Normalising brilliance: Daniel Storey selects his football team of the decade

It's been a decade of thrilling drama, fantastic games, and great players but who makes our our team of the last 10 years? This lot would take some beating

Normalising brilliance: Daniel Storey selects his football team of the decade

It's been a decade of thrilling drama, fantastic games, and great players but who makes our our team of the last 10 years? This lot would take some beating

Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)

The most competitive position on the pitch. Gianluigi Buffon flourished in the second half of his career and David de Gea flourished in the first half, Neuer wins out for being at his peak at the right time.

If Neuer’s excellencet has diminished over the last few years, do not forget his extended period of consistency. He was named IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, was twice named Footballer of the Year in Germany, was named Man of the Match in a Champions League final, picked in Team of the Tournaments at the World Cup and European Championship and came third in the Ballon D’Or in 2014.

Right-back: Dani Alves (Barcelona/ Juventus/PSG and Brazil)

There’s no doubt that we only saw Alves’ best in the first half of the decade. But so high were the standards that he set, Alves still fully merits his place in this team and there were very few options to challenge him.

Having turned 27 in the first six months of the decade, Alves still managed to win league titles and domestic cups in three different countries, was picked in the team of the year in each country at least once, won the Copa America at the age of 36 and was named as the best player of the tournament.

Left-back: Marcelo (Real Madrid and Brazil)

The most consistent player of the decade outside Messi and Ronaldo? Perhaps. Marcelo started and ended it at Real Madrid, and played more than 40 matches in seven of the 10 seasons.

He won four Champions League titles in five seasons with Real, a constant at a club that often exists in a state of flux.

FIFPro’s World XI is picked by 50,000 professional players across the globe. Only five players have been picked more often in this decade than Marcelo, and all of them make this team. Philipp Lahm provided competition, but it was never a close call.

Centre-back: Diego Godin (Atletico and Uruguay)

Probably the most controversial selection. Giorgio Chiellini, Raphael Varane and Gerard Pique could all lay claim to a place, but for sheer leadership through example I’ve gone for Godin. Atletico Madrid’s over achievement during this decade without Diego Simeone’s management, but Godin was his general on the pitch.

It is no surprise that Atleti are struggling without him and new club Inter have the best defence in Serie A. In the age of the passing, controlling, strolling centre-back, Godin is the antidote.

Centre-back: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid and Spain)

Hated, adored, never ignored. Ramos captained Spain and he captained Real Madrid, and in doing so became the ultimate modern central defender. He can pass, he can tackle, he can win headers, he can take penalties, he can lead and he can get himself sent off like nobody else.

His record of more than 75 goals in the decade is extraordinary for a defender, and only two players were named more often by their peers in the FIFPro World XI this decade: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Central midfielder: Toni Kroos (Bayern, Real Madrid and Germany)

Another difficult position to pick. Sergio Busquets, Luka Modric and N’Golo Kante all justify consideration, as does Xavi despite his departure from top-level football in 2015. But for consistency over the course of the decade, Kroos gets the nod.

Kroos became an integral part of the Bayern Munich team that won the Champions League in 2013, went to Real Madrid and then promptly won three Champions League titles on the spin.

He dictated the tempo in midfield of those two sides and the German national team, with whom he won the World Cup in 2014 and was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2016. At 29, Kroos is also the youngest in this team.

Central midfielder: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona and Spain)

Another player whose peak came at the start of the decade, but whose contributions to the greatest club side of the decade justify his inclusion.

Iniesta’s time at Barcelona came to an end with a move to Japan in 2018, but only after winning 32 trophies in the Blaugrana.

Iniesta started as a defensive midfielder, but became a deep-lying playmaker because of his passing range and an advanced midfielder because of his dribbling. His relationship with Xavi was masterful, but Iniesta had the ability to step out from the shadow of the master.

Central midfielder: David Silva (Man City and Spain)

The only Premier League representative on this list, which is extraordinary given the investment on transfers made by its clubs over the course of the decade. English football has established itself as the natural home for the best managers in the world, but not the very best players.

That only makes Silva stand out more. He is now coming to the end of his career, when the legs slow down quicker than the mind. But he has been the true mastermind of Manchester City’s rise to prominence, the creative force behind four brilliant, title-winning teams. As with so many Premier League greats, we will only recognise their majesty when they have gone.

Right forward: Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich and Netherlands)

If you were to choose one signature move from the decade, or a single type of goal, there is only one choice. Robben runs down the right wing, puts the ball onto his left foot, shimmies, shifts the ball to his left and then curls his shot into the far corner. He shrugs his shoulder and holds out his arms in celebration as if to ask “How are you going to stop it?”. There is no answer.

Robben reinvented himself at Bayern Munich and in doing so fulfilled his potential and more. In this decade alone he has won eight league titles, ten 10 other domestic finals and the Champions League. If 2014 was his peak (fourth in the Ballon D’Or, third best player at the World Cup, UEFA Team of the Year), it was Robben’s consistency that makes him the third-best attacking player of the decade.

Left forward: Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina)

The greatest player in the game’s history? Perhaps, but it does not matter. We can spend 10 or 20 years thrashing out that debate when Messi has hung up his boots. For now, you must not wait a minute. Do everything you can to see him play as many times as you can, before only reruns of his magic can keep you sated.

Before Messi, our expectation was that 20 league goals constituted an impressive goalscoring season, and 30 goals a great one. Before Messi, our expectation of a highly successful individual player was to win a Ballon d’Or; he now has six. Before Messi, we presumed that a goalscorer of such magnitude must be self-obsessed, or at least be predominantly focused on scoring goals. Yet he is emphatically unselfish. The inherent risk in normalising brilliance is that it persuades us to take that brilliance for granted. Do not make that mistake.

Centre forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Juventus and Portugal)

We are happy to idolise our sportspeople, lavishing them with praise, but will show contempt towards those who sing their own praises. Ronaldo suffers from that. He is unapologetically self-obsessed. But he has also scored 50 club goals in six years during this decade, a truly historic feat.

Ronaldo uses arrogance not as an affectation, but an engine. There can be few players in the history of the game who have dedicated themselves so emphatically to becoming the best player they can be. Ronaldo evidently has natural talent, but he has become a great through hard work and sacrifice.

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox