The final debate was over the ordering of the top three, and with Xavi Hernandez coming in at third, the rest of the Top 50 will predictably write itself. Nonetheless, Xavi had a phenomenal year as he won the league and Champions League with Barcelona, further solidifying his status as one of the greatest players on the last decade. Here to tell us a little bit more about the midfield magician is Spanish football writer Joseph Sexton.
View the longlist and voting process here.
Part 1 (50-41): 50 Ezequiel Lavezzi, 49 Thomas Muller, 48 Joe Hart, 47 Hulk, 46 Franck Ribery, 45 Juan Mata, 44 Phillip Lahm, 43 Roberto Soldado, 42 Arjen Robben, 41 Mats Hummels
Part 2 (40-31): 40 Gonzalo Higuain, 39 Alexis Sanchez, 38 Nani, 37 Karim Benzema, 36 Victor Valdes, 35 Gareth Bale, 34 Sergio Busquets, 33 Manuel Neuer, 32 Falcao, 31 Antonio Di Natale
Part 3 (30-21): 30 David Villa, 29 Eden Hazard, 28 Angel Di Maria, 27 Iker Casillas, 26 Luka Modric, 25 Wesley Sneijder, 24 Yaya Toure, 23 Mario Gomez, 22 Mario Gotze, 21 Xabi Alonso
Part 4 (20-11): 20 Nemanja Vidic, 19 Vincent Kompany, 18 Mesut Ozil, 17 Thiago Silva, 16 Daniel Alves, 15 Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 14 Bastian Schweinsteiger, 13 Luis Suarez, 12 Neymar, 11 Sergio Aguero
Part 5 (10-4): 10 Edinson Cavani, 9 Cesc Fabregas, 8 Gerard Pique, 7 Wayne Rooney, 6 David Silva, 5 Robin van Persie, 4 Andres Iniesta
3 Xavi Hernandez
Barcelona & Spain (▼2nd – 2522 points)
Xavi Hernández passed a landmark recently at the Camp Nou against Real Betis, reaching his 400th league appearance in the blaugrana’s colours. The La Masia graduate marked the occasion by netting the opening goal, just as he had in that epoch-defining 5-0 victory over Real Madrid in 2010. But of course, this diminutive technician has made his name further back the field, creating chances for others and setting the tone. His ability to construct allied to his rare spatial awareness has seen him singled out not just as the architect of one of the greatest club sides of all time, but that of arguably one of the best international ones too.
In the past calendar year, the Terrassa native added a handsome five winners medals to an already impressive collection; only an extra-time winner from Cristiano Ronaldo in April’s Copa del Rey decider at the Mestalla saw him and Barcelona fail to match their record breaking six trophy haul of 2009. Once again, Xavi was instrumental in this, fundamental; many would argue to the extent that he personifies this Barcelona side to a greater degree than any of his fellow players. Even Lionel Messi; and even a Spain side built around his Barcelona colleagues but deprived of the Argentine’s brilliance have proved just as much standard bearers at their level. What there can be disputing is that neither of those sides would be the same without Xavi’s ingenuity.
In December 2010 for World Soccer, Sid Lowe elegantly summarised his talents. “It is not that he is a better player than the rest, which he is, but that he makes the rest better players too. That is what we have come to recognise. It is what people like about him.” The day after Barcelona had delivered that manita to Madrid the previous month, the rabidly pro-Madrid daily Marca gushed that he “broke the game with 20 minutes of genius. There is no other like him. Xavi was a cyclone. He dominated all aspects of the game; control, passing, precision, acceleration, pausing, pressure and a goal.”
Few players in history have epitomised a side as wonderful as this current Barça in the way that Xavi does. Few sides have ever been as good as the Catalans of course, but not many have reached the level of performance Xavi has sustained this past decade. If at times, his contribution has been overlookedas it was most infamously by the Daily Mail’s headline in 2008 , it is probably as much down to his own humility as it is to the ignorance of others.
Thankfully the whole world is now aware of what he brings, of how he operates. Whether for club or country, his reading of the play, his constant positioning to receive the ball, and instinctive understanding of how to use it best sets the tone. Those mesmerising passing triangles, the rondos, leave opposing players in a whirl, not knowing whether to stick or twist as the ball is waltzed through their defence with scarcely more than a touch at a time. He is the reference point, the one who generates the tempo to keep the team ticking over.
2012 looks to be another glittering year for the Spaniard, with Barcelona still in contention on all fronts and la furia roja favourites to defend their European title in Poland and Ukraine. Real Madrid will have a big say on matters at club level, but if the selección come through in the summer, they and Xavi will add some more history to this story; no country has won three consecutive international titles at this level before.
He might not have the Ballon d’Or, like his Barcelona and Spain predecessor from the 60s, Luis Suárez, to crown this exceptional career. But then, team has always come first for this midfield marvel. “I need team-mates, people to combine with. Without team-mates football has no meaning. I am no one without them”. That much is true; but, equally, it is hard to disagree that when he retires he will do so ranked as the greatest Spanish player of all time.
The Top 50 is in association with the Art of Pele.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or Pelé as he is known across the world, is considered to be the greatest footballer the world has ever seen – the youngest player ever to win a World Cup (three in total); scorer of 1,283 professional goals – 12 of them in World Cup final tournaments; and “Athlete of the Century”, awarded by the International Olympic Committee in 1999.
In celebration of his achievements Pelé has created a colourful series of artwork that capture the many special moments throughout his truly legendary career. Each piece interprets the significance of defining moments in his life, translating them into vibrant and colourful images. The Art of Pelé brings his story to life – on canvas. Find out more by visiting www.artofpele.com.
Return tomorrow to see the finale to the Top 50, as we unveil the top two players in the world. But who will it be – Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?