World Football: The Top 25 Players of 2010
2010 has been a very special year for football, and can be summed up in one word; historic.
Top of the list has to be Spain winning their first ever World Cup trophy at the first ever World Cup on African soil. This summer’s tournament in South Africa was a memorable time for so many reasons, but Spain’s victory, to go along with the European Championship victory of 2008, makes this Spanish squad a team for the ages.
At club level, there have been historic achievements all over the football world. From Inter Milan’s historic treble, to Twente’s first ever Dutch title, to league and cup doubles for Chelsea, Olympique Marseille and Bayern Munich, to Barcelona’s record-breaking season in retaining their La Liga title, history has been made all over.
That makes this list of the top 25 players of 2010 very difficult to compile, with so many of the world’s top players having won multiple trophies and playing some of the best football of their careers. The good news is that it makes for a high quality list of the world’s top talent.
Hopefully it will prove an enjoyable read.
25. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
For the first three months of this year, Rooney had few equals. In fact, such was the quality of his performances back then that had he maintained that level all year, chances are he would have been firmly rooted in the top five rather than only just scraping into the top 25.
Unfortunately, ever since that ankle injury picked up against Bayern Munich in late March, a combination of injuries, loss of form and off field controversies have left Rooney a shadow of his former self.
It’s a mark of the forward’s importance to both club and country that the absence of a fit and in-form Rooney saw Manchester United exit the Champions League soon after and lose out in a tight title race with Chelsea, and also saw England produce one of their worst World Cup campaigns in recent memory.
Rooney is massively important to United and England, and after signing a new contract, sorting out his off-field misdemeanours and undergoing extensive injury rehabilitation, fans will be hoping that he can recapture the form that saw him lauded as one of the world’s best players not too long ago.
24. Lucho Gonzalez (Olympique Marseille)
Much was expected from Lucho after his big money move from FC Porto to Marseille, but he has already gone a long way to paying back his huge transfer fee with some sparkling performances that helped his new side win their first league title in almost twenty years.
The Argentine midfielder led Ligue Un in assists during his first year in France, helping Marseille to secure a league and cup double and end their long drought without a major trophy. Despite his marvellous form in France, Lucho was criminally overlooked by Diego Maradona when selecting his World Cup squad this summer.
At the age of 29, Lucho is in the prime of his career, and will have a huge part to play in Marseille’s hopes of retaining their league title crown and making an impact in the Champions League knockout stages in 2011.
23. Nani (Manchester United)
The Portuguese winger has made massive strides this year, finally fulfilling the potential that had given Manchester United fans hope that he may fill the void left when Cristiano Ronaldo left the club. Of course Nani is still some way behind his international teammate in terms of overall quality, but he deserves great credit for adding consistency to his previously sporadic bursts of brilliance and becoming one of the Premier League’s top wingers in 2010.
It was clear from day one that Nani was an eye-catching talent; from his unusual hairstyles and colourful boots to his mesmerising stopovers and long range wonder goals, Nani is a born entertainer. Unfortunately for Nani and United, those high quality moments were few and far between and the winger was usually far more prone to wildly inaccurate passing and wasteful dribbling.
That has all changed over the past two seasons, with Nani producing top performances on a far more regular basis and taking on the mantle of being United’s most exciting player and one of their top stars. If he continues to improve and helps United to win trophies in the coming year, he could be a lot higher on this list in twelve months time.
22. Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Lampard’s place on this list owes everything to his early year form in Chelsea’s league and cup double, with summer disappointment at the World Cup and injury problems for much of the new season have made the second half of 2010 far less enjoyable for midfielder.
Still, that first half of the year deserves a great deal of credit, with Lampard’s end of season haul of 22 league goals from midfield unlikely to be rivalled for some time. The less said about England’s World Cup campaign the better, but it is worth bearing in mind that Lampard was actually one of the better performers this summer, and also worth noting the extent to which Chelsea have struggled during his time out with injury.
