No sooner had FIFA announced its World XI than pundits and fans the world over were scratching their heads and expressing their dubiousness at the selection of an exclusively Spain-based team.
The players that made the cut all had marvelous years, but that won’t leave people wondering how the Premier League, Serie A and Bundesliga—three of Europe’s four top leagues—all failed to contribute a single player to the mix.
But La Liga surely deserves its dominating—if not total—presence in the final team, primarily for three simple reasons: Madrid’s spring, Spain’s summer and Barcelona’s (and Falcao’s) fall.
First, the obvious: Spain won its record-breaking third major international tournament this summer. It’s no surprise, then, that six of the XI hail from the Spanish national team.
Perhaps the most contentious omission from the XI, Robin van Persie, had a poor tournament. Like it or not, the European Championship is considered one of the game’s biggest stages, and its biggest players are expected to perform there when given the chance. Van Persie did himself no favors in this respect.
While we’re on the subject of Euro 2012, remember how England played? That’s right, terribly. In England's final match of the tournament, Andrea Pirlo had more passes than all four of England’s starting midfielders.
But the Premier League has plenty of foreign players, you say. And Chelsea won the Champions League, after all. Why does the spring belong to Madrid above Chelsea and other leagues’ domestic champions?
Here’s where we get into dicey territory, where some of La Liga’s selections seem, even for me, a bit generous.
As much as it begrudges this Barcelona supporter to admit, though, Madrid not only achieved domestic superiority last season, they did it in impressive, record-breaking fashion, achieving more points and scoring more goals than any team in Liga history. (These records—thankfully—look to be short-lived.)
And perhaps this is world football’s tacit acknowledgement of what many people won’t always say out loud: Chelsea were immensely lucky to prevail in Champions League, and nobody took much joy from the way they managed to do it.
Even Chelsea’s one outstanding individual, Didier Drogba, like van Persie, didn’t exactly increase his chances by departing the high stage of European Football in June.
Chelsea, Manchester City, Dortmund, Juventus: All these teams had outstanding seasons in their own right. But the selection of XI is, let’s face it, about individual performances. The next 10 best strikers may all be in England, Italy and Spain. But the best three are surely in La Liga.
Would I have made all of the same choices in midfield and defense? Certainly not. Like many others, I don’t quite get the omissions of Pirlo and Vincent Kompany. But do they all seem eminently reasonable as individual choices? Absolutely.
This is, like or not, the era of Spanish-style football. Clearly FIFA’s voting bloc has started to catch on. Skeptical supporters should start to do the same.