The golden laurel summer 2011: the 50 greatest players in the world

Neymar da Silva Santos

The heir apparent: Neymar was instrumental in guiding Santos to their first Libertadores since 1963 and Pele's pomp

50. Gokhan Inler

Udinese/Napoli and Switzerland
Age 27
Position Midfielder

When Gokhan Inler was unveiled as Napoli’s new signing this summer, he inexplicably wore a lion mask. Despite the absurdness of the situation, there is an easy link to make here. For much of last season, Inler roared around Italian pitches. His drive made him one of the most respected defensive midfielders in the world and playing a significant role in lifting Udinese to the Champions League places. Perhaps most importantly, though, Inler provided Udinese with the perfect balance. In a team that often showed alarming attacking instinct, the Swiss midfielder displayed a badly needed defensive discipline.

Ability 15/20
Club form 16/20
International form 3/5
Total 76

49. Arturo Vidal

Bayer Leverkusen/Juventus and Chile
Age 24
Position Midfielder

Very versatile and even more valuable. To illustrate Vidal’s adaptability, he’s played in virtually every outfield position in every tactical system and last season provided 10 goals and 11 assists from nominal defensive midfield. That tally also helped take Bayer Leverkusen to second in the Bundesliga and complete their best season in almost a decade. What’s more, it marked Vidal’s maturation to a truly complete midfielder capable of running games. Having moved to Juventus this summer, he only added to his reputation with some of the most assured displays in the Copa America. Combines tenacity with true technique.

Ability 16/20
Club form 15/20
International form 7/10
Total 76

48. Eden Hazard

Lille and Belgium
Age 20
Position Attacking midfielder/winger

The Belgian attacker has followed the line of Karim Benzema, Yoann Gourcuff and Michael Essien as the French league’s single leading light. The difference is that Hazard is potentially better than all of them. At just 20 years of age, he had a remarkable individual effect on an already cohesive Lille team’s remarkable double – combining hard craft with moments of real art. Granted, seven goals and 10 assists in 38 games aren’t quite comparable to Cristiano Ronaldo/Leo Messi levels just yet. But his ability is.

Zinedine Zidane has already said “I’d sign him for Real Madrid with my eyes closed.” Hazard’s blend of speed, ability and outright invention has seen him described as a cross between the world’s two marquee attackers. And it’s going to be fascinating to see what he produces now he’s finally in the Champions League with them.

Ability 16/20
Club form 15/20
International form 2/3
Total 76

47. Diego Forlan

Atletico Madrid and Uruguay
Age 32
Position Forward/striker

Ni un balon a la rubia” – not one ball to the blonde one. It was the quote that summed up Forlan’s difficult club season, as his Atletico Madrid teammates apparently refused to pass him the ball. By then, of course, Forlan had already received one much more important ball: the Golden one given out for the World Cup’s best player. And, having seen his career peak in South Africa last summer, a dip was always going to be someway understandable. In truth, though, some of Forlan’s troubles were down to his own high standards. With many of the Atletico squad and hierarchy often put out by his Roy Keane levels of expectation, the relationship was reversed when the season began with injury, anxiety and a lot of bad results. By the end, though, Forlan had still scored eight times and illustrated his own style of selflessness in a much more productive way: operating in his less favoured playmaker role, he proved influential for his country again as he scored twice in the Copa America final to cap another fine international tournament.

Ability 17/20
Club form 13/20
International form 7/10
Total 76

46. Ganso

Santos and Brazil
Age 21
Position Attacking midfielder

One of the few Brazilian players to come out of the Copa America with some credit. But, even without his respectable performances in the tournament, Ganso had already earned an awful lot more. His return from a six-week injury lay-off proved crucial to Santos’s first Copa America since 1963. Bland in the first leg of the final against Penarol, the Brazilian side suddenly looked brilliant as they benefitted from Ganso’s sensational range of passing. Indeed it was his vision that brought the best out of Neymar, with Jonathan Wilson likening his long-range passes to those of Gerson in the 1970 World Cup. High praise. But Ganso clearly has the highest quality.

