European Football Awards: Picking the Top 20 Midfielders of the 2010-11 Season
Lists are always subjective and a player's value may differ from opinion to opinion. That being said, I've decided to use two simple guidelines.
1) I've only picked midfielders from the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A. Why? I've watched the large majority all four aforementioned leagues, so I can make a balanced judgement on a midfielders' competency.
2) To ensure fairness and balance amongst the four leagues, I've included a quota of five players per league.
20. Santi Cazorla
For football fans who are familiar with Santi Cazorla, they always seem to mention the fact that he can kick with both feet, and I always reply with point being?
Ferenc Puskás played with one foot, Diego Maradona played with one foot, Rivaldo played with one foot and Lionel Messi plays with foot; they all seemed to have had fruitful careers.
Though what you can’t take away from Cazorla is his boisterous displays for Villarreal, and like his teammate Borja Valero; Cazorla does not get enough credit.
19. Andrea Cossu
Whether it’s his splendid through ball, or him nonchalantly skipping past outstretched defenders, it’s a pleasure to watch Andrea Cossu play.
Cossu may be Roberto Donadoni and Cagliari’s most prized asset; though at best, Cossu is a poor man’s Andrés Iniesta.
18. Samir Nasri
Samir Nasri started the season like a house on fire; at one point, scoring seven goals and providing three assists in 10 games.
Whilst Gareth Bale also had a quick start to the season, he noticeably deteriorated throughout the remainder of the season, whereas Nasri’s performances were good, but not spectacular.
From a contract perspective, Nasri should rightfully ask for a wage increase, as was the case with Claude Makélélé and Florentino Pérez.
Unlike Pérez who couldn’t deny a Real Madrid with Makélélé in it won seven trophies in the span of three years; Arsenal can point to their empty trophy cabinet as a rationale to why Nasri shouldn’t deserve a wage increase.
Perhaps that is why Arsenal are locked in a contract dispute with Nasri and his agent Alain Migliaccio.
The alternative theory is that Nasri is purposely forcing his way out of Arsenal, knowing that Arsenal won’t give him a wage increase.
17. Stefano Mauri
There can be parallels between Stefano Mauri and Dirk Kuyt; both fly under the radar, both are hard working, and both aren’t the most talented or technical players in the squad.
Mauri’s six goals and nine assists in 30 games for Lazio is statistically solid.
Though one should also appreciate the work Mauri does without possession, the tracking back, the defensive pressure, the pressing; something that his team Mauro Zárate fails to do.
16. Xabi Prieto
When football fans see the name Xabi, they think of Xabi Alonso; start getting acquainted to the name of Xabi Prieto.
The 27 year old midfielder has been with Real Sociedad since he was 14, even toughing it out for three seasons in the Segunda División.
With Real Sociedad back in La Liga and struggling again; it is hard not to notice Prieto.
The classy midfielder carried Real Sociedad; 41% of their goals were contributed directly or partly through Prieto.
Real Sociedad escaped relegation by two points, and one can make the claim that without Prieto, the Txuri-urdin would be back in the Segunda División.
15. Charlie Adam
Deemed surplus to requirements at Rangers, Charlie Adam became an integral part of Ian Holloway’s ambitious project at Blackpool.
Holloway was unabashed at his attempts to play good attacking football over dogged pragmatic and defensive football.
As a result, Adam shined and has ensured he has a future in the English Premier League, though unfortunately Blackpool’s future does not look so pleasant.
14. Gokhan Inler
As Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin incorporated his unorthodox yet exciting 3-5-2 formation, Gokhan Inler was resolute in midfield all season long.
13. Rafael Van Der Vaart
Rafael Van Der Vaart’s 15 goals and nine assists for £8 million have come at a good value for Tottenham Hotspur.
Whilst his fitness has always raised questions, Van Der Vaart brought an extra touch of quality in a midfield that already included Gareth Bale and Luka Modrić.
10 goals and 19 assists in 48 games is an excellent return rate, yet one can’t help but notice the little things which still hold Nani back.
For a player who provided 19 assists during the season, one can make the inference that he is a team player, yet Nani does not track back enough.
Why else do you think Sir Alex Ferguson opted for the hard working and direct Antonio Valencia over Nani in the UEFA Champions League final?
Then there’s Nani’s blatant diving.
11. Franck Ribéry
Only a while back there were whispers that Franck Ribéry was on the decline.
A decline in pace? Yes. A decline in quality and productivity? No.
At 28 years of age, it’s unlikely that Bayern Munich will make a profit let alone recoup the €25 million transfer fee they paid to Marseille for Ribéry’s services.
10. Javier Pastore
There’s a touch of Fernando Redondo in Palermo’s Javier Pastore, in that he isn’t the quickest nor the strongest, yet his vision, his elegance and his technical ability is one to rejoice over.
Whilst Redondo lacked goals, Pastore’s style of scoring goals have at times been reminiscent of Gabriel Batistuta; perhaps best illustrated when Pastore scored a "perfect” hat-trick against Catania.
9. Thomas Müller
When Diego Maradona thought Thomas Müller was a ball boy, perhaps one should have known Maradona hadn't bothered with research.
Maradona would definitely know who Müller was after he wheeled away in celebration having scored against Argentina in the 2010 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals.
