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

Angel di Maria

One of the most outrageously talented attackers in the world, Angel Di Maria added Jose Mourinho's rigour to his rampaging runs

20. Luka Modric

Tottenham Hotspur and Croatia
Age 25
Position Attacking midfielder

While Gareth Bale broke all kind of new ground against Inter Milan and Rafael van der Vaart single-footedly provided a series of pre-Christmas victories with his goals, there was an element of a backlash with Luka Modric. Against those kinds of eye-catching feats, the Croatian’s stats were anything but: a mere three goals and two assists in 32 games.

But this is one clear case where stats don’t tell the full story. As a deep-lying playmaker, Modric was rarely in the position to finish off Tottenham attacks. But he almost always started them. It was the Croatian that created sufficient space for others to do special things, the Croatian that maintained momentum. Indeed, unlike both Bale and Van der Vaart, it was Modric that kept it going right through the season. His world-class vision took Tottenham to the heights of the Champions League quarter-finals. And it’s that kind of stage where he deserves to stay.

Ability 16
Club form 16
International form 2/3
Total 78

19. Gerard Pique

Barcelona and Spain
Age 24
Position Central defender

A vital link in so many Barcelona victories. Aside from underappreciated defensive qualities – best illustrated by a Paul McGrath-esque tackle on Angel Di Maria in the Champions League semi-final – it’s Pique’s passing ability that provides Barcelona with the platform to build so many attacks. Although not as positionally sound as his more experienced partner, Carlos Puyol, Pique’s superior technique adds another layer to his game that marks him out as the more complete all-round defender.

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

18. Wayne Rooney

Manchester United and England
Age 25
Position Forward

Almost back to his best. After a torrid 2010, Rooney has so far enjoyed a thrilling 2011. Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to describe him as the most important player to Manchester United’s successful title run-in. Despite his dismal start to last season, he still contributed 11 goals and 11 assists in 27 games – that’s the third best rate of productivity in the Premier League. As well as that, he scored six-game changing goals – directly providing United with 10 points.
Most notably, there was the season-changing hat-trick at West Ham and the brilliant bicycle kick against Manchester City.

But, even more importantly, Rooney transferred that form to the European stage. By scoring the opening goal in the quarters against Chelsea, setting up Javier Hernandez’s ice-breaker at Schalke and then equalising in the final, Rooney effectively picked up at exactly the stage where he bowed out of the 2009-10 season.

When he went off injured in that last-eight game against Bayern Munich, he was justifiably being talked about as exerting the same kind of influence as Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi. Because, after so many years effectively serving the former’s ego with selfless work at Old Trafford, Rooney was finally repeating the kind of awesome displays he produced in his early days at Everton.

And if he can continue to have such a meaningful impact on the Champions League’s latter stages, then there is no reason why he can’t approach that elite again. Both industrious and inspirational, Rooney is finally bringing it all back together again.

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

17. Dani Alves

Barcelona and Brazil
Age 28
Position Right-back

One of the keys to understanding the overwhelming nature of this Barcelona team is to view them as one of the most perfectly integrated systems football has seen. For all of their individual brilliance, each player performs a very specific role in the team on which every other player relies. In that sense, every position is as important as each other. The particular abilities of certain players, however, can see them elevate their role to an indispensable level.

And, other than Leo Messi and Xavi, this is best exemplified by Alves. Indeed, it is partly down to the Brazilian that the former looks just so fantastic. Due to Alves’s sensational stamina, he effectively plays two positions at once – right-back and right-wing. This often overwhelms the left side of opposition teams, freeing space inside for Messi to wreak further havoc. What’s more, his athletic overlaps allow all manner of angles in the team’s passing moves. And it goes without saying he kept up that level this season.

Although he’s a much better defender than he is often given credit for – illustrated by winning a number of one-on-one battles in key games last year – that perception wasn’t helped by a poor Copa America.

And there remains doubt as to whether he would be as dynamic outside this Barcelona team. But, the fact is, Pep Guardiola’s side are an optimum outfit. Its exact cohesion enhances every player – including Messi.

And while Alves’s incredible stamina is still needed by Guardiola, he’s destined to be one of the world’s best.

Ability 17
Club form 17
International form 5/10
Total 78

16. Arjen Robben

Bayern Munich and Netherlands
Age 27
Position Forward/winger

Robben has endured something of a drop-back from his sensational 2010, when his effect on the Bundesliga, Champions League and World Cup undeniably put him in the globe’s top 10. Part of that dip is down to injury, part of it down to the internal problems at Bayern Munich.

