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Read this to find out more about the Top 50, and to find all the articles as soon as they are published.
50 Mark van Bommel
Say Mark van Bommel’s name to a fellow fan and ask them what they think of him. I’m pretty sure a few choice words/unpleasantries would be uttered, but that doesn’t fully paint the full picture of the player.
His choice of style, combative and tough-tackling mixed with the occasional sly, cynical play and gamesmanship, has caught many a detractor, but that tends to overshadow his more positive traits such as his leadership and passing – and these attributes helped his club and country to considerable success in the past year.
Despite appearing only 39 times during the 2009/10 campaign with Bayern Munich – his worst tally since his first season – it was his most successful. As captain he led Bayern to the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal (German Cup), as well as the Champions League final, losing to Inter Milan.
If van Bommel was crucial to Bayern’s run, then he was the same for the Dutch national side during the 2010 World Cup. A competition, which for him, will be remembered for the countless times he should have received a yellow card but never did. He finally came undone in the semi-final game against Uruguay for dissent.
After five years or so in Bavaria, van Bommel decided to move to AC Milan, where he made an impact in his first league game for all the wrong reasons, getting sent off. Afterwards Coach Massimiliano Allegri defended him and his style “The referees make decisions based on what they see and this is an example. Van Bommel should’ve been a bit sneakier, but it was his second game in Italian football (following his debut in the Italian Cup away to Sampdoria) and these fouls are not generally sanctioned with a booking in Germany, but he is a generally aggressive player.”
In the end it could be that, van Bommel is the type of player you want in your team, and the one you don’t want to be facing. He understands his limitations and always works on his strengths to become an even more effective player.
49 Dimitar Berbatov
From Berbaflop to Berbagod. At the tail-end of United’s 2009/10 campaign, Berbatov was incapable of filling the goalscoring void in Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen’s absences through injury when it was demanded most. He squandered a glorious chance to equalise in the decisive fixture at home to Chelsea in the dying embers in April, before his performance in the Reds’ title-killing scoreless draw at Ewood Park the next week provoked forum fury at the Bulgarian’s struggle to make an impact at the club. Guilt-edged chances followed in United’s next four games but Berbatov never registered another goal in the season.
Having cost £30.75m, the price tag has weighed heavily on Berbatov, however in the present campaign he has followed up an underwhelming 2009/10 season (12 goals) with a 20 goal haul, and should he score six more goals this term he will have matched his combined tally for his first two seasons at United. Undeniably a champion of football aesthetes, now that he has accrued consistency at United his motifs will prompt greater appreciation of one of world football’s most gifted talents.
Retiring from international football has contributed to a sprightlier player who has significantly taken over the goalscoring mantle at United during Rooney’s extended spell of impotency. He’s already bagged three hat-tricks with the most memorable coming against Liverpool in the 3-2 league win at Old Trafford in September. The second goal, a phenomenal overhead kick, had shades of Cantona that Berbatov has the capability to exhibit yet has shown infrequently during his time at United.
Aside from his poetic masterpieces, his vital brace away at Blackpool may eventually be regarded as his personal defining point. Staring down the barrel of a 2-0 defeat, Berbatov’s body language never portrayed that of a beaten man when in previous instances it probably would have, and he galvanised United to complete a tremendous 3-2 comeback. It confirmed that his potency over the past 6 months is matched by his temperament to shoulder responsibility, and should he prove to be the on-pitch inspiration in leading United to an unprecedented nineteenth league title, a player of the year award beckons.
48 Edin Džeko
Hasan Salihamidžić, Elvir Bolić, Elvir Baljić, Zvjezdan Misimović and now Edin Džeko; all footballers from Bosnia and Herzegovina who have made their mark on European club football in recent times.
Manchester City Džeko striker has been joined by Olympic Lyonnais youngster Miralem Pjanić as the two great hopes for the national side and has helped himself to an impressive 17 goals in 31 appearances to date. The 24 year old started as a midfielder FK Željezničar where he was never deemed to be anything more than ordinary. However a move further forward coupled with a switch to FK Teplice made people sit up and take notice, and in 2007 he headed to Germany to join Wolfsburg.
