deemed less important on this particular team with their specific players).

Even Klose. Himself with a history sitting on the Bayern bench brings different movement and dynamics (in the form of his remaining pace) to the team than Gomez.
I would though, even if he returns to good form, have a harder time understanding him playing over Gomez than I would Olic or Müller.

Then again if as some reports on and off during the season suggested are correct, that Gomez (Luca Toni style? Maybe not quite but still) have practiced feuding with Van Gaal, then that's not something that will provide the greatest outlook for more starting time.

If he were to get the chance again what Gomez does brings of course is a very impactful around and inside the box presence. He is very strong, good in the air and while at times can look underwhelming still with good and definitely underrated technique. Both when it comes to control and finishing.
I still think a large part of the under appreciation or denial even of any Gomez skill at all come from his high profile failure at Euro 2008 where he just didn't put a foot right.

With great performances in the Bundesliga naturally getting much less attention internationally, those things can haunt a player.

But Gomez from the starts that he actually DID get last season (and in all competitions he did score 19 goals) I thought both when it came to movement other places than in the box (maybe even more pace) and general ball skills as well that he looked better even than at times for Stuttgart during his scoring goals for fun (even using penis) glory days of the previous seasons.

In many ways that's what this good (even if too good according to some) ranking is based on.

Rightly or wrongly I thought he looked very good when I saw him and while as the season progressed getting to see that less and less certainly hasn't boosted his ranking, I'm not willing to dismiss my impression totally on a 25 year old, at his club in competition with excellent players, when I have no reason to suspect he is suddenly a worse player than the free scoring one of a year ago or the one I was very impressed with this season while he was still getting the chance.


Karim Benzema

Real Madrid

Striker - France

Benzema is one of the most naturally gifted strikers in the world. Strength combined with pace and considerable skills with upside.

So much so that I think he is someone who with a good next season under his belt could jump as much as 20 something places up the list. If not more.

However apart from very few exceptions (exceptions mostly having in common being universally recognized top 10-15 players in the world not long ago) almost everyone still to go on the list will be coming of either one outstanding season (in my eyes at least) or at least two very good ones playing at a very high level.

And for Benzema, despite all the tools being in place, last season did just abruptly put a stop sign to that.
Now I'm sure that's only in place temporarily and in just a matter of time with force he will run that sign over.

In many ways like with Gomez there is no shame either in losing playing time when the competition consists of other excellent players. One of them even, Higuain who with his finesse contra Benzema's physicality, had every condition in place for a great breakthrough season, both in terms of strength of teammates around him compared to the general opposition faced, and coach Manuel Pelligrini's tactics suiting finesse rather than power.

But who is to say that at some point that won't be reversed under new coach Mourinho?

They're definitely two completely different coaches and even if that reversal of fortunes doesn't materialize exactly, I will be very surprised if Benzema won't be much more of a factor this season under Mourinho than he was for Pelligrini.


Zvjezdan Misimovic


Attacking midfielder - Bosnia and Herzegovina

Old school number 10 who's playmaking in the Bundesliga has just been too astounding to ignore.

Athletically speaking he is behind the large majority of players on this list but he makes up for it by being extremely gifted in everything that involves touching the football.

He was (and still is) the brains and conductor of the great Wolfsburg attack that took the Bundesliga by storm and won the league 2008/2009. That season he amassed an amazing 23 assists.

If the simple plan was to score plenty of goals by mixing a passing (and set piece) maestro like Misimovic with a couple of very good strikers then it certainly proved successful as Grafite and Dzeko finished one and two on the scoring charts with 28 and 26 apiece.

Helping their rankings Dzeko and Misimovic continued to shine last season where Wolfsburg both scoring less goals and letting in more stumbled to an 8th place finish.
Those two actually managed to more or less contribute at a similar impressive rate as in the glory year while Grafite on the other hand struggled to find consistency and in that kind of attack only netted what's a modest 11.

Don't blame it all on Grafite though because the real reason should probably be found with coach Felix Magath leaving the club.

Magath who, with a serious risk of entering into blasphemy, kind of like Alex Ferguson in England, just seems to somehow know exactly what it will take and how to execute it in order to do well in the Bundesliga.
Once again exemplified last season where it was Schalke's turn to feel his heavy handed magic touch impressively finishing second in the league behind much more talented Bayern.

Wolfsburg on the other hand without Magath just couldn't find the right balance and if you consider they're playing with two centre-forwards and then an old school "non factor defensively" (lazy) number 10 around them, it's really more remarkable that they ever did. Even in a league, especially that year it seemed, erupting into almost reckless emphasis on back and forth attacking football.

