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World Football's Top 15 Players of 2011

Andrew JordanSenior Writer IJanuary 3, 2012

World Football's Top 15 Players of 2011

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    There is no perfect way to make a list of the top footballers of the year. Every year these players go to work for amazing stretches of time and work tirelessly to become one of the best in the world at their craft.

    At the end of the year, some of those players are honored by being recognized as the best footballers in the world. There are always players that miss the cut that would get them considered among the world's best.

    Even though that may happen, their impact certainly will not be forgotten by lovers of the beautiful game.

    Now that 2011 is over, here is my list of the 15 best footballers of last year.

No. 15 Mario Goetze

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    Club: Borussia Dortmund

    No matter what you may think of him, Mario Goetze was an impressive up-and-coming star at the beginning of 2011 and looks like he could become one of the most popular players in the world with a strong 2012.

    Goetze was able to help Borussia Dortmund win the German Bundesliga this season, the first time Dortmund have won the title since 2002.

    Furthermore, Goetze was able to get his first taste of the Champions League during this autumn, and will try to get Dortmund their second straight Bundesliga title in 2012 (they currently are three points off the pace to Bayern Munich).

    Goetze gained some more experience with the German national team throughout the year and will be an important player for Germany in Euro 2012.

    For his fantastic year, Goetze was rewarded with Tuttosport's U-21 player of the year honors for the best footballer under the age of 21 who was playing in Europe.

No. 14 Edinson Cavani

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    Club: Napoli

    One of the top strikers in all of Europe, Edinson Cavani had a year to remember in 2011. He scored numerous hat tricks and important goals for the Naples-based club on their way to a spot in the Champions League.

    Cavani went on to score some important goals in the Champions League for Napoli in what was a difficult group with both Bayern Munich and Manchester City both contending with Napoli for the two spots in the knockout stage. However, Cavani's goals were enough for Napoli to advance into the Round of 16.

    Internationally, Cavani was a key component for a Uruguayan side that were able to win the Copa America. 

No. 13 Gerard Pique

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    Club: Barcelona

    He is only 24 years old and Gerard Pique has already played a career filled with amazing accomplishments. In 2011, Pique added another La Liga, Champions League and Club World Cup to his growing list of accomplishments.

    However, Pique continued to mature as a player throughout the year. He had to help Barca fill in for an injured Carles Puyol for most of the season and played massive dividends as a result.

    Without Pique's huge presence in the back, it is unlikely that Barcelona would have been able to accomplish what they did in an incredible 2011 year. It will be interesting to see what they will do in 2012.

No. 12 Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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    Club: AC Milan

    He is one of the most known strikers in the world and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was able to bring glory back to AC Milan in 2011.

    Ibrahimovic helped Milan win the Scudetto in 2011 and has helped them succeed in what was a tough group in the Champions League last autumn.

    Halfway through the current Serie A campaign, Ibrahimovic has scored 16 times, which was following a strong first half to his season.

    Ibrahimovic also helped Sweden automatically qualify for Euro 2012.

No. 11 Iker Casillas

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    Club: Real Madrid

    He is considered by some to be the best goalkeeper in the world, and Iker Casillas once again showed why he is so great with a fantastic 2011 year.

    Casillas' Madrid side are now considered to be the second-best club in the world and were able to beat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. Casillas was huge for Madrid on their run to the Champions League semifinal, and is a major reason why they could actually win La Liga in 2012.

    With Spain, Casillas was a part of the squad that automatically qualified for Euro 2012.

No. 10 Nemanja Vidic

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    Club: Manchester United

    He may be out of football for several months due to torn ligaments in his knee, yet Nemanja Vidic had a fantastic year for Manchester United.

    Vidic won the the Premier League in his first year as the captain for the Red Devils and helped United to keep a phenomenal record at Old Trafford.

    Also thanks to his great play, United were able to reach their third Champions League final in four years. When Vidic played, United appeared at times to be impenetrable.

    At the end of 2011, it is pretty safe to say that Vidic is the best defender in the world.

No. 9 Manuel Neuer

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    Clubs: Bayern Munich and Schalke

    He is the starting goalkeeper for the German national team and 2011 was a superb year for Manuel Neuer.

    Neuer helped to get Schalke into their first Champions League semifinal in their history, overcoming the likes of Valencia and Inter Milan to get there.

    In the offseason, Neuer moved from Schalke to Bayern Munich, turning down the likes of Manchester United to do so.

    Neuer set a German record of 1,147 minutes without conceding a goal, a stretch that lasted from early August to the middle of October in 2011.

    With the German national team, Neuer helped Germany earn an automatic spot in Euro 2012.

No. 8 Wayne Rooney

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    Club: Manchester United

    After a disappointing 2010, Wayne Rooney came out firing in 2011 and reminded us just how great of a player he can be.

    Rooney went on to score some crucial goals throughout the first half of 2011 in both the Premier League and in the Champions League. Thanks to Rooney's play, United went on to win the Premier League and reached the Champions League final, where Rooney scored in a losing effort.

    In the new season, Rooney struck for hat tricks against Arsenal and Bolton, helping United tremendously in their title-hunt efforts against Manchester City.

