Sport

The Football Team of the Decade

An incredible decade of football is coming to a close; we’ve been fortunate to witness unthinkable Champions League comebacks, a Premier League finale we’ll never see the likes of again and seven German goals past a shocked Seleçao. With 2020 creeping up, now seems an appropriate time to reflect upon the players who graced ten wonderful years of football in the form of our Team of the Decade:

As a quick aside, I would like to point out that this team is selected on the basis of a 4-3-3 formation with a defensive midfielder in order to accommodate players across various roles and positions. Players will only be assigned to positions they have been used in for much of the decade or are closely associated with.

Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer (Germany – FC Schalke 04, FC Bayern Munich)

  • 2014 FIFA World Cup Winner.
  • UEFA Champions League Winner (12/13).
  • Named in the FIFA FIFPro World XI x4 (13, 14, 15, 16).

The German emerged into wider football fan consciousness with Schalke in the late 00s and by 2010 was comfortably number 1for club and country. A move to Bayern Munich followed in 2011- as did a UEFA Champions League trophy, 7 Bundesliga titles and club captaincy in 2017. For much of the decade, Neuer was widely recognised as the best at his craft, a claim validated by 4 UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year awards (’11, ’13, ’14 & ’15). Arguably, the peak of his powers came in the year of Germany’s FIFA World Cup triumph, 2014. Neuer earned the Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper at the World Cup and was subsequently named in the FIFA All-Star Team for the tournament– he finished 3rd in the FIFA Ballon d’Or rankings for the year overall. His legacy will not only be his success but also his performances in the ‘sweeper-keeper’ role which he popularised amongst his generation.

RB – Dani Alves (Brazil – FC Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, São Paulo)

  • 2x UEFA Champions League Winner (10/11, 14/15).
  • 8 Domestic Trophies (La Liga x5, Serie A x1, Ligue 1 x2).
  • Named in the FIFA FIFPro World XI x7 (11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18).

Throughout the 2010s, Dani Alves and trophies became increasingly synonymous due to the multitude of honours he gathered. His over-lapping runs and inverted detours from the right flank were an essential component of a dizzying Barcelona attack. The Brazilian’s interpretation of the role sparked the full-back position into a tactical evolution. At the age of 36, after being named ‘MVP’ of the tournament, Dani Alves capped off the decade with Copa America 2019 success. In the process he reached the milestone of 40 trophies over the course of his career, the first player in football history to achieve this feat.

CB – Sergio Ramos (Spain – Real Madrid)

  • 2010 FIFA World Cup Winner.
  • UEFA Euro 2012 Winner.
  • 4x UEFA Champions League Winner (13/14, 15/16, 16/17, 17/18).

Sergio Ramos is a divisive figure, often a villain on the pitch. However there is no other defender that can claim to have been selected in 9 consecutive FIFPro World XIs – more than double the number of times any other centre-back has been named in the World XI this decade. Plaudits for Real Madrid’s successive European triumphs tend to go to manager Zinedine Zidane and goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo; however Ramos deserves equal recognition for his heroics as a general in battle within that Los Blancos team. Eye-catching traits such as his natural charisma, willingness to bend the rules and penchant for collecting cards perhaps overshadow his positive attributes such as versatility, leadership and aerial prowess. An impressive goalscorer considering his position, his most famous strike came in the 2014 UEFA Champions League Final when he scored one of the most important goals in Los Blancos history: a last-minute equaliser that allowed Real Madrid to defeat Atletico Madrid in extra-time and achieve La Decima (their 10th European Cup).

CB – Diego Godin (Uruguay – Villarreal CF, Atlético Madrid, Internazionale)

  • 2011 Copa America Winner.
  • 2x UEFA Europa League Winner (11/12, 17/18).
  • 1 Domestic Trophy (2013/14 La Liga).

The Uruguayan was the only other person to score in regular time in that 2014 UEFA Champions League final. The late equaliser was an unfortunate blow to Simeone’s great Atletico Madrid side who were mere seconds away from lifting their first ever UEFA Champions League trophy. A team built upon defensive solidity and relentless work-rate – Godin embodied Atletico’s spirit. With Godin at the heart of the defence, Atleti managed to usurp the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the 2013/14 season, with Godin recognised in the UEFA Team of the Year for his contribution. Despite once again failing to win the UEFA Champions League final in 2016, a pair of Europa League trophies and a trio of UEFA Super Cups make for a well-deserved consolation for one of the most consistent defenders of the decade.

LB – Marcelo (Brazil – Real Madrid)

  • 4x UEFA Champions League Winner (13/14, 15/16, 16/17, 17/18).
  • 2 Domestic Trophies (La Liga x2).
  • Named in the FIFA FIFPro World XI x6 (12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19)

A charismatic on-pitch leader, Marcelo is a player that typifies Brazilian flair. From left-back in a second generation ‘Galactico’ team, the Brazilian managed to stand out as a star contributor in Real Madrid’s Champions League successes. Primarily a defender but often an attacker, it’s hard to remember a full-back who had such noticeable impact upon games as Marcelo did for Zidane’s Madrid. To put into perspective his attacking threat, the left-back was 6th in the entirety of La Liga for assists in 16/17 and 4th in terms of expected assists in 17/18. Critics disputed his defensive solidity, however he compensated with his overall game.

CDM – Sergio Busquets (Spain – FC Barcelona)

  • 2010 FIFA World Cup Winner.
  • UEFA Euro 2012 Winner.
  • 2x UEFA Champions League Winner (10/11, 14/15).

