The Definitive World Football XI 2000-2010
2000-2010...what was all that about, eh? In a decade where England, Spain and Italy established their dominance in the market, footballers salaries skyrocketed and record transfer fees were broken time and again one can only come to the conclusion that footballers were better than ever in the noughties.
At least that's what some very rich people thought judging by the amount of money they've spent.
How do you think the best of the noughties compare with their predecessors of previous decades? Is it possible to compare great players of in the past with the future? Some positions like the sweeper are virtually extinct while some like the 'defensive midfielder' or 'Makelele role' as the British media came to dub it have risen in prominence this decade.
Tactics have changed (and the modern 4-3-3 formation I've gone with reflects this), the world has changed, even the competitions footballers play in have changed somewhat too but football in many ways remains the same.
Here is a team man for man I think could contest any other from the decades previous and is the best the noughties had to offer.
Goalkeeper: Oliver Kahn (Bayern Munich/Germany)
Oliver Kahn is widely recognised as one of the greatest goalkeepers ever.
'King Kahn' started the decade in 2000 by becoming captain of the German National Team following their embarrassing exit in Euro 2000. Having already been named captain of Bayern Munich, the pernnial Bavarian European heavyweight, the choice was a no brainer as Kahn's communication and leadership abilites were apparent.
Asides from six German championships and five German Cups, in a notoriously competitive domestic game in the noughties it was at international level, Kahn sealed his claim as keeper of the decade.
International recognition from UEFA, IFFHS and FIFA in various goalkeeping awards and team of the year awards were merited based on his extraordinary consistency and world class standards shown throughout the decade. Kahn was to retire with a record 197 clean sheets in the Bundesliga as well as a 2001 Champions League winners medal after an excellent penalty shootout performance in the final.
The highlight of the decade for Kahn was undoubtedly the 2002 World Cup where Kahn almost singlehandedly dragged the German team to the final on the back of superhuman performances between the sticks. Unfortunately a damaged finger ligament was to ironically thwart his team in the final. Nonetheless, he became the 1st keeper to win the FIFA Golden Ball, awarded to the best player at the WC, joining the likes of Pele and Maradonna for all time.
His later acceptance of Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to make Jens Lehmann German no. 1 for the 2006 WC in his home country showed his ego wasn't out of control despite his well deserved status in the German game. A bronze medal to go with his silver 4 years previously followed as he made his last appearance for Germany beating Portugal in the playoff.
Overall Kahn was an excellent shot stopper, organiser of defences, capable coming out of his area and reader of the game. His greatest attribute, however, was his truly inspirational leadership qualities and continual urging of his teammates towards higher standards (famously eulogised in an anecdote by Sebastian Deisler shortly before retirement).
Traits which are sorely lacking in keepers nowadays as we head into the next decade.
Left Back: Paolo Maldini (AC Milan/Italy)
Maldini's legendary career is a monument to the talent that filled the San Siro for 25 years. Maldini is widely regarded as the greatest defender of all time.
As Milan's greatest serveant, Maldini during the noughies won two European Cups,one Serie A, two Italian Cups, and two FIFA Intercontinental/CWCs.
This decade Maldini arguably faced his greatest foe however, age. But amazingly as recently as 2007 ,UEFA named Maldini as the CL Defender of the tournament and a member of UEFA team of the year in 2003 and 2005. He also made the FiFaPro World XI in 2005.
Like Kahn and many others on this list, consistency of performance at the top level came naturally to this natural born winner (in Maldini's case literally, his father Cesare had already lifted a European Cup with Milan before he was even born).
As capable at left back as central defender, Maldini embodied the Italian stereotype of worldclass ultra cool stylish defender throughout his Milan and Italy career.
Temperament wise, Maldini was the ultimate professional and earned the respect of teammates and opposing players through the various eras at Milan by playing to a consistently world class standard.
