The Best 16 Footballers of 2016 (3-1)

#Salute: To the Ones that mesmerized us and left us wondering...

#Salute: To the Ones that mesmerized us and left us wondering…

This is the conclusion to the series we started on the blog two days ago. We’ll be taking a look at the the top 3 footballers who wowed football fans the world over and mesmerized us again, and again, and again.

Note: Since it was a very unusual year of football, we thought to pull off”an unusual” with our own list too! Wondering what it is? Don’t worry. You’ll find it if you keep reading. If you’re a bit confused about where the list of other footballers is, you can read them up here and here. Let’s continue our countdown, shall we?

3. Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona & Argentina)

It is said that all men are equals before God but as a sports commentator said, seeing Messi play makes you doubt the statement. Is there a list of great footballers this Argentine won’t make? Every year of his playing career has been about showing off different sides of his greatness. Little wonder he has earned comparisons to the greats and can arguable be categorised as an all-time best.

Blonde Great: Lionel Messi in action

Blonde Great: Lionel Messi in action

Despite the setbacks of this year the 29-year old helped Barcelona on their way to yet another La Liga title and made Suarez’s journey to the Golden Boot smoother. Yes, he missed out (just) on glory for his country during the year as his side got beat in the Copa America 100 final but, you’ll find it hard to come up with three names that have been better than Leo this year.

Of course, going blonde was among the many facets of great that Messi showed off this year. The tatts increased, he retired from international football, unretired (who else can pull that off?) and pulled off that stunning 20-seconds display against Espanyol.

Winning just one trophy and scoring just 59 goals (the highest any could garner over the year) and 31 assists in all competitions in the calendar year may not be good enough by his standards but the fact remains, Leo’s a football god.

2. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid & Wales)

Bale and Baby: Gareth Bale and his daughter at the Euro 2016

Bale and Baby: Gareth Bale and his daughter at the Euro 2016

2016 was just another 2014 for Gareth Bale… except that in 2014, Gareth Bale wasn’t busy scoring in Wales’ first 3 games in the European Championships and Real Madrid hadn’t offered him an eye-watering, stomach-churning, knee-trembling contract.

During the year 2016, Gareth Bale helped Real Madrid on their way to the treble: the UEFA Champions League trophy, UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup (erm, he didn’t exactly feature in Japan due to injury but I’m sure his winners’ medal will be mailed to him in Wales where he’s spending his Christmas. Better still, Perez will keep it safe for him).

After such a stellar year,it didn’t come as a surprise when the Welshman finished in the top 10 footballers of the year 2016 as ranked by the organizers of the Ballon d’Or. He scored 16 goals in the Spanish La Liga during the calendar year (11 in the 2015/2016 season and 5 in the 2016/2017 season) and 2 goals in the UEFA Champions League (both coming against Legia Warsaw).

For Wales, Gareth Bale didn’t fail to show up. He scored 3 goals in the Euro 2016, almost single-handedly dragging Wales into the semi-final of the Euro 2016. He added another 4 goals in their bid to grab a ticket to the Russia 2018 World Cup.

I can still remember his work rate in that Champions League final against Atletico Madrid. He seemed to be all over the place, racing down possession and causing Simeone’s men all kinds of headache. Whether playing left or right in Real’s attacking line, the 27-year-old’s speed always rattled opposition defense. His crosses were always sublime and his shots? Fearsome!

2. Antoine Griezmann (France & Atletico Madrid)

The European Golden Boy: Antoine Griezmann celebrates a goal scored with Dimitri Payet in the European Championships

The European Golden Boy: Antoine Griezmann celebrates a goal scored with Dimitri Payet in the European Championships

When you had a fantastic summer like Antoine did, then it’s hard to ignore you while the end-of-the-year list is being compiled. When you add to that the coming up just two spots shy of the 2016 Ballon d’Or award, then you become worthy of being included in any end-of-the-year list.

Griezmann, despite all his outstanding performances during the year, could not win any trophy but the Frenchman almost had the best year any individual player could have. He almost won both the UEFA Champions League and the European Championships. Not so many got so close (except for You-Know-Who).

Remember that hotline bling celebration that became a worldwide sensation? How about those goals scored in front of millions of his own countrymen? Let’s round things up here with an exceprt from FIFA:

Antoine Griezmann watched on as Cristiano Ronaldo lifted the trophy – and, struggling to wipe away his tears, the tournament’s top scorer and best player could barely manage that. There had been tears a month earlier too, when the France forward had missed a penalty before converting during the shootout even if it wasn’t sufficient to hoist the UEFA Champions League trophy.
It wasn’t a new thing for Griezmann. The Frenchman had lost several times before. The 25-year old had always picked himself up even when he was much younger.
“That early passion for the game was so powerful that Griezmann sometimes forgot the usual routines and obligations of a child his age.

“His mother told me an anecdote which really shows how football had already become the most important thing to him,” says Chetoux. “One day he was leaving for school and his mother asked him, ‘Antoine, have you got everything? You haven’t forgotten anything?’ ‘No mum,’ he said. ‘I’ve got my ball!’ But he’d actually forgotten his schoolbag.”

