Now it gets interesting. After a questionable opening ten, the Top 50 gets down to business here as the contributors introduce #40 to #31. World Cup omissions, two of the best players of 2010/11 so far, two Uruguayans, two Tottenham midfielders, a plucky young Spaniard and two Premier League champions. These are the Top 50 Players in the World.
40 Edinson Cavani
Is there a striker in the world that has started 2011 so well? Two hat-tricks already and we’re only in February. Following a summer loan move from Palermo, he is currently top scorer in Serie A and leading Napoli’s title challenge. Edinson Cavani is dynamic in his movement and prepared to play a number of positions as seen for Uruguay in their run to the World Cup semi-finals. He operates best up front on the right hand side of attack and this season has seen him develop into a deadly finisher with his head and his feet. His 3rd goal in Napoli’s stunning demolition of Juventus shows Cavani’s innovative side. Meeting a Hamsik cross, at first it seemed like he had scored his third header of the match, however on closer inspection he had actually converted with a scorpion kick, obviously some people doubt he meant it but you’d be a fool to rule it out. Cavani is dubbed ‘El Matador’ by his fans and is part of a quite brilliant trio for Napoli. Lavezzi, Hamsik and Cavani make up one of the most exciting and fluid attacks in world football and when they are working in tandem,as recently seen in Napoli’s 4-0 win over Sampdoria, they are capable of taking any defence apart. Cavani turns 24 this month and looks to have a big future ahead of him and this season he might just inspire Napoli to their first Serie A title since El Diego conjured up some magic in 1990.
39 Luka Modrić
A cold Sunday afternoon on the 26th Decmeber at Villa Park, a thrilling encounter between Aston Villa and Tottenham, with maybe the visitors beginning the better of the two. 23rd minute and Spurs are linking nicely in the middle of the pitch when Gareth Bale passes it to Luka Modrić. Now what followed you probably already know and saw but for the sheer brilliance of the thing that come off the right boot of the small Croatian it is worth repeating again and again.
So as the 26-years old received the ball from his Welsh team-mate, and saw Alan Hutton starting his run on the right side, he made one of the best passes you will see this season – a pinpoint accurate, perfectly weighted diagonal pass that simply had to end up with a goal. Hutton crossed it to Van Der Vaart who put it in the net for one of the goals of the year but it wouldn’t be that good if not for the Croatian’s contribution.
That pass defines Luka Modrić for me. You may be a Chelsea or an Arsenal supporter but it’s impossible to hate this central midfielder, not to notice his class displays, his energy, vision, perfect first touch, technique… One of the biggest nightmares clubs that Tottenham face is that the Croatian footballer will fulfill his duty at White Hart Lane to 2016.
Still, he has his weak spots and as an injury-prone midfielder there is always a doubt that he may struggle under one of many tackles he must get through every game. He is not getting many goals, his assist rate isn’t phenomenal, and sometimes he simply goes missing in the games – but not to understand the importance of Modrić’s role in giving Tottenham their first taste of Champions League football is confusing. His 2010 year might not be all about passes like the one mentioned but for the ability of repeating such brilliance performances, he deserves to be among the top footballers in the last twelve months.
38 Rafael van der Vaart
2010 will go down as a good year for Tottenham Hotspur. Finishing the 2009-10 season in a coveted top four position, qualifying for Champions League football and ultimately obtaining an enormous level of acceptance from their dedicated fans. This was accompanied by a strong start to the 2010-11 season as the club continued to impress in the league as well as in Europe. This season’s success has been down to a few individual players that have amplified their game to the point of cementing Tottenham’s spot in the pinnacle spot of English and European football. Of these players, Van Der Vaart has perhaps been the best.
Since joining in August, Rafael Ferdinand Van der Vaart has been nothing short of a revelation at Tottenham. Free flowing, clinical and with a personality that doesn’t let anything or anyone faze him, the player tends to symbolise the north London side in many aspects.
