Sunday, July 08, 2007

World's Top 50 Footballers

After going through piles and piles of statistics, here's my list of the world's top 50 footballers:

1. Kaka (Milan)

The top four are incredibly tight, but he just edges it for one simple reason: he combines Brazilian flair with European directness like nobody else. He truly is a product of two footballing cultures, a man who has all the virtues and none of the vices of either. Speaking of vices, he really, really doesn’t have any. A committed Christian, he announced proudly that he was a virgin on his wedding night. He likes to parade around in his favourite T-shirt, the one that reads “I belong to Jesus” (thereby opening a whole can of worms regarding third-party ownership). And that’s another reason he tops the list - with Kaka in your team, odds are, the big fella upstairs will be on your side as well...

2. Ronaldinho (Barcelona)

There’s a reason he’s always smiling. You’d be smiling all the time too if you knew that you were the best player on the pitch and you were about to make some poor defender look a jackass. He is the poster child for Brazilian football, the proud heir of those who came before him. He didn’t adapt to the European game, he forced it to adapt to him. Put him on the team sheet, sit back and enjoy the show.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

In the P.C. era (pre-Cristiano) wingers were slight, nippy and small. He redefined the position marrying size and brawn with pace and trickery. You get the sense that, when he’s running at defenders, he could go around them or straight through them. As an added bonus, he’s also an aerial threat on set pieces.

4. Samuel Eto’o (Barcelona)

He’s tired of playing second fiddle to Ronaldinho and with good reason. If he were anywhere else, people would be writing odes and sonnets to him. Eto’o is freakishly quick, an outstanding finisher, with a supernatural eye for goal. Plus, he’s happy to do the dirty work when the other side has possession. Just make sure you continue to massage his ego.

5. Michael Essien (Chelsea)

A one-man wrecking crew. Is there anything he can’t do? You could probably let the rest of the team go off for a fag break in the middle of the game and let him man the fort in midfield. Terrifyingly gifted already and, if given more responsibility, likely to get even better.

6. Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)

Simply put, he’s a freak of nature. No man his size should be so athletic. His agility belies the laws of physics and he is about as unflappable as they come. Having a guy like him in your side means that defeats turn into draws and draws into victories. That alone is worth an extra ten to 15 points at the end of a season.

7. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

Speaking of heroics, he’s done it so many times, it’s easy to lose track. If Gerrard were a few inches taller and a few pounds more slight, we would marvel at his pure technical ability. Instead, we focus on his bruising workrate and other more obvious qualities. Don’t worry about fitting him into your side. Just do what Rafa does. Line up your nine other outfield players and let Gerrard do whatever he likes.

8. Carlos Tevez (West Ham)

A single-minded winner, who has carried whole clubs on his back in Argentina, Brazil and England. Tevez’s contribution isn’t measured in just goals and assists, but in self-sacrifice and heroism. With a season of European football under his belt, there is no telling how much better he’s going to be next year.

9. Leo Messi (Barcelona)

Leave Maradona out of it for a minute. Focus instead on that when the ball is at his feet, unless you’re Nostradamus, you have absolutely no idea what will happen next. There is no legislating for unpredictability in football and Messi has bags of it. Plus, his 14 Liga goals last year show that he has added a healthy scoring dimension to his game as well.

10. Francesco Totti (Roma)

His job is to create, not finish, and yet he won the European Golden Boot this season with 26 league goals: a total made all the more remarkable when you throw in the fact that he uncharacteristically missed six penalties along the way. (At least he made the ones that mattered in the World Cup.) That alone should get him on the list - his vision and phenomenal range of passing are bonuses.

And the list continues…….

11. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)

12. Thierry Henry (Barcelona)

13. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

14. Petr Cech (Chelsea)

15. Ruud van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid)

16. Frank Lampard (Chelsea)

17. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Inter)

18. Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)

19. Daniel Alves (Seville)

20. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

21. Carles Puyol (Barcelona)

22. Didier Drogba (Chelsea)

23. Ronaldo (Milan)

24. Andriy Shevchenko (Chelsea)

25. Dimitar Berbatov (Tottenham Hotspur)

26. Michael Ballack (Chelsea)

27. David Villa (Valencia)

28. Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid)

29. Andrea Pirlo (Milan)

30. John Terry (Chelsea)

31. Florent Malouda (Lyons)

32. Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)

33. Javier Zanetti (Inter)

34. David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy)

35. Fernando Torres (Liverpool)

36. Dejan Stankovic (Inter)

37. Daniele De Rossi (Roma)

38. Paul Scholes (Manchester United)

39. “Lucho” Gonzalez (Porto)

40. Juninho Pernambucano (Lyons)

41. Alessandro Nesta (Milan)

42. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Ajax)

43. Hernan Crespo (Inter)

44. Rino Gattuso (Milan)

45. Diego (Werder Bremen)

46. Rodrigo Palacio (Boca Juniors)

47. Phillip Lahm (Bayern Munich)

48. Jefferson Farfan (PSV Eindhoven)

49. Clarence Seedorf (Milan)

50. Gary Neville (Manchester United)

Liverpool Star Quits England

Jamie Carragher is ready to quit the England team after being left out of the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Estonia last month.

