independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Dream team enjoy a season to be jolly

Henry Winter has three cheers for 11 special players of the past year

Paris St Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (R) and Lucas react during their French Ligue 1 soccer match against Lille at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris December 22, 2013.  REUTERS/Benoit Tessier (FRANCE - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic

MANUEL NEUER

The save machine. The best 'keeper in the world. The Bayern Munich star kept clean sheets against Juventus and Barcelona on the road to Wembley. Kept Borussia Dortmund at bay in the first half of the Champions League final, denying Robert Lewandowski twice, Marco Reus twice and Sven Bender. Amazing reflexes.

PHILIPP LAHM

Best left-back in the world, best right-back in the world. Probably now one of the best defensive midfielders. Inspirational as Bayern Munich won the Champions League and Germany swept to Brazil. Captain, defender, creator and scorer -- five for Die Mannschaft in 104 games -- Lahm is the type of versatile, two-footed, responsibility-taking footballer that English football needs to develop.

FRANCK RIBERY

Le Joueur de Gloire. Treble-winner. Quick, skilful French wide-man who cuts in off the line and is always central to the action. Had big games against Juventus, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund as Bayern won the Champions League. Beat Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to Uefa Best Player of 2012-2013. "He deserved to win,'' Messi said. Tormented Ukraine in Paris to help France to the World Cup when qualification was hanging by a thread.

LIONEL MESSI

One of the game's all-time greats, below only Pele and Diego Maradona. Football fans are lucky to be living in the age of Messi. Passing, dribbling, scoring, Messi brings dreams to life with the ball. La Liga's top scorer as Barcelona reclaimed title from Real Madrid. Needs a big World Cup if he is to join Pele and Maradona in the pantheon.

CRISTIANO RONALDO

Goal machine. Footballing artist in an athlete's body. Fifty-nine goals in 51 games for Real Madrid in 2013, and 10 in nine for Portugal, including four that beat Sweden in the World Cup play-offs. Aged 28, Ronaldo is at the peak of his powers: quick, strong, scores, dominates. This season alone he has 34 goals in 25 appearances. Quantity and quality.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

Arrogant forward with a lot to be arrogant about. Peerless for Paris Saint-Germain. Eight goals in the Champions League already this season. Few attackers possess such an armoury: the tall, technical Swede scores with back-heels, free-kicks, penalties, headers, placed shots, violently fast shots. As quotable as he is watchable: "I don't need the Ballon d'Or to know I'm the best" and "a World Cup without me is nothing to watch'' among his many memorable observations.

WAYNE ROONEY

Goalscorer, goalmaker, team player. Rooney is vital for England and Manchester United. Scored against Poland, Montenegro (both games) and San Marino plus in friendlies against Brazil at Wembley and the Maracana. Enjoying the post-Alex Ferguson world at Old Trafford. Comfortably their best player this season, whether up top, dropping off, closing down and also a force defending corners. His brilliant volley against Hull City highlighted Rooney's fantastic technique.

AARON RAMSEY

The year Ramsey came of age as a footballer. The year he finally seemed to have recovered psychologically from the broken leg of 2010. Now taking charge of individual moves and games, believing in himself to play the killer pass, to risk a flick as well as score. Delivered in big tests, qualifying for Champions League group stage against Fenerbahce and then scoring away at Borussia Dortmund. Classy moment when Cardiff City fans applauded his goals against them.

GARETH BALE

So The Beatles could not replace Elvis Presley at the Lane after all. Spurs still all shook up, their new recruits not yet compensating for the loss of Bale's ability to turn a game with a speeding run, an unstoppable finish or some magic from a free-kick. After an injury-hit start, Bale is shining at Real Madrid. No surprise. Sensible character, surrounded by good people, Bale is loving the opportunity.

LUIS SUAREZ

Working hard on the road to redemption. A morality tale for 2013. Suarez shamed his club and his profession by biting Branislav Ivanovic but has sought to make amends. Has he changed? Time will tell. But the Liverpool striker has been near faultless since returning from suspension, scoring 19 goals in 13 Premier League games, ignoring some illegal challenges.

RACHEL YANKEY

Record-breaker and role model. Drawing to the end of a formidable career, the Arsenal Ladies star is a legend of English women's football, having won six Premier League titles, two Women's Super Leagues, a record 129 caps and been appointed MBE. Pours some of her huge energy into coaching and encouraging schoolchildren to eat healthily. Great ambassador for the game.

Telegraph

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