Müller has been an exceptional player so far for both Bayern Munich and Germany.
In a season where Bayern Munich struggled, Müller’s ability to create for his teammates, whilst also having the knack of scoring goals has been invaluable, and will continue to be invaluable for both Bayern Munich and Germany.
8. Scott Parker
Alan Curbishley told Goals on Sunday at Sky Sports, “Scotty's never late for training, never late for team meetings, all of those sorts of things that perhaps don't mean too much, but he's a proper pro. That's what Scotty Parker is”.
Curbishley then recanted the story of how a young and ambitious Parker asked how he would get into the Carlton Athletic starting 11. Curbishley told him that Claus Jensen was a great attacking player, yet did not track back, and a position would be available for Parker if he could fulfil a defensive midfield role.
For the next few months, Parker diligently worked on his defensive game in the reserves, and then broke into the Carlton Athletic first team—145 games later, he was sold to Chelsea for £10 million.
For West Ham United, Parker’s heart, determination, leadership inspired West Ham to almost beat the drop.
Parker has put his body on the line time after time, yet there is also a touch of quality, as evident with his stunning goal against Chelsea.
As West Ham begin to get accustomed to life without the Premier League, Parker will have no difficulties finding a Premier League club.
Arsenal must sign him, it doesn’t matter if they can't recoup his transfer fee.
He is what Arsenal need right now; steel and add in a new centre back, and perhaps even an new attacking midfielder assuming Samir Nasri leaves.
7. Mario Götze
English football fans marvel over how developed Jack Wilshere is, yet for German football fans, young football prodigies are of common occurrence.
Borussia Dortmund‘s Mario Götze who only recently turned 19, is just another German footballer playing well beyond his age.
In one season of football, Götze has left Die Schwarzgelben supporters with memories of him stringing passes from all sorts of angles or weaving his way past defenders with such grace—that the next time he attempted such a move, he was fouled (sometimes quite violently).
Now Götze needs to repeat his performance and perhaps even better it, with Borussia Dortmund playing in the UEFA Champions League—without Nuri Şahin.
Hopefully football fans’ first impressions of Hernanes do not contain his impression of Nigel De Jong, as Hernanes kung fu kicked Karim Benzema in a friendly.
There’s elegance, flamboyance and a samba vibe to Hernanes’ game which would make the late Telê Santana nod in approval.
Hernanes is the reason for Lazio’s revitalisation, and will continue to be their talisman assuming they can keep hold of him.
5. Mesut Özil
There’s a certain lackadaisicalness to Mesut Özil’s game that you’d think would drive José Mourinho bonkers.
Though the crafty technician has scored seven goals and provided 24 assists in 47 games—perhaps allowing Mourinho to overlook Özil’s laziness.
4. Andrés Iniesta
One of the finest technicians in world football, and perhaps is one part of the world’s best midfield combination.
Blessed with excellent dribbling ability, passing vision and composure; Iniesta has consistently performed at a high level for Barcelona and Spain.
3. Arturo Vidal
When I see the name of Arturo, I think of the late boxing great Arturo Gatti, who endured blood, sweat and tears to get to the top.
Bayer Leverkusen’s Arturo Vidal may not have endured blood and tears (yet), but there is no doubt he has sweated a lot for his club.
For a player who did so much dirty work in midfield—contested challenges, threw his body around, tracked opposing players, pressed hard, and just ran, ran and ran—Vidal still scored 13 goals and provided 12 assists during the season.
It’s a testament to how complete of a player Vidal is, and remember Bayer Leverkusen bought Vidal as a defender.
Without doubt, the most complete midfielder in Europe this season.
The question is can Vidal possibly sustain such an energy consuming style of play yet also be productive for seasons to come? Probably not.
2. Nuri Şahin
For football fans who have not watched Nuri Şahin play, think Cesc Fàbregas.
Şahin is an orchestrator; he controls the tempo, he’s a technician, and seemingly every one of his possession just oozes of class.
Enough talking about how good he is, it’s outrageous that Real Madrid managed a coup in signing Nuri Şahin, the best player in the Bundesliga, for just €10 million.
Forget about José Mourinho tapping up Şahin, it’s a facepalm when you think Borussia Dortmund set a €6.5 million buyout clause in Şahin’s contract—or €10 million, it doesn’t matter because Borussia Dortmund let go the best player in the league for a fee so disproportionally low to his playing ability.
What a fail from the Borussia Dortmund management who have so far succeeded on a combination of youth policy and bargain based transfer policy: Roman Weidenfeller for free, Łukasz Piszczek for free, Neven Subotić for €3.5 million, Shinji Kagawa for €350 000 (yes €350 000!), Kevin Großkreutz for free and Lucas Barrios for €4.2 million.
Then again perhaps it was inevitable that Şahin was going to leave.
It’s a dog eat dog world, as Real Madrid poached Şahin from Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Dortmund poached German born Turkish starlet Ilkay Gündogan from Nuremberg.
Well what we do know is that the next prodigious talent Borussia Dortmund sign, they’re going to write in a €50 million buyout clause into the contract.
Xavi is a walking embodiment of the Barcelona style of football, the fact that technique supersedes physique, the fact that offensve supersedes defence, beautiful football supersedes pragmatic football.
The classiest technician in world football, and there’s no doubt that he is best midfielder in the world.