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21st Century Greatest Footballers - 50-46

  1. Yaya Toure“English football is so physical and fast that when you see a space, you have to go into it with all your speed.” Position: Midfielder Country: Ivory Coast Teams: Beveren, Metalurh Donetsk, Olympiacos, Monaco, Barcelona, Manchester City https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vgTUQnklm4 One of football’s more prevalent clichés today is the idea that any tall, powerful young player with functioning quadricep muscles is “perfectly suited to the physical style and relentless place of the Premier League”. While this does make it seem like most pundits are confusing being a talented footballer with aptitude for a new Barclays-sponsored Hunger Games, every cliché has its roots somewhere. Yaya Toure is mainly responsible for this one. Since his arrival at Manchester City in 2010, Toure has found almost no opponent who can compete with him when he feels like competing. Toure’s spent his early career emulating the migratory patterns of most teenagers on their gap year, touring various European cities with little purpose or direction before deciding he wanted to stay in Barcelona. During these nomadic years, no one really knew what to make of the lanky youngster nor did they know where to play him. Even Arsene Wenger seemed confused when Toure arrived for a trial game against Barnet in 2003 and played up front. Eventually at Monaco, he settled as a box-to-box midfielder and his performances there won him a move to Barcelona. His spell at the Camp Nou was relatively successful, playing in many games and impressing when he did. However, the arrival of Pep Guardiola in 2008 and his preference for the newly emerging Sergio Busquets, limited the game time and it was Toure’s £24million move to the Roberto Mancini’s ambitious new team at Manchester City which unlocked his true potential. At 6’2 and with an almost unmatched physique, Toure provided a dynamism to City’s midfield which allowed the likes of David Silva and Carlos Tevez to thrive. Toure’s arrival signaled the end of the Citizen’s long trophy drought. His goals won the FA Cup that year and the following year, a dramatic Premier League victory was achieved with Toure one of the most prominent figures in the side. Over the coming years, the Ivorian added a lust for goals to his repertoire, scoring 20 in the 2013/14 season as City captured another league title. In his arsenal, he boasts a wicked shot, a fine set-piece and an almost feral determination to mark the midfield as solely his territory. Indeed, if not for an occasional lack of drive which has seemed to permeate Toure (and indeed City as a whole) in later years, at his peak he was still one of the great Premier League midfielders. Gregory McNally

  2. Roberto Carlos"The mentality and grandeur that this club (Real Madrid) has is different to the rest." Position: Full-back Country: Brazil Teams: Real Madrid, Fenerbahce, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala, Delhi Dynamos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1oAEvJWSfA The sight of this little Brazilian galloping up and down the wing evokes nostalgia for many a millennial football fan. Carlos was not the kind of player that you forget easily. He was a physical specimen, unusually small for a professional footballer but powerful in build and the owner of some of the most powerful thighs in sport. Indeed, ‘Thunder Thighs’ did much to define a position during a glittering career from the mid-90s to mid-00s. He would be placed higher on this list but for the relatively short time in which he was at the peak of his powers this century. The 2006 World Cup was the beginning of the end for Carlos as he struggled to replicate his once dynamic self. However, physical decline at age 33 was hardly surprising given the strain he exerted on his body after years of lung-busting runs. Unlike most full-backs, Carlos was pure box office. His high standing in world football was established with some ridiculous goals in the 1990s which are Youtube hits today, most famously a banana free-kick against France in 1997 that is still baffling Fabien Barthez. As a result of that goal, Carlos developed a reputation as a free-kick specialist. Although he actually had quite a poor conversion rate, he scored some quite notable free-kicks in his career with one against Athletic Club in 2002-03 being instrumental to Real Madrid winning La Liga that season. It was this ability to capture attention from an unheralded position that gave Carlos critical acclaim, finishing 2nd in the Ballon d’Or vote in 2002 following a fantastic season where he won the Champions League and World Cup. As the years progressed, Carlos’ return runs from marauding attacks became more laborious. His natural propensity to attack fit in well with the rest of the Galactico team but it left the team an unbalanced mess as Carlos’ overly enthusiastic dashes upfield added more cooks to an already spoilt broth. When he was caught out of position, it begged the question – was Carlos actually a good defender? Despite being listed as one, Carlos seemed to spend much of his time in the opposition half, benefiting from a Brazilian system that sees full-backs as the equivalent of wingers in a standard 4-4-2 formation. In fact, it is hard to imagine Carlos fulfilling a more defensive role like Azpilicueta with Chelsea today. Perhaps it was more of a question of mentality. Carlos was simply too spectacular and too much of an offensive weapon to use as a conventional full-back. David Gorman