 

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid & Portugal)

Lol.. err, too much to handle Ronnie? C. Ronaldo "in action" against Austria at the European Championships

Lol.. err, too much to handle Ronnie? C. Ronaldo “in action” against Austria at the European Championships

  • UEFA Champions League winner? Check!
  • UEFA Super Cup winner? Check!
  • European Championship winner? Check!
  • Ballon d’OR winner? Check!
  • FIFA Club World Cup winner? Check!
  • World’s highest paid athlete? Double check!

In 2015, I thought I had seen it all. After scoring 55 goals during the year 2015, I thought he had little or nothing to prove again. But, characteristic of CR7, he proved me wrong (you too I’m sure), on all levels!

The goal-scoring machine banged in 52 goals during the 2016 calendar year (31 in La Liga, 10 for Portugal, 4 in the Club World Cup, 7 in the UEFA Champions League). He may have conceded the Golden Boot to Luis Suarez but there’s no doubting the consistency of CR7.

Cheers to a good year: C. Ronaldo says hello to one of his fans

Cheers to a good year: C. Ronaldo says hello to one of his fans

Real Madrid must have felt very lucky to have the sensation, hence the reason why they decided to extend his contract, thereby contributing their own quota to make him the world’s highest paid sportsman. On the pitch, Ronaldo seems to not be in any mood to slow down.

His Man-of-the-Match performances against Atletico Madrid, Wolfsburg, Hungary, Celta Vigo, all coming in the first half of the year, is testament to how much more he wants to keep winning those trophies. No, he didn’t score the winning goal that won Portugal her first European championship. But his ‘CR7 Live’ performance on the sidelines that day helped his team on their way to a surprise trophy win.

1/4: Cristiano Ronaldo and his son pose with the UEFA Champions League trophy

1/4: Cristiano Ronaldo and his son pose with the UEFA Champions League trophy

At this point, I’m tempted to kick-start again the ever-green argument, but obviously both are kings in their own shape and size (you get it, right?). It’s just glaring how much one has achieved with his country in the space of a year… and how much the other struggled to achieve same for his country.Enough said.

 

P.S: Surprise! We were able to squeeze in two players into the no. 2 spot. Don’t blame us. It would have been suicidal to drop either names from our list. So, we decided to pull some magic off (like Leicester City did).

 

Now that you’ve seen them all, what do you think? And I’m not just talking about having two players on the no.2 spot. I’m talking about our 16 (well, make that 17) players who made our end-of-the-year list? What do you think? Did we leave someone out in the cold? Is there a player who made this list unworthily?

Let’s know what you think by leaving a comment in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you! Or you prefer personal messages? Hit us up on our twitter pages (links are embedded in our names below). 

 

Special thanks to the names that argued back-n-forth well enough and made this list become a reality. Tosin Adesina, Kolawole Awolope and Posi Olayiwola. Thanks for your valuable contributions guys! Let’s do this again next year.

For reading this far, and this much (I think it’s a 4,000-plus-words series), I’d like to say a big thank you. Thank you for always coming back over the year to see what we’ve got on offer. Thanks for being part of our year.

Cheers to a fab year ahead! 😉 Much love

 

The Best 16 Footballers of 2016 (9-4)

#Salute: To the Ones that mesmerized us and left us wondering...

#Salute: To the Ones that mesmerized us and left us wondering…

The countdown continues as we look back at the year 2016 and review the football players who took our breaths away with their sterling performances. Just in case you missed the first post, you can catch up here. When you’re done, we’ll be here waiting for you… 😉

9. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal FC & Germany)

Picture Perfect, Award Worthy: Mesut Ozil finds his way past Ludogorets goalkeeper in a UEFA Champions League match during the year.

Picture Perfect, Award Worthy: Mesut Ozil finds his way past Ludogorets goalkeeper in a UEFA Champions League match during the year.

Jose Mourinho once admitted that anytime Mesut Ozil struck the ball, it made a different sound. It was another pitch, a note no one else could hit. At a time, there was an meme which had the magical German which and a line which read, ‘I WILL FIND YOU AND GIVE YOU AN ASSIST’.

In a world where it’s all about the goals, hardly would one see someone so dedicated to setting them up. Step in Mesut Ozil. The German creates goals with relative ease. It took him just 11minutes to create his first Arsenal goal and it is that kind of class that separates him from other Trequartistas in football.

He knows how to pick out the perfect pass, be it the arching pass that Bastian Schweinsteiger buried at the Euros or the looping corners into the box or the passes on a silver platter for Arsenal’s goal-shy forwards; with Mesut, the supply never stops.

He is gradually taking matters into his own hands, and the second half of 2016 has seen him evolve into the goal-scorer. He creates his moments and he decides what is best for himself, be it the mazy Puskas-worthy goal against Ludogorets, or the smash-ins or his tap-ins. He is gradually becoming ‘THE FOOTBALLER’.

He is already the specialist, and 2016 was the year he realized he was just more than a supplier; it was a year when the supplier became the executioner. And it won’t take long before the net starts making a different sound when he scores.

