Messi, Bale, Fàbregas and the Copa América: What Will 2011 Bring?

Chris Forero@@FurnaccioCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2011

Messi, Bale, Fàbregas and the Copa América: What Will 2011 Bring?

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    Will 2011 be the year Messi replicates his Barcelona form at the national team levelKoji Watanabe/Getty Images

    2010 was an interesting year in the world of football. Spain won their first World Cup, which was unfortunately marred by horrible officiating and complaints about too many teams playing defensive.  

    Sepp Blatter and company, in an interesting turn of events, selected Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.  

    Other than Ghana, the African nations still have a ways to go on the international stage. Brazil and Argentina, despite their roster strength on paper and high expectations, reached the quarter finals of the tournament, which many found as a failure.

    At the club level, "The Special One," Jose Mourinho, led Inter Milan to their first Champion's League title in over 40 years; which was then followed up by him leaving Italy to manage Real Madrid.  

    FC Barcelona was nearly perfect in 2010 and had three players as the three finalists for the FIFA Ballon d'Or.  In addition to that, many of the players form FC Barcelona stirred up a boat load of controversy by expressing their desire to see fellow Catalan, Cesc Fàbregas, come back to his roots.  

    Gareth Bale bulldozed his way to world class status and is on his way to being the best player on the left side of the pitch since Roberto Carlos.  

    While players like Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Ronaldo, Roberto Ayala and Ryan Giggs have wound down their careers, a new breed emerges with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Romelu Lukaku as the stars of the future.

    What should we expect to see in 2011?

What Should We Expect From Gareth Bale In 2011?

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    Was 2010 a freak year for Bale or is he here to stay?Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Without a shadow of a doubt, Gareth Bale was the breakthrough player of 2010. Not many players can say that they single-handedly manhandled Inter Milan, but Bale sure did. His blistering pace and play-making ability have turned Tottenham into a legit contender this season, both in the Champions League and the EPL.

    Just ask Arsenal and Inter for confirmation.

    Anytime Tottenham scores a goal, odds are the kid from Wales is somehow involved. That will probably continue in 2011 as the Spurs make a run for a top four finish in England and face AC Milan in the first knockout round of the Champions League. Bale's legend may grow even further if the Spurs take down the other team from the San Siro.   

    The big question will be where Bale will end up after this season. Should the Spurs finish in the top four of the EPL, it will be highly unlikely Bale gets sold. Alternatively, if they finish outside the top four expect to see many of the richer clubs make a high priced bid for the left midfielder/left back.  

    Personally, it is best for Bale to stay at White Hart Lane and help Tottenham turn into a top club in England and Europe. Selling Bale and bringing in new blood is not always a step in the right direction.  

    With Rafael van der Vaart revitalizing his career alongside Bale, the Spurs are just a couple of  players away from being in the same category as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.  

    A player like Gareth Bale does not come very often and the Spurs must do everything they can to keep him there for the long term.

Cesc Fàbregas and FC Barcelona: The Saga Continues

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    If Puyol really wants Cesc to come to Barcelona, maybe him and several of the players should chip in some of their wages to help increase their bid?Daniel Sastre Huertas/Getty Images

    We are not too far away from another spring/summer soap opera starring FC Barcelona and Cesc Fàbregas.

     The drama will probably begin when Barcelona and Arsenal face off in the upcoming Champions League knockout round. Regardless of the outcome, everyone from the players, field crew and people who are six degrees of separation from Fàbregas will say things such as:

    "Cesc's father's roommate from college, who heard from the milkman, that delivers milk to the Fàbregas family claims that Cesc is unhappy at Arsenal."

    According to Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, Victor Valdez, Xavi, Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi "We miss our drinking buddy and we need him for our weekly flip cup challenge."

    "Fàbregas is being held hostage by Arsene Wenger."

    According to Xavi, "I want to play in less games next season, so I can go to Ibiza more often. Fàbregas  wants to come here and play part time."

    The list goes on and on as to what will be quoted by everyone, except for the actual people involved in the decision making.

     It will be quite a shame when soccer websites will be looking for anything that can stick to the wall about the Fàbregas-Barcelona link and quotes and stories will be used that have no substantiation. All it will do is create more drama and waste everyone's time when all these bogus articles come out.

    If the players from Barcelona are that adamant about Cesc coming to Barcelona, maybe they should put up some of their own wages in addition to whatever bid Barcelona can realistically afford in order to get Arsenal to sell the the 23-year-old footballer who happens to be the third or fourth best playmaker in the world.  