  3. Petr Cech "In a way it's a good thing I don't remember because I've no memory of a bad trauma." Position: Goalkeeper Country: Czech Republic Teams: Sparta Prague, Rennes, Chelsea, Arsenal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcWmlCRL_AA The only rival to Schmeichel is the annals of Premier League goalkeepers, Cech was a goalkeeping prodigy. Representing Sparta Prague at only 19 and breaking a national record for longest time without conceding in Czech football (a feat he later replicated in England), the youngster was brought to Chelsea in 2004 as competition to Carlo Cudicini. The Italian was, at the time, one of the most highly thought-of keepers in the league but never got a kick when the Czech arrived. The 04/05 season saw Cech marshal the meanest defence in English football history (only 15 goals conceded) and from then on, Cech became a fixture of one of Europe’s most successful club sides. The defining moment of Cech’s career though is maybe the most painful (not that he remembers it). In 2006, during a league game with Reading, an Irishman kicked him in the head and fractured the goalkeeper’s skull. When he re-emerged months later, now donning his trademark rugby cap, the rampant question was whether or not Cech had emerged psychologically unscathed from the incident. Mistakes against Liverpool in 2007 and, later, against Turkey in Euro 2008 made some wonder whether or not he was the same infallible presence as before the injury. Had he become gun-shy? These allegations of course proved to be nit-picking nonsense. Cech continued on consistently as one of Europe’s best stoppers, a fact validated by saving Arjen Robben’s penalty (as well as two others) in the 2012 Champions League Final. Football is cruel however and when Belgian Thibaut Courtois arrived back at Stamford Bridge in 2014 after a masterful apprenticeship at Atletico Madrid, it was clear Cech’s days were numbered. His value though was re-enforced by the hype which followed his next move. Cech’s transfer to Arsenal in 2015 was (and still is) cited as the possible final piece in the Gunners’ transformation into something more than a middling Barcelona tribute act. Cech is no less respected at international level. He is the Czech Republic’s highest appearance maker and was voted into the Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament, a competition every neutral fancied the eventual semi-finalists to win. As the longest-serving member of Czech Republic’s Golden Generation, Cech may have been disappointed (despite his individual acclaim) to have seen such a talented side gradually slip into mediocrity but c’est la vie. Maybe that’s why is felt so at home in England. Regardless, Petr Cech’s career may not have been one of great dramatic arcs but it was one of perpetual excellence. Gregory McNally

  4. Luis Suárez"I prioritise the group and the collective. I don't give these awards much importance." Position: Forward Country: Uruguay Teams: Nacional, Groningen, Ajax, Liverpool, Barcelona https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVhuPQq_SsM As Barcelona lined up a club record £70 million bid for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez in the summer of 2014, many questioned why they were willing to risk so much on damaged goods. They were signing a man who has been banned a combined 32 games for racist and cannibalistic tendencies during his career. Suarez has, after all, achieved the unique feat of being the villain of two consecutive World Cups. Why was one of football’s most divisive figures worth all the hassle for Barcelona? It is because the animalistic rawness of Suarez’s character that has reared its ugly head on a number of occasions also has another more beneficial effect. There is a sense of freedom in Suarez’s game, where nothing is off-limits for the Uruguayan and it gives him a street-fighter-like ability to outfox more cultured opponents in the heat of battle. Suarez’s propensity for nutmegging is a sign of this street-fighter instinct. On the streets, there is a popular game called Panna Ko, where executing a panna (a nutmeg) in a one-on-one situation results in your opponent being eliminated from the game. It is the ultimate act of humiliation on the street and Suarez is always looking to everything he possibly can to beat and humiliate a defender. Sometimes this might mean a beautiful piece of skill but he is also not afraid of using the darker arts, arguing with referees, diving and playacting are also used to gain an advantage. While he is an unpredictable, individualistic menace, he is also an excellent team player and has the ability to elevate an entire team to new levels. In 2013-14 Premier League season, Liverpool were only a slip away from their first English league title since 1990. It is no exaggeration to say that Suarez had one of the best seasons of any player in the Premier League era. He led from example from the front, scoring 31 goals without penalties and assisting many others. Without Suarez the following season, Liverpool stumbled to sixth place, scoring half as many goals. In the 2011 Copa America, Uruguay were the beneficiaries of an inspired Suarez, who led them to their first international win in fifteen years. When Suarez made the step up to Barcelona in 2014, he immediately fitted in with a plethora of world-class stars, scoring five goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League as Barcelona completed the treble. It is a credit to Suarez’s ability on the field that indiscretions on it have merely damaged and not destroyed his footballing reputation. David Gorman Next -> 45-41

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