8. Paul Labile Pogba (Manchester United & France)

The Most-Talked-About One: Paul Pogba, back in a Manchester United shirt.

The Most-Talked-About One: Paul Pogba, back in a Manchester United shirt.

An obvious selection, for obvious reasons. Three years after leaving Manchester United for greener pastures in Juventus for a measly compensation fee, Paul Pogba returned to his boyhood club this year amidst a world record transfer fee. He was the most talked-about footballer this year, again, for obvious reasons.

The 23-year-old French midfielder started the year with the Old Lady, as they continued their fine form from 2015 to run unchallenged at the Scudetto. Pogba was an integral part of the team, with his lung-busting runs from deep, long-range stunners, fancy footwork and immense strength in the middle of the park all proving to be important tools in making him one of the finest midfielders in the world.

Shortly after the Scudetto glory, Pogba was a part of the French squad that performed admirably at the Euros 2016 but fell short of expectations by losing to Portugal in the final match. Paul himself was not at his dominant best for the national team but this can be attributed to the more defensive role he was asked to play by his national coach.

Fast forward over the summer and he now plies his trade in the Red half of Manchester once again. And while his performances have been far from bad, the tag of the world’s most expensive player on his head has seen many football fans calling for more consistency from the young midfielder.

Pogba can go on to be the best midfielder on the world, such is his potential and it is safe to say we expect him to justify this fact in the near future. He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or 2016 too by the way, which is the least that should be expected from a player of his quality.

7. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City & Algeria)

Player of the Year: Riyad Mahrez poses with the BBC African Footballer of the Year award

Player of the Year: Riyad Mahrez poses with the BBC African Footballer of the Year award

Well what can I say? Riyad Mahrez’s meteoric rise to prominence is nothing short of phenomenal and is worthy of the pages of a Hollywood script. The tricky winger, signed dirt cheap by Leicester from Le Havre about three seasons ago, will surely go down in his club’s history as their biggest bargain signing of the Premier League era.

After taking a season to settle into England, Mahrez absolutely burst to life in his second season, grabbing double figures in goals and assists, an incredible feat for any PL player, talk less of one playing for a team like Leicester City. From the beginning of this year, Mahrez was part of a fairytale run to the end of the season that ensured that Leicester would finish league leaders and he was arguably their most exciting and outstanding player.

Later in the year, Mahrez was named BBC’s African Footballer of the Year, and was part of the shortlisted three up for the CAF Player of the Year award. He also found his way into the list of nominees for the Ballon d’Or award, alongside fellow revelation of the season, teammate Jamie Vardy. Could he possibly need to do more to grab a spot in this list? I think not.

6. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal & Chile)

Another Copa: Sanchez gives the #Copa100 trophy a kiss

Another Copa: Sanchez gives the #Copa100 trophy a kiss

Unbelievable. That is one word that describes this man’s form this year. 2016 has been a very good year for Chilean ace, Alexis Sanchez. The versatile forward was the Premier League’s best rated player, according to WhoScored, achieving an average rating of 7.81 out of a possible 10.

In the calendar year, he grabbed 19 goals and 9 assists, more than any other player in the league. In a club that has countless talent going forward, it is impressive that Alexis is considered to be the best player, and he has justified this sentiment, helping Arsenal to finish second in the league in May.

Fast forward to the Copa America and Alexis was once again influential, contributing goals and assists in Chile’s run to the final and proving key as they beat Argentina once again to win the cup.He was named player of the tournament, despite not being the highest goal scorer or assist king. Such is the influence he had on the team’s success.

Fast forward again to the new season and Alexis has not slowed down one bit. Deployed as the main striker, he has rewarded coach Arsene Wenger’s faith with a return of 12 goals (second best in the league as at time of writing). His pace, trickery, shot power, intelligence and surprising “Hulk” strength despite his diminutive stature is a constant terror for opposition and his inclusion in our end-of-the-year list is well justified.

5. Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz (FC Barcelona & Uruguay)

Highest Goal-scoring Father: Luis Suarez poses with the European Golden boot alongside his kids

Highest Goal-scoring Father: Luis Suarez poses with the European Golden boot alongside his kids

Messi and Ronaldo are regarded as superhumans because they score goals like no one can. But how do you class a player that can score more? There was a popular belief that no Barcelona striker could score too much with Messi around (maybe Zlatan wasn’t Zlatan then). But the Uruguayan, since joining the Catalan giants, has added more bite to that Barcelona attack.

That’s why there was utter disappointment when he wasn’t named in the top three best players of the year 2016 because he actually was one of them. Doing everything right, and having the right names around him, Suarez won the Pichichi crown as the top goal scorer in the La Liga 2016/2016 season.

Fiery: Suarez made goal-scoring look like nothing over the year

Fiery: Suarez made goal-scoring look like nothing over the year

He didn’t stop there as he went on to win the European Golden Boot. He has become a part of a deadly trio, the MSN, whose joy is to terrorize defenders and rattle the onion bag as often as possible. Stopping Suarez and his cohorts will take a miracle and at that they’ll almost always find a way in the end.

With his wife and children cheering their hero from the sidelines in a culture similar to his own, Luis finally has found that psychological balance to enjoy his football. The ghosts of 2014 are long gone now. Suarez bites with his boots now. He’s been the best in the world in every position he has played in this year and that is subject to no argument.

4. Neymar Jr (Brazil & FC Barcelona)

Golden Boy: Neymar spent the year nutmegging his opponents and, ah yes, helping Brazil win that elusive Olympic gold medal in Men's Football

Golden Boy: Neymar spent the year nutmegging his opponents and, ah yes, helping Brazil win that elusive Olympic gold medal in Men’s Football

If Neymar Jr was a punching bag, he would be bruised, battered and almost useless at this point, giving the kind of year he had. The 24-year old had to deal with accusations of his involvement in his own transfer move which has been stylishly called all names but fraudulent.

He was made to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea by his club when they informed him he couldn’t play at two international events in the space of three months. It was a daunting year but one that seems to be worth it. Many would make a case that he shouldn’t make the list. But for a player whose is a high-functioning part of the world’s deadliest trio, that would be injustice.

From the Copa del Rey final to the Olympic games final and those times when Messi and Suarez were out injured, Neymar Jr rose to the occasion. He has his detractors, those feel he is to fanciful, but for a player who believes in the ‘Zinga’, the Samba and whose trademark is to show off like a peacock, you can’t blame him for being the closest thing to fun that football has seen since Ronaldinho gaucho.

And even though he doesn’t possess the free flowing hair of his counterpart, he does possess his skills and seeing him enjoy himself is beauty to football in itself. It is this flair that influences his passion, one characterized by his tears as he struck the penalty that brought Olympic Glory to the Seleccao after several years of agony.

He has suffered his worst drought in front of goal already but it’s all an indication that he is growing and if 2016 brought joy and agony simultaneously, 2017 can only get better for the purist’s golden boy.

Photo credits: Twitter

What do you think about the list? Is there a footballer “wrongly” placed above or below another? Or have we committed an unforgivable mistake by completely omitting a certain name? Let us know in the comments section below. We’ll like to hear from you.

The Best 16 Footballers of 2016 (16-10)

 

2016 was the ultimate year for any football fan. There was more than enough football to go round for everyone. There never seemed to be a quiet month during the year. From the leagues to international football, transfer speculations and the ones that became realities, football in 2016 was more than enough.

Add to that list, the number of exceptionals that occured over the year, then it’s safe to conclude that another year like 2016 may be very hard to come by in a very long time. While all these actions were ongoing, it was the players that were in the spotlight, some stealing the show with their amazing performances and others leaving mouths the world over agape with their brilliance.

Of all of them, we at For The Goals have selected 16 players who we think outperformed every other football player on the planet during the calendar year. With the number of football events that happened over the year, it was very hard to come up with just 16 names. it was so hard that we had to include a “Worthy Mentions” list which you’ll get to see at the end of the countdown.

But first, we countdown, the best footballers who took the world by storm in 2016

 

16. Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus & Italy)

Italian Wall: Leonardo Bonucci in his country colours

Italian Wall: Leonardo Bonucci in his country colours

The retirement of Paolo Maldini in 2007 was the end of an era for defenders; a role scarcely appreciated by fans due to its perceived lack of excitement. The defender is tasked with stopping the attacker from scoring. But that role is gradually evolving, with ball-playing defenders like John Stones and Gerard Pique overshadowing men who have fulfilled varying roles in the strong defensive position either by breaking up play, making last ditch tackles, the oft goal-line clearance, taking one for the team, or creating memories with goals that break opposition hearts.

They are often the most stable outfield players and no man embodies these qualities more than Juventus brave heart Leonardo Bonucci. Be it in Antonio Conte’s three-man defence or Max Allegri’s four-man defence, Lenny has forged partnerships with his partners and made them impenetrable.

He was a backbone in the Italian team that reached the Quarter finals of the Euros not to mention his performances with Juventus and his key role. It didn’t come as a surprise when he became the subject of a 50million-pound bids from multiple clubs. He is giving defenders new identity and I’m not talking about just tackling,

It is shouldering the responsibility of his team and carrying the hope of a nation. It is his fierce loyalty to the Old Lady despite the money distractions from the ‘younger ladies’. He is the symbol of the new defender: reborn, tough and yet performing at the highest level. 2016 has indeed been one for Lenny to remember. He would join Maldini as the next Italian to have his jersey retired at his club.

15. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham FC & France)

What a Year!: Hugo Lloris enjoyed a great year with both club and country

What a Year!: Hugo Lloris enjoyed a great year with both club and country

Speed off the line, cat-like reflexes, great handling skills, accurate kicking and consistency; all these attributes and more make Hugo Lloris an undroppable option. Already long considered to be one of the finest goalkeepers in the business, Hugo Lloris has taken his game to yet another level this year as his heroics for club and country earned him a spot in the FIFA Ballon D’or list of nominees.

