This past season in Europe has seen some great football. My beloved Manchester United recaptured the Premier League title from Chelski, Spain’s La Liga went right down to the wire, and the Italian league was basically a joke after Juventus were demoted with several other clubs docked points. With all of the foreign investors looking to buy into the game, refereeing gaffes grabbing headlines and shady transfers cropping up everywhere, it’s easy to lose focus on the main event: the players. Here is a European XI that have made this past season worth watching.
Cech: The best goalkeeper in the game by a country mile. When he went down injured, the Chelsea players clearly had no faith in Hilario. His return coincided with a fresh run at Manchester United that ultimately came up just short.
Maldini: He’ll turn 40 in 4 days, but he’s still indispensible for the European champions, AC Milan. His experience was crucial in Milan’s run to the title, and along with Ryan Giggs, he must be one of the most loyal players in the modern game. He’s never played for another club since he broke into the Milan side in 1984. A true great.
Nesta: Another Milan player who was vital in the Italian club’s successful season, Nesta has long been considered one of the top central defenders in the game. More subtle and aware than a John Terry, he makes defending look easy, and last-ditch tackles are rarely needed due to his excellent positional sense.
Alves: Dani Alves has been striking terror into every left-sided player in Spain this season. His marauding runs up the flank make him more of a winger than a defender, but his effectiveness as part of the offense often makes his defensive capabilities moot. It would seem that Chelsea have picked a bad summer to stop their outrageous spending, because the addition of Alves would more than adequately fill their only problem position.
Beckham: While David Beckham has his detractors, I’ve always been a fan. Managers who criticize his high-profile lifestyle can’t seem to understand that Beckham very clearly separates his football from his fashion. Only an outstanding professional would be able to win back his place in Fabio Capello’s side, win back his place in the England side, and inspire both to victory. And that at the age of 32, when most players become jaded and complacent. Europe will be losing a great player, but what he does for the game in America will be fascinating to watch.
C. Ronaldo: Harshly criticized as a showpony in past seasons, Ronaldo has risen above the ill-will poured in his direction and produced a string of match-winning performances. The addition of an end-product to his game has given him all of the tools needed to become one of the all-time great players. Youth is on his side as well, and he should only add more to his already diverse bag of tricks.
Kaka: Just edging Ronaldo out of the “best player in the world” slot is the Brazilian maestro, Kaka. Like Zidane, Kaka’s smooth movement and effortless quality belie the effectiveness of his play. Usually situated just behind the front line, Kaka does everything. He scores, he creates, he defends, and he dictates. And he does it all better than anyone else at the moment.
Messi: I’m a huge Messi fan, and it’s been a delight to watch him this season. While every Argentinian has crumbled under the weight of being dubbed “the new Maradona,” Messi has gone out and scored carbon-copies of the two most famous goals in soccer history. Against Getafe, he ran through the entire team before finishing sublimely, and against Espanyol, he scored a “hand of God” goal that so nearly won Barcelona the title. It’s safe to say that are more great things to come from Lionel Messi.
Milito: Not a household name before the season began, Milito has scored a boatload for a very average Real Zaragoza side, propelling them to sixth place in La Liga. Not surprisingly, he has been the subject a much transfer talk already in the close season, with Liverpool mooted as his most likely destination.
Drogba: While his temperament wins him few admirers, his goals deserve a grudging respect. Strong and fast with a good eye for goal, Drogba is the brass knuckles on the dull fist of Chelsea. While his game is based mostly on power, he also has the skill to bring players around him into the game. Unfortunately, overshadows his play with the kind of theatrics that make average fans loathe Chelsea in general and him in particular.
Villa: If Drogba is a set of brass knuckles, David Villa is a samurai sword. He can score goals in any number of ways, but his all-around quality is what truly sets him apart. He can operate alone up top and is as good at setting up his teammates as he is at scoring himself. That is the role of the modern centre forward, and the reason every major club in Europe has been linked with him.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my selections for the European XI. Feel free to tell me how I’m wrong.