Ability 16/20
Club form 15/20
International form 7/10
Total 76

45. Yaya Toure

Manchester City and Ivory Coast
Age 28
Position Defensive/central/attacking midfielder

Deployed in a new position but also delivered his club to new heights. Yaya Toure wasn’t exactly creative as Manchester City’s most attacking central midfielder. But he was consistent. His driving runs were a key part of Roberto Mancini’s disciplined, occasionally direct approach and also resulted in the two most important goals of the club’s brand new era: the FA Cup final winner that brought City’s first trophy in 35 years; and, arguably more importantly, the key semi-final strike against Manchester United. If City are to truly kick on and become the club they’re cash suggests they’re capable of, then Toure’s impetus is going to be an important factor.

Ability 15/20
Club form 16/20
International form 2/3
Total 76

44. Neymar

Santos and Brazil
Age 19
Position Forward

As Santos celebrated their first Copa Libertadores since Pele was in his pomp, the man himself was in the stand weeping tears of joy. On the pitch itself, the star of the final against Penarol was doing the exact same.

That isn’t the only parallel that’s been drawn between Neymar and Pele. Often described as Brazil’s heir apparent, the 19-year-old’s exact qualities have been compared to those of the country’s greatest ever player. Santos president Luis Alvaro even went so far as to suggest a similar “life contract” as that which prevented Pele leaving the club.

In reality, of course, Neymar still has a lot to learn in order to maximise his outrageous talent. But there were signs that process was starting in the Copa Libertadores run. Neymar showed admirable mental resilience to overcome the disappointment of the first leg and completely dominate the second. It followed a fantastic 2010 and some sparkling displays at international level.

Ability 16/20
Club form 16/20
International form 6/10
Total 76

43. Robin van Persie

Arsenal and Netherlands
Age 28
Position Forward

Only the fact that Van Persie missed so much of the season means he misses out on the top tiers of this list. Because, when he was on a pitch he was exquisite. Van Persie ended up the Premier League’s most productive player with 18 goals and seven assists in 25 games – or, in other words, a key contribution every match.

The feeling remains, however, that he will never fulfil is true potential so long as his campaigns keep getting interrupted by injury and his club keep persisting without more players of his influence.

Ability 16/20
Club form 15/20
International form 3/5
Total 76

42. Ashley Cole

Chelsea and England
Age 30
Position Left-back

Evidently flawed off the pitch but almost flawless on it. Patrice Evra’s slump and Fabio Coentrao’s slight dip have seen Cole reclaim his place as the world’s best left-back. So assured and consistent, Cole was a model of consistency despite the rest of the Chelsea team descending into chaos between November and February. The only real mark against him is the manner in which Antonio Valencia tore him apart at Old Trafford in the Premier League title decider. But the fact that defeat stands out amid so much consistency is testament to his quality.

Ability 16/20
Club form 15/20
International form 3/5
Total 76

41. Ricardo Carvalho

Real Madrid and Portugal
Age 33
Position Central defender

Having lost a little of his sharpness, Carvalho is a defender whose age means his career is at something of a crossroad. Indeed, two contrasting images from separate stages of last season illustrate this best: the first at Camp Nou, as he manfully tried to tie Real Madrid’s wayward defence together while Barcelona tore them apart; the second, in Seville, as he put in yet another sterling display in the Copa del Rey final.

Whatever of his slight decline, the fact Carvalho is still one of the best natural defenders in the game ensures he remains a key part of Jose Mourinho’s master-plan.

Ability 16
Club form 15
International form 3/5
Total 76

 

Contents

Share your opinion

39 comments
taaol
taaol

I've come across some splendid remarks here concerning your write-up, and I also concur with them plus the information you've supplied. Thank you so much.


Icecubeguest
Icecubeguest

Neymar ANd Lionel Messi And Cristiano ronaldo And Ronaldinho Are The Best !

footpascher
footpascher

However, it struck me that on the one hand, you know the story of the “Colony: a great PSG or get lost”-banner, and that on the other hand, you seem to ignore the hard times the parisian supporters have been facing since 2010.

Football Pantheon
Football Pantheon

Oh, his ability's actually 16.5 ... although none of the 0.5s seem to have come up in the grid. Irritating.

Iain Duncan
Iain Duncan

Where did you get the 78 for Victor Valdes? If you dont include internationals then he got 32/40 which is 80% or if he gets 0/5 for internationals then he gets 71%. In the list he gets 78

swvolkmann
swvolkmann

I'm sorry but the validity of this otherwise excellent and exhaustive list is obliterated by the omission of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Not even on the 'Players that missed out'. Wow...just...wow. The World Cup 2010 confirmed him as the best central midfielder in the world that isn't Spanish. Granted neither him nor Bayern had storming seasons in 2010-11 but neither did many players on that list. If he was outside the top 25 it would be a bizarre anomaly. But outside the top 50? It's hard to find the words.