The Liverpool centre-half, who played in four of England's five games at the World Cup last year, has made just five appearances under Steve McClaren.

He has never started in his favoured position in a back four, even when John Terry and Rio Ferdinand have been injured, despite winning rave reviews as he helped his club to a second Champions League final appearance in three years.

His likely decision to retire from international football, which mirrors Paul Scholes' self-imposed England exile,was brought to a head when he was left out of the side who defeated Estonia 3-0 in Tallinn.

A source close to the 29-year-old said last night: "Jamie does not want to sound like a big-time Charlie. He just feels that at this stage of his career it would be better if he concentrated his efforts on helping Liverpool become the No 1 team in England again.

"He has always regarded it as a tremendous honour to represent his country and he has happy memories of pulling on the shirt. But things have to end some time and he thinks this might be a good time to bow out."

Against Estonia, the euphoria surrounding David Beckham's England return overshadowed Carragher's huge disappointment at being dropped to the bench.

He had accepted the fact he was behind the likes of Terry, Ferdinand and Jonathan Woodgate in the central defensive pecking order but, in a match when both Ferdinand and Woodgate were unavailable, McClaren's preference for the injuryprone Ledley King came as a bitter personal blow.

The situation was made worse when the England manager picked Wes Brown at right-back, a role Carragher has filled in the absence through injury of Gary Neville.

McClaren, having failed to talk Scholes into returning to the international scene, has not given up on persuading Carragher to reverse his decision and has been in constant touch with him. He will seek to meet the player on his return, before he names the squad for the friendly against Germany on August 22 at Wembley.

Carragher has collected 34 England caps since he made his debut as a substitute against Hungary in April 1999, ironically in the game that also signalled Brown's nternational arrival. In that time, the Anfield favourite has earned a reputation for being a wholehearted player who rarely let the side down, despite being asked to play all across the back four.

Eriksson once tried him as a holding midfield player, but McClaren has used him at right-back, left-back and as one of three centre-halves in a 3-5-2 formation, as well as, briefly, in his favoured position.

Carragher won 27 caps during Eriksson's reign, but his appearances have been restricted to just three starts since McClaren took over.

Teenage Striker Scores Hat-trick In Liverpool Victory

Austrian teenager Besian Idrizaj scored an impressive 19-minute hat-trick as Rafael Benitez's squad of promising youngsters opened Liverpool's pre-season in some style at Wrexham.

Both sides fielded completely different teams in each half of their friendly at the Racecourse ground, which attracted an 11,000-plus crowd.

The 22 Liverpool players on show comprised of the bulk of their FA Youth Cup-winning sides of the last couple of seasons, plus an array of prospects signed in Benitez's three years at Anfield.

And it underlined that the battle for recognition outside Benitez's increasingly expensive senior squad will be fought out between local Academy products and newcomers from across Europe.

How many of them eventually make it when the club are spending the likes of £20million on Fernando Torres, with plenty more to come, remains to be seen.

The only big names on show for Liverpool were Steve Finnan, Jermaine Pennant, Mohamed Sissoko and Alvaro Arbeloa. And Benitez watched with interest as the young pretenders did their best to impress.

And 19-year-old Idrizaj did just that, with plenty of help from Pennant. His first came on five minutes when Jordy Brouwer nodded down a Pennant cross for Idrizaj to crash past Tony Williams from six yards.

Two more Pennant crosses saw Idrizaj, who had a spell on loan at Luton last term, got the better of Wales international defender Steve Evans with two fine headers.

The second period saw a much more even contest with Wrexham having 10 players with league experience on the pitch against a predominantly Liverpool youth team.

And the Welsh club pulled one back on 61 minutes when substitute goalkeeper Martin Hansen made a hash of a clearance and presented Eifion Williams with a gift chance.

Liverpool gave their two new Hungarian youngsters, Krisztian Nemeth and Andras Simon their first taste of British football, but they conceded another goal with three minutes to go when Hansen punched away a cross and Williams hooked home his second from 25 yards.

Liverpool Looking For Some Kompany

Rumours are spreading over the highy-rated 20 year-old defender Vincent Kompany's possible switch to Liverpool.

The Hamburg SV central-defender has been a prodigal talent for some time now and it seems Rafael Benitez feels it is time for the player to step up to the big-stage.

However the Belgian international is not expected to come cheap, especially with Hamburg SV surveying the Torres transfer as signs that Liverpool might reluctantly agree to a £8-10 million deal.

With Sami Hyppia being at the centre of heighten transfer speculation linking him to a move to Sunderland, the path could be made clear for Kompany’s arrival by the end of the next week.

A decision by Hyppia to stay in Merseyside might not mean the end of the deal as the defensive cover for Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger is thin. Outside the ageing Hyppia, Rafa only has the young Gabriel Paletta to call on as back-up, meaning Kompany would provide support as well as a possible long-term first-team player.

Chelsea FC have also been strongly linked to Kompany over the past two years, with sporting director Frank Arneson and manager Jose Mourinho both expressing their admiration for the player’s athleticism and ability to read the game from the back.