    For England, Rooney helped the Three Lions earn an automatic spot in Euro 2012, though Rooney will miss the first two matches of the tournament due to a straight red card he got for a dangerous challenge on Miodrag Džudović during qualifying.

No. 7 Mario Gomez

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    Club: Bayern Munich

    Mario Gomez officially broke out as one of the top strikers in the world in 2011 with a brilliant year for both the German national team and for Bayern Munich.

    Gomez scored goals in abundance in 2011. He was given a starting spot with injuries to Miroslav Klose and Ivica Olic with Bayern and absolutely shined. In the 2010-2011 season, Gomez scored 39 goals in all competitions.

    In the 2011-2012 season, Gomez's star has shone even brighter. Already Gomez has scored a stunning 24 goals in all competitions, which has been done in only 25 matches!

    With the German national team, Gomez scored six times despite not being a full-time starter. Gomez helped Germany earn an automatic spot in Euro 2012, where they will be a heavy favorite to win the competition for the first time since 1996.

No. 6 David Silva

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    Club: Manchester City

    One of the most creative players in the Premier League, David Silva has made a monster impact with Manchester City over the last year and is a major reason why the club was on top of the league at the winter break.

    After helping Man City to win their first trophy since the 1970s in May, Silva has been absolutely spectacular for Man City in the 2011-2012 season.

    Silva currently is leading the Premier League with eight assists, tied for first in key passes with 52, and ninth in total passes with 1,082. Furthermore, Silva has continued to score important goals for City and has made their offense one of the tops in Europe.

    Internationally, Silva has continued to impress for Spain and helped them earn a spot in Euro 2012.

No. 5 Andres Iniesta

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    Club: Barcelona

    He is recognized as one of the greatest Spanish midfielders ever and Andres Iniesta had another strong year in 2011.

    Iniesta's play only continued to get better a year after he scored the winner at the World Cup final, and he played a massive role in Barcelona's side that won La Liga, the Champions League and the Club World Cup.

    Barcelona's offense only continued to get better and Iniesta played an important role in that with some key passes throughout the season.

    Internationally, Iniesta played a key role in Spain's automatic berth that was secured for Euro 2012.

No. 4 Robin van Persie

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    Club: Arsenal

    Robin van Persie absolutely excelled in 2011. A year after reaching the World Cup final, van Persie was able to remain healthy for most of the year and was able to excel as a result.

    Throughout the beginning of 2011, van Persie scored crucial goals to keep Arsenal in the title race for most of the season, accumulating an impressive goal total in the process.

    Once Cesc Fabregas left, van Persie took up the position of Arsenal's captain and has since completely thrived.

    Throughout the autumn, van Persie has continued to score important goals and has kept Arsenal in contention for a berth in the Champions League, something that appeared improbable in early September.

    Altogether, van Persie scored an extraordinary 35 goals in only 36 matches. The 35 goals scored in a year is a new Arsenal record, which was previously held by Thierry Henry.

    With the Dutch national team, van Persie has helped them automatically qualify for Euro 2012.

No. 3 Xavi

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    Club: Barcelona

    He is one of the purest passers that football has ever seen, and Xavi once again put together a strong year for both Barcelona and Spain in 2011.

    Throughout the year, Xavi constantly stepped up with great play and helped to bring Barcelona's legendary offense to extraordinary heights.

    Thanks to his fantastic play, Xavi helped Barcelona win La Liga, the Champions League and the Club World Cup.

    With Spain, Xavi helped his nation earn an automatic spot in Euro 2012.

    Xavi was able to set records in appearances for both Barcelona and Spain in 2011, and he will certainly add to those totals in 2012.

No. 2 Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Club: Real Madrid

    Every year Cristiano Ronaldo only continues to improve and certainly is one of the top two players in the world.

    Ronaldo appeared to reach the next level during 2011 with Real Madrid, where he scored 40 times in La Liga during the 2010-2011 season, setting the record for most goals in a season in the Spanish top flight.

    Ronaldo has since scored 20 more times in La Liga since the start of the 2011-2012 campaign.

    Ronaldo's heroics helped Real Madrid to win the Copa del Rey (his first trophy with Madrid) and helped Madrid reach the Champions League semifinal, where they were unable to overtake Barcelona.

    Internationally, Ronaldo helped Portugal earn a spot in Euro 2012 after overtaking Bosnia and Herzegovina in their UEFA playoff. 

No. 1 Lionel Messi

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    Club: Barcelona

    He is recognized by practically everyone as the best footballer in the world and Lionel Messi once again proved that in 2011 with his best year to date.

    Messi was absolutely superb throughout 2011. Whenever Barcelona seemed to need a goal, it was Messi that always seemed to deliver. Messi was able to help Barcelona break the La Liga record for consecutive wins in a season and Messi was able to score 53 goals, the most of any Barcelona player in a singe season.

    In the 2011-2012 season, Messi has scored an incredible 29 times in 26 matches (with 14 assists). Messi is now second all-time in goals scored for Barcelona.

    Messi went on to win La Liga, the Champions League and the Club World Cup with Barcelona in 2011.

    Internationally, Messi was unable to help Argentina win the Copa America on home soil, but they have gotten off to a solid start to a difficult qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup.

    Follow me on Twitter @Andrew_Jordan.

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