The return of Lampard will be key to Chelsea’s hopes in 2011, and their fans will be hoping he can get back to doing what he does best; scoring more goals than just about any other midfielder on the planet.
21. Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Love him or hate him, when Didier Drogba is in form, he is almost impossible to contain. The Ivorian powerhouse finished last season with 29 league goals, securing the Premier League golden boot and firing Chelsea to the league title in the process. He also scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final as Chelsea secured their league and cup double.
Drogba is physically dominant and technically brilliant, combining pace, power, a good first touch and a phenomenal shot from almost any distance, as well as being an accomplished set-piece taker from corners, free-kicks and the penalty spot.
On his day, he truly does have few rivals, with his stellar form key in Chelsea’s successes last season, and his current struggles a clear contributory factor in their recent slump. Chelsea will be hoping to see their star striker back to his best as soon as possible, because an in-form Drogba is vital to their hopes of success.
20. Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid)
Alonso’s 2010 performances may not gain the same plaudits as international team mates Xavi and Andres Iniesta, or club colleague Cristiano Ronaldo, but the midfielder is still massively important to both club and country.
Madrid’s signing of Alonso in summer 2009 was treated as a relative afterthought compared to the arrivals of global superstars Ronaldo and Kaka. Yet on the field, Alonso is absolutely pivotal to the way Madrid play, and was instrumental in the team running Barcelona so close in La Liga, breaking their own points record in the process.
Alonso was also a key part of Spain’s World Cup winning side, providing bite in the tackle and quality on the ball alongside Xavi in central midfield. He has continued to be a key figure under new Madrid manager Jose Mourinho and will surely have a huge part to play if Madrid are to achieve success in the coming year.
19. Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)
If you were looking for a definitive example of a breakthrough year, look no further than Thomas Muller’s 2010. Little over twelve months ago, Muller was a reserve player at Bayern with a handful of substitute appearances. Fast forward to the end of the summer, and Muller had become an integral member of not only the Bayern team, but also the German national side.
Not only was he a key player, but he also finished the season as a German league and cup winner, a Champions League finalist, a World Cup semi-finalist, as well as a winner of the Golden Boot award as the World Cup’s top scorer and the recipient of the award for the tournament’s best young player.
On the surface, Muller is not the most spectacular of players; he is competent in all areas, but also far from the fastest, strongest or most skillful. What really sets Muller apart is an intelligence and understanding of the game that belies his tender years and allows him to make the right decision on nearly every occasion and also allows him to impact the game in a number of positions. In 2010, he has made some impact indeed.
18. Carles Puyol (FC Barcelona)
The rugged centre back is one of the most impressive leaders and most passionate characters in world football, a factor that has played a big part in FC Barcelona and Spain’s achievements over the past year. What often gets overlooked is that Puyol is also a very talented footballer. After all, you don’t hold down a place in both the best club side and the best national side in the world unless you can play a bit.
Puyol is first and foremost a defensive stopper, with his main aim being to give opposing forwards as little time and space as possible in the final third, a job he takes very seriously and performs very well. This year in particular though, Puyol has proved a threat at attacking set-pieces, most notably in the World Cup semi-final against Germany, where Puyol’s powerful header proved to be the only goal of the game and sent Spain to their first ever World Cup final.
After captaining Barcelona to another league title, his fourth with the club, and adding football’s ultimate prize to his trophy cabinet in the form o f a World Cup winner’s medal, maybe his few remaining doubters will recognise 2010 as the year Carles Puyol secured his place as one of the greatest defenders of his generation.
17. Julio Cesar (Inter Milan)
For all the deserved praise given to Inter Milan’s highly talented attacking trio, the form of Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar also deserves a lot of credit. The old stereotype of Brazil being unable to produce a top level keeper to go with all their attacking talent is well and truly gone, at least while Cesar is donning the gloves for La Selecao.