Shere_Khan1
Shere_Khan1

No Lahm? No mention of why the only player to be in the team of the tournament at the last 2 world cups missed out? Also i'd suggest Schwienstige.r

MamunHAli
MamunHAli

I like how the list has been compiled and after reading the comments from readers, like the intellect behind the arguments! I cannot argue with the list much either. If I be honest I had almost fallen out of love with football last year (due to not playing much of it myself and other reasons).

Just a shame Stevie G was not in that list anywhere and I really don't want to see the last of his ability... Not yet anyway.

Cant wait for the xmas edition where I hope to see a lot more changes and surprises!

olig23
olig23

An interesting read. Although I cannot fathom how Ronaldo's club form is merely an 18! The guy scored the most goals ever in a single league campaign. Moreover, he has 66 in 63 for Real. I appreciate that players are not judged only on goals but to have Ronaldo and Tevez rated the same is madness, Tevez has been great for City but not anywhere close to being as devastating as Ronaldo.

Shocked
Shocked

This list is a joke.

Modric ahead of Fabregas? Febregas destroyed Madrid in the bernabeau when he was about 19.

Alexis Sanchez at 8? He's only played well in a relatively poor team in a relatively poor league for a year.

I can go on.

Joke.

jirobevis
jirobevis

Tevez seems way too high for me, yes he had a great season but did nothing in Europe or for Argentina, and while he was undoubtedly City's most important player, apart from Chelsea at home I can't remember a big game where Tevez was instrumental.

Similar things can be said about Eto'o, didn't really do much in Europe and didn't compete internationally, Inter were never really contenders for the Scudetto so most of his performances had little significance or importance.

Rooney had a terrible start to the season but for me his contribution to United was far more important that Tevez's to City. Without Rooney United wouldn't have won the league or reached the CL final, without Tevez City would have still won the FA Cup but possibly would have missed out on a top 4, I don't think that warrants being the 5th best player in the world.

Also why is Robben the Budesliga's highest entry, surely last season was all about Dortmund?

Great list as usual though!

joeyslimjim
joeyslimjim

Marcelo had a better season than a lot of players on that list. I think you'll find he is more important to the way Real Madrid play, than what meets the eye. He is essentially another midfielder, and without Marcelo in the team Ronaldo, and the whole team look disjointed and toothless. Apart from Barcelona, Real Madrid never failed to score or lose with him in the side.

Mario Gomez, Van der Sar, Benzema, Borja Velero, Gotze all deserved at least a mention.

aplamm
aplamm

What about Schweinsteiger?

BenTN
BenTN

@MDelaneyST Why does Pastore have 78 and is in 37th when no one until 30th has that score as well? I'm sure it's just a slip, but it's strange

luther_bliss
luther_bliss

Very interesting and impressive list. Difficult to argue with most of it, although I do think that #18 is perhaps a bit harsh on Rooney. Perhaps I'm showing my colours, but I thought that given the guys Rooney had behind him in central midfield, he did exceptionally well in the second half of the season as a no 10, starting many attacks, creating goals and scoring them. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that United would have won the double last season had he played in the Fa Cup semi final against City, such is the way that he orchestrates United's attacks, as we saw on Sunday. Maybe I'm using hyperbole, but I'd say that having Villa and Pedro - who, given the service they received from Alves, Xavi, Iniesta etc, faded a bit after christmas - ahead of Rooney, is harsh to say the least.

y2k156
y2k156

Lot of work has gone on to this and hard to disprove the rankings. We can always argue though:).

For me, DiMaria was way more effective to put RM into where they are as compared to Ozil. I would swap him with Ozil. I also think that Villa at 6 is tad higher than i would have thought of his contributions last year. He was quite good in first half (when Barca were brilliant) but suffered quite a dip in second half when fatigue caught up with him.

Completely agree that Iniesta missing in 2010 (and the long bus ride) where huge factors in Barca's exit against Inter in 2010. Iniesta is a fantastic player and he is key to Barca breaking deadlocks against parked buses.

scott oliver
scott oliver

Hard to disagree with this side, other than, perhaps, to take Tevez out and swap for Suarez. (I am a Liverpool supporter, and don't disagree with the omission of Gerrard...although, I thought he might have merited inclusion in the 'Players who missed out and why' section.)