Unfortunately, like Kahn, he was to be a constant runner up or bronze medalist at international level. Euro 2000 was to prove a particularly memorable effort at the start of the decade.
Likewise at club level. Who can ever forget the 2005 CL final where Maldini became the oldest player to score in a European final only to suffer defeat to Liverpool in the self described 'worst moment' of his career.
Ironically, Maldini was to retire at international level before Italy lifted the World Cup in 2006. His great rival in the national team and at Juventus/Inter, Cannavaro was to captain the Azzuri in Maldini's absence.
Maldini at left back is the perfectly balanced fullback. Positionally and tactically astute, excellent fitness and stamina, superb reading of the game and not to shabby with the ball either. A best of decade team without Maldini for the 80s, 90s, nevermind 2000-2010, is unthinkable.
Right Back: Lilian Thuram (France/Juventus/Barcelona)
During the decade Thuram established a record caps total with the French national team (142 caps), winning Euro 2000 and the 2003 Confed Cup as well as the 2006 WC silver medal. Is Thuram France's greatest ever defender?
Although Thuram was to progressively switch to CB as he got older, like Maldini, Thuram possessed an intuitive ability to read the game and positional sense which helped him establish himself a long career as a world class defender. A FIFA Pro XI 2006 well into his thirties underlined the intelligence of this career move.
Most of Thuram's club travails this decade can neatly be summarised by his exploits with Italian giants Juventus where he won two Serie A medals before Calciopoli struck to change his fortunes forever. A move to Barcelona followed which remarkably proved unsuccessful (by the Catalan giants standards). By the time he joined PSG Thuram's best days were clearly behind him at age 36. However he never actually appeared for PSG due to a life threatening heart condition which forced him to retire this past summer.
It was for France Thuram's impact was mostly felt. Following an initial retirement, he returned with Zidane and Makelele to rescue France's faltering qualification effort for the 2006 WC, eventually going all the way to the final. He later captained France at Euro 2008 in what was to become his final footballing foray before retirement.
Thuram, like the others in the backline here embodied consistency. His record cap and numerous moves to world class clubs over his career prove he had that in abundance. Physically Thuram brings great strength and athleticism to the full back role as well as leadership and teamwork qualities.
Perhaps not the best attacking option in a decade that seen an abundance of world class Brazilian talent in this position (Cafu, Alves, Maicon) but probably the most balanced option.
Centre Back: Roberto Ayala (Valencia/Zaragoza/Argentina)
Having captained Argentina more times than anyone else in the fabled nations football history (yes, even Maradonna), Ayala has been one of the standout defenders in the world game for over a decade in world football.
At his peak, he helped Valencia break the Spanish duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2001 and 2004 lifting La Liga twice. In 2004 he also lifted the UEFA Cup in an extradordinary period of the clubs fortunes. This also included a CL final in 2001 that led to a silver medal after an unfortunate penalty shootout.
These were Valencia's most succesful years in the club's history and like Maradonna at underdogs Napoli, he was at the heart of it.
Having received his defenders apprenticeship in Italy, like the others on the list, Ayala would establish himself as La Liga's top defender of the decade winning the UEFA best defender award in 2001 with his excellent positional ability, tactical discipline and reading of the game.
Adding to this was an excellent ability to know how to win the ball cleanly and to foul 'cleverly' as the occasion arised. His remarkably clean disciplinary record is proof defenders can be some of the smartest players on the pitch if need be.
Ayala's natural springiness and jump reach ameliorated any concerns about his height. As a modern defender Ayala proved brains, athleticism and tenacity won out over the old British burly donkey model of defending any day.
For Argentina, Ayala was to miss the 2002 World Cup with an injury but received some consolation in 2004 when he won an Olympic Gold medal in Greece with Argentina. The 2006 WC was to prove a watermark tournament with Ayala playing brilliantly to be recognised in the team of the tournament.
His final effort in his long love affair with his nation was the final of the Copa America where another unfortunate event, an own goal, was to bookend his international career with a silver medal in that competition.
Today Ayala currently plies his trade with Zaragoza, having helped them win promotion from the Segunda last year. At 36, you feel the master's contribution to the Spanish game is sadly coming to an end. What an amazing decade it's been.
Centre Back: Alessandaro Nesta (Lazio/Milan/Italy)
Probably the revelation of the decade in terms of defending, Nesta's rise from hometown club Lazio culminating in his first Serie A winners medal to become one of the lynchpins of the great Milan team of the mid noughties probably needs no introduction.
Nesta, five times Serie A defender of the year this decade, four times UEFA TOFTY and Fifa Pro 05, 07 is without doubt one of the greatest defenders of all time, not just the noughties.
Nesta started the decade like Maldini, his eventual captain at Milan, a losing finalist in Euro 2000 for which he was named on its team of the tournament. 78 caps followed culminating with the 2006 World Cup, for which his partnership with Cannavaro was hailed as the best in the world at that time in football.
At club level, three European Cup finals were reached in 2002, 2005 and 2007 with Nesta also winning the CWC in 2007. In the domestic game, two Italian Cups and Serie A in 2004 were also achieved.
Recently, Nesta has been in the form of his life with his return from long term injury largely contributing to Leonardo keeping his job with the good results it has brought.
Nesta's acceleration, positioning sense and footballing skills make him a standout central defender. For Lazio, he captained the team regularly so like others in this fantasy defence, leadership qualities exist in abundance.
Hopefully the man the begun his senior career breaking Paul Gasgoine's leg can continue it by keeping his own leg together in the coming months.
Defensive Midfielder: Claude Makelele (Real Madrid/Chelsea/PSG/France)
Is there any player that quintessentially symbolises the holding role than Claude Makelele?
Makelele, whom French and former Real Madrid teammate Zidane once called the 'engine' of the legendary first Galacticos team of the early noughties, was largely unheralded by the press for his 'water carrying' in midfield in that team. It wasn't glamorous stuff.
In fact, so unheralded was he that Florentino Perez in my opinion made his biggest footballing mistake in selling Makelele to rising aristocrats Chelsea. It was the catalyst of the end of their success...and the end of Perez's first reign.
But while it lasted in that Golden Age, times were good. Makelele and his more illustrious teammates picked up two La Ligas, a European Cup and an Intercontinental Cup (the forerunner to the CWC). Real haven't gone passed a European Quater Final stage since.
Makelele's basis to Chelsea's success was underlined first by Ranieri calling him the 'battery' of the team and then by his Mourinho, who declared Makelele 'Chelsea's player of the year' in 2005 as he went on to win every competition possible within the domestic game in England over the space two years. A FIFA Pro XI appearance in 2005 capped a memorable year.
For France, Makelele was one of the three musketeers who, like Thuram and Zidane, returned to save France in 2005. A World Cup silver medal arrived in 2006 which was to be the highlight of his time internationally.
Today Makelele, age 36, continues to play a part in PSG's revival in Ligue Un captaining the team in what will likely be his last season. Makelele's ease at slotting into different teams in different countries with different styles provide the hallmark of a universally great talent.
I takes a player to know a player. As teamwork and consistency are concerned, Fernando Hierro, legendary Spanish and Real Madrid ex- captain noted, Makelele was the player's player during those Golden Years of his career both at Chelsea and Real Madrid. For these reasons alone Makelele is probably one of the best midfielders of his era.
Centre Midfielder: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool/England)
Ok so he doesn't like Phil Collins, but who's going to hold that against him?
Gerrard has been hailed time and again as the saviour of the Liverpool team and until Fernando Torres, lets face it, it was true. Liverpool were a one man show. Witness Liverpool-Olympiakos in a do or die Group Stage matchup, Liverpool-Milan in the European Cup Final, Liverpool West Ham in the FA Cup Final.