But he isn't called "Quälix Magath" for nothing of course (a mash of his first name Felix and the German verb “quälen”( to torture!) and through stern discipline and demands of hard work he made it all come together.

Looking to get back on track then, before the upcoming season, wealthy Wolfsburg has been one of the most frequent teams in the transfer headlines. Not least with constant rumors surrounding star striker Dzeko going or staying but also reinforcements coming in, not least in the form of a new good looking central defense with the signings of Simon Kjaer and Arne Friedrich.
They should improve things in the back definitely, but defensively just how much, if Wolfsburg under new coach Steve McClaren still plays that same attacking trio up front, is a good question and perhaps also an interesting little test on the (oh so much rambled about on this list) importance of central defenders.

Of course if Dzeko gets sold the whole picture changes completely but even if that doesn't happen (and for now it probably won't) some other interesting signings they've made could change the balance as well if those newcomers can steal playing time from Grafite.

I'm thinking of forward/winger Mario Mandzukic who I suspect is much more of a hard worker than Grafite and then interestingly, if he can break through already, young Swiss recent U-17 World Champion Nassim Ben Khalifa who at 18 years of age now isn't just already on the Swiss U-21 team but in contention for the senior team as well. No matter what happens he is definitely one from that team to at least keep an eye on.


Rafael Van der Vaart

Real Madrid

Attacking midfielder - The Netherlands

It's possible that he is ranked too low.

The tricky thing is that just ahead of him on the list are some players I know that I want to have him behind, but then a little further up there is especially one young similar player you could say to Van der Vaart (who compared to this player in many ways is been there done that) that I feel uneasy about ranking quite a few places above him.

And of course as this list goes, I then have little doubt that I want to rank that same young playmaker (who I'm not sure should be above VdV!) ahead of the same people I think Van der Vaart should be behind. Go figure! I know I have spent many hours on this list trying myself.

Well, with VdV we have another playmaker type of player on our hands but overall a more complete one than Misimovic who's game looks more like he belongs in the late 80s/early 90s battling for playmaking duties with the likes of Dragan Stojkovic or Gheorge Hagi than in the current game where everyone works for the team. Including of course without the ball.

Van der Vaart as everyone knows has excellent technique. In tight space in the final third his skillful work especially can stand out among his peers. Like for an example in slick passing combinations creating for others or with his delicate footwork apply the finishing touches himself.

The 2009/10 season for VdV at Madrid started like the previous, his first one, had finished.
Not with good prospects at starting many games at all, and even though countryman Sneijder had left the building, the club had signed Kaka as the according to plan fantastic upgrade.

Cristiano Ronaldo of course had also come to town occupying another of the now more and more elusive attacking spots.

As Kaka struggled both with form and health though, suddenly things were looking brighter for Van der Vaart and filling in behind Higuain he easily had his best performances for the royal club both creating and scoring goals.

Of course as it turned out it still wasn't quite going to happen for VdV at Madrid and even with Kaka still out, as soon as club legend (legendary bad influence could be the more accurate assessment) Guti showed some flash, he too started eating minutes of VdV's playing time.

Including in my mind the perplexing decision to start him in the Champions League round of 16 second leg knockout game against Lyon:

"Guti and Granero are starting for Madrid in the absence of Marcelo and Alonso.

I can see almost no argument for Guti starting over Van der Vaart. He has played good recently but so has VdV all season. He is an excellent passer but so is VdV. And VdV is better at everything else plus he doesn't have Guti's history, perhaps especially in Europe in recent years, of utter failure and dragging the team down with him. I guess it's hierarchy at play."

That was before the game and while not really trying make this about Guti, but researching this writeup a bit however I came across it and perhaps (perhaps not) it's a nice little specific piece of perspective on many of these placings.

The Real Madrid - Lyon post game thoughts:

Real had an excellent first half against Lyon who defended deep which didn't give Real much trouble at all. They played circles around them and created many chances. Most noteworthy as I'm sure everyone saw to Higuain who had several.

Guti from mostly a deeper role did well when he wasn't under pressure and the combination of that and the excellent players making runs in front of him could have resulted in more than 1-0.

Then in the second half Lyon basically moved the whole team up starting at the back four now with Toulalan playing there.

Guti had less time on the ball and the whole Real Madrid midfield got outworked and failed to perform (literally) under pressure. This tactic worked even better for Lyon than in the first leg where there probably still was a small edge to Madrid, at worst, but here almost from the start Lyon battled their way to clearly getting the better of things.

It was obvious that for Madrid, Xabi Alonso was severely missed.