Of course, the great intangible here is how an individual player's output is affected by his team mates. For instance, you would imagine a virtuoso such as Messi - or, at a level below that, Suarez - flourishing in almost any side. Conversely, players as brilliant as Iniesta might struggle to have the same impact if playing for, say, Blackburn Rovers, where the circulation of the ball isn't quite so impressive. (In the philosophical idiom with which I'm familiar, Iniesta's talent would fail to be actualised, and would thus remain virtual.)

Much as with contemporary debates about the notion of collective, 'swarm' intelligence, this opens the debate about individual talent out on to questions of collective talent - i.e. where the whole displays 'emergent properties' that are more than the mere aggregate of the parts' capacities, but are the result of those parts' interactions (Barcelona and early '70s Ajax provide the best examples here).

SORRY ABOUT MESSING WITH THE SEQUENCE MICHAEL - DELETED AND EDITED AS YOU WERE POSTING !!!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@swvolkmann Cheers but, unfortunately, we didn't include the World Cup as part of our assessment. Just the start of the 2010-11 season. This is what made Schweinsteiger drop so much. Indeed, when we conducted a predecessor to this list in one of other employers at Christmas 2010, Schweinsteiger was in the top 20.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@Shere_Khan1 Only because it was based on form in the 2010-11 season! Lahm didn't replicate his previously excellent World Cup form!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@olig23 Many thanks for the words and comment.Yes, the only reason that Tevez has more than Ronaldo is because, ultimately, Tevez had a more holistic effect on his team's performance. His goals lifted City to the Champions League (hugely important) and also broke a 35-year trophy drought.Ronaldo, by contrast, didn't improve their overall league points and there is an argument, initiated by Jonathan Wilson, that his individuality is a actually a liability for teams in the biggest games. And that actually takes away from his team.

So, in that sense, his goals didn't mean *that* much. But it's still 18 out of 20, which is 9 out of 10... not far off perfect!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@Shocked Or perhaps it's more of a joke that you feel free to pass such critical comment despite not reading how such a list is comprised.Fabregas's performance at the Bernabeu at 19 is irrelevant since the list is primarily based on performances over the last season.Fabregas may have more ability than Modric - as the list actually illustrates if you'd bothered to look through - but he didn't apply it as well over the last season. That is undeniable.

As for Sanchez and a "relatively poor team". Well, surely if he lifted that "relatively poor team to Champions League" then that's a massive achievement?

I could go on.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@jirobevis I suppose the only reason that Robben is ahead is because the 'ability' aspect acts as a control. And, since many of Dortmund's players were so young last season, we still don't have complete idea of their ability.Tevez only so high because he was so important to City making that big breakthrough. But, in their position, there wasn't that much competition for Eto'o, Tevez. Rooney as you say but, unfortunately, we had to take a complete view of season which did stand against him! Expect him to be much higher at end of the year.

Cheers for the words!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@joeyslimjim All very fair points and Marcelo just missed out. He, along with every one of those players you mentioned, should be in those who just missed out.

Except Van der Sar actually... because he retired and is no longer active player by the time list published, we took executive decision to omit him!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@BenTN That is a slip! He should be on 76. A few things like that slipped through. Will rectify!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@luther_bliss I would completely agree on Rooney's late-season form. He was back to his best and approach Ronaldo/Messi levels. But unfortunately for him, the list had to view season as a whole and take into account first few months - where he was miserable! We're updating at Christmas, when I expect him to shoot up.Cheers for kind words too.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@y2k156 Many thanks sir. Interesting point on Di Maria. It's certainly up for debate, as you say!We did a similar list (for the Tribune paper) at Christmas and Villa was fourth so he has fallen in that since. Like many Barca players, though, they're such a fluid system that every player becomes inherently important, if you get me? And they did reach a sensational level last season.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@scott oliver Very interesting thoughts and thanks for the input. In fact, we plan to address this issue a little more in our forthcoming (and biggest!) list: the 100 greatest players of all time.

In something like this, though, we can only go on the evidence we've been given. And how a player applied his ability over the last year. I'm afraid Gerrard didn't at all, so he didn't get near the list.