Cesar was an ever present for Inter last season as they won Serie A, their domestic cup and the Champions League, with his commanding presence and superb shot stopping skills a key factor in Inter Milan’s defensive strength. The keeper is one of the best in the game, and it is no coincidence that Inter have won five Serie A titles in Cesar’s five years at the club.
16. Maicon (Inter Milan)
The marauding full-back has spent the last year steaming up and down Inter Milan’s in the same vein as numerous great Brazilian full-backs before him. This year it has paid off in some style, as Maicon’s quality at both ends of the pitch helped Inter to their famous treble and earned him the unofficial title of “best right back in the world.”
His only rival to that crown is fellow Brazilian Dani Alves, but it is Maicon who has had possession of the starting spot for the national team for the bulk of the past few years. He justified that selection this summer as he was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing campaign for the Samba boys, with his goal from an almost impossible angle against North Korea one of the goals of the tournament.
Maicon, like his Inter colleagues, hasn’t been at quite the same level so far this season, and was made to look ordinary on both occasions against Tottenham thanks to two stunning performances from Gareth Bale, but on his day he is still the best around, and he more than justifies his place on this list.
15. Gerard Pique (FC Barcelona)
Watching Gerard Pique dominate the defences of both FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team, it’s difficult to believe Manchester United put up so little fight when letting him return to Barca two years ago. Then again, with United having a central defensive pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at the time, and Pique ready to return home, it appeared the Old Trafford side were happy to cut their losses.
United’s loss has certainly been Barca’s gain, with the defender making huge strides in his two and a half years back at Camp Nou and positioning himself firmly in the discussion for the world’s best defenders. With Pique’s physical presence, technical quality and superb passing range, there are very few defenders in the world who can match Pique’s level of ability.
Pique was instrumental in Barcelona and Spain’s success this year, proving himself as the most gifted defender on the La Liga champions and the World Cup winners. He may well be the best centre back in the world already, despite being only 23 years old. Not bad for a player who has only been a top level starter for two and a half years.
14. Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
For all the money spent by Manchester City over the past couple of years, there is little doubt over their best purchase; Carlos Tevez. The forward’s phenomenal work rate and technical brilliance have made him the heartbeat of a City side looking to join Europe’s elite. Even more importantly, Tevez’s phenomenal goal record since joining City has been a key factor in them becoming Premier League title contenders.
Tevez is also a key player for Argentina, and showed glimpses of brilliance at the World Cup this summer, although not enough to save the team from a disappointing exit in the quarter-finals. That disappointment seems to have served as a motivation to Tevez, who has arguably been the Premier League’s best player so far this season.
The news that Tevez was set to hand in a transfer request simultaneously dismayed City fans and excited the fans of every other major club in Europe with the hope that they may have a shot at landing the brilliant Argentine. Fortunately for City, with differences between Tevez and the club seemingly settled, it appears 2011 is set to be his best year yet and may even be the year he delivers a major trophy to the club that rely so heavily on his vast talent.
13. Mesut Özil (Real Madrid)
What a year for the young playmaker. After leading the Bundesliga in assists last season while at Werder Bremen, there were high hopes for Ozil heading into the World Cup. The 22 year old did not disappoint, producing some dazzling displays, most notably in 4-0 victories over Australia and Argentina, as the exciting young German side reached the semi-finals.
After the tournament Ozil found himself one of the most sought after players in this summer’s transfer market, being linked to most of Europe’s top clubs before joining Spanish giants Real Madrid. Ozil has gone from strength to strength this season, providing goals and assists and slotting perfectly into a role behind Madrid’s central striker.
Ozil has already become an integral part of the Real Madrid side under Jose Mourinho, impressing to the point that Brazilian star Kaka will likely have to make do with a place on the bench even when fit. Ozil has made the role is own and looks set to be a Real Madrid star for years to come.
12. David Villa (FC Barcelona)
For David Villa, this year has been the most special of his career; another quality season with Valencia earned him a dream move to Barcelona, and his performances in South Africa this summer helped Spain win their first ever World Cup trophy.
