FIFA's Ballon d'Or winner, Lionel Messi, was honored yesterday for his incredible performances on the year. With this announcement came that of FIFPro's World XI.
FIFPro's World XI is an 11-man squad of players voted for by other players. The voting produces what is arguably the best imagined team in the world based on the performances of the 2011 year.
But how many of the players honored by placement on the World XI are really worthy of it?
And if they are not worthy of their placement, then who is?
For the fourth straight year, Iker Casillas has been honored as the game's best keeper though the FIFPro World XI award. His performances were fantastic, allowing 40 goals across 54 games, better than his three previous award-winning years. Most avid soccer fans would select Casillas as the world's best keeper, and I do not find this choice remotely controversial.
There were other very talented keepers in the world who deserve some recognition as well. Petr Cech of Chelsea and Joe Hart for Manchester City were both stand out in the English Premier League. Victor Valdez looked better for Barcelona in La Liga. In Germany, Manuel Neuer played fantastically in the Bundesliga as well.
Dani Alves has been dominant on the right side for Barcelona. As a defender, he's one of the hardest in the game to beat. On the attack, he's quick and a fearsome free kick taker.
Alves had four goals and a whopping 20 assists in his 54 appearances in 2011. He's an integral part of both Barcelona's defense and attack. In the start of the 2011-2012 season, he has proven he can adjust very well to Pep Guardiola's 3-4-3 system.
Was he the most deserving, though? It's hard to think of another more deserving right back. Micah Richards of Manchester City has played fabulously as of late, but he is still young and his 2011 performances were not overwhelming. In Germany, Phillip Lahm is probably the most worthy competition, although he's not the attacking threat that Alves is. In addition, he was not part of a Champions League-winning Barcelona side.
The only other right back possibly deserving is Sergio Ramos, which brings me to the next position...
Although not technically a left back, the Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos is a fullback and one of the best in the world. He's been a defensive fiend in the Spanish capital and is highly adept on the attack.
Ramos is just as talented as Dani Alves is, so this fullback pairing is beautiful. In addition to his continually solid performances for Madrid, he has also shown in the 2011-2012 season that he is an elite center back, arguably one of the best in the world.
The left back role is more competitive than that of the right back. The likes of Ashley Cole of Chelsea, Patrice Evra of Manchester United and Marcelo of Real Madrid have all been impressive. In fact, I would argue that as a left back, Marcelo is more deserving than Ramos. He's been much more threatening as an attacker and has continued to improve defensively. At the same time, however, Ramos is too good to leave out of the lineup.
Marcelo is a better left back; Sergio Ramos is a better overall full back. You can take your pick here.
The center back pairing of Gerard Pique of Barcelona and Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United is an interesting one. Pique is a younger, impressive looking defender with experience beyond his age. Vidic is an aging yet still very dominant and well-respected defender. There's not a manager in the world that wouldn't want either player.
Are they both really that deserving of being named to the World XI? I would argue not. In the 2011-2012 season, both have seen limited playing time, starting in less than half their respective team's games. Vidic has struggled with injury, and Pique has seen less and less playing time with Barcelona's new 3-4-3 system.
If you want to consider them for the World XI, you have to ask yourself how much the second half of the 2011 calendar year matters to the players' status.
Are there more worthy center backs? Undoubtedly, yes. Mat Hummels has been nothing short of amazing Borussia Dortmund. His youth probably counts against him, but honestly, it shouldn't. He's a world-class defender with great potential. When he transfers to a bigger club, he'll be a shoo-in for World XI.
Thiago Silva of AC Milan also had a stellar 2011. The Brazilian is quick and a great passer in addition to being a threat on the attack. His defending skills are improving each year. The fact that he's been linked with Barcelona for most of 2011 goes to show that Barcelona view him as an improvement for their defense.
Pepe of Real Madrid has shone brightly the past few seasons and is starting to get recognition for it. His current partnership with Sergio Ramos in the center might be the best in the game. He's a fearless tackler and incredible in the air.
Finally, there's Vincest Kompany, who is one of the most deserving in the world of this XI honor. He was voted to the PFA Team of the Year (a team voted for by Premier League players), has been the greatest leader this Manchester City side has ever seen and has been simply unstoppable on defense, running one of the stingiest defenses in all of world soccer. His absence from the World XI is appalling.
Andres Iniesta and Xavi of Barcelona and Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid make up the midfield of FIFPro's World XI. All three have been impressive playmakers; all three are members of the World Cup-winning Spanish national team. If this were still 2010, I'd say there's no question these men are deserving of the World XI. It's not 2010, though.
Xavi and Iniesta are the Barcelona duo that form what many consider to be the best midfield in the world. Both are phenomenal playmakers and passers.
