Part 6 of this year’s Top 50 features two players who again showed their consistency in 2012, while the other is one the series’ big movers after a goal-filled 12 months.
View the longlist and voting process here.
Atletico Madrid and Colombia
It seems apt that of all the forwards in world football who came the closest to joining the elite goalscoring pantheon of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in 2012, it was El Tigre, Radamel Falcao.
While this is not only down to the fact that El Maquina and El Flea also have self-explanatory nicknames, Falcao possesses the similar height (Messi), strength (Ronaldo), quickness of thought (Messi) and acceleration (Ronaldo) that the above-mentioned are armed with.
The statistics for 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 combined do not lie either: Falcao’s 62 in 77 (0.81% scoring rate) is the closest comparison in top-level football to the superhuman efforts of Ronaldo’s 97 in 93 (1.04%) and Messi’s 122 in 98 (1.24%).
Then, there was the small matter of Falcao becoming the first La Liga player in 12 seasons to score five goals in one La Liga match, against Deportivo on 9 December; and, far from a lack of big-game performances, the Colombian has netted against the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Malaga and Valencia in the past twelve months.
All in all, the Colombian has been the main reason for Atlético’s, generally, stunning past twelve months.
This is much owed to the fact that under Diego Simeone – who reads from the same hymn sheet, regarding the importance of power, determination and an undoubted will to win – Falcao’s already-potent exploits have rocketed even further since the Argentine’s appointment in December, 2011.
Such has been the Colombian’s form, it even merited individual praise from King Juan Carlos on 18 September, 2012, according to Atlético’s President, Enrique Cerezo:
[The King] said to continue getting more goals, he loved his goals.
It is not ‘just’ been for Atletico either, with Falcao pivotal to Colombia’s impressive third-place (with a game in hand) standing in the 2014 World Cup qualifying table in South America.
After netting four goals in Los Cafeteros’ past three qualifiers, in crucial wins over Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay, Falcao will not only be looking at firing Colombia to their first World Cup since 1998; El Tigre will also want to lead them to their best ever finish, with a quarter-final place a realistic target.
With this undoubted pedigree – in La Liga, in the UEFA competitions (goals in three-straight finals, from 2010-2012) and on the international stage – the 27 year old has proven himself to such an extent that his €60 million release clause, ironically, seems to undervalue him.
Accentuated by the ill-legacy of Atlético’s former, notorious president Jesús Gill – with the club in €514 million worth of debt – it may well be hard for Atlético to keep Falcao at the Vicente Calderón.
Reflecting this, Miguel Angel Gil Marin, Atlético’s general manager, has not disguised his openness to Falcao leaving before the beginning of the 2013/2014 season:
Sixty million euros would solve all the [short-term] economic problems at Atlético.
Admittedly, it must be noted that Falcao – mirroring the similar, cult-like status and Christian morals of Edinson Cavani at Napoli – sees fulfilling the final three years of his Atlético contract as the “best option.”
Also, with Simeone unlikely to depart and Los Colchoneros firmly on track for a 2nd place finish in La Liga, Falcao – in a Batistuta-like fashion with Fiorentina – may well be happy to spend the peak of his career at Vicente Calderón.
This has been accentuated by the fact that the striker, who has only played four Champions League games in his whole career, is desperate to compete in the competition with Atlético.
Also, Atlético are clearly improving – despite a minimal squad, which could not even afford to buy a loan success like Diego – and holding onto the likes of Thibaut Courtois (loan), Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, Koke, Arda Turan, Diego Costa and Adrián López would send the right message to the Colombian.
One thing is for sure, though, regardless of whether he will end up at Chelsea, Anzhi, PSG or Josep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, Falcao’s predatory instincts and consistency have made him the world’s greatest striker.
Manchester United and Holland
Robin Van Persie has long been regarded as ‘potentially’ one of the best stirkers in the world. The stumbling block to achieving said potential, injuries. The Dutch hitman’s talent was never in question, but until last season, Van Persie’s career had been plagued by long-term lay-offs.
Finally, in 2011/12, these problems became a thing of the past and Van Persie delivered on the long-threatened promise, and in some style. An Arsenal side which had began to look stylish but predictable suddenly had the lethal finisher it longed for. Scoring goals from the instinctual, to the sublime, and downright ridiculous, Van Persie set the standard for strikers in the Premier League.