The French goalkeeper has been outstanding and he has proven to be an extremely solid last line of defence as he was crucial in Tottenham’s run to third place towards the end of last season. Hugo also formed part of a formidable French team that competed in the 2016 Euros, getting to the final before losing to underdogs Portugal in an unexpected turn of events.

Carrying this good form into the new season, Hugo is still the undisputable first choice goalkeeper for Tottenham and he is part of a defence that has conceded the second least number of goals so far in the Premier League, letting in only 12 goals in 17 games. Stunning form, no doubt.

14. Marcelo Vieira da Silva Júnior (Real Madrid & Brazil)

Glorious Year: Marcelo rejoices as he hoists the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan

Glorious Year: Marcelo rejoices as he hoists the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan

He may be just 5’8 tall but, don’t be deceived. He is a beast that attacks, defends, and sometimes patrols the whole left wing on his own when Ronaldo is where Ronaldo wants to be. Arguably the world’s best left back at the moment, you might mistake him for a winger sometimes when he’s skinning his opposite number.

2016 is a year Marcelo will most likely not forget in a hurry. Winning the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA World Cup and on top of the La Liga table, the playful left-back can look back on the achievements of the year and several reasons to feel on to of the world. Although he wears the jersey number 12, he plays in the no. 3 position while CR7 can be anywhere. 3+7=10. That’s perfection, you do the maths.

Marcelo, smiling Rasta, leftwing demon.

 

13. Ngolo Kante (Chelsea & France)

Diamond in the Rough: N'golo Kante was one of the revelations of the year. (Image credit: Bleacher)

Diamond in the Rough: N’golo Kante was one of the revelations of the year. (Image credit: Bleacher)

The French African that has been compared to the Makaleles of football and rightly so… He knows his role and he plays it well. His role, like his complexion, is to be engaged in the dark arts of football. Break and attack, and start a new one. Shield the defense and give the strikers no joy. So far, this year has been his year, playing key roles in helping Leicester win the EPL and helping Chelsea lead the table in the new season.

To highlight his importance, Leicester have struggled so far this season while Chelsea who were the jokers of the last season are not letting in much and are leading the table. N’golo Kante is a school-of-hard-knocks type of player, efficient midfield beast reincarnated from a previous era.

 

12. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund & Gabon)

African Prince: Reigning African Player of the year, Aubameyang

African Prince: Reigning African Player of the year, Aubameyang

He has been described as ”maybe the paciest striker in the world.” Being one of the only 2 Africans who came close to winning the Ballon d’Or this year (he ranked 11th on the France Football list), that description is just perfect.

From being crowned the CAF African Footballer of the Year in January, to being voted the Bundesliga Player of the Year by his fellow professionals (beating names like Robert Lewandowski by the slimmest of margins, 0.2%), to being nominated again for the African Footballer of the Year, 2016 has been a beauty of a year for the Gabonese striker.

Despite not having much to do during the summer like the CR7s and Leos did, Aubameyang still managed to score 32 goals in all competitions during the year. Even though that number falls short of the 42 he scored last year, Pierre is still one of the most sought-after strikers in the game, with big shots like Real Madrid rumoured to be interested in the Gabonese.

Any blots on his scorecard this year? His fall-out with his coach Thomas Tuchel, which led to him getting suspended. Asides that, Aubameyang had a beautiful 2016. With the AFCON and more coming up, I can’t wait to see more of the Gabonese.

 

11. Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City & Denmark)

Following in the steps of the fathers: Schmeichel played an important role in the Leicester side that shocked the world.

Following in the steps of the fathers: Schmeichel played an important role in the Leicester side that shocked the world.

It was May 1993; Man United were on their way to a first Premier league title; Guarding the goal was a 29year old blonde-haired clean shaven Dane, his name; PETER SCHMEICHEL. Twenty-three years later, another Schmeichel was repeating the feat, albeit in more magical circumstances, with lowly Leicester City.

His rather not-so meteoric rise has seen him play in the lower divisions of English & Scottish football. Kasper is not the clean-sheet king his father was or the ball-playing sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer is. He belongs to the old school category of safeguarding the goal, placing all on the line to prevent his net from bulging, and these were efforts that rarely were recognized.

2016 was, however, the year in which Schmeichel made his mark, leaving a huge print on the sands of time with memorable performances while protecting his side’s goal when the fairy-tale was looking in doubt. This was the form he carried into the new season. And despite his club’s sickening league form, his Champions League performances have been virtuoso just as much, keeping clean sheets in his first four games in the competition, and earning himself a Best-Goalkeeper-in-Europe tag from his manager.

There were several forces that made Leicester City tick and achieve the fairy tale they did. Mother luck played her part. Riyad Mahrez might have possessed the wizardry of skills and Jamie Vardy the goals, but as Adriano Galliani once said, Defence is the best form of Attack; a defence that starts with the line who comes in handy when the other lines are found wanting.

That is another great Dane, whose performances have sparked talks of a move to Manchester City, another one that got away.

