torsdag den 2. september 2010

The 200 best players in the world: 55 - 51

At last I reach the top 50.

Unfortunately as announced earlier I didn't have any much time to update the list during August and the time I have now as I've also said I want to use instead (transfer window closed and all) writing some fashionable late team reports/previews on what's still the new season.

So definitely not a massive Serie A preview team by team report like last year but rather do several interesting (mostly top I guess) teams from different leagues. Mainly Italy, England, Spain and Germany.

Right now there is an international break of course (where I'm personally looking forward to talented Belgium against Germany tomorrow) and I think it's a good time then to try and squeeze as many club previews in as possible (which as these things go could end up being not many at all - we shall see) before the leagues get started again and/or I get tired of it, where I'll then immediately will seek to continue and (finally) finish the list.

Right now I have to say though that the new season is a lot more interesting for me than the good old list anyway (I hardly even do changes any more either which is a massive change from earlier) which hopefully will also result in some decent productivity.

Which teams will be first? I have no idea!

Good suggestions are welcome.

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

61: Ashley Cole - Chelsea - England
60: Andrea Pirlo - Milan - Italy
59: Mario Gomez - Bayern München - Germany
58: Karim Benzema - Real Madrid - France
57: Zvjezdan Misimovic - Wolfsburg - Bosnia Herzegovina
56: Rafael Van der Vaart - Real Madrid - The Netherlands


Michael Ballack

Bayer Leverkusen

Midfielder - Germany

One of the best midfielders in the world for the last decade is back at Leverkusen where he got his big breakthrough more than 10 years ago.

Ballack even at his best was never flashy but as effective a player as almost any. His power, stamina combined with intelligence, considerable skills (passing, first touch as well as shooting) plus aerial ability made him able to excel anywhere from commanding play in central midfield to provide bundles of goals in the final third.

With great consistency that was all showcased time and time again in Germany. Whether for Leverkusen, Bayern or the Nationalmannschaft, Ballack was the unquestionable leader and mostly the best player too, and with a big ego to go along with all the ability he was in many ways yet another traditional almost imperious German football Kapitän. Just the way they seem to like them.

Then when Ballack moved to Chelsea as a 29 year old veteran much of the same was expected but never quite materialized itself with the same consistency. First of all there were injuries, second there were other midfielders so excellent that Ballack wasn't the talisman, more like a very good role player in fact, and that one of those midfielders Frank Lampard shared many of Ballack's characteristics while almost never missing a game, meant that Ballack for Chelsea never became the dominant midfielder everyone had grown used to.

It's interesting I think, that at least before physical decline really set in for Ballack, that Chelsea had perhaps the 3 most effective midfielders in the world at their disposal, Lampard, Essien and Ballack but in a classic case of there can only be so many chefs, some saw their roles reduced on a regular basis.

For Essien - at least when he wasn't totally wasted playing defender (ugh) - that wasn't a problem because even though the two-way ability has always been there clear as a bright day, he is of course as everyone knows superb and fully comfortable, indeed one of the very best defensive midfielders in the world, fully fine with being more selective with his powerful forward runs.

For Ballack however, at least in the early Chelsea days, still with so much to offer in and around the box, not being the key part of the attacking game that he always had been, must have been some adjustment.

Maybe you could even say that it was when the adjustment took place naturally, Ballack losing the power to be dominant at the highest level, that he was at his best for Chelsea. Providing the most value. With Essien desperately unlucky with injuries and Mikel with moments of liability never quite taking command of defensive midfield, it was Ballack who with good distribution and intelligent defending (and some attacking too at times) in a deeper role provided much needed consistency from there on the way to his first league title in England, enjoying what I thought was a very good season.

For the national team during World Cup qualification similar took place. Gone was the box to box goalscoring talisman and instead we saw a defensive controlling midfielder fulfilling his role very well. Particularly impressive was his performances in what I think counts as only two or three games in the last four years where I've seen Germany play defensive, the games against Hiddink's Russia, eeking out a couple of close victories.

Injury of course put a stop to that and with an even stronger defensive midfield emergence coming from younger countryman Bastian Schweinsteiger last season, performing brilliantly, it will be interesting if there is still room for the self proclaimed STILL captain on the German national team.

Even if different because the emergence of an actual German number 10 playmaker in Mesut Özil has made the old Ballack role sort of go away, there is of course even a new superb German two-way, box to box player really coming into his own in Sami Khedira (who I now would rank just inside the top 50 I think), so it's not like that position is anything near being a clear pathway back into the team for Ballack either.

At Leverkusen the early perhaps too ambitious signaled intent is not to put a straitjacket on Ballack and play him in his recent holding role but rather wish for the old Ballack being a key player, in attack as well.
There is no doubt Ballack is still skilled and strong but whether he still (maybe in the Bundesliga?) will have the engine for box to box play with real impact definitely remains to be seen.


Aaron Lennon


Winger - England

Still only 23 Lennon began last season sensationally, showing I thought, consistently a higher level than ever before and in full flow fully delivering on the great promise he had shown years earlier.