30 goals in 38 appearances speaks for itself, in a season where he had already narrowly missed out on Alan Shearers’ all-time calender year goal record of 35 by just one goal. As well as this, he became only the second player ever to score against 17 of 19 different Premier League teams in a single campaign.
Proving himself as the genuine world class striker everyone thought he could be, combined with the fact Arsenal had now not seen silverware for some time, there was always the chance Van Persie’s head could be turned by teams achieving bigger and better things. That said, very few could have predicted he would move to another English club, let alone Manchester United.
Along came the summer and the rejection of a new deal at Arsenal. Euro 2012 captured Van Persie’s short term focus, but after a disappointing tournament for the Dutch side as a whole, a few weeks rest, and a £24 million bid later, Van Persie moved to Old Trafford, and my has he made an impact, some suggesting Man Utd would not be in the position to regain the Premier League title without him.
Holding the peak standards of his previous season at Arsenal, Van Persie has netted 19 times in 26 games for Manchester United on their way to what will almost certainly be a triumphant finish to the season. His instinctive first-touch finishes, all round movement, intelligence and supreme technique have put supporters firmly on the edge of their seats, putting him as an arguable favourite from maybe four realistic contenders for player of the season.
Fingers, toes and any other flexible joints were crossed by Arsenal supporters upon his departure that the injury free last season he had with them would be a flash in the pan and the issues would return, but sadly for them this has not been the case, and Van Persie has once again proved why he should be considered one of the best strikers in the world at this moment in time.
No matter what happens in terms of aging personnel and increased quality of rivals in the near future, Manchester United supporters can rest safe in the knowledge that they have a genuine world class game-changer up front who will win them games, and he is there to stay.
Barcelona and Spain
2012 mightn’t have been the most glittering trophy haul of Andrés Iniesta’s career. But it may, from a personal footballing point of view, have been the most complete. Certainly, he was at his at his best, consistently excellent, and free from the serious injuries that have blighted other campaigns.
The suits on display at FIFA’s Ballon d’Or awards tell us something about the men behind them. For Cristiano Ronaldo, there was an immaculate €6,000 Dolce & Gabbana effort. As for Leo Messi, well…. but Andrés Iniesta’s summed him up perfectly- an understated, off the peg €200 combo.
For Iniesta’s brilliance on the football field is wonderfully understated. This shy, spectre-like figure from Albacete ghosts past opponents and keeps moves going no matter how tight the situation. Always on the move, always ready to receive the ball, always ready to evade opposing defenders, his dribbling ability and verticality offer an added dimension to the play of FC Barcelona and the Spanish national side.
The boy who used to cry from homesickness when he first moved to La Masia, and who also refused to let his family no how badly he missed them is a guarded man, who avoids the limeight off the park. That steely determination to stay back in his teens is mirrored by that he shows on the field. Even if it at times, it’s been to his detriment where injuries were concerned.
Speaking of the problems that plagued him in 2010, borne off the back of his refusal to miss the previous year’s Champions League final, the trials of his battles with his body almost led him to the point of emotional breakdown. In the end, what was gearing towards being the worst year of his career turned out to be the best.
Until now. In David Villa’s absence, Vicente Del Boque asked him to play wide on the left for Spain in the European Championships. Despite not being happy to play in that role, he went on to be the standout performer of the tournment. Two iconic photos bear testament to this. In the games against Italy and Croatia we see the impish Iniesta surrounded by opponents, and yet in totally tranquility as he calculates his escape from the vultures.
Back at his club, he’s been asked to do more of the same. After trading that spot in the attack with Cesc Fábregas in the season’s opening week’s, he’s largely been asked to do his business out on the wing. Rather than limiting his involvement, he’s posted a series of outstanding performances even if the question to effectively cut the prolific David Villa from the starting XI has been questioned in some corners.
Those niggling muscular injuries thankfully appear to be in the past. In recent times, we’ve seen evidence of his clubmates’ annual February fatigue with performances to match but Iniesta remains sharp as a pin. Having added another European Championship title to his collection with Spain last summer, he’ll be central to his side’s effort to win the club equivalent again this year- for Iniesta, a fourth time.
That may well necesitate a minor mircle against AC Milan. But equally, it will take an act of god to prevent the wee man claiming his sixth league title with the blaugrana.