And not to make Guti a scapegoat, he isn't gonna change after all these years of being Guti, but while being heavily praised by the commentators he did do some very dumb things.

There had already been some mistimed back heels in places where you just cannot afford to lose the ball and just before the goal, maybe born out of frustration from Lyon's effective pressure preventing him playing, from his midfield role he started chasing the ball all the way back to Lloris. To no avail of course and while he was praised once again by the commentator all I could think was now it's going to be a 4 against 4 or similar the other way with people on their heels left vulnerable.
So many goals are either that or set pieces and of course it gave Lyon all the opportunity they needed and they (not least Pjanic) took advantage brilliantly and created a good goal.

I won't claim VdV would have been great in that role. The fact that he is better defensively than the likes of Misimovic or Guti far from means he is great. But him and the large majority of this list, the more common the higher we get, unless you have amazing talent, does team work.

If without the ball and opponents having possession:

Defend position/zone whether through back tracking or pressing and work hard.

Not fail to defend because of either bad stamina or bad mentality, and if great stamina or great mentality is indeed in place then don't ruin it with poor discipline and compromise the defensive shape with hopeless pressure in the final third or even the goalkeeper (especially not if a defensive midfielder like Guti was - for forwards it should be said that it's different and at times simply the defensive contribution that's right there and available) or make dumb sliding tackles in midfield that a good amount of the time will only cause holes in your team's shape.

Then without the ball and your team having possession:

Have good movement (of course a lot of that will be whatever movement in accordance to team tactics and ability of teammates) and be a passing option or create space so that it's that others get the improved conditions to be.

Guti I feel throughout his career has been bad at all of these and even in his prime, despite his skills with the ball, my suspicion of him hurting the team more than helping it would probably have prevented him from ever getting a decent ranking.
There are of course other players on the list who are bad without the ball. Quite a few only defensively which is (still!) just a natural part of the game but I think a general trend on this list has been the worse you are without the ball the better you have to be with it. And the other way around too of course.

Anyway that may or may not have been the first complete sidetrack in a while.

In the meantime Real Madrid was out of the Champions League once again and for VdV as the season rolled on (and Madrid rolling in La Liga) neither being able to secure games in the attacking midfielder role, the more central midfielder role or Marcelo's sort of left-central midfielder role, meant that when it was all said and done he had started (and played for that matter) less games than in his debut season.

We shall see if it's more of the same next season. So far Kaka has been ruled out for months and Guti has taken his act to Turkey.

Not a bad start.

onsdag den 4. august 2010

The 200 best players in the world: 67 - 62

This one got a little delayed unfortunately but other than that not much to say other than I hope to have the next update posted some time tomorrow. Maybe just maybe reach the top 50 even. We shall see.

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

82: Thierry Henry - Barcelona - France
81: Thomas Müller - Bayern München - Germany
80: Ivica Olic - Bayern München - Croatia
79: Branislav Ivanovic - Chelsea - Serbia
78: Nemanja Vidić - Manchester United - Serbia
77: Giorgio Chiellini - Juventus - Italy

76: Marcos Senna - Villarreal - Spain
75: Lass Diarra - Real Madrid - France
74: Francesco Totti - Roma - Italy
73: Antonio Di Natale - Udinese - Italy
72: Emmanuel Adebayor - Manchester City - Togo
71: Mirko Vucinic - Roma - Montenegro
70: Antonio Valencia - Manchester United - Ecuador
69: David Pizarro - Roma - Chile
68: Dimitar Berbatov - Manchester United - Bulgaria


Juan Manuel Vargas


left-back/left-winger - Peru

Dynamite two-way player with a fantastic left foot.

After being moved from left-back to left-wing before last season, giving him more attacking freedom he really broke through and is still regularly put in connection with big clubs, not least Real Madrid.

He is pretty fast, really strong and works very hard both on the attack and when defending.

His left foot is capable of some of the hardest deliveries known to man and obviously with that kind of thunder in his boots, the shooting ain't too bad either.
I've also witnessed some impressive accurate long range passes coming from him. His short passing game on the other hand, doesn't really stand out as anything special.

Even though he has good enough control to maintain nice speed with the ball at his feet when on the move, he isn't really the kind of winger well capable of dribbling past opposing backs using flair, he will get his great deliveries in consistently though making him effective.

Being a good left-back as well puts him just ahead of another very effective hard working winger like Valencia (who has more upside though) and even if Vargas isn't quite as fast, his defending sets him apart.



Manchester City

Attacking midfielder/Winger - Brazil

Easily one of the most talented attacking players in the world. So much so that it has taken quite the history of self destruction by him in order to not hold a (much) better ranking.

