Well, what a year in the world of football. We saw one of if not the best football managers ever retire in May, the ‘Special One’ return to Chelsea in the summer and the world transfer record broken as Real Madrid snapped up Gareth Bale for £85.3 million in September, just to name a few. With the help of the Guardian’s and FourFourTwo’s top 100 players, I have compiled my top 10 players of the year, my team of the year as well as pick out my best goals from world football.
TOP 10 PLAYERS OF 2013
10. Robin van Persie (Manchester United & Holland) – 30 years old
A hat-trick and wonder goal against Aston Villa to seal the Premier League title proved a fitting finale to the Dutchman’s devastating debut season at Old Trafford. Van Persie’s decision to pick United over City ultimately determined the destination of last season’s silverware.His 26 league goals played no small part in the Red Devils finishing 11 points above their noisy neighbours to snatch the trophy back off them. Under David Moyes injuries have encroached once again but Van Persie remains commendably incisive.
9. Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid and AS Monaco & Colombia) – 27 years old
In one of the biggest moves of the year, Falcao moved to AS Monaco with their newly found wealth for 60 million Euros after scoring 28 league goals for Atletico Madrid in 2012-13. But he has had his problems settling after scoring seven goals in his first seven league games and in total only 20 in the calendar year. There are rumours that he could be on the move again in January with Jose Mourinho reportedly interested. Strong, agile, a wonderful finisher and in his prime at 27, the Colombian could be a good fit for the Premier League
8. Xavi (Barcelona & Spain) – 33 years old
Barça’s pass master extraordinaire drops out of the top 10 this year, falling seven places. At his best, Xavi remains a phenomenon in midfield, the team’s metronome and chief instigator of play. He calms, he soothes, he speeds it up or slows it down. Such extraordinary vision and execution will undoubtedly see him go down in history as one of Spain’s greatest ever players. However, at 33 there are just the slightest signs that he’s starting to lose a bit of mobility, and it was alarming how completely outplayed he was in the two Champions League semi-finals against Bayern.
7. Luis Suarez (Liverpool & Uruguay) – 26 years old
Love him or loathe him, it’s hard not to admire the Uruguayan’s continued class in front of goal. Suarez netted 30 times in 2012/13 before his season ended prematurely for chomping at Branislav Ivanovic’s arm. Revered by fans and team-mates (Steven Gerrard hails him as the best he’s ever played with), the 26-year-old has formed a potent partnership with Daniel Sturridge since returning from a 10-match suspension. Without his controversy, he would definitely be higher on my list.
6. Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid & Wales) – 24 years old
Forget that hat-trick against Inter in 2010 – this will be the year remembered as the one in which Bale really put his name on the map. A sensational second half of 2012/13 may not have been enough to drag Spurs into the Champions League, but it was enough to convince Real Madrid to finally cough up a reported £86m for his services. After a slow start, the Welshman is starting to show the expectant Bernabeu crowd that the club’s big-wigs were right to be so keen.
5. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona & Spain) – 29 years old
Barcelona may be changing, even as the Camp Nou crew march toward another title, but it looks like Iniesta is there for the duration. Turning 30 in May, just before the World Cup at which Spain will chase a fourth successive tournament triumph, the Catalans’ creator-in-chief looks set to sign a new contract which could take him to 20 years at the club he joined as a 12-year-old.
4. Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich & France) – 30 years old
There isn’t much more the brilliant Frenchman can do to stake his claim for January’s Ballon d’Or (“it will go above my fireplace,” he quipped last month). Jokes aside, Bayern’s terrace hero has been nothing short of sensational in 2013. He won the UEFA Best Player in Europe award by a landslide – just reward for being the driving force behind his side’s stunning treble season, in which he finished the Bundesliga campaign with the most assists.While some observers questioned whether he truly was Bayern Munich’s best player – let alone the best in the world in 2013 – there’s no such doubt among the regulars at the Allianz Arena.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG & Sweden) – 32 years old
What more can be said about the big, brilliant Swede? Zlatan is Zlatan: the man, the myth, the legend. He defies analysis. After joining the Qatari revolution at PSG, 30 league goals fired the French club to their first league title in 19 years and it’s fair to say he often singlehandedly carried the team, as he does with Sweden. Arguably the best player that is not going to the World Cup next summer, Brazil is going to miss Ibrahimovic’s talent.