 

10. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid CF & Germany)

Not the noisiest, not the quietest: Kroos poses with the FIFA Club World Cup

Not the noisiest, not the quietest: Kroos poses with the FIFA Club World Cup

Since Joachim Low’s appointment as Germany boss in 2006, never has he listed a central midfielder as his best player in the world. This year changed all that. His enthusiasm and delight at citing the consistent year that Toni Kroos had for Real Madrid was evident. It was the grin and the joy of a father who was delighted in his own son, impressed with how the boy had become the man.

It is quite shocking how Pep Guardiola let the metronome slip through his grasp. Toni has become more technical, with every stroke of the ball like that of a mother caressing her baby. Kroos may yet not be the Andres Iniesta many Catalans see or the Xavi that fans were in awe of. He is his own man, the technical master, the musical chord that is the leader of the orchestra.

Like the violinist who plays with an alluring tempo, he has consistently been at the top of his game according to Low and it is a sentiment his club manager echoes. It’s not a farce. If his stats are anything to go by, Kross has averaged an 88percent pass completion rate for the year and has registered 8assists in the second half of the year already for Real Madrid.

He was sorely missed in the Clasico as he would have matched Iniesta for technique upon his introduction. He is often touted to be the toast of several clubs but he doesn’t look likely to leave the Bernabeu anytime soon. He is just like the proverbial sugar that attracts small insects. Kroos is the midfielder, the fantasista.

Wondering who else made the list? You can continue reading here!

The Happily-Ever-After Series: How About a Trip Down Memory Lane?

Back in the days: The official logo of the Korea/Japan 2002 World cup. (Photo credit: FIFA

Back in the days: The official logo of the Korea/Japan 2002 World cup. (Photo credit: FIFA

I love football. I have done a lot of silly things because of football, chief among them being hiding one in my bag when I was writing my Junior Secondary School Certificate Exam. I never cared about my books. All that mattered was the ball.

I always thought I would forge a career as a world class player, follow in the footsteps of my idol Kaka’, dribble with flair like Ronaldinho, execute deftly like Ronaldo deLima, possess the shot power of Roberto Carlos and be the free-kick specialist that Juninho Pernambucano was.

I dreamt of winning the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards again and again. I dreamt of leading my beloved Nigeria to the African Cup of Nations title again and again with a World Cup victory sandwiched in between. I dreamt I would retire a legend, and after twenty years of active football playing, I would go on to become a coach and repeat those feats again and again.

This was my dream… until harsh reality dawned on me in my penultimate year in secondary school when my Yoruba teacher, with whom I had no love lost for, said, “YOU CAN NEVER PLAY FOOTBALL AGAIN AS A PROFESSIONAL, YOU GUYS ARE TOO OLD”. It seemed like he had stuck a knife in my gut. So I would never be a professional footballer again?

My happily-ever-after became a doubt, a big one, and that was how I forgot I ever wanted to be a great footballer. But, let it be known, football still runs in my veins and it’s my passion. So whenever I see a happily-ever-after, I rejoice. I consider myself a football purist and Cinderella stories (as they call them) in football, always gives me goose bumps.

In this series, I’ll be relieving some of these happily-ever-after moments I have witnessed in my lifetime.

2002 FIFA WORLD CUP: SENEGAL, TURKEY AND KOREA REPUBLIC.

The first World Cup I ever watched was in 2002 (yeah, I’m that young). I remember getting home that afternoon of May 31 and meeting a lot of people in our compound. At the time, we stayed with Senegalese occupants. This made the tournament extra special as we all gathered to witness perhaps the biggest shock in football  at the time as the Teranga Lions of Senegal stunned France in Seoul through Papa Bouba Diop’s strike..

Record Makers: Senegal scoring the opening goal of the game against France.

Record Makers: Senegal scoring the opening goal of the game against France.

Bruno Metsu’s men would not stop there. They would make their only world cup appearance to date count as they held Denmark to a draw before another entertaining roller-coaster against Uruguay. They however outdid themselves when Henri Camara scored in the last minute of the first half of extra time to send them through to the Quarter Final where their dreams were extinguished by Turkey.

The world had taken notice, and Senegal’s pool of Ligue 1 players were scattered across Europe in no time. However, Senegal weren’t alone in creating history. Turkey, the team that got them eliminated, created a history of their own by reaching the semis of the competition. Nobody had given a team that Pele had written off a chance.

The Phenomenon

The Phenomenon

After waking from their slumber against China, they drew against Costa Rica, beat co-hosts Japan, Senegal and Korea Republic, with their semi final defeat the blot on their copybook. They even scored the fastest goal in World Cup history when Hakan Sukur scored inside 11seconds in their third place playoff.

Guus Hiddink’s men might have finished fourth but they had seemingly done the impossible, defeating the golden generation of Portugal (Figo, Pauleta, Bento, Rui Costa, Baia, et al), the might of Italy (Maldini, Vieri, Totti, Tommassi, Nesta, etc), Spain (albeit controversially), before succumbing to Germany in a tight contest. While they didn’t go all the way, these nations created memories for purists like me and it apparently explains why the whole world is impatient for another World Cup.