When he has the ball he is so good it's almost impossible to stop him from racking up the goals and assists over a season, but like similar immensely talented ball artists, Cassano and Ronaldinho, he always seems to walk a fine line between actually helping or hurting his team.

Without the ball he is very inconsistent but when his team is in possession at least, still nowhere near as bad as the older Ronaldinho (both curiously enough tagged by none other than Pele as cocaine users in one of the few interesting statements ever coming out of the great one's mouth), but defensively both for Real Madrid and Manchester City he has been consistently hopeless which just isn't good enough for someone often occupying a wing.

This like Cassano would suggest a more protected role behind a lone striker and in front of a defensive midfield would be better but Robinho perhaps doesn't have kind of 'fantasia' creativity in tight space central, especially when it comes to passing which has to be excellent to thrive there, and instead is better with space coming from out wide using his pace and his spectacular dribbling ability. Even if that ability, as everyone knows, is sometimes overdone.

By the way, on that note for plenty of thoughts on the difference between Italian style fantasisti and Brazilian style choreographed dancing this article offers some interesting perspective.

It also seems like on the surface everything point towards Robinho actually having the physical capability to put in work defending his wing well. Why not him when just about every other good winger in the current game does it?
I'm sure they don't exactly love it all that much either but they're professionals paid to do a job for their team.

Naturally some are better at it than others which there are many examples of throughout this list, as well as often being important enough to be the deciding factor in who I think is the better overall player.

That Robinho at times (maybe even most of the time) for the well organized Dunga Brazil team did put in something resembling the required effort just makes it all the more frustrating when he doesn't and further suggest unprofessionalism on his part. Despite all the talent, to get much higher on this list, that's something that sooner rather than later will have to change.


Patrice Evra

Manchester United

left-back - France

Maybe the best left-back in the world. He has good control and passing ability. Great pace and stamina. Plenty of strength spiced up with lots of aggression.

He was very good going forward from day one arriving at United and that is still where his true strength lies. He will go up and down the line all game and occupy left-midfield, making numbers, be a constructive part of possession and helping his team as well as almost any other fullback.

Defensively he has steadily improved over the years to become a good defender and I think it's rare for an example that he is caught out of position. He is also a strong tackler but I don't think quite as good a one on one defender as for an example Ashley Cole. Not as comfortable as him either (but better than most fullbacks) when doing more centre-back type of defending (ground and lot least air) whenever that's required in the box.

All in all, perhaps the best left-back in the world. But not quite on my list.


Michel Bastos


Attacking midfielder/Winger/Left-back - Brazil

No he is not a Robinho clone since he is a lot more versatile, offers more teamwork and also does not possess the same attacking talents with the notable exception of his great shooting and set piece expertise which always means a good amount of goals.

In the 2008/2009 season playing for Lille he took the league by storm racking up assists and spectacular goals with his excellent left foot.
Had it not been for an even more outstanding season from Yoann Gourcuff in a beautiful titanic effort leading Bordeaux to the title, breaking the Lyon stronghold, he could easily have been player of the year.

This year for a Lyon team that much of the season struggled to find its feet wasn't as good. They came good in the end but in the meantime Bastos had been used all over the place, not unusually benched in Ligue 1 then starting in the Champions League, in different roles and positions and his form was at times uneven.

I'm not even sure where he is best. From the left-wing where he has had most of his success he can provide great deliveries into the box but it's not like he has the blazing speed and dribbling ability to take advantage of space as best as possible (or as the true elite) and torment an opposing fullback. He might actually have better odds at that moving into space in overlaps from a leftback role coming from further back, we saw that for Brazil, but there his defending isn't top notch.

He is probably at his best if not parked permanently out left but for an example in a 4-2-3-1 has someone in attacking central midfield he can switch around with, or on the opposite wing for that matter, and be versatile. Just so his game doesn't become too focused on beating a fullback one on one, but puts an element of being a good goal scoring threat into his game as well, in good shooting positions central or cutting inside from the right, where he of course can be very dangerous.
15 goals in all competitions in a season not unanimously seen as good, I think speak volumes of how effective he can be.

To conclude, Bastos is a very good versatile allround player with a great left foot but other than that not quite with the kind of flair and creativity you usually associate with the best players from Brazil.
What in my book puts him ahead of some of those, and other talented attacking players behind him on the list, is his team work, including ability to be part of a team defense but also good decision making and work rate without the ball in attack. When you add that to what his left-foot produces of goals and assists, you have a very effective player.


Seydou Keita


Midfielder - Mali

For quite a few years known as very good defensive midfielder. That alone being something which would have earned him a decent ranking on my list.

But ignoring whether I was late to the Keita party or not, helped along by all that tika-taka Barca stuff, this season he has gone up quite a lot in my estimation with some excellent two-way midfield displays.

It makes sense that he is able to do it. He has great stamina, is strong with balance and has always been good on a technical level as well whether it's passing or control. He also has the intelligence to know where to be. That's mostly been when defending, but that he now makes well timed runs forward too makes sense then and if Barcelona didn't happen to spend all their time in the opponent's half you could even refer to him as box-to-box!

In a way this progress has been aided by other people's problems.

Henry completely collapsed meaning Iniesta (he himself often struggling or out with poor form) got games as left-forward rather than left-central midfielder (thankfully for Barca there was also the emergence of Pedro) so there were holes to fill right there left central in midfield, -rather than central itself where Busquets now was breaking through- and Keita proved to be just the right man for the job being a more dynamic player than for an example another (not so) potential contender, Yaya Toure, who can't move into open space out wide like the quicker Keita.

Basically here is a complete midfield two-way player. Those could very well be my favorites. I guess rest of the list must be (better be!) really special...


Javier Zanetti


Right and left-back/Midfielder - Argentina

Quite simply a force of nature. He plays every game every year. Has probably had one semi serious injury in the last fifteen and that was 10 years ago when he only played 29 of the league games...
He has missed just two league games in the last four seasons at an advanced age.
7 of the last 8 seasons he has played 50 games or more, rarely if ever as a substitute, and almost never badly. If ever at all. He is one of the most consistent players around. He is 36 years old. The oldest on the list.

He has great stamina and is seemingly never tired. When he plays fullback he still gets up and down the line and if he is midfielder, more common in recent years, he defends well and still makes those trademark (Il Trattore) tractor style runs forward with cannot be rocked balance, the ball glued to his feet. At 36 he is still somehow a dynamic player.

First time I saw him was early 1995, the first Confederations Cup being played (then actually less prestigious than it is these days) and the final between Argentina and Denmark.

Denmark had the Laudrups and Argentina still young ones such as Ariel Ortega, Batistuta, Ayala etc etc and then there was Zanetti who's class immediately stood out. He had made his debut late 1994 post the Argentina/Maradona World Cup collapse in America that year.

At this point he was an exciting right-winger who with pace and skill gave Denmark all kinds of problems and if I remember correctly one year later for the incredibly exciting and talented Argentina 1996 Olympic silver medalist team (but with respect to the gold medalists Nigeria by far the best, they had Ayala, Chamot, Ortega, Crespo, Simone, Sensini, Claudio Lopez, Delgardo, Almeyda and Gallardo,) it was similar though looking at those names it's possible he was right-wingback with Chamot, Sensini and Ayala the central defenders. He was very attacking I do remember that.

In the following years for Inter that was also his role. Under ever changing coaches they had many spells where they played 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 if you will and during those years, where they just could not win, whether he was a wing-back in one of the above systems or fullback in a back-four, in my mind it was always between him and Cafu for the title as the best right-back in the world.

Unfortunately for Zanetti he was "stuck" on both an underachieving club and national side, while Cafu even at Roma won a Scudetto and then there was his highly praised work, and the trophies to show for it, for Brazil and later AC Milan.

Cafu therefore understandably got the more attention and was of course an excellent, one of the best ever, right-backs, but was he a better player than Zanetti?

Personally I think it's up in the air but towards the end of Cafu which coincided with Zanetti starting to play other positions I do think Il Capitano as Inter fans call Zanetti, was the more complete and better player. And I won't rule out that he was in fact all along.

Of course Inter would later get the current best right-back in the world Maicon and as he came into his own (himself a former winger) Zanetti started to play most of his games in midfield, either as a defensive midfielder or right-central midfielder in a diamond during the Roberto Mancini years.

He was now at a point. A point he is still at where he could do a great job in several positions and as Jose Mourinho took the Inter seat, that is what he did, right, left, center, midfield or defense leading the team to great triumphs culminating of course this year with the European Cup and treble.

Mourinho who after his first season in charge said this:

"The player who surprised me the most was Zanetti. His passport cannot be telling the truth (claiming he's 35), it must be ten years out, he's incredible,"

He is indeed incredible and when I started this list I really didn't think I would rank him this high. But as the season went along he just kept proving again and again that he was still going strong, showing no signs of slowing down yet another season at an advanced age defying nature, and then his amazing physical ability, good technique, intelligence, leadership and not least unique versatility makes him one of the better players in the world.

tirsdag den 3. august 2010

The 200 best players in the world: 76-68

List is finally back!