Gerrard is a big name player that delivers on the biggest occasions. And delivering on the big occasions is no.1 criteria for this list.
As captain of his hometown club, this decade Gerrard has won everything imaginable in club football...two European Cup finals, UEFA Cup, FA Cup, two League Cups, and everything except for the Premier League of course which was something he came closest to last season spearheading Liverpool's challenge to United.
The individual awards are impressive, not least because Gerrard often looks one of the few players at Liverpool that haven't had a lobotomy: 2007, 2008, 2009 FIFA Pro XI, UEFA Team of the Year 2005, 2006, 2007, PFA 06 Player of the Year, 2009 FWA Player of the Year — The boy's got talent.
Gerrard's Roy of the Rovers hard working, passionate box to box style makes him a phantom of a bygone era where last minute goals and winning trophies with childhood buddies in the team was all the rage.
Comfortable on the right wing, right back, defensive midfield, attacking and second striker, Gerrard is underrated an adaptable intelligent player to circumstances as they arise on the pitch.
Not just a mindless superman, he is a manager's dream tactical option. And he scores goals by the bucket load. As an athlete his stamina and lung bursting runs know no bounds.
Gerrard's real legacy, however, may well be decided by his exploits with England. Despite a Golden Generation of English talent and the relative strength of the English club game on the continent in recent years, no trophies have arrived. South Africa 2010 may well be his best chance to deliver for country as critics say he has done for club only.
Attacking Midfielder: Zinedine Zidane (France/Real Madrid)
The only footballer on this list that's had a movie dedicated to his awesomeness. 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait' is a study of athletic and footballing art for many, myself included.
The decade started with Euro 2000 for Zidane as France achieved a last gasp victory against Italy. A world record move from Juventus to Real Madrid was to later follow in 2001 leading to a wondergoal in the 2001 European Cup final and La Liga in 2003. Things looked great for the UEFA Team of the Year 2001-03 and FIFA World Player 2000, 2003.
Only France's horrendous performances in the 2002 WC and 2004 Euros blotted the peak of the French icon in the first half of this decade. Soon Real Madrid's form would shudder and decline precipitously.
On the face of it, Zidane may well be remembered for the shock headbutt in the 2006 WC final. An event largely down to the return of himself and Thuram and Makelele mentioned before. But FIFA Pro World XI appearances in 2005 and 2006 remind us Zidane was still at close to his peak form even to the point of his retirement at 34.
Probably the best way to justify Zidane's inclusion on just six years of activity this decade is the human characteristics Zidane showed as well as his amazing ability. Humility, ambition, professionalism, and leadership are embodied by this great unlike many others of similar talent.
His ability to thrive in the Italian game (2001 Serie A Footballer of the Year) and Spanish game (Don Balon Award), both while these respective leagues were at their peaks, show the ability to meet expectations and maintain consistency. Nobody who has seen Zidane play this decade should doubt his inclusion in this team.
Left Wing Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United/Real Madrid/Portugal)
Has Cristiano Ronaldo already surpassed his legendary predecessor Luis Figo at Real Madrid and the Portugeese national team? Is the world's dearest ever player really worth €100m? Can Ronaldo bring a European Cup to Madrid? Ronaldo is the type of player who makes history.
It all began with a friendly with Manchester United in 2003 when Ronaldo played for hometown club Sporting Lisbon against the then English champions. Luckily enough,United was also looking for a long term successor to David Beckham. After playing, United players urged their manager to sign him and so the most lucrative financial decision Sir Alex Ferguson had ever taken meant Ronaldo ended up at Old Trafford for €15m.
Ronaldo soon matured physically, tactically (remember the needless lollipops and stepovers) and mentally under Ferguson. A FIFA Pro World Young Player of the Year followed in 2005 in recognition of his rapid development.
However, it was only when United wrested the title away from Chelsea in 2006 that Ronaldo began to show his potential as United's new no. 7. Three Premier Leagues, two League Cups and a European Cup followed while Premier League Team of the Year appearances from 2005-2009 cemented his reputation in the domestic game.
