this is part IX in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.
Off all the positional choices for the wrong side XI series that I compiled since the beginning of the summer, my offensive mid selection has probably fluctuated more than any of the others. Of the five “lucky” men that managed to make this shortlist, all of them have occupied the top spot at least once or twice since I began work on this project. So as you might have guessed, making my final selection has been very, very difficult.
Complicating the issue is that all five of these players has been in phenomenal form over the last 18 months. They’re often one of the first names on their respective club’s teamsheets each match day, and are by far some of the most visible players on the field during those matches. Each is the central creative force for their club, and their play often dictates the fate of the outcome of the matches in which they take part.
Part of me wishes I could just pick them all. Hell, if I were to abandon the game plan I lined out in the first post in this series, and instead replaced it with a system akin to Barcelona’s interchangeable top four, I almost could have.
Unfortunately for no one but me, that’s not how I want to run my imaginary team. so we’ll have to narrow this down to just one midfield wizard… follow my thought process after the jump.
5. Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan)
Holland international (77 caps)
Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament, FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (’10), FIFPro World XI (’10), UEFA Team of the Year (’10)
When I first compiled this list, Sneijder had the top spot on lockdown. In the time frame from when he joined Inter through to the months following World Cup 2010, he was undeniably one of the best two or three center midfielders in the game. Under the tutelage of Mourinho, he blossomed into the creative maestro that Internazionale needed to win to their first European crown since 1965. Of course, it was also on his pint-sized shoulders that Holland rode all the way to the World Cup final.
Sneijder’s relatively tiny stature isn’t unique on this list (all but one player is under 5’8″), but he’s definitely the most sturdy of them. His low center of gravity, combined with a tenacious and aggressive attitude, mean he is able to boss the midfield even when amongst larger players. He’s a prized dead ball specialist, has a massive shot from distance in the run of play, and is a very accurate passer due to his high ambidexterity. All around, he’s a brilliant little player.
So why is Wesley so far down on the list? Inter have been absolutely horrid this season, languishing in and around the relegation zone since the start of the campaign, and his absence through injury for most of the campaign has played a big part in that. But you can’t fault the guy for getting hurt. No, it’s that fiery personality that turns me off. Sneijder is only happy when he’s getting the minutes, and if he were to get hurt or fall out of favor, he doesn’t seem to handle it that well.
That, and I’ll never be able to get over my jealousy of his very, very attractive wife.
4. Luka Modrić (Tottenham Hotspur)
Croatia international (52 caps)
Bosnian League Player of the Year (2003), Croatian Player of the Year (’07), Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament
When Tottenham first signed the dainty Croatian for a club-record tying £16.5 million, cries from the media that he was too small and fragile to play in a brutish Premier League abounded. But after the punditry was collectively dazzled by Modrić at that summer’s Eruopean Championships, the consensus immediately became Tottenham had actually pulled off the steal of the summer. Ever since, he’s done nothing but reinforce and underline the fact that he’s actually one of the most talented midfielders on the planet.
Light on his feet and extremely intelligent on the ball, there’s no secret in why Chelsea chased his signature so ardently last summer: Luka is the perfect player to orchestrate an offense full of other flashier, star players. If you make the right run, or get yourself into the right space, he’ll find you. And if those runs and spaces aren’t on, he’ll hold on to the ball just long enough to make room for another to materialize. Though his tininess might make you think this style is a dangerous move, he’s superb at getting rid of the ball before he is chopped down or loses possession.
As a Spurs fan, it was hard not placing him higher on the list. I love the little guy, and have been impressed by his professionalism throughout the Chelsea-chase affair. But my hesitation to select him mainly comes down to the fact that he’s not that adaptable of a player (he’s not fared as well when Redknapp has played him on the flank) and that he’s been known to be a defensive liability at times due to his size. Though with the monsters I’d have playing behind him, I suppose it wouldn’t be that risky of a move.
3. Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona)
Spain international (63 caps)
Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament, Don Balón Award (2009), FIFPro XI (’09, ’10), UEFA Team of the Year (’09, ’10), World Cup All-Star Team (’10)
Creating this positional shortlist without including at least one member of the Barça midfield would have been a crime against humanity. Choosing which midfielder would make this particular position? Not so easy of a task. Luckily, I included (and even selected) Xavi in the holding mid list, so that at least rules him out.
Speaking of Xavi, another supposed “problem’ in picking Iniesta is how intertwined his perceived talent is with that of his international and club teammate. Together, they’re the ultimate 1-2 punch. Their games seem to compliment one another perfectly. Xavi tends to sit back a bit further and dish out to a darting and dashing Iniesta. While both are known for their stellar first touch and pinpoint passing ability, Iniesta is better known for his off-ball movement and ability to predict where space will open up in behind the backline and the midfield.
But while Xavi is generally universally praised for his play, it seems that Iniesta is never fully attributed for his own good play. It’s unfortunate, especially since he’s shown himself to play really well even when Xavi is missing. I’m even falling victim to this perception by not picking him, even though I have his
soul mate midfield partner selected in my squad. I mean, I couldn’t even write three measly paragraphs on the guy without slipping Xavi’s name in a half dozen times.
2. David Silva (Manchester City)
Spain international (54 caps)
EPL Player of the Month (9/2011)
I absolutely hate — and I chose that word wisely — that Silva ended up at Manchester City. Ever since he lit the fields of Switzerland/Austria ablaze during Euro 2008, I’ve been enamored with the guy. He even looked destined to land in Madrid after a very successful spell at Valencia, so I was even more devastated when City swooped in and “persuaded” him with what was surely titanic weekly wage offering.
With the way Silva’s playing right now, you can’t hardly blame City for throwing the bank at him. He’s hands down been the best player in the Premier League this season to this point, and his good form is definitely the spark for a side that seems to be running riot (except for in Europe, in which I take great delight). He’s nimble like a cat, has brilliant vision, and has the same ability as Modrić to somehow evade being crushed by larger opposition. Though very similar in style and size to the Croatian, the Spaniard is a more accurate and regular finisher, and thus giving him the edge.
And if nothing else, I like to take solace in the (perhaps fabricated) idea that City chose to scoop up such a wily, scrawny player after seeing how effective Modrić has been for Spurs.
1. Mesut Özil (Real Madrid)
Germany international (29 caps)
Yes, you’re reading that name above correctly. So what if he looks like a Turkish ghost that’s smoked way too much pot. If you’ve ever taken the time to actually sit down and watch Özil play — either for Germany or Madrid — you’d completely understand why I made him my first choice.
As I mentioned when describing the former Madrista Sneijder, all but one of the players I shortlisted for attacking center mid were little guys. Özil, however, isn’t. He stands in at a modest 5’11”… but that extra 3-4 inches of height also make him a much more imposing player. Not that he needs the extra size, as he plays with the same style and charisma as Silva and Modrić. The difference, aside from the obvious size difference, is the guy does it all at a surprisingly high speed. He’s a master improviser and — at the risk of drawing the ire of other fans — has much more creative in vision than even Silva or Iniesta. Perhaps it’s because he can see above his opposition… I kid… kinda.
Still not convinced? Despite being signed a year later, he’s unseated former World Player of the Year Kaká from the starting spot for Los Blancos. Even though Ricky’s been hurt and hasn’t quite been himself as of late, that Mourinho has chosen to place his faith in a young player like Özil should be enough to disprove the harshest of naysayers.
So my three man midfield is finally complete, and it’s looking awfully attacking oriented. Here’s hoping Schweini remembers he isn’t supposed to surge forward so much! What are your thoughts on my selected trio, or Özil on his own for that matter? This was a tough one, and like I said before, I could have very easily given the starting slot to any of the other (very deserving) center mids on this list. Whatever your thoughts, be sure to hit up the comments section to defend or argue your own picks!
To see my other selections to this point, check out the following links: