I should start off by saying that I hope all regular viewers and subscribers are enjoying this series taking a look back over the last decade, of which this is the fifth instalment. If you are new to this series and indeed the channel, I do always recommend watching it from the start (which was the 7 best goalkeepers video), since I laid out my criteria more comprehensively to avoid any confusion in the introduction there. Oh, and also, feel free to subscribe to the channel otherwise you run the dreadful risk of missing out on future videos in this series and in general.
Right, I have now concluded looking at the seven best goalkeepers, right-backs, centre-backs and left-backs of the last ten years, which means we move onto the midfield. To keep things snappy, and since the purpose of this series is to build up to a best XI of the decade either on New Years Eve or New Year’s Day, I am rolling holding midfielders, central midfielders and attacking midfielders into one for the purposes of this seven. Just so you understand my logic, if I did them as three separate videos, I wouldn’t be able to include top spot from all three in my ultimate best XI, rendering it a bit of a pointless exercise.
The result of this format, however, is that this is by far the most competitive seven of the series. I won’t go over my criteria in full once again, as I said, check out the goalkeepers seven for that, but as I always say a brilliant midfielder in 2010 like Michael Essien or world class midfielder now like Bernardo Silva won’t make this seven, since they haven’t had the quality and consistently high level of performance across the entire decade to qualify. I’m not picking the players who have had the best peaks over the last 10 years, but rather who have been the best over the decade as a whole. There will be rare honourable mentions for this seven.
Here are my views on the 7 best midfielders of the last decade:
7. Yaya Toure
There are plenty of players who people will be outraged about not featuring in this seven, but the fact that Yaya Toure only gets us started in seventh is a mark of the standard that is being set. It is far, far too easy to forget just how brilliant Yaya Toure has been over the last ten years. He joined Manchester City as a defensive midfielder, having won a Champions League as a centre-back at Barcelona, and went on to score 20 goals in a single Premier League season for the Citizens. In terms of players who have scored 20+ goals in a Premier League season there is Yaya Toure, Frank Lampard… and that’s it! And Toure is the only one to do it this decade.
That is testament to what a special player Toure was, and Lampard himself put Toure among the five greatest midfielders of the Premier League era. The Ivorian, who seemed to be six foot of legs alone, could beat players, win the ball back, create goals, score goals… he could just run the show when he was really at it. Has there been a more complete midfield player over the last ten years? I’m not so sure.
Toure began the decade with Barcelona, but departed following a second consecutive La Liga title in the summer of 2010. He joined a Man City side that hadn’t won a league or FA cup since the 1960’s, and their success over the last decade can be tied to Toure more so than any other single individual. He scored the goal to win them the FA Cup and break that trophy duck, as well a brace against Newcastle which was just as important as Sergio Aguero’s injury time winner against QPR to hand City their first title of the Premier League era. Toure left Man City almost 18 months ago and admittedly hasn’t done much since, now playing in China, but he still warrants seventh place as far as I’m concerned.
6. Thomas Muller
Consistency and quality are rewarded in this series, and Thomas Muller has been a picture of both over the last ten years. He has at times played as a centre-forward, but I think most people would agree this seven is the right one for him to feature in. A one-club man who joined Bayern Munich as a 10-year-old, Muller’s performances for Germany have been just as impressive as his displays in Bavaria over the last ten years. He won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup and the Silver Boot at the 2014 World Cup, the latter of which Germany won of course, meaning he has scored more World Cup goals this decade than any other player.
Muller was equally prolific for Bayern up until 2016, when he began to drop a little deeper in the Bayern team as Robert Lewandowski really stepped up to the goal scoring mantle. As absurd as it sounds, Thomas Muller isn’t actually a phenomenal footballer. And in that context, when I say footballer, I mean his touch, range of passing and technical abilities. What has ensured that Muller has remained at the highest level for more than ten years is a superb attitude and understanding of the game. The 30-year-old is industrious, tireless, he is a genius when it comes to finding space and he can play in about seven different positions. All this makes him a managers dream, and the five-time Ballon d’Or nominee takes sixth place in this seven.
5. David Silva
It’s all-too-easy to run out of superlatives when talking about David Silva, who has spent almost the entirety of the last decade being unbelievably brilliant at Manchester City. The 33-year-old arrived at the Etihad in the summer of 2010 from Valencia, and he immediately looked like a class act. When he arrived, the Spaniard played largely as a traditional number ten, with little defensive responsibility and tasked largely with opening the opposition up and creating chances.
Silva has proved to be much more than a single-minded playmaker though, and has dropped deeper over time, earning plaudits from his teammates for his remarkable energy and stamina. As well as being flawless technically, I don’t think I can recall Silva ever kicking up a fuss or causing any trouble in Manchester over the last decade. As a manager, you could hardly wish to have a more gifted, disciplined and dependable player in your squad than Silva.
In addition to making more than 400 appearances for Manchester City, Silva also retired from international duty following 35 goals from 125 caps last year, a record that makes him Spain’s third highest scorer of all time. In this decade alone, Silva has won four Premier League titles, the World Cup and the European Championships, among many less esteemed trophies, and he can consider himself unfortunate to only be fifth.
4. Toni Kroos
In at fourth in a seven just laced with quality, Toni Kroos doesn’t give you the energy and enthusiasm of a David Silva, but I still feel as though he has had a slightly more impressive decade. He was having a sensational season on-loan at Bayer Leverkusen as a teenager when the decade began, soon to return to Bayern Munich. Four fantastic seasons followed, during which time Kroos established himself as one of the most accomplished central midfield players in Europe, but Bayern refused to offer him a more lucrative deal and denied that he was world class.