The pinnacle was undoubtedly one incredible season in 2007 when Ronaldo scored 47 goals in all competitions winning the clean sweep of a European Golden Boot, FIFA World Player and Balon D'or in 2008. Scarily he was just 23.
Of course his move to Real Madrid broke all the records. So far in 13 appearances he has scored 13 goals. In a second Galacticos era featuring Raul, Benzema, Xabi Alonso, and Kaka, Ronaldo like Zidane before him, encapsulates and symbolises all the strengths and qualities of his team.
Excellent both taking and on the receiving end of set pieces, pace to burn, strength to hold of defenders and amazing accuracy and predatory instincts many eulogise Ronaldo as the complete player.
As for the national team, teenaged Ronaldo helped his nation to the final of Euro 2004 before losing to unfancied Greece. The 2006 World Cup was to present the infamous Rooney red card incident which was to test Ronaldo's resolve and professionalism. A test he passed with flying colours by winning the fans over again. Portugal earned a fourth place finish.
Today he often captains the national team and perhaps the one great achievement Ronaldo now needs on his CV is to win an international trophy. Something which his illustrious predecessor Luis Figo couldn't achieve for Portugal.
Right Wing Forward: Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona)
The best player in the greatest club side of all time?
Lionel Messi's rise from Barcelona's excellent cantera system is the stuff of myth. At age 14 Messi was to take hormones to improve what was alramingly poor growth for a boy that age. He also learned to play the beautiful game of course.
Witness the wonder goal against Getafe and of course the header in the recent European Cup final against Manchester United. Messi is a scorer of great all time goals of every variety, but preferably the solo type!
When he debuted in 2003 he became the youngest ever player to play in La Liga. Six years later, he was the undisputed best player in the world with a 2009 Ballon D'Or and FIFA World Player award. On the pitch he was unstoppable.
Winner of La Liga in 05, 06 and 09, like his teammates 09 was to be the greatest year of his (or arguably anyone else who's ever worn a Barcelona shirt's) career. In 2009 he helped his team win six trophies with some incredible performances. Whereas in 05 and 06 he largely let Ronaldinho run the show, 09 was Messi's year.
For Argentina, Messi has had mixed fortunes. Player of the tournament at the 2005 U-20 World Cup and tournament winner, the step up to senior level has been harder. The 06 World Cup was a disappointment although Pekerman could have started Messi more. While an Olympic Gold Medal and Copa America Silver medal aren't bad they are hardly what would be on a typical Maradonna's closest successor candidacy CV.
But the national team is arguably run by an imbecile anyway. And frustration with Messi at home is unwarranted. He matches Maradonna in most other ways. His acceleration, control, balance, touch, vision (44 assists in 185 appearances), pace and skill are frightening. With a 96/185 goal ratio Messi has a record most strikers would die for. And he's only 22.
FIFA Pro XI 07-09, FIFA Young Footballer of the Year 05-08..World Cup Winner 2010?
Striker: Thierry Henry (Arsenal/Barcelona/France)
For better or for worse Henry has been a key figure in most of the recent decades biggest success stories...Even if the b*stard handballed Ireland out of the World Cup!
What are those historical legacies? Think the now legendary Arsenal 'Invincibles' team of 2004 and the soon to be mythical six trophy 2009 Barcelona team. It is no coincidence Henry was part of both.
After transferring to Arsenal from Serie A at the start of the millenium things turned for Henry on the club scene. Arsene Wenger found a new role for Henry as striker for Arsenal and in the first half of the decade we witnessed undoubtedly the world's best most consistent striker tearing apart Premier League defences week in week out.
Two Premier Leagues followed and three FA Cups between 2000-2005 on the back of a better than 1/2 goal haul for Arsenal during these years. Henry made his first European Cup final appearance in 2006, losing ironically to the team he was to join and win it himself with a few years later.
For France, Henry contributed decisively to Euro 2000 winning effort as well as a 2003 Confederations Cup win winning its player of the tournament. In 2006 Henry appeared in his first WC final (he was an unused sub in 1998), unfortunately winning a silver medal on penalties but making its Team of the Tournament.
PFA Player of the year award in 2003 and 2004 and the European Golden Boot winner in 2004 and 2005 (and the first ever player to retain that distinction) spoke of a striker on top of the world. Henry was PL top scorer four different seasons and appeared in the PL team of the year six years in a row. For UEFA, he appeared five years in a row. But for FIFA only in 2006.
How Henry has not won the Ballon D'Or or FIFA World Player in his time has been one of life's great mysteries (Runner up in 2003 and 2004 FIFA World Player).
Things began to change for Henry. A divorce followed and a disappointing reign as Arsenal's captain followed after Vieira's departure. It soon became obvious Henry needed a change of scenery. And to La Liga Henry went.
After a respectable first season with the Catalan giants, 2009 was to prove a watershed. With six trophies in one season, Henry contributed 26 goals in 42 games to make a vital contribution to a historic achievement.
Listed in 2008 as Premier League Fans favourite player of all, the great sportsman image has taken a battering due to controversial circumstances last year in France's 2010 World Cup play-off.
But lets let bygones be bygones. Henry is my striker of the decade.
Manager: Jose Mourinho (Porto/Chelsea/Internazionale)
With five league championships in three different leagues (Portugal, England, Italy), a European Cup and numerous domestic cups, the manager that started the noughties at Benfica and ended up at Internazionale can hardly be accused of not being a winner.
Replacing Jupp Heynces and turning down a request from the legendary Bobby Robson to join him at Newcastle as his assistant, Mourinho started the decade in a situaton of flux and politics at Benfica. It was only after leading Lieira to a highest ever fifth place finish in the Portugeese Liga in 2001 that Mourinho's worth as a promising coach was established.
Mourinho joined Porto midway through the season in 2002. After making some shrewd signings like Paolo Ferreira and Maniche, Porto were to achieve a spectacular season in 2003, winning a UEFA Cup, League and Portugeese Cup treble. The points total achieved that year was a record in the league. In 2004, Mourinho arguably topped that with a League and European Cup double. Porto may well be the last team to ever win the CL outside England, Spain and Italy again.
For his troubles, UEFA and IFFHS awarded Mouinho their manager of the year distinction in both of his trophy laden years with Porto.
A lucrative move to Chelsea followed. Mourinho quickly replaced Ranieri's also ran mindset at Chelsea with a winning mentality and some excellent signings in the form of Didier Drogba and known stalwarts Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira. The ambitious and cocky young coach became a darling of the media ( 2005 BBC Sports Personality Coach Award, New Stateman 2005 'Man of the Year').
The club broke several records en route to a league and league cup double in 2005. Liverpool's controversial semi-final victory stopped Mourinho making a thirrd consecutive European Cup final appearence. A second league followed. Mourinho was PL manager of the year in 2005 and 2006.
However things started to go wrong at Chelsea. Increasingly, Roman Abramovich started making decisions on team signings (like flop Andriy Shevchenko for example) while politics at the club spiled over into team performance. Despite winning a league cup and FA cup double, Mourinho's days looked numbered.
Finally late in 2007 Mourinho departed.
Replacing Roberto Mancini at Inter, given an open cheque book and a brief to win European prestige with Moratti, Mourinho has so far struggled to live up to expectations. This is a great challenge no doubt and the signing of Wesley Sneijder has changed a title winning team. Is it enough? Mourinho has faced greater challenges before.
With tactical acumen, great eye for talent, excellent man management, leadership and motivational skills as well as the ability to become incredibly close to his players, and most importantly (as he himself would argue) the ability to deliver silverware, Mourinho edges Alex Ferguson as the greatest manager of the decade.