The new goal (optimistic as always since this will require non stop blogging) is now to finish this (or at least get to the very top) around the 12th of August and then probably around the end of August start some previews of the upcoming season.

Not like last season entirely with the focus on for an example Serie A but more on different clubs in different leagues.

Then I won't have waste two days thinking about what on earth to write about Chievo when instead I could have more interesting things to talk about regarding a top club in England or Spain. I also think I watched enough Bundesliga last season to talk about some teams there.

Ligue 1 is more uncertain since coverage of that here was very on and off, but certainly selected clubs in England, Italy, Spain and Germany I feel I have something to say about and for once I've also been glued to the transfer window , so I'm disturbingly up to date with everything.

Anyway the list, the list, the list!

This entry is quite the veteran/Roma/Manchester United edition:

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

82: Thierry Henry - Barcelona - France
81: Thomas Müller - Bayern München - Germany
80: Ivica Olic - Bayern München - Croatia
79: Branislav Ivanovic - Chelsea - Serbia
78: Nemanja Vidić - Manchester United - Serbia
77: Giorgio Chiellini - Juventus - Italy


Marcos Senna


Midfielder - Spain

Spanish player of the year two years (but seems forever) ago now.

The 2009/10 season was a struggle for Brazilian born Senna with always unpleasantly tied lack of form but plenty of injuries being an almost permanent feature. However towards the end he did seemingly, just in time, find enough form to validate a World Cup spot on the all conquering Spain team where he had been a mainstay and key contributor, basically ever since being granted Spanish citizenship in 2006.

Most famously of course during EURO 2008 where performances of his featuring hardly putting a foot wrong earned him much praise.

This time it wasn't to be though. The emergence of Sergio Busquets, much improved, and ever improving throughout this season, and perhaps Busquets advantage of systematic familiarity with the Barca players everywhere around him, meant at this point a starting place for Senna had become increasingly unlikely.

Still it was a surprise that uncapped Basque Javi Martinez got a spot as the assigned defensive midfielder backup, but as Del Bosque said, he had a very good season. Senna (although Del Bosque didn't say so) had not. Martinez is also the future. Senna is not.

That is not to say it's all over for Senna as one of the finest at his position. It's possible he has seen some decline in athletic ability the last few years but when healthy he is still a very smooth midfield operator in all his actions both with an without the ball.

How much he has left is hard to say. I think it will be (and is already in many ways) similar to fellow Brazilian born (94 World Cup winners) excellent defensive midfielders with great careers in Spain, Mauro Silva and Mazinho who continued to be very good into their 30s.

An even better example perhaps is Donato, who like Senna became a Spaniard, and with Mauro Silva incidentally, seemed to last forever commanding the Deportivo La Coruna midfield.

Senna kinda reminds me of those.

So if he can overcome injury problems I expect similar from Senna at Villarreal. There are even rumors currently that he is in play to fill the midfield depth lost at Barcelona with Yaya Toure's departure. Who knows if that will happen. They may very well go for someone younger instead but perhaps it does show that he is at least still relevant at the highest level.


Lass Diarra

Real Madrid

Midfielder - France

Lass was higher on the list originally but while his team dominated most games he managed to still have an uneven season eventually losing his place to Fernando Gago.

A lot of that was injury related of course but then to turn matters into a whole new kind of worse, just before the World Cup it was announced that Diarra was requiring significant rest dropping out of the France squad (if early reports had not been as serious as they were, in retrospect then perhaps you could call this a blessing in disguise!) due to suffering severe intestinal pain and stomach cramps.

A second test in Madrid revealed that Diarra's injury was due to asthenic syndrome secondary related to sickle-cell anemia, a genetic blood disorder characterized by red blood cells that assume an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape.

Bad enough to raise serious questions about his career. The latest however is that he is training with the rest of the squad preparing for the new season ready to go and in a recent interview, he talks about putting this season behind him and his burning ambition of proving himself as a true Real Madrid player.

When at his best Diarra more than anyone is compared and actually resembles Claudio Makelele in playing style.

Both with the ball, passing and controlling it they look similar and even the way he uses his quickness and small but strong frame to win the ball from an opponent brings back memories of Makelele at his best.

You could say he still lacks some consistency, but for most of last season after being promising for a while, he was very good, then this season was when he was supposed to take the last step as without a doubt one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
I know my early ranking of had him down as one of those, this one as well to a lesser extent, but there are some question marks now and it's not given if in a year he would be ranked better or worse than this.