There’s a reason Barcelona splashed out €40m for Villa this summer; he guarantees goals. Close-range tap-ins, long range screamers, instinctive finishes from all areas of the box; Villa can get a goal at any time from almost anywhere in the opposition third. Villa’s goals last season helped Valencia secure an unlikely third place finish, his goals this summer helped Spain’s World Cup triumph and his goals since the start of this season have helped Barcelona make a record-breaking start to this season.
Villa has seemingly improved in every season of his career, adding new qualities to his game, something which has undoubtedly happened already during his time at Barca. Villa has found himself in the unusual role of playing second fiddle to Leo Messi when it comes to goals, but he has adjusted perfectly to his role and has turned into a highly effective provider this term.That said, a total of 11 goals in 16 Liga games – a total secured without taking penalties and whilst also hitting the woodwork nine times already – is still a highly impressive total for this superstar forward.
11. Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan)
Whenever Samuel Eto’o takes to the field, it is clear he only has one thing in mind; put the ball in the back of the net. Eto’o is more than just a goal scorer, but when a striker has a record like Eto’o, goals are always going to be the first thing that comes to mind. Eto’o has scored well in excess of 200 goals over the past decade, as well as a stunning 52 international goals.
This year was no different for Eto’o, who popped up with some vital goals last season on the way to Inter’s treble, giving Eto’o the astonishing achievement of becoming the first player to ever win a treble in consecutive seasons.
This season, Eto’o has looked even better, stepping into the void left by Milito’s absence from the score sheet to score at a rate of better than a goal a game so far. Even with a phenomenal record like that, it seems almost par for the course for a player who has goalscoring in his blood.
10. Diego Milito (Inter Milan)
It took Diego Milito a long time to make his way into the upper echelons of world football, but he did so in style in 2010, finishing as one of the top scorers in the Champions League with six goals, two of which came in the final and helped his club Inter Milan win the trophy for the first time in 44 years.
It’s been a long road to the top for Milito, who scored goals galore during two spells in Serie A with Genoa and a time in La Liga with Real Zaragoza. Still, there were plenty who had doubts over the forward’s ability to cut it at the top level when Inter decided to spend big money on a man about to turn 30.
Milito answered his detractors in some style last season, adding a stunning 22 Serie A goals to his Champions League haul, goals which proved vital to Inter completing their historic treble.
A combination of injury problems and poor form may have prevented Milito from reaching those heady heights so far this season, but Milito has still done more than enough this year to make the top ten of 2010.
9. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)
This summer, when Casillas became the first goalkeeper to captain his country to World Cup victory since Dino Zoff in 1982, it was the crowning achievement on the already glittering CV of this generation’s greatest custodian. Casillas has been amongst the world’s top goalkeepers for over a decade, seemingly brilliant ever since he arrived on the scene as Madrid’s starting keeper back in 1999.
Casillas could well finish his career as the most capped and the most decorated player in the history of both Real Madrid and the Spanish national team. At the age of 29, a mere spring chicken in goalkeeping terms, Casillas has four La Liga titles, two Champions League trophies, a European Championship and World Cup winners medal, making over 500 club appearances and gaining 116 international caps to this point.
Casillas is as good as he has ever been, a vital – if vastly underrated – piece in the Real Madrid puzzle, and could quite feasibly keep going at the top level for another ten years. The first decade was good; who’s to say the next decade won’t be even better?
8. Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
It’s difficult to believe that Bastian Schweinsteiger is still only 26 years old, having clocked up over 300 appearances for Bayern and 84 caps for Germany. After appearing on the scene as a precociously talented teenager who displayed his impressive dribbling skills out on the wing, Schweinsteiger gradually developed into an all-action central midfielder influential at both ends of the field.
While Schweinsteiger was already well respected within European football, few would have counted him amongst Europe’s top midfielders. That has all changed this year, with Schweinsteiger proving pivotal in Bayern’s successes, and also stepping into the role of Germany’s midfield general in the absence of former skipper Michael Ballack.