    In any case, be prepared for another spring/summer of "Days of Fàbregas' Lives."  If a deal happens, hopefully it will happen as soon as possible so that supporters can read about some real stories.

2011 Copa América

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    Can Argentina win a FIFA tournament for the first time since 1993?Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    This summer, we will get to see the 43rd edition of the Copa América.

    During the month of July, the national teams from South America, Japan and Mexico will square off. The host nation, Argentina, is in the same group as Bolivia, Colombia and Japan. Brazil is in the same group as Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela; and Uruguay is set to face Chile, Mexico and Peru (Note: Mexico will be allowed to send their 2012 U-23 Olympic Team).

    During the 2010 World Cup, all the South American teams made it to the elimination rounds. Out of all of them, Uruguay went the furthest and made it as far as the semifinals and played in the game of the tournament, when they defeated Ghana in the quarterfinals.  

    Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay made it to the quarterfinals, while Chile were knocked out by Brazil in the round of 16. Given these results, the Copa América will be redemption for coming home empty-handed from South Africa (except for Diego Forlan).

    Judging from the international friendlies since the World Cup, each team has adopted a different strategy/manager en route to Argentina.  

    Uruguay has looked the same thus far since the World Cup and with Edinson Cavani stepping up to becoming a world class striker, Uruguay must be considered a favorite. Óscar Tabárez remains the manager and they will build on their impressive World Cup run and recent string of friendly performances.  

    Despite their recent loss to Brazil, the Chileans will not be the same without Marcelo Bielsa around. Hopefully, Chile can rebound from the absence of one of the world's best managers.

    Brazil replaced Dunga with Mano Menezes and has gone with an all-youth movement thus far. The impression seems that this year the Copa América may not be a priority and the goal will be to give youngsters like Neymar, David Luiz, Lucas, Ramires, etc. as many caps as possible before the 2014 World Cup.  

    Argentina hired Sergio Batista as the new manager and has brought back players like Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, who despite their world class form, were omitted from the World Cup for mediocre players like Mario Bolatti and Ariel Garcé.  

    In addition to those two world class veterans returning, Batista has stuck with many experienced veterans and has been doing the exact opposite of Menezes. Only two players are somewhat new to the system: Javier Pastore and Éver Banega.  

    Once Batista figures out the proper midfield to use, Argentina will be able to benefit from having the best corps of strikers in the world.  

    This leads to the next big story for 2011—Lionel Messi. 

Lionel Messi: How Can He Top 2010?

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    A third Ballon d'Or will be guaranteed if Messi and Argentina can win the Copa America this yearMichael Steele/Getty Images

    In 2007 and 2008, Lionel Messi was the runner up for player of the year. In 2009 he reached the summit. In 2010...World Player of the Year...again! So, where can he go from here? Going into 2010, Messi set the bar for himself and had an even better year.  

    At the club level, there is no argument about how amazing Messi has been. In just the span of four years, Messi has emerged from being an up and coming star to one of the best players to ever wear an FCB shirt.

     In 2011, Barcelona will most likely finish atop of La Liga and will have a strong Champions League run (unless Arsenal pulls off the unthinkable).  

    The main issue that separates Messi from being a generational star to being an all-time great is his form at the international level. Since the departure of Juan Roman Riquelme, Messi has been missing a playmaker to pull the strings from the midfield.

    During 2010, Messi has been able to show improvement, but suffered due to the lack of tactics from manager Diego Maradona and a weak midfield.  

    With the rise of Éver Banega as a solid box to box midfielder with deep playmaking ability and Javier Pastore who is more attack minded, these two midfielders may be the solution to making Messi of Argentina be like Messi of Barcelona. 

    If Messi can lead Argentina to international glory at the Copa América, he will have taken a huge step in proving that he can shine at both the club and international level. In recent friendlies, Messi has begun to put some goals on the scoreboard, but the Copa América will be the first step over the next four years to see if he can accomplish what players like Ronaldo, Zidane and Pelé have been able to do for both club and country.  

    Assuming that his Barcelona form will not change for the worse this season, a Copa América title will pretty much guarantee a three-peat for player of the year.

The New Breed

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    Ganso and Neymar are two players crucial for future of International FootballJeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    The beautiful thing about sports in general is that for every player who is on the decline and whose glory days are behind him, there is someone else on the rise. The players are hungry to be as big as David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Ronaldo, Andriy Shevchenko and Ruud van Nistelrooy were in their primes.

    During 2010, players like Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Ganso, Romelu Lukaku and Jack Wilshere were just a few players who became more mainstream and showed the potential to be big stars at all levels. 

