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

Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez was the Copa America's dominant player, marking a second successive international tournament in which he's excelled

30. Manuel Neuer

Schalke/Bayern Munich and Germany
Age 25
Position Goalkeeper

One of the most naturally talented young goalkeepers in the world, now the third most expensive in history and also Schalke’s stand-out player from their surges to the semi-finals of the Champions League and victory in the German Cup. Neuer was the effective foundation of both feats, as evidenced by his first-leg display against Manchester United.

His remaining flaws, though, were somewhat exposed by a few aberrations in the second leg as well as a howler on his Bayern debut. But that can be put down to his relative youth as a goalkeeper. The kind of stability associated with the retired Edwin van der Sar, after all, requires years of experience to build up. And Neuer already has a head start on his contemporaries.

Ability 16
Club form 15
International form 3/5
Total 78

29. David Silva

Manchester City and Spain
Age 25
Position Attacking midfielder/winger

It’s astonishing to think that Silva often looks lightweight and a lesser player when put amongst Spain’s array of attacking talent. Because he was usually a cut above in the Premier League. And that’s all the more impressive given that it was his debut season. The waif-like Silva adjusted immediately to the supposedly more physical demands of the Premier League and produced some sparkling performances. Combining well with Carlos Tevez, he often gave an otherwise functional City a badly-needed finesse.

Ability 16
Club form 16
International form 3/5
Total 78

28. Mats Hummels

Borussia Dortmund and Germany
Age 22
Position Central defender

By conceding a mere 22 goals in 34 games last season, Borussia Dortmund claimed the second defensive best record in the history of German football. And the key to that was Hummels. As the senior central defender in his partnership with Neven Subotic, Hummels’s intelligence, positional excellence and general assurance tied up a thrilling Dortmund side. But he didn’t just help convert their potential into genuine prizes. Hummels also turned himself into a genuinely world-class central defender. After a period in which the position was relatively fallow for German football, Hummels looks genuinely like continuing the line sustained for so long by the likes of Jurgen Kohler and George Schwarzenbeck.

Ability 16
Club form 16
International form 3/5
Total 78

27. Javier Hernandez

Manchester United and Mexico
Age 23
Position Striker

It’s difficult to think of a young foreign forward who had such a unique impact in his debut Premier League season. Indeed, for all the comparisons with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 1996-97, Hernandez’s 2010-11 arguably surpassed that campaign. Amid his 13 goals in 27 league games, seven of them were game-changing – most notably the late winner against Everton and early opener against Chelsea – while he also scored in the Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Although the hype around such contributions possibly ensured that Hernandez’s actual overall ability was often exaggerated, his movement did give United an extra dimension. It was telling that, once he and Rooney began to team up at the expense of Dimitar Berbatov, United looked a much more fluid and fearsome unit than the one that was just about doing enough to get by earlier in the season. Hernandez’s intelligent running often made it like having to mark two players.

And he complemented all of that with some key goals for Mexico’s Gold Cup success.

Ability 15
Club form 16
International form 3/5
Total 77

26. Edinson Cavani

Napoli and Uruguay
Age 24
Position Forward

One of the main reasons that a sparkling Napoli team returned to the Champions League for the first since Diego Maradona ruled the club was the magnificent form of their latest South American star. Cavani provided 26 goals and six assists in 35 games as his side thrilled their way to the third. But it wasn’t just the quantity of his contributions. It was the quality. Cavani scored hat-tricks against both Juventus and Lazio as well as a series of game-changing goals. What’s more, he had the right blend of selfishness in terms of finishing and selflessness in workrate. Cavani operated across the frontline and was often the key piece in Walter Mazzarri’s ever-changing tactical approach.

Injury and other options – most notably Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan – meant he didn’t quite have the impact in the Copa America that might have been expected. But, if form like this continues, that’s unlikely to be case for long.

Ability 16
Club form 16
International form 3/5
Total 78

25. Radamel Falcao

FC Porto and Colombia
Age 25
Position Striker

The player who best epitomised the emphatic nature of Porto’s performances last season. As the team’s pressing game often overwhelmed teams, Falcao then duly overpowered many a defence with his aerial presence and heading ability. Fittingly, that was exactly how he settled the Europa League final.