Hopefully better but most importantly, hopefully with his good health intact.


Francesco Totti


Forward - Italy

For many years one of the best players in the world but now at age 33 that's not quite the glowing truth anymore.

The genius of the living Roma legend still lives strongly on though and each season he scores and creates plenty of goals.

He has outstanding technical ability and unique vision, whether it's for goal or for teammates.

Moreso than ever, currently most of his work using those remaining strengths is centered in and around the box. His movement (though still smart) and especially work-rate has declined but fortunately if that movement or (declining) pace cannot create space like it can for a lot of good strikers, his technique is so great that even in tight space close to people, as long as its close to the goal, he will be a serious threat.


Antonio Di Natale


Forward - Italy

Came back brilliantly from serious knee ligament injury and had his best season ever at age 32.

Di Natale has always had pace, been good on the counter with good work rate but I never thought I'd see the technical brilliance he showed time and time again last season.

Not just scoring the 29 goals. Though clinical finishing certainly doesn't hurt here. But superb ability and intelligence shown in all actions consistently over a long season is very impressive. He didn't just seemingly never do wrong, he seemingly always did great!

Whether an exquisite first touch followed by a great run, pass or shot or even actual playmaking skills coming from him! Something which I did not at all suspect he was capable of but sure enough Di Natale showed vision this season and was a high quality créateur in the final third where he could have easily finished with more than the 6 assists that he did.

It's possible this high ranking will look a little silly not long ago from now. Of course not long ago I would never have considered ranking Di Natale this high but as it is this list had great focus on the current, where Di Natale's (too good to be true almost) great play is just impossible to ignore.


Emmanuel Adebayor

Manchester City

Striker - Togo

Definitely talented enough to be ranked even higher.

He is blessed with physical and technical tools to such an extent that it puts most other strikers to shame and that elusive excellent size/technique combination that I think is so valuable, alone almost should ensure a better ranking.

However his work rate and especially team work with and without the ball, making the players around him better with passing and not least movement is at best uneven, and pales in comparison to higher ranked similar talented forwards.

For me personally I thought this was nicely illustrated in how the club he left, Arsenal, looked for much of the year now without him. With his physique and technical capability in many ways Adebayor looked like an ideal center-forward on a team like Arsenal who controls possession but it quickly became surprisingly clear that without him up front there was suddenly both better movement and team work. Players complementing each other instead of, to put it rather harsh (it's not like there weren't good times) just Adebayor.

For Manchester City it's been similar. There have been games with great individual performances from Adebayor. Full of impact. Not least the infamous game against his former club Arsenal but also plenty where it has looked like he was doing more harm than good with poor attitude and work rate left seriously wanting.

With teammate Carlos Tevez in the lone centre-forward role as well performing much better than Adebayor it will be interesting to see what the future brings.

I'm sure he will still get games should he stay at Manchester City but it has become pretty clear that in a standard 4-2-3-1 at least, it's not really worth "sacrificing" Tevez into a further back forward (certainly not wide) role just to make room for Adebayor. For someone even better though, maybe!

In theory him and Tevez could still work great, and did at times, in more like a 4-4-1-1 with Tevez behind in more of a free role, where I think he is great, but with Manchester City rapidly bolstering their lineup, an excellent player like David Silva also is now on board who in recent years has played a more or less a free role behind a striker (rather than as a wing).

New (Mario Balotelli) and old (Robinho) could also still make their way making starting attacking places even more elusive but at least until Roque Santa Cruz is sold (Mark Hughes always willing) and Balotelli not bought yet (still with something to prove as a centre forward anyway) he should at least be first alternative to Tevez as the man up top.


Mirko Vucinic


Forward - Montenegro

The versatile forward is effective both coming from the left in wider more technical/pace demanding roles or as a centre forward playing good parts of the game with his back to the goal requiring strength and control.

That he in what you could call true Balkan striker style is also capable of sparks of trickery in whatever the role is another thing that adds in his favor.

In short this is a classy forward who when it comes to just about everything isn't as good as the best out there but who gains many placings through completeness and versatility.


Antonio Valencia

Manchester United

Winger - Ecuador

A beast of a winger who's physical tools, strength and pace make him a very dynamic player who is very tough to deal with.

The best description of his technical skills may just be, simple but effective, because while certainly not bad he doesn't have the technical capability of many other good wingers, look no further than flashy teammate Nani for starters, but if you add the balance Valencia possesses, thanks to his strength, even when in full flow going down the right hand side, and then his ability to cross the ball, you have, despite one fottedness even, an extremely effective player. More effective than most flashier wingers.