Džeko’s title winning spell at the Volkswagen Arena yielded 66 goals in 111 games as he became their highest ever goal scorer, resulting in attention from European giants such as Juventus. However it was Roberto Mancini’s affluent Manchester City that won the race for his signature, agreeing a fee of £27 million (€32 million) at the beginning of January this year.
In terms of personal honours, Džeko was voted the Bosnian Player of the Year for both 2009 and 2010. He was named Bundesliga players’ German Footballer of the Year for 2008/09 and finished as the league’s top scorer last season with 22 goals. He placed 13th in the 2009 Ballon d’Or.
Džeko has many qualities, including his ability in the air, great first touch and deceptive pace. Early signs at City have been good and he netted his first goal for the club in the recent FA Cup tie with Notts County. There have been suggestions that his inclusion in the team could affect the influence that Carlos Tevez has in the forward line, but with such genuine quality between to two of them there is no reason why couldn’t form one of the world’s deadliest partnerships.
47 Ángel Di María
2010 was the year that Ángel Di María put it all together: the blistering pace, the pinpoint crossing accuracy, and the compromise between team play and that selfish streak which every top-class wide man possesses. The Argentine was, along with compatriot Pablo Aimar, the creative fulcrum of a Benfica side that swept all their competitors before them, as the Eagles secured their first title in half a decade.
At times, Di María was simply unplayable: against Everton in the Europa League, where he ran poor Dan Gosling – an auxiliary right-back – into the ground, at Leixões, where he completed a hat-trick that melded skill, speed, and uncommon power. But perhaps Di María’s finest achievement came after his summer transfer to Real Madrid. Under the tutelage of José Mourinho, he was shifted across to an unfamiliar right-wing position, but instead of faltering into one of football’s most pressurised arenas, he took to life at the Bernabéu with aplomb, and looks set to develop into one of the game’s most dangerous attackers.
46 Sergio Ramos
When FIFA’s Castrol Index rated Sergio Ramos as the best performer of the World Cup in South Africa this summer, they certainly raised some eyebrows. Yet in some ways one could argue that the ratings were almost designed exclusively with Ramos in mind – he made 31 `individual runs’ whilst being part of a defense that only conceded 2 goals during the entire world cup – certainly made him a favorite, if not the automatic choice for the award. Perhaps it is also worth noting that six out of the top seven were indeed Spaniards.
Fortunately reality cannot be explained away with just numbers. The great defensive record after all came from a team that defended as an eleven man unit. Ramos did still manage to start every game in the World Cup and the games leading up to it, and it would be cruel to leave out the attacking threat he constantly provided during the games. Ramos for Spain perhaps sparkled a lot less than he may have liked, but it would be fair to say his prowess wasn’t called for as the great battles of the World Cup for Spain were fought (and won) in midfield.
His year for Real Madrid has been less illustrious. His 4 goals and 5 assists in 40 appearances last season came out of a defensive unit that has largely been in transition following the arrival of Jose Mourinho. Fans of Ramos may remember his displays from either wing and as center back, something Mourinho continues to use to great effect. They may however want to forget Ramos’ dramatic sending off at the Camp Nou after his `kick’ aimed at Lionel Messi, an event that tragically summarized the recent power shift in Spanish football in as many words. For Ramos, it marked a 10th career red card at Real Madrid – thereby equaling Fernando Hierro’s dismissal record while having taken a whole 264 games lesser than his mercurial predecessor.
At 24, age thankfully remains well on Ramos’ side. His development as a defender can only improve under a disciplined tactician such as Mourinho. With him likely to have played 200 games in La Liga before the season ends, the future bodes well for a player who once promised so much. For the moment though, he (like the rest of his team) might just have to live with the uncomfortable feeling of being second best.
45 Pepe Reina
Jose Reina is blessed with many attributes but luck is not one of them. If he had been born in any other nation on Earth, he’d be the starting goalkeeper for his nation and be closing in on 100 caps!