Indeed, arguably blessed with the best head in world football in terms of finishing, eight of his 17 Europa League goals came through that route. And 10 of those 17 came in three games as Falcao scored two hat-tricks and a four-goal haul on the way to breaking Jurgen Klinsmann’s previous competition record of 15.

There is, of course, much more to his game than offering a mere target. Interestingly, only four of his 16 league goals (in 22 games) came through his head. With intelligent movement, acceleration and fine technique, he also transferred his form to the international stage by playing an important role in Colombia’s passage to the Copa America quarter-finals.

Ultimately overshadowed his strike partner Hulk. And has the capacity to do that to many more.

Ability 16
Club form 16
International form 7/10
Total 78

24. Victor Valdes

Barcelona and Spain
Age 29
Position Goalkeeper

In a side as scintillating as Barcelona, the goalkeeper often has very little to do. The key with Valdes, though, is that he performed his minimal role to the absolute maximum.

Barcelona’s necessarily high defensive line means they are susceptible to ceding straight one-on-ones. But the 29-year-old had a superb record in stopping them – most notably against Shakhtar Donetsk and even Real Madrid.

On that latter note, this was arguably the season in which he overtook Iker Casillas as Spain’s – and the world’s – top goalkeeper. But only Casillas’s continued place as Spain’s number-one – and Valdes’s consequent lack of opportunity to transfer his form across – prevents that happening in our list.

Ability 16
Club form 16
International form na
Total 78

23. Iker Casillas

Real Madrid and Spain
Age 30
Position Goalkeeper

Some of his 2009-10 errors and a few early jitters in the World Cup have eroded the once unquestioned trust that was put into Casillas as a goalkeeper. But the manner in which he grew into that tournament in South Africa – particularly those saves against Arjen Robben in the final – heralded a return to form.

If not necessarily the spectacular specimen of old, Casillas was generally consistent and composed for Real this season – exactly what an experienced, world-class keeper should be. He also put in a superb performance in the game that brought Real’s only trophy of the campaign: Casillas was sensational in the spell of utter dominance Barcelona enjoyed in the second half of the Copa del Rey final.

Ability 17
Club form 15
International form 3/5
Total 78

22. Nuri Sahin

Borussia Dortmund/Real Madrid and Turkey
Age 22
Position Central midfield

One of the most complete midfielders in the world and seemingly Xavi’s only successor from beyond Spain. Sahin combined moments of individual genius with total control of games in the Bundesliga last season. As Borussia Dortmund set the pace, it was the young Turk who controlled the tempo. He was the driving force in their devastating and exhilarating run to the title. As his now former manager Jurgen Klopp said, Sahin is “an awesome player, a strategist… I can’t think of anything he can’t do”.

Overcoming Xavi at Real Madrid might be one particularly difficult task. But then it’s only the fact that he hasn’t yet taken his talents to that kind of stage which keeps him out of the top 20.

Ability 16
Club form 16
International form 3/5
Total 78

21. Luis Suarez

Ajax/Liverpool and Uruguay
Age 24
Position Forward/winger

When Luiz Suarez scored over a goal a game for Ajax in the season before the 2010 World Cup, there were a few murmurs of dismissal about it only being the Dutch league. But, the fact is, Suarez has consistently proven his quality at escalating levels.

Having gone on, then, to be one of the most influential players in South Africa, he immediately adapted to the Premier League with some irresistible displays. Such was his effect in a mere 13 games for Liverpool last season that he has arguably superseded a faltering Steven Gerrard as the team’s most important player. Certainly, Suarez has a rare ingenuity and ability to successfully beat players in very tight spaces.

Most impressively in the last year, however, he was the Copa America’s dominant player. After a fine tournament, Suarez scored two goals in the final to deliver Uruguay to a record 15th victory.

All that remains is for him to restore Liverpool to the one stage he has yet to excel in: the Champions League.

Ability 17
Club form 14
International form 8/10
Total 78

 

Contents

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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.