To be honest, it was tempting for me to happily place N’Golo Kante in this team. After all, the Frenchman’s dynamism on the pitch and all-round likeability make him more a more appealing choice than a tactically intelligent defensive midfielder whose greatest days came earlier in the decade. Certainly the most under-stated player in this team, his playing style does not lend to individual attention and accolades (as if that matters when he has won everything there is to win). Busquets has remained at football’s top table throughout his career, allowing the freedom of expression in midfield for the likes of Iniesta, Xavi and Rakitic in the process of picking up 2 UEFA Champions Leagues.

CM – Toni Kroos (Germany – Bayer Leverkusen (loan), FC Bayern Munich, Real Madrid)

  • 2014 FIFA World Cup Winner.
  • 4x UEFA Champions League Winner (12/13, 15/16, 16/17, 17/18).
  • Named in the FIFA FIFPro World XI x3 (14, 16, 17).

An architect in the middle of the park, Kroos has been a quiet but effective dictator of play for any team he has featured in for a number of years. Let’s take a chronological look at Toni Kroos’ decade: He broke into the Bayern Munich first team at 20 years old following a loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen. After a couple of seasons he became a key part of Bayern Munich’s treble winning side in 2013 before winning the FIFA World Cup with Germany in 2014 as one of the players of the tournament. Recognised as one of the best midfielders on the globe at this point, Real Madrid acquired the services of the German – this was soon followed by a trifecta of Champions League triumphs with Los Blancos. How could anyone argue his inclusion in this team?

CM – Andres Iniesta (Spain – FC Barcelona, Vissel Kobe)

  • 2010 FIFA World Cup Winner.
  • UEFA Euro 2012 Winner.
  • 2x UEFA Champions League Winner (10/11, 14/15).

“You will retire me, but this kid will retire us both” are the words Pep Guardiola famously said to Xavi. He was right and years later Iniesta’s creativity became the beating heart of a vision created by Guardiola during his managerial reign at Barcelona. The Spaniard resembled poetry in motion at times, he exhibited a high level of artistry when pulling the strings in one of the most aesthetically pleasing to watch teams of all time. Iniesta displayed the rare combination of style and function en route to winning 6 La Liga titles and earning 8 consecutive spots in the FIFPro World XI – making him unquestionably one of the greatest midfielders of his generation.

RW – Lionel Messi (Argentina – FC Barcelona)

  • 2x UEFA Champions League Winner (10/11, 14/15)
  • 5x Ballon d’Or Winner (10, 11, 12, 15, 19).
  • 6x European Golden Shoe Winner (09/10, 11/12, 12/13, 16/17, 17/18, 18/19).

Of the 11 players in this dream team, Lionel Messi may have had the greatest decade of all – possibly the greatest of any player this century. He has produced moments of pure footballing genius in the 2010s. He placed four past a helpless Arsenal, humiliated both Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer within a matter of moments, tore apart Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey Final and curled in a last-minute El Clasico winner at the Bernabeu – his 500th Barcelona goal. As part of the aforementioned incredible Blaugrana managed by Guardiola, Messi broke the record for the most goals ever scored in a single calendar year in 2012 by netting 91 times in 69 games. Since then, he has cemented his legacy as one of the undisputed all-time greats, displaying consistency matched by only one…

LW – Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal – Real Madrid, Juventus)

  • UEFA Euro 2016 Winner.
  • 4x UEFA Champions League Winner (13/14, 15/16, 16/17, 17/18).
  • 4x Ballon d’Or Winner (13, 14, 16, 17).

Like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo has appeared in every single FIFPro World XI published this decade, an incredible feat that may never be replicated. Messi or Ronaldo? Fans have debated which player is greater for years, when ultimately it does not matter. In decades of the future these two stars, together, will rightfully shine brighter than any other in the memories of football fans. Having passed 30 years of age in 2015, it would have been forgivable for Ronaldo to decline in recent times; nevertheless, the Portuguese has been the ever-present predator at the top of the football food chain. CR7 entered the 2010s the most expensive player of all-time following his 2009 move to Real Madrid. He justified his £85 million price-tag by scoring 450 goals in 438 games for Los Blancos en route to a plethora of accolades. After moving to Juventus in 2018 at the age of 33, he picked up the award for Serie A Footballer of the Year in 2019 as well as the Serie A title.

ST – Luis Suarez (Uruguay – Ajax, Liverpool, FC Barcelona)

  • 2011 Copa America Winner.
  • UEFA Champions League Winner (14/15).
  • 5 Domestic Trophies (La Liga x4, Eredivisie x1).

A potent concoction of controversy, emotion and goals, Luis Suarez has been a livewire his entire career. In 2010, the Uruguayan was busy making his mark in the Eredivisie before his move to Liverpool. The following year, Suarez lifted the Copa America trophy with Uruguay where he was chosen as player of the tournament. His true emergence as one of the planet’s greatest strikers came in his final 2 seasons in England; he scored 31 times in 33 appearances en route to joint-winning the European Golden Shoe for the 2013/14 season. The only man to equal his tally that year was Lionel Messi, whom Suarez would join the next season to form the deadly ‘M-S-N’ attacking trio alongside Neymar, firing Barça to 2015 UEFA Champions League glory. He was recognised as the world’s best the year after, named in the FIFPro World XI for 2016. Suarez has remained a consistent threat ever since, accumulating a total of 188 goals in 265 games during his time at the Nou Camp.

Naturally, that concludes our team! You may have noticed that all the out-field footballers in this side are best known for spells at La Liga sides this decade. Perhaps this should not be surprising, Spain were dominant internationally in the early 2010s, likewise were Barcelona. This was followed by a period of Real Madrid dominance in Europe. The two Spanish sides have remained the ultimate destination for world-class talents throughout the last 10 years; consequently the very best have landed in La Liga.

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