it’s that time of year where everyone starts reflecting back on the year that was, and 2009 has certainly been a fun one as far as the football world is concerned. but we get the added benefit this year in that it’s the end of a decade, one where we’ve had some incredible stories and players grace the world’s stage.
as seems to be the case with all of the major news outlets, pundits and bloggers, everyone is putting out their year end lists for the best/worst of the year and decade. i’ve decided that i want in on all of the fun, and will be joining the party. only i’m not going to trouble you with the best and biggest of just this year. no, i’m doing it for the whole damn decade. we’ll do this in two parts:
- my best XI of the decade.
- the biggest stories of the decade (click here to read part two)
let’s dive right in to my team of the decade. i wanted to piece this together like it’s an actual team, so we’re going to choose a formation and run with this. for the sake of keeping my sanity, and based on the players i’ve chosen, i’m going to go with the traditionalists 4-4-2. don’t be insulted if you don’t like the formation.
goalkeeper: gianluigi buffon
italy / juventus
though i thought this position would be hard, it was actually quite easy. buffon lead his italy side to a world cup title at germany 2006, where his team only gave up a staggering 2 goals in the entire tournament (shockingly, one of which was to the USMNT). but in addition to his world cup glory, buffon really earned his selection by his exploits in serie A for juventus. he’s been the club’s starting keeper since 1996, leading them to 4 serie A titles in the 2000’s. however, two of those were stripped due to match fixing allegations, and the club were subsequently relegated to serie B. there was an exodus of the club’s top players for the 2006-2007 season, but buffon stuck it out and lead his side back to the top flight… so he get’s bonus points for being a trooper, too.
left back: roberto carlos
brazil / real madrid, fenerbahçe
my favorite player growing up, i modeled my my own playing style after roberto carlos, so i felt a little biased picking the brazilian for this list. but how couldn’t i? his title credentials during the decade would alone earn him a spot: 2002 world cup champion, three spanish la liga titles, and two champions league titles. throw in his absolutely amazing free kicks, and the fact that he scored 61 goals for his clubs as a freaking defender, and it’s nearly impossible to not include him on this list.
center back: paolo maldini
italy / a.c. milan
sure, i’m playing him a little out of position. but let’s face it, the man could play anywhere on the back line. honestly, there’s a good chance that maldini is the best defender to have ever lived, let alone play during the 2000’s (and the 80’s and 90’s for that matter). he helped milan win two champions league titles during the decade, in addition to a serie a and italian cup title, while he’s deputized the italian side’s defense since 1985. although my most standout memory of the guy came from a friendly against the chicago fire a few years ago where chris rolfe put a move on him and he fell over as rolfe scored.
center back: fabio cannavaro
italy / parma, inter milan, juventus, real madrid
normally when you think of a center back, you think of a tall player who can win the ball in the air. not cannavaro, who despite being only 5’9″, was one of the finest defenders of his generation. he was exceptionally athletic and fantastic at reading the game. serving as a defender who not only could chase players down, cannavaro could also cut off angles and direct an entire team’s defensive strategy. he was rewarded for his talents in 2006, after being the standout player on the italian’s world cup winning side, by being awarded the 2006 fifa world player of the year — the only defender to have ever won the award.
right back: gary neville
england / manchester united
though certainly maligned by the press for his numerous press boycotts, neville’s talent is undeniable. he’s been a staple of the united line up since the mid-90’s, though he’s had some injury struggles during the last few years. none the less, neville has helped the red devils to five premier league titles, an FA cup and a champions league title this decade.
defensive midfielder: patrick viera
france / arsenal, juventus, inter milan
do you remember the panic in the eyes of arsenal fans when viera decided to leave? and though the meteoric rise of cesc fàbregas is due in part to viera’s departure, arsenal haven’t won a trophy since the big frenchman left. viera was the captain and driving force in arsenal’s invincibles period, and he was also one of the most inspiring players in france’s 1998 world cup winning side. it’s hardly a coincidence that viera’s arrivals at juventus’ and inter milan’s rises in prominence.