After joining for a modest fee of £8 million from Real Madrid, few expected the Galactico reserve to perform anything above or beyond what the club already had in midfield. Needless to say, the player proved his critics wrong and has added an initially exempt ethos to the club of demanding titles with sheer ability and experience, from his days in Spain and Holland. Scoring 10 goals and contributed 7 assists from his first 19 appearances so far this season as the club fight on for another top four finish.
The Dutch playmaker has established himself in Redknapp’s sides behind the striker ‘in the hole’ as part of a 4-5-1 formation and has found a lot of enjoyment from his build up play and notably finding the best in Peter Crouch and wing players Gareth Bale and Arron Lennon. As well as pushing Modric back to a deep lying playmaker role where he has since played some of his best performances for Tottenham.
Rafael Van der Vaart’s arrival signalled the start of a new period for Tottenham where they no longer play second fiddle to the bigger clubs in the league or the transfer market. With this player in their side, the sky’s the limit.
37 Javier Zanetti
2010 can definitely be considered a year of two halves for Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti. The highs experienced at the end of last season under Jose Mourinho are in stark contrast to the lows “Il Trattore” endured following his omission from the Argentina World Cup squad and the ill-fated period with Rafa Benitez at the helm at the Nerazzuri.
The historic treble winning captain of the 2009/2010 season (Zanetti became the first player to captain an Italian club to a treble of the Scudetto, Coppa Italia and European Cup) proved as consistent and versatile as ever and was a vital cog in the Inter wheel that rolled over adversaries (in some cases against the odds).
This was none more so evident in his performance against a certain Lionel Messi during the 2010 Champions League semi-finals, a feat not many can claim to have achieved and one which proved a major factor in the Milan side reaching their first final for 38 years.
In the final, which was Zanetti’s 700th game with Inter, the Nerazzurri triumphed and this was perhaps the pinnacle of his superb career, the captain savouring his “most important and beautiful victory” as it ended the Milan clubs 45-year wait for the European game’s greatest prize.
Despite his heroics for Inter Milan Zanetti was not included in the Argentina squad for the 2010 World Cup (a decision that was met with much criticism across the football world). With Maradona at the helm Argentina were always going to self-destruct but one could imagine with the experience and professionalism of Zanetti in the side they may well have progressed further in the competition.
The appointment of Rafa Benitez as heir to the Special One was always going to be a poisoned chalice and this became apparent fairly soon into the Nerazzurri 2010/2011 campaign and shortly after the clubs World Club Cup triumph the Spaniard was sacked following a public ultimatum to Inter president Moratti. Zanetti told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Benitez broke something in our environment after what he said” so it was clear that all was not well in the Inter camp at this point.
Nevertheless, even when Inter Milan were underachieving under Benitez, their captains consistent performances on the pitch proved to be as enduring his well impeccably parted coiffure.
36 Florent Malouda
Florent Malouda earns his place on the list in a similar fashion to his club compatriot, Ashley Cole. Part of an international side embarrassed at the World Cup, Malouda clung by his fingernails to some form of credibility by scoring France’s only goal, and not being part of a shambolic defence that led to Les Bleus downfall. Like Cole, his place on this list mainly comes down to his performance in a double-winning side, with Malouda’s marked improvement in form becoming the catalyst for Chelsea’s successful 2009/10 season.
During Chelsea’s double-winning season, Malouda scored 15 goals, but more importantly, also set up fifteen. His evading of much of Manchester United’s backline to set up Joe Cole for an essentially title-winning goal at Old Trafford exemplified a season where he tore apart Premier League full-backs across the board. As part of a front three with Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, Chelsea scored more goals than they had ever scored before in a Premier League season, with games towards the end of the season reading more like a tennis scoreboard than one usually employed at Stamford Bridge.
Malouda has also taken on a captain’s role for France in the absence of the suspended Patrice Evra. A ‘new’ France is being born under Laurent Blanc, and a 30-year-old Malouda seems to be an older head at the heart of it. At Chelsea, he may seem more reserved in a team full of big personalities and leadership candidates. Blanc’s reliance on Malouda in a critical period shows the respect he has earned throughout his career as a character in addition to his play-making ability and speed.