Iniesta, at 27, is continuing to perform well and has adapted well to Barcelona's 3-4-3. In addition to his great passing, he's also a solid finisher with nine goals last season (impressive considering his role at Barcelona). His spot is really not that debatable on this team.
Xavi's age is showing a bit this season, though not too much. He's playing well and scoring more goals than usual while still revealing his talent at passing. Although I'm not convinced that he was worthy of a World XI award (I'm sure I'll get hell for saying this), his team's Champion's League and Spanish League silverware will give him an edge in many people's eyes.
His stats have not impressed me lately: In 2008-2009, he had 20 assists in La Liga; in 2009-2010, he had 14 assists. In 2010-2011, he had just seven assists. Needless to say, his numbers are declining quickly.
The last member of this Spanish trio is Xabi Alonso. Alonso has been one of the most underrated players in the world, having won his last individual award in 2003. He's an incredible long passer, better than his two Spanish counterparts in this regard, and is a consistent defender. He's able to control the pace of the games masterfully at Madrid by either slowing and calming down his young teammates or rushing them forward for a deadly counterattack.
At 30 years old, Alonso is on the decline, though he is certainly still a world class midfielder. This award comes too late in the Spaniard's career. He, like Xavi, is defintely top 10 in the world for his position, though not necessary top three.
Who could also be worthy of this World XI? Bastian Schweinsteiger has played very well for Bayern Munich and is starting to get recognition for it. He'll likely be considered for next year's World XI. The impressive play of young midfielders like Javier Pastore of PSG and Marek Hamsik of Napoli would have been worthy of award if they were more established and playing for better clubs.
David Silva and Yaya Toure have continued to show why they are one of the best midfield pairings in the world, and no list would be complete without them. Wesley Sneijder is one of my personal favorites for the position, although admittedly, his numbers have not been as good as his competitors here.
Cristiano Ronaldo made the cut for the fifth year running, and it's no surprise. The man's a freak goalscorer, netting 53 in 54 games. Simply stunning. He broke La Liga's single-season scoring record held by an all-time great, Hugo Sanchez. Leaving Europe's top goalscorer off of the World XI would be ridiculous. This season, Ronaldo has found the net 26 times in just 25 games. Stunning.
On the other wing, we have Lionel Messi. Third-time Ballon d'Or winner, holder of much silverware including the 2011 Champions League and La Liga title, Messi is an integral part of a strong Barcelona side. In 55 appearances last season, the man notched 53 goals along with 24 assists. He's continued to perform this season, putting forth 31 goals in just 28 games. The Ballon d'Or winner is a must on any World XI.
Are there any competitors for these two? No. Not at all. The debate for world's best player is between these two, so naturally, they are both represented on this imagined team. There is a lot of talent out there that could be used for depth, like the experienced Arjen Robben, the continually developing Nani or the young Neymar or Eden Hazard, but none of these players are on the same level as Ronaldo and Messi.
Wayne Rooney is a talented striker. He's performed well at his days for Manchester United. But no matter how hard I try, I can't justify him being essentially named the world's best striker.
Based on his 2011 performances, Rooney was far short of impressive. He netted just 13 goals in league across the 2010-2011 season. I'm aware that the scoring totals for strikers were pretty lower in comparison to other leagues, but Rooney was not even in the top 10 for scoring. In the Premier League alone, there were many far more deserving strikers.
Carlos Tevez had a great season for Manchester City and was co-top goalscorer in the league, along with United's Dimitar Berbatov. Berbatov was also more impressive than Rooney, developing into a sort of "super sub" and, lately, showing that he can still be prolific. Both players most likely lose any real eligibility for this honor by spending most of their time on the bench in the 2011-2012 season. Fair enough.
But what of Arsenal's Robin van Persie? He scored 18 times in the league last season (second most after Tevez and Berbatov) and has gone on this season to already score 17 teams. He refuses to be stopped.
What of Sergio Aguero, who dazzled at Athletico Madrid before being shipped off to Manchester City, where he continued to shine?
What of Udinese's Antonio Di Natale or Napoli's Edinson Cavani who dominanted Serie A, scoring 28 and 26 times respectively?
I'm sorry, United and Rooney fans, but there are better strikers out there, and 2011 made that evident.
Overall I'm not too bothered by FIFPro's World XI. The squad they selected would be dominant and doesn't have much room for improvement.
Regardless, here is my personal World XI:
GK: Iker Casillas
RB: Dani Alves
CBs: Thiago Silva and Vincent Kompany
LB: Sergio Ramos
CMs: Iniesta, Mesut Ozil, David Silva
Wingers: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
ST: Robin van Persie
It's interesting to note that of the 11 players selected for the FIFPro World XI, only three teams (Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Barcelona) were represented.
What are you thoughts on FIFPro's World XI? What's your personal World XI?