But Robben still contributed 12 goals and eight assists in 14 Bundesliga appearances – an incredible return. Now entering his prime – injury permitting – he remains one of the world’s most wondrous talents.

Ability 17
Club form 15
International form 2/3
Total 79

15. Pedro Rodriguez

Barcelona and Spain
Age 24
Position Winger/forward

Often overlooked as the least glamorous of all Barcelona’s stars, his positional discipline is hugely important. Pedro’s width counters the tendencies of Messi and David Villa to drift inside. Quite simply, his innate understanding of Guardiola’s approach allows him to do his job to a more productive level than an arguably more talented player would.

And that’s productivity in more than one sense. Pedro scored 18 goals and contributed eight assists in 45 league and Champions League appearances last season. More importantly, many of them come at key moments. Pedro complements his application with an extraordinary capacity for scoring in big games. Last season saw him hit two against Real Madrid as well as the opener in the Champions League final.

This list is all about a player applying his ability to maximum effect. Pedro epitomises that.

Ability 16
Club form 16
International form 2/3
Total 79

14. Giuseppe Rossi

Villarreal and Italy
Age 24
Position Forward

The best player outside Spain’s big two. To the point that he was Barcelona’s second choice after Alexis Sanchez.

Along the way to breaking Diego Forlan’s scoring record at Villarreal, Rossie provided 18 goals and five assists in 35 games to return the club to the Champions League. And, in the European competition’s lesser celebrated sister, Rossi scored 11 goals in 13 games as Villarreal reached the semi-finals. He has also taken his form to the Italian, signalling his new role as one of the country’s principal striker with a goal against Germany.

Much of all that was down to his class and his movement. As Borja Valero said, “he makes it easy for us”.

The more difficult part for Rossi now is truly dominating the Champions League. But he has at least proven he has the quality to do so.

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

13. Angel Di Maria

Real Madrid and Argentina
Age 23
Position Winger/forward

One of the most gifted and unpredictable natural talents in football, Di Maria illustrated an admirable selflessness by immediately adapting to Jose Mourinho’s more disciplined framework. But, as opposition teams often became preoccupied with Cristiano Ronaldo, the Argentine offered a devastating counterpoint. It is telling that he was fouled for more penalties than any other player in Spain last season. As Diego Maradona said about him, “one on one, he’s devastating”. Di Maria is becoming an increasingly indispensable member of the Real team, which is saying something given its total emphasis on Ronaldo.

Ability 18
Club form 16
International form 6/10
Total 80

12. Nemanja Vidic

Manchester United and Serbia
Age 29
Position Central defender

The anomaly to this position is that last season saw Manchester United’s worst defensive record since Vidic joined the club. But the reality of that is the record would have been worse had it not been for the Serbian’s heroics. With central partner Rio Ferdinand often injured and Patrice Evra off form, Vidic was often left to tie loosely-arranged defences together. Indeed his importance was perfectly illustrated in the run to the Champions League final, which was built on United’s backline. Even in the final, Vidic defended manfully against Messi and co. But with Ferguson unable to play defensive midfielders of sufficient durability, it was inevitable that Barca would expose them. Otherwise, Vidic’s aggression and imposing physique overcame a lot of errors elsewhere.

He can still be susceptible to speed on turn as well as prone to moments of irrationality. It is striking how he seems to have a “brain freeze” every April – this season’s coming in the first against West Ham at Upton Park. But, mercifully for United, it only lasted one game. And Vidic was impressive for many more.

Ability 16
Club form 17
International form 3/5
Total 80

11. Sergio Busquets

Barcelona and Spain
Age 23
Position Defensive midfielder/central defender

Before the Champions League final in Wembley, Wayne Rooney was given one very specific defensive instruction: stop Sergio Busquets.

As Xavi has said, the defensive midfielder is “fundamental”. As Vicente Del Bosque has said, “he is the first to get the team moving”. And, as Busquets has repeatedly proved, he is the base of all of Barcelona’s brilliance. By stopping so many attacks with his tenacity, theatrics and tentacle-like legs, he then moves the ball on with metronomic passing. It is telling that the 23-year-old played the fourth highest number of passes in the Spanish league last year, and had Europe’s second best completion rate after Xavi. “When he plays,” Del Bosque went on to say, “the football is more fluid.”

Busquets’s positional sense also solved a lot of problems for Barcelona last year. His willingness to drop back into central defence allowed Alves to venture as far forward as possible while his ability to stay there for an entire game meant Carlos Puyol’s continued absences may not have been as damaging as they ought.

You can fault his behaviour on the pitch, but not his brilliance. The most dynamic defensive midfielder in the world.

Ability 16
Club form 17
International form 3/5
Total 80

 

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.