FIFA ‘Spanish’ Team of the Year…..

The English media is in meltdown! Okay, there was a begrudging acknowledgement through a collective gritting of the teeth that the La Liga superstars Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta were deservedly ranked as the three finest players of the past 12mths. But, if you listened very carefully, you could actually hear the moment when Daily Telegraph journalist Henry Winter and his fellow EPL sympathisers’ hearts shattered into a million tiny pieces when the FIFA Team of the Year called up not a single English Premier League player! Y’see, dear, jovial Henry continues to peddle the battered myth that Michel Platini’s utopia of an all-encompassing European Super League is actually already in existence….and that it can be salivated over on a weekly basis within the shores of England’s green and pleasant land! Yet while the energy, the tempo and the commitment of England’s premier football competition cannot be in doubt, the steady decline in its actual quality has been very much in evidence for the last 5yrs and counting.

For the second consecutive season England finds its much-vaunted and vastly over-hyped EPL Champions dumped out of the European Champions League at the very first hurdle; this season seeing Man City replicating the humiliatingly premature exit of their city rivals Man Utd last year. Fellow EPL representatives Chelsea completed the worst defence of the trophy in its history – as the Champions League rather than its previous European Cup guise – and for the second year running England boasts just two survivors from the Group Stage. And, frankly, few commentators believe Man Utd or Arsenal will do anything other than succumb to the powerhouses of Real Madrid and FC Bayern respectively in the upcoming knock-out phase.

But that is not to say that there are no outstanding individuals plying their trade in the EPL. Robin van Persie continues to enjoy a remarkable run of goal-scoring form, David Silva and Juan Mata are the creative linchpins of their respective clubs, Sergio Aguero enjoyed a fine debut EPL season with Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany providing stellar performances at the other end of the field, Ashley Cole remains a fine left-back while Marouane Fellaini is developing into a dominant midfield presence, Gareth Bale is a force of nature and Luis Suarez is finally scoring the goals that his performances regularly merit.

Having said that, how many would genuinely challenge – without the benefit of Henry Winter’s rose-tinted glasses – for a nomination into FIFA’s Team of the Year? For the record FIFA chose the following XI; Iker Casillas, Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Marcelo, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao.

The first obvious note is that the Coca Cola and Pepsi of European football – Barcelona and Real Madrid – can boast ten of the eleven in that line-up, with only Atletico Madrid’s much-coveted Falcao disrupting the symmetry of a Real/Barca closed shop. And of equal importance, whether it be the 2011/12 European season or simply 2012 as a calendar year, all of them have won silverware! Most of the eleven featured in Spain’s EURO 2012 victory, Real Madrid won La Liga, Barcelona had a relatively disappointing trophy haul of just the European Super Cup 2011, the Club World Championship and the Copa del Rey and Falcao led Atletico to the Europa League before single-handedly annihilating Chelsea in the European Super Cup 2012. So if a mandatory selection criteria is that they must have won a trophy then RVP, rather unsurprisingly at “line our own pockets first and bugger the fans” Arsenal, would fall short on that count alone! But surely it is too simplistic to disregard an otherwise worthy candidate on the basis that their club/country did not secure tangible success? Djimi Traore, Harry Kewell, Wes Brown, Anderson and John Terry are all European Champions League ‘winners’….but that accolade does not necessarily elevate them to ‘world-class’.

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