2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina) – 26 years old
Only No.2, I hear you cry? Well, yes. It may not be his fault that Barcelona are over-reliant on him, especially against top-level European quality, but an injury-punctuated last six months have highlighted that arguably the world’s greatest team are in decline. Both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich would have been unthinkable even 18 months ago – just like Messi not being No.1 on our list every year. But such is life, and the Argentine now has a big year ahead to prove why it’s he who should be taking this mantle in 12 months’ time. He could do a lot worse than leading his country to World Cup glory on enemy soil.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid & Portugal) – 28 years old
Madrid are no one-man team, but Portugal may well be. No match sums up Ronaldo’s ability to single-handedly drag a team to victory than his second leg showing in the recent World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden.
With Portugal rocking after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had put Sweden into a 2-1 lead on the night, Ronaldo grasped at his chance to prove himself a national hero, and an international great. He scored twice to complete a memorable hat-trick and seal his team’s place in Brazil next summer. In the process he displayed his trademark cocktail of skill, guile, pace and sheer power that so often sees him score goals few others in the history of the game could manage.
Ronaldo managed a la Liga goal every 84 minutes in the year up to November 1st, becoming the only player in Europe’s top five leagues to score three league hat-tricks in the same period. He has also scored 14 goals in the Champions League this year – more than any other player.
The Portuguese predator has only looked like getting better now he has Gareth Bale alongside him, while if anything, Barcelona seem a little less reliant on Lionel Messi than they were before the arrival of Tata Martino and Neymar. The injury that curtailed the Argentina star’s year and the ‘goal drought’ that has seen him not score in five league matches also worked in Ronaldo’s favour.
Those who just missed out
It is very tough picking a top ten so here some players that I thought deserved a mention:
- Sergio Aguero
- Philipp Lahm
- Thiago Silva
- Mesut Ozil
- Edinson Cavani
- Arjen Robben
TEAM OF THE YEAR
Finding a formation to fit in so many attacking players proved a strangely tricky task, but in the end putting a few players slightly out of position had to happen. Here is my team of the year, featuring six of my top 10 players.
(3-5-2) Neuer; Lahm, Thiago Silva, Pique; Xavi, Ozil; Ronaldo, Iniesta, Ribery; Messi, Ibrahimovic
Manager: Jupp Heynckes
TOP THREE GOALS OF THE YEAR
Every year since 2009, FIFA has had a ‘Puskás Award’ celebrating the best goals of the year. They draw up a list of ten nominees which a panel then vote from. I have picked my top three from the shortlist, bearing in mind the list can include goals from November 2012 until October 2013, meaning none of Luis Suarez’s four goals against Norwich can be included. Watch out for those in my December Premier League Review next month though. Watch the full shortlist for this year’s FIFA Puskás Award here.
3rd – Juan Manuel Olivera vs Sport Recife
A nice build-up to the top of the circle by Nautico against Sport Recife in the Copa Sudamerica set up the Uruguayan to launch this brilliant swerving shot.
2nd – Daniel Ludueña vs UANL
The stuff of playground dreams, this outrageous goal by the Pachuca midfielder from beyond the half-way line was a stunning achievement of vision, strength and talent.
1st – Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs England
The explosive striker scored an audacious, acrobatic bicycle kick from way out for Sweden over the top of the stranded English defenders and goalkeeper in a friendly match.
FIFA’s top three have been announced as:
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs England
- Nemanja Matic vs Porto
- Neymar vs Japan
Their winner will be announced on 13th January.
Tomorrow I will be posting key footballing dates for 2014 and my predictions for the rest of the season. Let me know what you think of my top ten and tell me any changes (if any!) you would make to it as well as my team of the year in the comments below