His great pace and skill with the ball meant games where he was almost unstoppable to the point where was actually one of the best players in the league, game in and game out providing high class differencemaking, and when Tottenham's best player Luka Modric got injured already in August, not least Lennon (while not forgetting the other Spurs players who made the list or Bale the notable) helped carry the team to impressive victories.

Also very impressive to me nowadays is when a winger is comfortable in a 4-4-2 rather than the mostly more modern winger friendly 4-2-3-1.

For Tottenham when it's mostly playing with two outright strikers not helping out defensively to any great effect, it's good to see a smaller not very strong but very much fast and skilled type of player like Lennon mostly very comfortable, working hard, both when his team is in possession and when it's time to defend and cover his wing position making up/playing his part in the two defensive chains of four in the 4-4-2.

A lot of wing type of players would not be comfortable in a 4-4-2 with the defensive requirements of the current day player and in order to line up well defensively without the ball need the extra midfielder (over a striker) for protection and for the team to make up the needed defensive numbers. Contrary to formations with the extra striker on board where it's the opposite with the real danger there of actually taking away from the defensive numbers and potentially, if not very rigid (where it can still be a very effective defensive system) or with strong defensive play in positions where it perhaps isn't common, run the great risk of getting outnumbered when up against the very common five man midfield formations.

I can only really remember one game last season where Lennon in the Spurs 4-4-2 (Redknapp did actually change systems against the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea) were given a runaround by a more flexible system. It was against Manchester United who with a curious almost wingless lineup and a midfield of Giggs, Scholes, Fletcher and Anderson, then Rooney as usual being everywhere, with outnumbering then fully in place made it very easy, for not least Giggs and Scholes with their quality passing, to make the Spurs midfielders resemble, at times, yes headless chickens.

Tottenham of course still do face plenty of 4-4-2s in England and in a battle of those, with their quality (not least superior two-way play from Modric, Palacios and Bale) will mostly prevail, but as already speculated heavily on by many people, what is going to happen in the Champions League when instead mostly up against different systems, not least the 4-4-2-unfriendly 4-2-3-1. That of the extra midfielder.

Of course numbers on their own don't say a whole lot necessarily and everything depends on different player characteristics making up those very numbers but any two of the Defoe/Crouch/Pavluchenko three starting, could make Spurs vulnerable against the typical 4-2-3-1s and it will be very interesting how well they (and Lennon facing this challenge) deals with it.

Ideally a striker upgrade fully able to spearhead a 4-2-3-1 and make the people around him better would have been brought in by now (say Fabiano who instead renewed his contract at Sevilla) but another option could actually be another very good attacking midfielder, one so good that he and what is already in place, will give a lone Spurs striker such good working conditions that the job just might end up being one that can be overcome.

Currently there are rumors of Rafael Van der Vaart in what would be a very late (maybe too late!) transfer deadline deal.

Could formations with both him and Modric + the impressive supporting cast in what has to be said is just a very strong midfield, be so good that one of the aforementioned Spurs striker trio could do, what's not really obvious capabilities when looking at them, a good enough job as a lone striker?

Crouch to me doesn't bring enough goalscoring, let alone when alone, and while I like his play together with a co striker I'm not sure his play working with midfielders is good enough. Defoe certainly brings the goalscoring but teamwork isn't good enough if we're talking the highest level and he just needs someone consistently close to him to find the space near goal that he then is really good at taking advantage of sniper style.

All in all Spurs current best bet might just be Pavluchenko then. I'm not sure that's entirely positive, again someone like Fabiano undoubtedly would have been much better, but he does have the physicality that Defore doesn't and a drive that Crouch can only dream of.
For the completeness that's actually there in the Pavluchenko body he could still just not be quite good enough in all his positive areas when at the highest level, but an excellent midfield might just lift him. Just enough. I definitely think it's worth a try (it's not easy to imagine VdV in a 4-4-2 anyway). At least in the Champions League.

For Lennon (yes back to him) a late December injury put a stop to his excellence and when he eventually came back he never really found the great form again. Including like many others at the World Cup.

I suppose there is a danger that I've been too quick to forget less good Lennon spells, including curiously enough under ex Spurs manager Ramos in systems on paper at least more suited for a modern winger, and that I became more than a bit blinded by a great spell of Lennon magic in the more traditional fast paced British 4-4-2 under Redknapp and his positive impact (in contrast to Ramos) with a more (much more) classic British style of football managing. On and off the field.

This season should tell a lot. Not just whether if Lennon can keep it up, but the club as well on two fronts, and the new physical, mental and tactical challenges that comes with it.

Will be interesting to watch.


Andrei Arshavin


Attacking midfielder/Forward - Russia

An enigmatic player if there ever was one who's incredible attacking talent (control, dribbling, pace, balance, shooting, passing) suggests an even higher ranking but who's actual performances (especially last season) too often could justify a lower one.

He has supreme technical skills and explosive pace. And even if pictures such as the one below would suggest an athlete perhaps not always in the greatest physical shape when compared to others at this level he does have this mysterious often phenomenal but of course also undefinable 'Russia strength' and his balance for an example is very impressive.