How CHILL can it get?: Goalkeeper Chilavert of Paraguay takes a free-kick during the tournament.

How CHILL can it get?: Goalkeeper Chilavert of Paraguay takes a free-kick during the tournament.

What do you think? Does this bring back any memories of that 2002 FIFA World Cup? Or do you have other football memories you would like to relive? Sure you do! Share them with me and the world in the comments section below and let’s take a trip back in time, together! 😀

 

About Author
Tosin Adesina is an ideal young man, a soccer aficionado. He prefers being called Fijasewa Arogunyo because that’s who the world would grow to know. He is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, a follower of Jurgen Klopp, a lover of Jose Mourinho, an admirer of Cholo Simeone, a fanatic of Carlo Ancelotti and an avid fan of Antonio Conte. You can connect with him on Twitter @teetunez

Manchester City 2 – Arsenal 1: Wenger’s First Half vs Guardiola’s Second Half

Offside?: Video replays show Leroy Sane in an offside position just before he scores the equalizer for Manchester City. (Photo Credit: Whatsapp)

Offside?: Video replays show Leroy Sane in an offside position just before he scores the equalizer for Manchester City. (Photo Credit: Whatsapp)

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City squared off against Wenger’s Arsenal in another English Premier League Matchday. Both teams were part of the chasing pack trying desperately to stop (or at least catch up with) Conte’s locomotive.

While it wasn’t sure what to expect from the game, as both teams had contrasting recent forms, it was sure to be a cracker no thanks to the points at stake.

On one hand, there was a certain Manchester City side desperate to return to the days of going several games unbeaten. On the other hand, the clubside from London, who even though had just come off a loss at Everton, wanted to make sure names they kept up pace with the league leaders.

The game ended with Man. City winning the game by a 2-1 scoreline. But as with all games, this one had it’s own storyline. And that’s what you’re about to read in this article.

Arsenal’s First Half

This was the half Arsenal ran the Cityzens ragged. By the fourth minute of the game, the Gunners were already up by a goal thanks to a sleeping City defense and an alert Arsenal forward line who noticed it and took advantage.

In this half, Arsenal enjoyed quite a nunber of things, namely:

A Poor Zabaleta

Zabaleta was a pain to watch for most City faithfuls in the first half of the game. His runs (forward and back) were mostly mis-timed while he did little next to nothing to provide wide support for Man. City’s ‘strikerless’ formation.

He was constantly caught off-guard and wasn’t alert enough to work towards stopping the first goal City conceded. Describing him as a liability to Man. City and a blessing to Arsenal during the first 45 wouldn’t be exaggerating in any way.

Sanchez

After the half, Man. City seemed to boss Arsenal in all areas as regards stats (except the goal of course). But one man was a glimmer of hope for Arsenal throughout the half (and the entire game).

Sanchez is his name and he was the closest to exciting that the Gunners had on offer on the day. Alexis kept chasing after every ball sight and refused to remain passive like Ozil and co.

Most times he got frustrated by how deep the Arsenal players preferred to play, instead of coming out to attack. His enthusiasm was one of the many highlights of the first half of the game (asides the goal and Sterling’s empty-goal-mouth chance that was missed).

Complaints Box?

Complaints Box?: Arsenal fan goes on a rage after dismal performance by Gunners.


Note
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If I may add, please forget Giroud if you’re a Gunner. Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal’s best hope for a striker.

A Disjointed City

‘A house divided against itself…,” the wise book says. This was another highlight of Arsenal’s 1st half. Even before they conceded that goal, Pep’s men looked at odds with each other.

Yes by halftime they were leading as regards goal attempts and possession and passes completed. But, they only had one shot on target, and were playing like a team at war… with itself! Arsenal took advantage and took a lead into the break.

Manchester City’s Second Half

– The Tactical Change

It was nothing serious. Zabaleta was removed and Sagna was brought on. But it felt like as if a complete overhaul had taken place! 4 minutes into the second half, Leroy Sane scored the equalizer for Man. City.

For the next 15 minutes or thereabout after that goal, Arsenal would go on to feel the full force of a Pep-Guardiola-led side. It was tiki taka as like in the days of old (Hello Barça!)

The Gunners were starved of ball possession and all they were suddenly good at was chasing the ball, unsuccessfully. Few minutes later, they were chasing both ball possession and the game itself, thanks to a goal from Sterling.

It’s not sure what was at work: whether it was Pep’s ‘Pep Talk’ (pun intended) or the deleting of Zabaleta. But either ways, something happened to the Cityzens in the dressing room. And they came out a transformed side.

STATICstics: #Weird

STATICstics: #Weird

Arsenal Played Strangely

Take nothing away from the landlords of the Etihad Stadium. Their 2nd half performance was great. But Arsenal’s strange display made things even easier for the Cityzens.

Arsenal played poorly, without passion and seemed to be more interested in defending, rather than attacking. As mentioned earlier, Sanchez was left to do most of the chasing while the others preferred to wait for the Man. City players to come and have a go at them.

And names like Silva and Yaya and Sterling and KdB certainly enjoyed doing that.