In 2014, he was arguably the outstanding player at the 2014 World Cup, running the show as Germany were crowned world champions. Real Madrid saw it as a no-brainer to sign Kroos for between €24 and €30 million immediately after the finals, and they most certainly weren’t wrong. Kroos helped transform the Real midfield into the strongest in world football, winning the Champions League three times in four seasons and becoming arguably the finest passer of the ball on the planet.
Kroos has never changed the way he has played, always nonchalant, rarely breaking a sweat but even more rarely losing the ball. His range of passing is almost without peer, but more important is his ability to weight the ball perfectly for an advancing player. His formed dipped along with everyone else’s at Real Madrid last season, but the 29-year-old three-time FIFPro World XI inclusion is good value for a place in my top four.
3. Luka Modric
Into the top three, and we’re now talking about players who will make my HITC Sevens Team of the Decade. Toni Kroos’ central midfield partner at Real Madrid, Luka Modric has been one of the few midfielders to outperform the German during the 2010’s. Modric began the decade as one of the most gifted attacking midfielders in the Premier League, with Tottenham always looking likely to lose him at some stage.
They did so in 2012, to Real Madrid, where Modric wasn’t free from criticism in his debut campaign. In his second season, Real won the Champions League and Modric was named as La Liga Midfielder of the Year and in the UEFA Team of the Year. A little like David Silva, Modric evolved from a purely creative attacking playmaker, to an all-round midfield marvel. His passing is almost as impressive as Toni Kroos’, yet Modric also brings real energy and intent to a teams midfield.
Modric’s decade was topped off by a superb 2018, in which he won his fourth Champions League and inspired Croatia to a World Cup final. He won the World Cup Golden Ball and the Ballon d’Or as a result, the latter of which I can’t say I agreed with, but there can be no doubt Modric had an excellent 12 months. In total, Modric has made the FIFPro World XI five times since 2010, he has been brilliant for the entire decade and he deservedly takes bronze.
2. Andres Iniesta
There is only one reason why Andres Iniesta doesn’t take top spot in this seven, and that is because he left Barcelona and retired from international football in 2018. There is no doubt in mind that Iniesta is the most talented footballer in this seven, but he hasn’t been playing at the highest level for 18 months of the decade, and that restricts him to second place. It may seem harsh, and I wouldn’t begrudge him top spot, but ultimately I think that is fair and stays true to my original criteria.
Simply put, Iniesta is among the finest midfield players of his generation and beyond, and he is one of only two players in this seven to have featured in my video on the 100 greatest footballers of all time. Technically and tactically there have been few finer players during my lifetime, and Iniesta’s understanding of the game allowed him to play in a variety of positions. He began his career in holding midfield, and later spent a lot of time almost as an inside-forward coming in off the left flank. Personally, I was happiest seeing him play at the apex of a midfield three, where he could get on the ball as often as possible and begin to run a game.
On the ball and in tight spaces, Iniesta was just majestic, and he had the vision and passing ability to match. He made the FIFPro World XI eight times during this decade, and nine times in total, a record bettered only by Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos. Iniesta thrice made the top four of Ballon d’Or voting, once finishing second to Messi, and he was named as the Man of the Match in a World Cup, European Championships and World Cup final.
0. Honourable Mentions
Before I come to top spot, this is the only video in this series with a formal honourable mentions, as the merging of essentially three positions into one meant so many great players missed out. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Daniele De Rossi, Arturo Vidal, Mesut Ozil, Christian Eriksen, Ivan Rakitic, Miralem Pjanic and Thiago Alcantara have all been playing – and mostly playing very well – for the entire 2010’s, and all made my shortlist. The most notable omission to some people will be Xavi, who I think is the finest midfielder of his generation. His exclusion is purely down to the fact that he left Barcelona in 2015, which means he only spent half the decade playing at the highest level, and has nothing to do with his ability.
It’s a similar story for the likes of Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Wesley Sneijder, all of whom were brilliant at the start of the decade but didn’t see out enough of it at the top to feature. On the flip side, you have someone like Kevin De Bruyne or N’Golo Kante, who have been magnificent for the second half of the decade but not the first. Casemiro is another player who ought to be mentioned, as should his compatriot Fernandinho, and my last honourable mention would go to Javier Mascherano who missed out partly by virtue of spending probably the majority of the last decade at centre-back.
1. Sergio Busquets
There will be those who disagree with Sergio Busquets being the best midfielder of the last ten years, but that is because lots of people don’t understand football. I am only joking, of course, football is a game of opinion and I welcome polite and even somewhat impolite debate in the comments section.
As I said, Andres Iniesta would have topped this seven had he remained at Barcelona and remained brilliant beyond 2018, but in his absence you need look no further than his former pivot Sergio Busquets. The next time you’re watching a Barcelona game, it’s worth just spending five or ten minutes watching Busquets operate.
Immediately promoted from Barcelona B by Pep Guardiola upon his appointment as Barca’s first team boss in 2008, Busquets has been a mainstay ever since. With Xavi and Iniesta ahead of him, Busquets became part of arguably the finest midfield trio ever assembled. Undoubtedly the least appreciated of the three, Busquets is a master of efficient football – that is to say, doing exactly what he wants to do with as few touches as possible.
He has wonderful 360 degree awareness of a football pitch, and nine times out of ten he knows what he is going to do with the ball before it comes to him. The fact that his engagements in possession tend to come deeper on the pitch means they’re often less noticeable, but Busquets doing in one or two touches what even a very good midfield player might do in three or four was pivotal in Barcelona’s all-conquering side under Guardiola. Busquets has been an ever-present for Spain and Barcelona for the last 10 years, he’s one of the best players in the history of his position and one of the most intelligent I’ve ever witnessed. He’ll make our best XI of the decade.