His profound misfortune is to be playing the game at the same time as San Iker. Even when Casillas is out of form, Spanish managers tend to stick with him rather than turn to any number of able deputies (Reina, Valdes or the young de Gea). There is even an argument that says that although Reina is a finer keeper – an argument to which I subscribe – it is the ”critical non-essentials’ of Iker Cassilas’s role in the Spain team (he is a figurehead, a leader, the boy with 100 caps) that keep him in the side.
As Liverpool have slowly been shorn of their world-class players (Mascherano, Alonso, Torres), Reina has been the rock that the club has built itself around. Last year’s 7th place would have surely been worse had it not been with Reina between the sticks and, bar a comedy goal against Arsenal on the opening weekend of the season, he has been at his imperious best again this year. He is loved at Anfield – last year, he was (rightly) the Liverpool Player of the Season and was probably the form goalkeeper in world football.
Reina is a fine shot-stopper (one of the best penalty savers in world-football) but what sets him apart from the other competitors for ”the world’s best goalkeeper tag” is his distribution. With either hand or foot, he often turns attack into defence due to his accuracy and quick thinking.
Reina didn’t play a minute at last year’s World Cup and came away with a winners’ medal. Maybe he isn’t so unlucky after all.
44 Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero
When a player makes his debut at the age of 15, he is regarded as a prodigy. But when he breaks a 27 year old record set by Diego Maradona, there is an expectation of excellence. Other young prospects like Freddy Adu and Nicolas Millan may have faded into anonymous realms since their breakthroughs, but the man they call ‘Kun’ has gradually developed into one of the most wanted forwards in Europe.
The link with Maradona does not end there however. The legendary former captain was Aguero’s manager at the World Cup last summer, although the 22-year-olds impact on the tournament was restricted to just two substitute appearances. However he did assist Gonzalo Higuain with a goal against South Korea. Opportunities for Argentina have been tough with competition from the likes of Carlos Tevez, Diego Milito and Higuain, but Aguero will be a key element alongside his best friend Lionel Messi in the future if he can replicate his form at youth level for La Albiceleste. He has been part of the 2005 and 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup winning teams, and won the top goalscorer award in Canada 2007, and was also an Olympic gold medallist in Beijing in 2008.
At domestic level, the player who cost €23m from Independiente in 2006 was an important figure in a team which won Atletico Madrid’s first major trophy since 1996. A Europa League triumph over Fulham saw the Argentine win his first major trophy for the Spanish side, and he was a key man in the final. He assisted both Diego Forlan’s goals to ensure Los Rojiblancos overcame the English side.
He has recently signed a contract extension with Atleti, and despite the reported interest from Chelsea and Real Madrid, is happy to stay at the Vicente Calderon until 2014, a huge boost for the club, who are hoping their prized asset becomes as symbolic as Fernando Torres.
Great with the ball at his feet, an extra yard of pace to leave defenders in his tracks, and also remarkable strength for such a small player, Aguero has all the assets to mature into a world class player, and it seems Atletico will be the platform for him to demonstrate his ability.
If I could sum up Kaka in one phrase it would be ‘football’s forgotten man.’ Kaka, at the heart of the successful AC Milan team of the noughties, held the crown as the world’s most exciting player, and still featured in discussions up until the last couple of years, breaking the world transfer record with his move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for €68.5m, however in an event that sums Kaka’s position in world football up nicely, his record lasted less than a month, Cristiano Ronaldo joined Real less than a month later, taking both Kaka’s transfer record and position at the centre of the team in a £80m deal.
The 2009/10 season saw Kaka overshadowed by the impressive Ronaldo as our hero struggled to adjust whilst the greatest anti-hero of our generation (yes Diouf and Savage, Ronaldo IS better than you) exploded into La Liga. At last year’s World Cup he was controversially sent off against Ivory Coast but still recorded 3 assists as Brazil stuttered to a quarter final defeat to Holland. He then started off this season injured and requiring surgery, but in recent weeks he has returned to fitness and has shown glimpses of the fine player he is. Some of your votes placed him in the top 10, but his position dropped due to not being included in a lot top 25s, probably rightfully.
