A new decade is just around the corner, which has given FC Yahoo an opportunity to look back at the players who have defined the last 10 years.
Here’s our team of the decade, which takes into account domestic and international success. We’ve organized the team into 4-3-3, the preeminent formation of the past 10 years.
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
Although no longer at the peak of his powers, Manuel Neuer is the only serious candidate to tend the net in this XI.
The Gelsenkirchen native started the decade as captain of his boyhood club FC Schalke 04, whom he led to a Champions League semifinal berth and a DFB-Pokal victory. In the summer of 2011, Neuer made his move to Bayern Munich, where fans were initially skeptical of his arrival due to his history with Schalke. However, the seven subsequent Bundesliga titles and 2013 Champions League crown have since settled the reservations of the Bavarian fans.
In addition to being a first-class shot-stopper and leader on the field — not only did he save a penalty in the 2012 Champions League Final, but he scored one too — Neuer redefined his position with his “sweeper keeper” style.
The World Cup-winning German is renowned for following his defense high up the field (often into the center circle) while performing the last-ditch tackles of a sweeper. His technical skill on the ball is so good that he easily could have been an outfield defender.
Left back: Marcelo
If his status as Real Madrid’s first-choice left back for the entire decade isn’t enough, Marcelo has been named in the FIFPro World XI for the last five years running, and has made the UEFA Team of the Year three times.
Not only is the Brazilian one of the finest defenders of his generation, but his ability to race down the flanks has been exemplary in an era where the role fullback has been increasingly defined by attacking credentials.
En route to four Champions League titles and two La Liga triumphs in the past decade, Marcelo has displayed incredible close control, dribbling, vision and surprisingly good technique with his weaker right foot.
Center back: Sergio Ramos
Marcelo’s ubiquity in the FIFPro World XI is only bettered by his Real Madrid defensive teammate: Sergio Ramos has made the team every single season since 2011.
His disciplinary record leaves a lot to be desired — he has accrued a club-record 25 red cards for Los Blancos across all competitions — and his theatrics can certainly be polarizing, but Ramos’ status as one of the all-time great defenders cannot be questioned.
His value as a clutch goal-scorer is also noteworthy, having found the net twice in Champions League finals.
In addition to lifting the Champions League trophy four times, Ramos guided Spain to victory in the 2010 World Cup and at Euro 2012. The 33-year-old was critical to Spain’s ascent to the very top of the world’s game.
His will be tough boots to fill when he finally hangs them up.
Center back: Gerard Pique
There may be some contest for the second center back spot in this side. Giorgio Chiellini has helped Juventus to eight consecutive Serie A titles, while Vincent Kompany will soon have a statue outside the Etihad Stadium for his role in Manchester City’s rise.
The spot, however, goes to Gerard Pique, who has consistently shown his superiority in fortifying the back line.
In addition to partnering Ramos in Spain’s inimitable title-winning team, the Catalan has won seven of the decade’s 10 La Liga titles with Barcelona.
Pique has won every possible accolade and will be remembered for his role in some of the best sides in modern soccer history.
Right back: Dani Alves
The decade’s best defensive line has a distinctly Clásico feel to it, but Dani Alves’ accomplishments are not just restricted to Spain.
The Brazilian left back has won league titles in three countries in the past decade: five with Barcelona, one with Juventus and two at Paris Saint-Germain.
Alves has become the archetype wingback during his career, with his defensive capabilities complemented by an ability to zip up the line and distribute a pinpoint cross.
At 36, his best days may be behind him, but he is still perfectly capable of dominating at the top level. At the 2019 Copa America, Alves captained Brazil to a vaunted win on home soil. That was the 40th trophy of his esteemed career.
Left midfielder: Andres Insieta
Playing to the left of the central role that defined his greatest exploits in a Barcelona shirt, Andres Iniesta earns his spot in this XI as one of the most complete midfielders of his generation.