Kevin de Bruyne’s ‘Pass of the Season’

Just before this pass, Man. City players had been struggling with getting the ball into the opposition box successfully. Most times they tried, they failed, woefully.

Then came de Bruyne’s magic:

“Kevin de Bruyne, while stationed on the halfway-line, receives a throw-on, chests it down, and hits one of the best passes you are likely to see all season. An inch-perfect cross-field diagonal pass which stays low and begs Raheem Sterling to run onto it down the right flank. Sterling controls it, drifts into the box, before cutting in on his favoured left foot and squeezing a low shot past Petr Cech’s near post.”

For some, it may just be another EPL game that has come and gone.

But, with City finally beating another ‘Top Four’ team and Arsenal playing ‘as usual‘ whenever Santa’s in town, the chase is on!

<strong>About Author</strong>

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance writer, football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter <a href=”http://twitter.com/rotdav”&gt;@rotdav</a> and on <a href=”https://ng.linkedin.com/in/rotimi-daramola-5b4374a2″>LinkedIn</a&gt;

The Grumblings of A Barcelona Fan

Who's To Blame?: Barcelona players in their game against Valencia in October 2o16. (Photo credit: Dailymail)

Who’s To Blame?: Barcelona players in their game against Valencia in October 2o16. (Photo credit: Dailymail)

I will always support my team, through thick and thin. But I will never forget the day we, as a club, made a mistake that is haunting us even today (I sensed, at the time, that we would regret it).

That was the day we decided to sell Thiago Alcántara do Nascimento to Bayern Munich and keep the hyped ‘prodigal son’ transfer of Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal.

Not Cesc, and not any midfielder we have brought in since Thiago’s departure is on Thiago’s level of talent and suitability to the playmaking role in the team.

Today we are sitting in a situation where our identity as a team is leaving us bit by bit. We are becoming just another team in terms of our style of play, even though we still have a high level of skill.

Our unique tiki-taka style is gradually going by the wayside. Someone managed to fool us and tell us that we needed to device a plan B in our play and that we needed to evolve, as teams had ‘figured us out‘.

That is the biggest lie in Barcelona’s recent history. The style we had under Pep was the best for our team and bringing back Cesc at the expense of Thiago was a signal of the start of the end of an era – an era which would have possibly been successfully continued by Thiago after Xavi’s imminent retirement.

Maybe Thiago’s departure was partly political – he was wearing 11 and the incoming wonderkid Neymar wears 11, so maybe our management felt something had to give – who knows?

In as much as I do praise them when they play well, players like Rakitic, Denis Suarez, Andres Gomes are a different breed to what makes Barca the team they were. Even Thiago’s younger brother, Rafinha isn’t quite woven into the ilk of his sibling.

These players are not the kind that help us keep the ball and oven-bake it to perfection before it goes to attack. Yes, there will never be another Xavi, but why did we have to sell our best chance of having a Xavi-like playmaker who has innate Brazilian flair?

Thiago would have been a giant in this midfield at this point. So, to compensate for our limitations in midfield, Lionel Messi is gradually becoming a more and more important figure in the middle third.

He now has to increasingly assume a mixture of a playmaking role, wing-play role and a striking role. And even though he shows he is capable, it should not have gotten to this point, because he won’t always hit the right note, regardless of how good he is.

With important players leaving our midfield (Xavi and almost Iniesta), things were always never gonna be the same. But so un-Barca-like is this Barca that I don’t know exactly where we are going in terms of style of play.

When our midfield lacks form (like it has in the past weeks), our deficiencies in the middle of the park become so evident for everyone to see. We become so thin, frail and lacking in purpose in the middle of the park.

This disturbs me.

The only time that our midfield plays well and shows the soul of Barca is when Sergio Busquets plays well. And, in this past few weeks, he has struggled for form. The blessing that we now have (MSN’s firepower and quick-attacking-style) also contribute towards our midfield being less important because, now the ball spends less time being cooked in the middle of the pitch and we rush it to the MSN Gang.

When it works, it works very well. But when it doesn’t, it exposes the lack of Barcelona soul that this Barca has. I guess we gained some by losing some. Was it all worth it, though?

The Face Off, El Clasico Version: Real Madrid take on Barcelona in the biggest football match in club football on Saturday. Photo credits: LaLiga

The Face Off, El Clasico Version: Real Madrid take on Barcelona in the biggest football match in club football on Saturday. Photo credits: LaLiga

This is my cry as a fan. I’m hopeful that somehow, we will dig deep into ourselves and come up with a performance for the ages this Saturday (the El Clasico)  bonus for me would be for it (the performance) to be a classic Barca performance.

But that may be asking for too much.

I can only hope that, throughout the season, our level of attacking skill makes up for the lack of soul in our play, and the lack of midfield control that is becoming part of our bloodstream in this past couple of seasons.

About Author

Nzudzanyo Ranwaha, a South African, is an engineer by profession. He loves watching football, playing football, playing pool (billiards), graphics designing and a few other hobbies many people would find boring. You can catch up with him on twitter @nzuu198