The influence Kaka has had on the game in the last few years cannot be undermined; for a good 5 year period he seemed to make the playmaker role his own and he is still only 28 so has time to continue to make his mark. As he continues to recover from injury, let’s hope he can re-establish himself as one of the most exciting players on the planet.
42 Michael Essien
It was a difficult and disappointing 2010 for Chelsea star Michael Essien, which began with a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee. This was sustained at the turn of the year during a training session at the African Cup of Nations in Angola.
Essien had only played 45 minutes in the competition, as a substitute, during a 3-1 defeat to the Ivory Coast. He did not start the match because of his problems with a hamstring injury, which was sustained during a Champions League match against Apoel Nicosia in December 2009.
The former Lyon midfielder missed the rest of Ghana’s bid to win the tournament, which ended with a 1-0 loss to Egypt in the final. His physical presence was also sorely missed in Chelsea’s domestic double last May, but his notable absence was nullified with quality elsewhere. Essien’s injury had various complications and this ruled him out of the Black Stars’ successful run in the 2010 World Cup, which saw them knocked out after a controversial quarter final defeat to Uruguay.
Essien’s low position in the list, though, is due to his prolonged absence from competitive football rather than a decline in form. He has shown glimpses of his old form since returning to Chelsea’s first team this season, and he starred in a 3-1 victory over West Ham United by scoring two goals. He missed Chelsea’s 2-0 loss against Liverpool and a 4-1 win against Spartak Moscow, though, after picking up a toe injury during October’s Premier League clash with Blackburn Rovers.
Essien has missed further matches this season as he was sent off for a two-footed tackle on Fulham’s Clint Dempsey. This led to a three game suspension and coincided with Chelsea’s poor run of results in November. This was more than a coincidence, though, considering Essien’s defensive pedigree, impressive attacking awareness and relentless energy in box-to-box situations.
Essien should still be seen as one of the most versatile and complete midfielders in world football, and 2011 looks likely to be a better year for the lynchpin in Chelsea’s midfield. If he can stay fit, there is no doubt he’ll be appearing higher up this list next year.
41 Fernando Torres
Fernando José Torres Sanz, beyond becoming the most expensive Spanish player of all time, is one of those rare players who has had a career trajectory that has been on a steady ascending gradient. Even in his much-maligned final 18 months at Liverpool, he still averaged over a goal every two games in the league. And although he’s yet to reach the feat this season, he hasn’t failed to reach double figures in the league since 2002.
Born in Madrid, the 26-year-old centre forward came through the Atlético Madrid youth system after impressing scouts as an 11-year-old. He rose to prominence and was quickly escalated into the Atléti first team after finishing top scorer, and player of the tournament, in both the Under-16 and Under-19 European Championships (in 2001 and 2002). In the 2003-2004 season Torres, nicknamed ‘El Niño’, finished joint top in the Pichichi goal-scoring charts and was made captain of Atlético as well as making his debut for the Spanish national side.
He was a vital player for Atlético for the next five years before he was convinced to leave his boyhood club by Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez in 2007. Torres enjoyed a very successful first season in England, finishing with 33 goals, finding the physical football of the Premier League suiting his talents.
It was during this same period that Torres played a major role in Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph, as well as the Spanish victory in the 2010 World Cup, although he struggled for form and fitness through the tournament.
Torres had a disappointing 2010, to say the least. Injury after injury, which is probably summed up in the sight of him pulling out towards the end of Spain’s World Cup final victory over the Netherlands. Placing 41st in the list is quite generous for a player who didn’t have the same impact as players like Dzeko, Di Maria, and even perhaps his former Liverpool teammate Pepe Reina behind him, but nobody can deny the wealth of talent Fernando Torres has in him. He is simply one of the best strikers in the world.
Torres’ relationship with Liverpool went sour after the 2009/2009 season, however, and he cited the reason of broken promises when he finally elected to hand in a transfer request to force through his long-mooted British record transfer to Chelsea in January. In a twist of fate, Torres made his Chelsea debut against Liverpool, in a game they lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. Will we see him in this next year? Without a doubt, and perhaps with the solidifying vote of silverware.
Return tomorrow for part two of the Top 50 Players in the World, or bookmark this page to find each post.