Despite playing in a Blaugrana side with more celebrated and ostentatious teammates, Iniesta has won plaudits for his vision, movement, tenacity and dribbling ability. His notable Man of the Match accolades include the 2015 Champions League final (where he completed the second treble of his career) and the Clásico of November 2015, where his outstanding performance earned a standing ovation from the home fans at the Bernabeu.
Center midfielder: Sergio Busquets
The central midfield role was the most difficult to fill in this side. How do you leave out Xavi, who has won a World Cup, a European Championship, two Champions League and four league titles?
Well, he may only be omitted for Sergio Busquets, who is almost certainly the greatest defensive midfielder of his generation.
Johan Cruyff famously said Busquets already played like a veteran when he broke through to the first team at Barcelona, due to his confidence, tactical nous and unrivaled distribution.
Vicente del Bosque, the manager for whom Busquets delivered a World Cup and a European Championship, was more philosophical: “If you watch the whole game, you won't see Busquets — but watch Busquets, and you will see the whole game.”
Right midfielder: Toni Kroos
At school, Toni Kroos was so good that he was made to play barefoot to give those around him a chance. The German’s supremacy has continued into his professional career, where he has forged a reputation as one of the finest playmakers in the game.
After his role in Bayern Munich’s treble-winning season of 2012-13, Kroos moved to Real Madrid, where Zinedine Zidane later described him as “the perfect signing.”
In Spain, he has added further three Champions League titles to his honor roll, which also includes a World Cup and four league titles.
In the past decade, Kroos has made the Champions League squad of the season five times — but the 29-year-old somehow still seems underrated.
Forward: Lionel Messi
Is any justification required for the inclusion of Leo Messi in this side?
The Argentine forward might be the greatest soccer player ever to kick a ball — and we are all lucky enough to have seen him in his magnificent prime. Five of his six Ballons d’Or have come in this decade, along with seven league titles and two Champions Leagues.
Unsurprisingly, the Barcelona legend has made the FIFPro World XI cut in every year of the decade.
Messi specializes in making the extraordinary seem ordinary and is able to single-handedly turn a game in his favor. He may have faltered when it comes to national team accolades, but he has done more than enough to keep his name in the history books for the rest of time.
Forward: Robert Lewandowski
With sincerest apologies to Luis Suarez, No. 9 duties in this side fall upon Robert Lewandowski.
After winning back-to-back league titles with Borussia Dortmund in 2011 and 2012, the towering Pole made his controversial move to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2014. (If there’s been a better free transfer in the past decade, we’ve yet to see it.)
In Bavaria, Lewandowski has spearheaded five league titles and has earned four Golden Boot accolades. In 2015, he became a record-breaker when he came off the bench to score five goals in nine minutes against Wolfsburg, and this season became the first player to score in his club’s opening 12 Bundesliga matches. Only Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more goals in Europe this decade.
Despite his skill, physicality and keen eye for goal, Lewandowski has been criminally overlooked in Ballon d’Or voting. His best finish was fourth in 2015, and he wasn’t even shortlisted in 2018. His inclusion in this side may go some small way to redressing the balance.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
There are no prizes for guessing the identity of the final forward in this team. Cristiano Ronaldo has broken records for fun over the last decade, while making the Champions League his own competition. In addition to winning it four times since 2010, he is the competition’s all-time top scorer.
Debates will continue to rage over his stature in comparison to Messi’s, but it may be argued that the Portuguese star is a more complete player due to his unrivaled aerial ability. His gravity-defying leap to head the winner for Juventus against Sampdoria last week is testament to the professionalism and physical condition Ronaldo maintains at nearly 35 years old.
Ronaldo also edges Messi in the past decade due to his achievements on the national team stage. While Messi couldn’t go the distance with his star-studded Argentina side at the 2014 World Cup final, Ronaldo virtually dragged his (less-talented) Portugal team over the line at the 2016 European Championship. When injured in the final, he even appeared to assume coaching duties to assure success.
Ronaldo is one of the most prolific goal-scorers ever, and we have seen him stay at the very top of his game throughout the decade.
Subs: Neymar, Luka Modric, Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero, Arjen Robben, Giorgio Chiellini, David De Gea.
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