Then there is his great work rate making him very comfortable in a fast paced (often) high pressure game and I'm sure I'm seeing positional discipline as well, where he is consistently defending his wing, be it via pressure or back tracking, throughout a game and with that providing great value to his team.


David Pizarro


Midfielder - Chile

One of the more underrated players in the world for many years now.

With great range of passing and intelligent decision making Pizarro brings effective distribution to whatever midfield he is part of.

His diagonal passes especially are impressive and when under pressure in his own half he has the composure and ball control to win himself time for another good pass.

Usually a deep lying playmaker he is capable of both a slower secure short passing game aiming for control and longer more direct passes aiming for transition.

His team work in both the offensive and defensive departments are exemplary and if this starts to sound like a player who could be even higher, well maybe he could(!) but everyone else now are excellent too or offer something really important, and he does have athletic limitations (that very few players still to come will have) manifesting themselves in perhaps not being fast or strong enough to one; be great in the final third where there is less space, and two; defensively be a very good player, despite his good work rate and positioning meaning he can certainly defend when sitting deep. But he isn't a complete defensive player....

Yes it's all very harsh indeed.
I could just turn it around into something positive instead, cause it's still more strengths (just not to the extent that it could mean say jumping 15 places higher) than weaknesses and all part of the excellent midfield package that makes him the highest ranked midfielder so far.


Dimitar Berbatov

Manchester United

Forward - Bulgaria

Much criticized Manchester United forward checks in at number 68 and I wouldn't be surprised if some will think that's way too good of a ranking while others that it's way too poor...

Of course I'm not convinced it's "way" one way or the other, but if anything I'm leaning towards this being too poor of a ranking, since certainly while he was at Tottenham I remember rating him very highly, and even though I try to avoid it, it's hard being left unaffected by constant negativity surrounding the abilities of a player.
Even when that player likely isn't much different from the one I thought more highly of when at a different club not even that long ago.

Being a Manchester United player of course is something else, with more intense pressure and focus on the player's performances. Especially as a striker and especially for one carrying around a heavy price tag.

That Berbatov then in most people's eyes gives away this lazy laid back impression while carrying himself around, I'm sure is not helping matters.

Overall when there is almost nothing positive said about a player ever, everything can't be good, surely?

Well I do see some positives of course or he would be ranked lower. For starters his reputation as lazy is probably blown out of proportion and could easily quite often be superficial criticism based on perceived slack appearance. Everyone can look lazy alongside Rooney anyway but unless I'm mistaken (when watching match stats that unfortunately I can't find online right now) Berbatov does actually put in a good amount of kilometers run on a regular basis.

He has excellent technique that he tries to rely on much more than strength and he is capable of great first touches and creative passes in the tightest of space. He simply has that rare flair for the creative.

What he isn't is very dynamic. He is simply slow for a forward and even though his technical skills can be useful anywhere they're only a difference maker close to the goal because he doesn't have the pace when further away.

It should be hard for a striker to look bad playing alongside Rooney but perhaps Berbatov really would prefer a role where it was okay for him to be more stationary always near the penalty area and not just okay, but strongly recommended, for everyone else to then move in and around him.
Sometimes that happens at United too but to realistically try and make up for the scoring threat lost with Cristiano Ronaldo's exit to Real Madrid, Rooney of course was made primarily a striker and his and everyone else's movement now reflect that.

Including Berbatov's (but offering the least dynamic movement of everyone will shine a bad light on him) and while Rooney has tremendous flexibilty (a great strength) in his movement and work thereby in theory also making room for Berbatov the striker, as well as the two of them close together creating, it is very demanding and asks for flexibility/fluidity and dynamic two-way play, back (even if not all the way back then certainly some midfield play) and forth, right and left. Something plenty of the midfielders are able to do and not least Rooney leading by example, but maybe I wonder if it hasn't proved a little bit too steep of a challenge for Berbatov to shine through on a consistent basis.

I just have a feeling he would like something more stationary. Less fluid with him the great Berba as the center piece and the attack evolving around him. But I'm also convinced that wouldn't be the better for the team...

He definitely has enough quality to do great things occasionally and despite my reservations about him fitting in so far, I would be hard pressed to claim that he actually hurts the team, if he is indeed holding Rooney the striker back then that's a just a plain scary thought, rather I just think it's like he doesn't make it better (that's not exactly hurting the team right?) and everyone watching can sort of sense that and certainly they have the hope that it could indeed be better, adding to the frustration.

That I think will take a different kind of excellent player though, playing around and behind Rooney.

Until that they'll just have to live with Berbatov consistently not making things any better but at least occasionally doing something great.