Re Iniesta at Blackburn... you'd have to imagine he'd impress in patches but appear increasingly frustrated as he consistently tries. Nevertheless, a bigger club woul spot enough in his appearances to snap him up!

swvolkmann
swvolkmann

But as I point out, there are many players that had poor seasons that still command high positions on this list. Sneijder wasn't much better. So Schweiny should have fallen out of the top 10 along with them, but as I say I just can't understand not including him in the top 50. Also the title of the list is 'The 50 greatest players in the world', not 'The 50 best players in the world at the moment' or 'The 50 best players in the world in the 2010-2011 season'. And as I say, I'm just amazed that anyone that knows their football as well as you clearly do not regarding Schweinsteiger as one of the 50 best players on the planet, whatever his form may have been in that period. But at the end of the day it's your list, and as I say otherwise I think it's great.

Shere_Khan1
Shere_Khan1

@MDelaneySTWhy not Di Natale then or Gomez then? They both scored far more goals than Drogba or Forlan. Gomez scored plenty in the champions league.

olig23
olig23

Fair point on Tevez, an I do think he has been hugely important for Manchester City so I certainly can see where you are coming from on that one.

As much as I respect Jonathan Wilson I disagree with him on the Ronaldo argument, and this coming from an Arsenal fan. I think there is certainly some truth that his individuality could be detrimental to the team and that makes sense to me intuitively.

However, if I accept that this current Barcelona side are a once in a generation sort of team I think it is fair to say that Ronaldo has had a hugely positive impact on Real. During his first season Real set their highest points total ever in La Liga and in his second he broke the league record for goals by a single player. Had we not been witness to a truly special side in the form of Barcelona I am sure this Real team would be two time champions in practically all other eras. so I cannot see much evidence that his self serving style has had a negative impact on the team.

Ne3vertheless, I think this is a good read and of course there are always going to be aspect people disagree on. I just cannot believe I am defending Cristiano Ronaldo!

Shocked
Shocked

@MDelaneyST

I did look through how the list was compiled - and if your formula throws up such obvious errors maybe you should consider that it is the flaw.

Stats show that Fabregas created more chances per minute of on-field play than any other player in europe last season. If Messi suffers a hamstring injury this year are we to assume that he is no longer the world's best player?

"Hulk: The reason as brilliant as he was, the feeling remains he need a bit more road-testing on the biggest stage"

Ganso is on the list. Identify the big stage he excelled on last season.

Di natale scored 28 goals in 36 Serie A league games and doesn't make the it.

Alexis Sanchez is at position 8 because of his achievements. I don't contest that he should be on the list but putting him ahead of Vidic, Casillas etc. is a joke.

I stand by my opinion.

MyrmidonMaristrotc
MyrmidonMaristrotc

Iniesta at Blackburn would probable have an impressive season amidst inferior teammates, aka Charlie Adam at Blackpool.

@MDelaneyST

swvolkmann
swvolkmann

Ok we'll have to agree to disagree! Take care and keep up the good work, look forward to the next installment of this series. Will be looking for Schweiny's position with interest given his form this season! ;)

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@swvolkmann Schweinsteiger should, admittedly, be in players who just missed out.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@swvolkmann We were actually going to call it exactly that: 'the 50 best players in the world in the 2010-11 season'... but unfortunately it was far too unwieldy (if still accurate) so just included the prefix 'summer 2011'. The rankings are exclusively taken from 2010-11 and Sneijder did drop considerably form his position in late 2010! He'll drop even further when we update it at the end of the year!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@Shocked If you looked through how the list was compiled then why did you mention Fabregas's performance at the Bernabeu when he was 19. And we saw that Fabregas stat. But we also saw when he did and didn't create chances.

And, if Messi did get a hamstring injury then, although he would undoubtedly remain the most talented player in the world, he wouldn't - for example - be in contention for a Ballon D'Or. And, in fact, his ability rating on this list would keep him very high.

Ganso was utterly superb in the Copa Libertadores and Brazil's best player in the Copa America.

Di Natale just missed out. If there were 100 players, he would have made it. But 50 isn't that big a number. His goals weren't as important to Udinese as Sanchez's overall influence - which any Serie A watcher pretty much agrees. Sanchez was named the best player in the division by most pundits last season. Either he or Cavani. He also bolstered it with a good Copa America.

And he's also exceptionally talented. More so than Casillas and Vidic, whose performances he arguably matched/probably surpassed.