offensive midfielder: zinedine zidane
france / juventus, real madrid
zidane is one of the greatest players of all time; the perfect mix of skill, intelligence and passion (which is bordering on rage). don’t believe me? watch the documentary “zidane: a 21st century portrait”. as 17 different cameras exclusively follow the oft misunderstood zidane in a match for madrid, you get to see all sides of this legend: his quiet nature, his brilliant goal creating abilities, and his anger as he is foolishly sent off. buy — don’t rent — this movie if you love the game; you won’t be dissapointed. oh yeah, and his resume is okay too: twice a world player of the year, world cup winner, champions league winner (including the brilliant winner against bayer leverkusen in the final), and league titles at both juventus and madrid.
i always thought that zidane was a top class player, but it took me seeing him play in person to truly appreciate his greatness. sitting in chicago’s soldier field, i watched zizou intentionally play slower than all of the opposing players from chivas de guadalajara, and he was making absolute fools of them. as the mexican defenders scrambled about at a thousand miles an hour, zidane seemed to be on a walk in the park, playing brilliantly simple touches, passes and dribbles. this is the reason i choose him as not only a member of my best XI for the 2000’s, but also as the player of the decade.
left wing: ronaldinho
brazil / grêmio, paris saint- germain, barcelona, a.c. milan
so what if he is now a shell of the player that taught us what “joga bonito” was. think back to the beginning of the decade, when ronaldinho’s fancy tricks, playful nature, and breathtaking play led brazil and barcelona to the pinnacle of the sport. for the first four years of the 2000’s, ronaldinho gaucho was a force in the sport. he inspired millions of us to go into our backyards/streets and try to do things with the ball that we’ver never done before. and while having so much fun, he captured a boatload of honors: a world cup title in 2002, also twice a world player of the year, two la liga titles, and a champions league winner’s medal.
right wing: cristiano ronaldo
portugal / sporting lisbon, manchester united, real madrid
you know, i struggled to put ronnie on this list… in the same way that i contemplated putting messi in this spot as well. there rises to the top of the game have been meteoric, and both are by far the most dominant players in the world at the moment. but i felt that putting either of them here would compromise this list because they’ve only recently come to sit at their thrones at the top of the game. but then i thought more about it, and decided what the hell. i’m giving it to ronaldo though, because he’s been at this level a bit longer than messi. ronaldo has been sublime the last few years, and his sheer output of goals in the last four seasons has been almost unprecedented (104 goals in 167 appearances). he helped manchester united to three premier league titles, an f.a. cup, and a champions league trophy, not to mention a second champions league final. and, honestly, how can you leave a player of this list that cost $132 million dollars? oh yeah, you can’t.
striker: thierry henry
france / arsenal, barcelona
although his star has faded a bit since his days at highbury (partially thanks to his handball debacle against ireland), henry at his peak was awe inspiring to watch. sublime is the word that comes to mind when thinking of him, and henry made it look so easy. his nose for goal was, often times, mesmerizing. i watched maybe 20 of his strikes on youtube, and singled out these two (#1 & #2) as the cream of the crop, although i easily could have included ten. and though he was responsible for putting my spurs to the sword on many occasions, and then made his dream switch to real madrid’s hated catalan rivals, it is and was always a joy to watch him play.
brazil / inter milan, real madrid, a.c. milan, corinthians
a team of the decade would not be complete without t o fenômeno on the pitch. what can you say about ronaldo that hasn’t already been said? he was a beast on the pitch, scoring goals like they were going out of style. though he only won one of his three world player of the year awards during this decade, let’s not forget that he wont it after he had reconstructive knee surgery. there’s hardly any argument that he wasn’t one of the most feared strikers in the world during most of this time, and he was particularly prolific while playing for real madrid.
so there you have it, my best XI for the 2000’s. it was by no means any easy task of picking this list, as i had to leave off so many fantastic players (messi, john terry, claude makélélé, ryan giggs, cafu, steven gerrard, kaká, oliver kahn, raúl, luís figo, etc.). disagree with any of my selections? let me know about it!
and be sure to check back for the second portion of this post, with my selections for the biggest stories of the decade up next. (click here to read part two)