In the face of a disappointing summer and a highly uninspiring season at club level going into 2011, Florent Malouda has still garnered the respect of over a third of the votes in this list in making it to number 36. Going into his thirties, Malouda’s pace seems to be far from waning, and his maturity and talent would add to the majority of sides in world football. A thoroughly deserving nomination.
35 Ashley Cole
Few who suffered the indignity of being a part of the England national side during 2010 would stand a chance of making a list such as this one. Perhaps the only member of the set-up to return from South Africa with any slight credibility, Ashley Cole reinforced his claim as one of the world’s greatest left-backs during the year, earning his second domestic double in the process.
The 30 year-old’s year was not without its difficulties. A fractured ankle against Everton in February left Cole out of Chelsea’s plans for three months, during a tight title battle with Manchester United. His return was marked with a 7-0 destruction of Stoke City, and Cole capped his season with a goal against Wigan on the final day of the season. His attacking play, in tandem with Florent Malouda ahead of him, was once again the foundation of one of the title-winner’s major goal threats, with assist after assist coming from Cole’s play on the left.
Not always the most popular of souls amongst England fans, Cole’s election as England’s Player Of The Year for 2010 illustrated his standing in the national side, albeit an unsuccessful one. Considering the award is voted for by fans via the FA website, turning the accolade into a glorified popularity contest, Cole’s victory is all the more surprising. Cole’s role in South Africa was relatively limited; despite not being allowed the freedom to attack to the extent Carlo Ancelotti provides him with, he struggled to make an impact. However, Cole did not fly home embarrassed to the level some of his colleagues did, and in looking for someone to blame, the England faithful rarely came knocking at Cole’s door.
The current season has seen Cole perform relatively consistently in a Chelsea side rocking and rolling in a vain attempt to hold onto their title. He has been a constant feature in a back four that has constantly revolved through the season so far, and once again, has found himself as one of a small minority of players relatively blameless for their team’s failings. A re-building year may follow for Chelsea, but little work is needed on Ashley Cole, who remains one of the world’s best footballers.
34 Esteban Cambiasso
It was all going swimmingly for Diego Maradona in South Africa, 4 wins out of 4 and it seemed like he was proving all his doubters wrong about the exclusion of Esteban Cambiasso. Then along came Germany and Argentina’s lightweight midfield was heavily exposed in a 4-0 hammering. Once Cambiasso returned to the Argentine set up, he was instrumental in their 4-1 win over World Cup winners Spain, albeit this was in a friendly. His ball winning skills and distribution was clear to see, his omission even more glaringly plain. Cambiasso became the most successful Argentine player in history in 2010, club honours wise that is, with 22 titles to his name following Inter’s remarkable season. He played a pivotal role in Mourinho’s treble winning side and he was superb in their 3-1 win over Barcelona in the San Siro and tactically astute in the return leg in the Nou Camp. As one Argentine taxi driver said to me recently ‘If Diego had picked Cambiasso we would have won the World Cup’. Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but he certainly would have improved their chances.
It must be tough being Pedro, sure you get to play alongside David Villa and Leo Messi, but you are also constantly overlooked in favour of them, even when you’re scoring, it is only down to the space created for you by them. But there is something special about Pedro, in the last 2 seasons he has seen off competition from Zlatan and Thierry Henry to claim a starting place in the most exciting team in the world. On top of that, last season he became the first player to score in 6 different club competitions in one season, there is something special about this one. For a long time in Barcelona, the youngsters praised and expected to come through were Jeffren and Bojan, but there progress has been left trailing in Pedro’s wake.
Since breaking into the first team at the start of last season, Pedro has scored 24 goals and made another 10 in just 55 games. As part of the most exciting frontline in football, Pedro’s strength is his flexibility. Alongside two such fluid players as Messi and Villa the ability for Pedro to cause trouble all along the front line makes him perfect for the Barcelona side. In some ways Pedro’s role is a functional one, a solid player who can pull out wide to create space for his two more famous teammates, but what he adds to the side, as a goal-scoring threat is so much more than that. No-one gets into that Barcelona side easily and for Pedro to be so key at a young age is telling.