But is Arshavin an intelligent man or football player I should say since that is what's more relevant here?

For both Arsenal (before that Zenit) and the Russian national team he would be a part of, even instigate, whether through clever movement delicate touches, passing combinations at such a high level that without to some extent great vision and football intelligence you wouldn't think it possible, yet his decision making at times is horrid and perhaps at best very erratic. He will create a shot for himself when it's the worst option or simply, as has become quite the worrying trend, the wrong kind of shot. For an example the most difficult option always. Like top corner always, MUST

So to the disappointment of many (including me) after some scintillating displays early in his Arsenal career, last season was too hit and miss from Arshavin.
It's difficult to say if it's mental or tactical. Tactically I think he is someone who needs a good centre-forward in the middle to work with from out left and in key moments of faltering last season Arsenal (and Arshavin) didn't have that with neither Van Persie, or Bendtner for that matter starting, in the 2-0 and 3-0 defeats against Chelsea or the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United. In fact in two of those games it was Arshavin who found himself playing a middle striker role on right top, where he just isn't at his best.

In contrast compare Arsenal's (and Arshavin's I think as well) performances in the earlier 2-1 defeat to Manchester United with Van Persie in the middle and Arshavin to the left, and it was much better in what was a game they could actually have won versus the complete opposite during the course of the 3-1 defeat where they were completely outplayed and outrun.

Signing someone like Marouane Chamakh therefore was a must and with both Bendtner and Van Persie in early season injury trouble, to keep the consistent point collecting going, he is already very needed.

Arshavin is someone who clearly needs good company.


Juan Manuel Mata


Winger/Attacking midfielder - Spain

In a long line of young skilled attacking Spanish players to emerge in recent years Mata is good enough to be a standout.

On the wing of course he has plenty of pace, that's just a must, and especially with the ball and the pace his control enables him to maintain with it is impressive.

While Mata has very good technical skills, including dribbling, he first and foremost make the right decisions. That's far from always looking for a dribble, a shot or flashy trickery so he is not one to constantly try to beat his man or go for crosses. Rather he participates very well in attacks and often it's him in the end who with a great run into the box with or without the ball is the recipient of a scoring chance where he is a good finisher.

That's another impressive thing, he is effective both in the wing role and when central whether more as an attacking midfielder or almost second striker at times.
Both places with hard work, skills, movement and exemplary team work, knowing his role and the others.

I have a feeling he is complete enough to maybe even deserve a higher ranking but this season should tell us a lot about how good at 22 years of age that he really is. With Valencia's two biggest stars, Villa and Silva, gone, it's now Mata who looks to become the attacking center piece. Perhaps not even on the wing but in Silva's old more or less free playmaker role with a lot of the attack going through him.
I'm actually not sure Mata has the creativity and excellent passing to do that on the highest level, if I thought that, he should probably be ranked many places higher. Higher than Silva still to come on the list for starters, since Mata is more consistent, versatile, has better teamwork, defensively as well, and it will be very interesting to see if he can rise to the challenge.

No matter if he reaches that next level (this season) or not, Mata is already an excellent skilled versatile intelligent team player who will be great for many years to come. Fully worthy of a very good ranking.


Javier Mascherano


Defensive midfielder - Argentina

Defensive master like few others. Mascherano has great work rate and tackling ability and during his time at Liverpool was a key player in some of the best defensive performances in recent years.

With his excellent defensive qualities but limitations in contributing going forward in almost any way, he in many ways embodied a Liverpool team that especially in the Champions League against good technical sides gained the reputation of maybe the toughest matchup around.

In the Premier League it was often similar, and at least (to some extent) until Xabi Alonso especially in his final year took his play to another level, it was a side you'd often see struggling to get enough going in attack to put away the same smaller sides the other top teams took care of mostly with ease, while against the very top teams you could see Benitez Liverpool compete at a very high level.

It's really no secret what Mascherano does well. He is an enforcer or spoiler if you will who knows every trick in the book (who won't hesitate to use them either) and whether his defensive job, and it is always a defensive job for Mascherano, is tight tactical defending holding together the midfield chains (straight lines Benitez style, notice his obsessive hand gestures signaling this to his players constantly throughout every game) and defending his zone or if it's more aggressive pressure, battling to win the midfield, winning tackles in the process, Mascherano will do as great a job as anyone out there.

What's most impressive about his work is his range of defending I think. Not meant like he gets out of position, that would be as bad for him as it would a centre-back, but in the concentrated area that is central midfield he really does seem to be able to do more defensively in more places more often than perhaps anyone else out there.

On this list in many ways (like on the pitch actually) Mascherano where he ended up (fitting I think right before the top 50) became sort of the ultimate defensive block for the attacking players. Or for that matter the best players with something to offer both defensively and going forward. The one defensive specialist that only the most special players would be able to go past up the list. The one excellent defensive player, providing us with one final defensive stand where even small chinks in the (attacking player's) armor, or a few questionmarks here and there, like with Arshavin and his consistency, would be enough to stop the rise up the list and instead get to be - ranked behind

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