Schweinsteiger was a revelation in the middle for Germany at this summer’s World Cup, working in tandem with Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil to provide Germany with one of the most impressive midfield trios in the tournament. Schweinsteiger displayed tough tackling, quality passing and strong running and was one of the main factors in Germany reaching the semi-finals. All that and he’s not even reached his peak yet.
7. Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
We always knew Arjen Robben was this good, but in 2010 he finally went about proving it. With his future at Real Madrid looking bleak, Robben was sold off to Bayern on the cheap after he was determined to be out of the picture following the arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Xabi Alonso.
Madrid’s decision proved to be Bayern’s gain, as Robben’s dynamic wing play and impressive goal scoring feats (16 goals in 24 league games) helped Bayern to a domestic double and helped Robben become the first Dutchman to win the Bundesliga’s player of the year award. Robben also put in a number of top performances in the Champions League, particularly in the quarter-finals against Manchester United, where his stunning volley helped Bayern secure victory.
Much was expected of Robben heading into this summer’s World Cup, but the winger suffered a hamstring injury just prior to the start of the tournament which kept him out early on. Robben returned before the end of the group stage and was back to his brilliant best by the Second Round tie against Slovakia, scoring the opening goal and putting in a man of the match performance in the Second Round against Slovakia.
Robben scored again in the semi-final against Uruguay to help Holland make it through to the final. The final itself turned out to be a painful occasion, with Robben missing the two best chances that came Holland’s way, misses that turned out to be costly as Spain got a winner in extra-time to win the trophy and break Dutch hearts.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
It is a mark of Cristiano Ronaldo’s quality that this has been one of his less successful years, despite it being a year in which he became the fastest player ever to reach 50 goals for Real Madrid. There is little doubt that Ronaldo is one of the greatest players in the world right now, and he will surely go down as one of the greatest of his generation.
Yet this year has been a disappointment for Ronaldo in terms of trophies; namely the fact that for the first time in years, he hasn’t won any. When Real Madrid made Ronaldo the most expensive player in history, they expected him to lead them to trophies, but in 2010 at least, Ronaldo and his teammates came up short domestically and in Europe.
The Portuguese superstar also suffered disappointment at the World Cup, with his Portugal side knocked out early on by Spain as Ronaldo suffered from a lack of teammates who were on his level.
The disappointments of his first season in Madrid and his summer at the World Cup seem to have strengthened Ronaldo’s resolve, and the wing forward has taken his performances and particularly his goal scoring to even more breathtaking levels so far this season. Who would count against Ronaldo being a lot higher up this list come the end of next year?
5. Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid)
Uruguay’s goals corer extraordinaire is another who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the latter stages of his career, going from being treated (unfairly) as a laughing stock during his time in England with Manchester United to finishing 2010 with a Europa League winner’s medal, a reputation as one of the world’s top strikers and the Golden Ball award as the World Cup’s best player for his performance this summer with his national side.
Right now, there are not many more accomplished goal scorers in world football than Forlan, scorer of at least double figures in every one of his six seasons in La Liga, and winner of the European Golden Shoe on two separate occasions. Simply put, Forlan is a goal scoring machine, with pace, power, technique and a thunderous shot from distance.
This year was probably the best of Forlan’s career, and prompted speculation of a move to a Champions League club, a move which eventually failed to materialise due to the valuation placed on Forlan by Atletico. At the age of 31, the chances of a move to another European giant seem slim, but that will be music to the ears of Atletico fans who hope to see Forlan banging in the goals for years to come.
4. Andres Iniesta (FC Barcelona)
Iniesta provided without doubt the most iconic moment of 2010 with his extra-time winner that secured Spain’s first ever World Cup triumph, completing a clean sweep of every club and international available to the dynamic midfielder over the past two years.