    Neymar drew quite a buzz during 2010 with his "almost-transfer" to Chelsea. He had a few problems on the pitch where his maturity was put into question, but it seems Neymar has been able to get over that obstacle and regain his place on the national team. If Neymar does not leave Santos in this upcoming transfer window, he will definitely be signed by a European side after he makes an impact in the Copa América.  

    Philippe Coutinho, who is another Brazilian, made his debut for Inter Milan in 2010 at just 18-years-old.

    In quick fashion, he became a regular under Rafa Benitez, but now with Leonardo in charge, the young Brazilian may get more playing time as this year progresses. With the depth of attacking midfielders Brazil now has from the youth ranks, Coutinho will either feature in the Copa América or the U-20 World Cup for Brazil. At the club level, the young Brazilian will continue to learn from players like Dejan Stanković and Wesley Sneijder.  

    Paulo Henrique aka Ganso, has been quite the playmaker for Santos in Brazil the past two years, and he made his debut for Brazil in the fall of 2010 as the new No. 10, but went down with injury for a significant period of time. While he may not be ready for the Copa América, Ganso will be primed for a move to a top side in Europe once he regains his fitness and form during the upcoming Paulista state tournament. 

    It has been awhile that Belgium has produced a true world class player. Things are about to change with Romelu Lukaku (and let's not forget Eden Hazard as well).  At 16-years-old, Lukaku was the top scorer of the Belgian Pro League. At 17, he is on the radar for teams like Real Madrid and Chelsea.  

    Nicknamed "Baby Drogba," he has the size and physical strength to make it big in the EPL. He also has the grace and touch to be a top striker in La Liga. Realistically speaking, he will most likely finish out the season at Anderlecht before making his move to the big time.

    It is amazing that Lukaku has already become a veteran at the age of 17. He has seen action at the international level for Belgium, played in Champions League Qualifiers and has seen plenty of minutes in the Europa League.

    Off the field, the youngster still has plans to finish school and knows that his time will come to be a world class striker.  

    Jack Wilshere wasted no time in 2010 in making a name for himself. After a loan spell with Bolton, Wilshere showed he was ready for life in the EPL. Young Jack established a solid partnership with Alex Song as the two defensive midfielders for Arsenal.  

    This year should be a good year for the Englishman as he gets more opportunities at the national team level. Eventually someone will have to replace Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Who better than Jack Wilshere?  

    Over time, he will establish himself as the premier box to box midfielder when he gets more chances to play as an attacking midfielder. For now he is proving that he can be defensive and play as an enforcer in the midfield.  

Other Big Stories For 2011

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    Don't ask Arjen Roben what to expect in 2011...he does not know!Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    2011 is off to the races and there are so many other big stories to come over the next twelve months that will affect the football world.  

    In the EPL, there are currently three teams that are vying for first place. Man United is currently the favorite, despite their average form this season. Man City, under Roberto Mancini, have not played brilliantly, but have been doing enough to keep themselves in contention for a top spot. Arsenal, despite the Fàbregas drama and complacent performances against weaker sides is still fighting for a place at the top.

    Every Saturday and Sunday, we see a different team at the top of the table. A league that has been historically dominated by Chelsea and Man United is now seeing teams like Man City and Tottenham threatening the usual suspects (Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal).  

    Liverpool, on the other hand, was once atop of the world and is now fighting for a spot to play in Europe. Currently at the middle of the table, who knows where they will end up at the end of the season. At their current form, Liverpool will probably have to take a year off from European competition and focus on just doing well in England first and foremost.

    In La Liga, it looks like another season that only two teams will vie for bragging rights. Even with José Mourinho leading Real Madrid this season, it will not be easy to get past Barcelona, who right now seem unstoppable.  

    Another tournament that does not get enough recognition is the Europa League. Recent winners include Atlético Madrid, Shaktar Donetsk and Sevilla. This year, FC Porto look to be the odds on favorite to take the title. With a front line of Hulk, Silvestre Varela and Radamel Falcao, there are few teams that have as much depth as the Portuguese powerhouse.  

    In addition to their forwards, the midfield has become very deep with the likes of João Moutinho, Fernando Belluschi, Freddy Guarin, James Rodríguez, Rúben Micael and Fernando all at the disposal of manager André Villas-Boas.

    Later this year, we will also get to see the U-20 World Cup. In recent U-20 World Cups, players like Sergio Agüero, Lionel Messi and Dominic Adiyiah opened the eyes of many around the world. This August, the tournament will be held in Colombia. It will be interesting to see which stars will come out of this tournament to become household names in the future.  

    2011 is shaping up to be another fun filled year of exciting football with lots of drama, action and interesting stories.