The shortlist for the Ballon d’Or was announced this week – a 23-man squad of the finest players in the world – but who would make your starting XI?
Firstly, straight from the kick-off, I must confess I am resigned to a very limited number of defenders – only two made the list – so therefore I am adopting a 3-2-3-2 formation (controversial, I know) but, in fairness, the likelihood that this team would ever lose the ball is low so, I’m less concerned about their defensive capabilities (as it seems FIFA is too).
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
This is the easiest pick of the bunch seeing as there is only one stopper on the list. Not to take anything away from him – even if there was another keeper I’d still pick Neuer hands down. Also, as a completely irrelevant aside, he happens to be the best smelling footballer I have ever stood next to. I really wanted to ask him what shower gel he uses but I don’t speak German. He gets the nod for his personal hygiene alone.
Defender: Thiago Silva (PSG)
As the only recognized centre-back on the list, this 29-year-old picks himself. He played a huge role in PSG’s Ligue 1 title win and is at present probably the most technically gifted centre-back on the planet. He’s got the tactical knowledge, expertise and experience gained from playing in Serie A as well as the physical prowess and bravery required to play in France and, of course, the tenacity and flair of his homeland Brazil.
Defender: Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)
Another 29-year-old who is easily the best in the world in his position. Lahm has been one of Germany and Bayern Munich’s best players for the best part of a decade now – the captain for both club and country knows the game and his position better than any other fullback in the world and he knows exactly how to apply that experience effectively and efficiently as an individual and for the team as a whole.
Defender: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
I have to cheat a little bit here because the 29-year-old German is actually a midfielder but his anticipation and awareness defensively means he’s going to have to adapt to my system. I’m converting him and that’s that. He loves a tackle, he reads the game superbly, knows how to diffuse dangerous situations before they become threatening and his leadership capabilities, commitment, and consistency means he gets the nod. He is such a powerhouse in Bayern’s midfield and, at what he does, there is no one better right now.
Central Midfielder: Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
At 34 years of age Andrea Pirlo combines experience, culture and maturity with the technical supremacy that has seen him recognized as the best Italian player in the world for over a decade now. His vision, creativity, calmness, composure on the ball, caressing and perfectly weighting each delivery – every time the ball leaves his feet it’s a gift to his teammate. He’s one of the most altruistic players I’ve ever seen. He is like a footballing bard if there was such a thing – a truly great visionary of his time.
Central Midfielder: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
I was torn between this 29-year-old and his Barcelona and Spain teammate and partner in crime Xavi who, had Pirlo not been born or instead decided his vocation was flower arranging, would definitely have made the starting XI. But, alas, Iniesta has been the third and second placed runner up for the Ballon d’Or so many times, I feel it would be crime in itself to exclude him. If Pirlo is the footballing bard, Iniesta is the footballing magician – somehow the ball just seems to stick to his feet wherever he goes.
Attacking Midfielder: Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
The 30-year-old winger is one of the trickiest customers in the business. He combines the physical strength and power of a traditional centre-forward with the pace, energy and dynamism of a traditional winger. His crossing, passing, and dribbling are superb and his focus, desire and combative nature make him an opponent no one looks forward to playing against. He is simply unstoppable. A footballing force of nature.
Attacking Midfielder: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
He was almost the first name on the team sheet and he’s almost the best player on the planet. Had Lionel Messi have been an alcoholic or an overeater, there’s no question the Portuguese attacker would have won the last four Ballon d’Or. I feel bad for CR7 but nowhere near as bad as I do for right-backs in La Liga. No one in the world can do what Ronaldo can do with the ball at his feet. (Except Lionel Messi)
Attacking Midfielder: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
It would be an interesting dynamic – Ronaldo and Messi working in tandem together – but, alas, we will probably never ever see that idea realized. It would be too beautiful for this world. We’re just not ready for that yet. Messi will win the Ballon d’Or and why? Because he is simply truly and omnipotently the best footballer in the world. What’s scary is that he’s still only 26 – there may well be another decade left for him to mature, develop and improve. Wow.
Centre Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
There are four or five strikers who could have made the team but out of the current top centre-forwards in the world I believe Zlatan is the most dangerous, imposing, and systematic of all. He really is like a machine. He’s like the Terminator in front of goal. Hasta la vista, goalie.
Centre Forward: Radamel Falcao (Monaco)
Falcao was the best striker in Spain last season. The 27-year-old Colombian moved to Monaco from Athletico Madrid where he scored 34 goals in all competitions. I was torn between him and Robert Lewandowski who makes the bench instead purely because I feel the Colombian does intuitively what other strikers have to think about. His movement and finishing in from of goal is second to none.
He elevates finishing technique to an artform. Where Ibrahimovich is systematic in his devastation of defences, Falcao appears effortless – it’s as if he was just born to score goals.
Subs: Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Xavi (Barcelona), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (PSG), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund)
Manager: Jupp Heynckes (ex-Bayern Munich)
Captain: Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)
image: © Carlos RM