The Iniesta household will no doubt have required an increase in the size of their mantelpiece given all the team and individual accolades awarded to Barcelona and Spain’s most unassuming superstar. Iniesta’s humble attitude and quiet demeanour would mean he could go almost unnoticed were it not for his sensational talent. His technical brilliance and high football IQ allow him to be deployed to great effect in a number of positions.
Over the past year Iniesta has played wide left in a front three, wide right in a midfield four, behind a central striker and in a deeper midfield position, yet wherever he plays, he seems to make the game as easy and joyful as it was in the school playground. Make no mistake though, despite his youthful looks, it is Iniesta who has looked a man amongst boys when it comes to footballing talent, playing a huge part in Barca’s La Liga triumph and Spain’s World Cup win, achievements which may well see him claim his first Ballon D’Or award in January.
Not that he cares too much for individual awards; the man Barca fans affectionately call the anti-galactico is all about the team, and they love him for it.
3. Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan)
Had Holland won the World Cup final instead of Spain, it could well have been Wesley Sneijder at the top of this list. Few players have enjoyed a greater rise over the past year than the Dutch maestro; deemed surplus to requirements at Real Madrid in summer 2009 but lauded as one of the world’s top players less than a year later.
The reason for that shift has been manager’s who recognised Sneijder’s vast talent and decided to build a team around him. His club manager Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan and Holland’s manager Bert van Marwiijk The result was that Sneijder played a large part in Inter winning an unprecedented domestic and European treble and also led a previously unfancied Holland side to the brink of their first ever World Cup crown.
Of course both his club and international sides featured other top class players, but it is Sneijder who makes both sides tick, with his quality on the ball, delivery from open play and set-pieces as well as an accurate shot from distance making him a threat from anywhere in the opposing third. When Ballon D’or rival Xavi recently expressed his dismay that Sneijder hadn’t made the awards final three man shortlist, it was a mark of just how much respect his fellow players have for him; if only those who give out awards felt the same.
2. Xavi (FC Barcelona)
There are few players who have been more influential on world football over the past decade than Xavi Hernandez. He is the fulcrum around whom the Barcelona and Spanish national sides have been built for the past ten years, and it’s easy to see why. Xavi has made the role of the deep-lying playmaker into an art form, producing chance after chance for his team mates, playing more passes in a game than most players do in two or three games, as well as chipping in with a number of goals from distance.
Xavi led the league in assists last season as Barcelona retained their La Liga title, and was absolutely key to Spain winning their first ever World Cup crown this summer. Players like Xavi come along once or twice a generation; showing defensive discipline, attacking flair, tactical intelligence, unrivalled passing range and strong leadership. That list doesn’t even come close to summing up the full quality of the world’s greatest midfielder, who is on his way to becoming the greatest midfielder in the history of FC Barcelona.
For many years, Xavi did not receive the worldwide recognition that his talents deserved, but his achievements over the past three years have left the world in little doubt that this little maestro is the best in the business. In two weeks time, he may have a Ballon D’Or trophy to add to his trophy cabinet.
1. Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
What more can be written about Lionel Messi that hasn’t already appeared in countless columns, features and reports over recent weeks and months? The little Argentine wizard is widely regarded as the greatest footballer on the planet right now, a true great who may have the potential to go down as the greatest ever if he continues at his current rate.
Messi’s phenomenal goal record (54 goals in 48 games in 2010) this year has played a large part of FC Barcelona’s continued success, as have his ever increasing assist totals (nine in 17 Liga games already this season), but it goes without saying that there so much more to Messi than can be summed up in statistical records.
The way Messi plays football reminds us why this great sport is referred to by some as ‘the beautiful game’ and adored by literally billions across the world. In full flight he appears almost untouchable, seemingly faster with the ball than without it and also possessing an apparent sixth sense for exactly where his teammates are at any given time. Messi has been truly breathtaking once again in 2010, and there may well come a day when fans across the world will no longer have to debate whether Pele or Maradona was the greatest player in history; Messi will have settled that.