On the international stage, Pedro did not start the 2010 World Cup as first choice, but started in both the semi-final (where he wasted a great chance to make it 2-0) and final ahead of David Silva and Fernando Torres, his function and fluidity again being his strength.
Already massively successful at a young age, playing in two of the best teams in the world, and scarily, he’s only going to get better.
32 Luis Suárez
At the end of the 2009/10 season Luis Suárez had scored 49 goals in 48 games for AFC Ajax, despite his prolific return – 35 in the league in 33 games – Ajax still finished second in the league – and only by a single point. However it wasn’t a disappointing season, as the Uruguayan captained the side to triumph in the KNVB Beker (Dutch FA Cup). On a personal note, he ended the year as the Dutch Footballer of the Year.
The start of the 2010/11 season Suárez continued where he left off for Ajax, notably scoring a valuable goal in the Champions League qualifier against Dynamo Kiev – thus bringing Ajax back to the group stages of Europe’s premier competition for the first time in 5 years. He would add a further 11 goals before leaving Ajax after 3 and a half years to pastures new in Liverpool, where he scored on his début.
In between the two seasons, Suárez represented his nation Uruguay in the World Cup finals. Suárez played in all 3 group stage games scoring against Mexico in a game Uruguay won meaning they finished the group as winners, ahead of France and hosts South Africa. He would make further impact in the tournament for some good and some not so good reasons.
In the last 16 tie against South Korea, Suárez scored a brace sending his country to the quarter-finals for the first time since 1970. In the quarter-final against Ghana he would gain notoriety for denying a goal scoring opportunity with the use of his hand – Asamoah Gyan would miss the subsequent penalty and Uruguay would reach the semi-finals without Suárez, after winning the tie on penalties. Suarez immediately became the darling of Uruguay, the Hand of God II.
Despite that controversial blot, Suárez has had a great year, coming on leaps and bounds and becoming an all-round striker capable of playing across the whole of the attacking front line. It’s taken him a while to cement a spot for his national side but now alongside Diego Forlan he is a integral part in the future of his nation.
31 Julio Cesar
Last season, as they marched to a remarkable treble, Inter received endless praise for their resolute defending and their ability to completely shut out opponents. In doing so they eliminated Barcelona from the Champions League using a game plan that many teams are now looking to replicate. At the heart of this incredibly impressive unit was a man who has come as close as anyone to taking over Gigi Buffon’s role as Serie A’s best goalkeeper, Julio Cesar.
The 31-year-old Brazilian kept goal behind a seemingly impenetrable defence formed by Maicon, Lucio, Walter Samuel and Cristian Chivu as the team conceded only 34 goals in the 38 match domestic campaign. He played every Serie A game and also only allowed two goals in the Champions League knockout stages and just one in the five Coppa Italia games he took part in.
Hugely impressive numbers and a great reflection on Cesar, named both UEFA and Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year for 2010, a huge honour given both the emphasis on quality defending on the peninsula and, as a result, the sheer number of great stoppers currently on show in both competitions.
Despite the superb array of talent and fantastic defence ahead of him, Cesar is still ultra-reliable when called upon to make saves, and is capable of some truly remarkable stops. The value and reassurance he gives the team is clearly evident in the games he misses as mistakes creep in when he is not there, as his absence due to injury at the start of this season highlighted.
Inter will be glad to have their first choice ‘keeper back between the posts as the Champions League returns and the business end of Serie A approaches, they are a much better team with him around. He may have been only 21st in the Balon d’Or voting and 31st in this list but for Inter Julio Cesar is the undisputed number one.
Return on Monday to read part three of the feature, as our contributors count down #30 to #21. Bookmark this page to keep up to date with all the Top 50 articles.