The Lead

Perhaps because the FIFA Ballon D’Or Player of the Year was a fait accompli, and the award for the Best Female Player of the Year was a total and utter sham as the vast majority of the voting nations had likely not watched 10 minutes of women’s football—let alone 90—but the FIFA/FifPro XI has drawn a lot of attention in the wake of the schmooze in Zurich yesterday.

That’s because the entire team was comprised of players from La Liga. Furthermore, of the XI only Falcao hailed from a club not named Real Madrid or Barcelona. While the usual suspects not worth wasting precious words on used it as an occasion to rail against the fact FIFA “hates the Premier League”, despite the fact the team is voted on by 50,000 professional footballers, one writer, the Guardian’s Barney Ronay, took a different tack:

Mainly there is a tragedy of disappearance here. What Fifa’s team tells us year after year is that elite football is a violently stratified affair, with attention and resources increasingly focused on the very summit of the summit. In its eight years this team has never (yes: never) featured a player from outside the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A, while of 88 players selected 51 have come from Barcelona and Rea Madrid.

The same process is visible to an even greater degree in Uefa’s team of the year which as recently as 2002 could find room for Rustu Recber of Fenerbahce in goal, Christian Chivu of Ajax in defence and Damien Duff in midfield, still managed to feature two Porto players in 2004, but ever since has been dominated by the big four leagues, with just one player from the French league, one from the Dutch league, and one German-based player not from Bayern Munich in the last decade.

There is above all a sense of sadness about all this, of a global sport whose reach has never been so wide, but which is increasingly dominated by a dwindling cast of familiar institutions. Even among the elite the elite have sprung a brilliant coup here. It is to be hoped, with all due plaudits to the individual players involved, that this year will prove to be an outstanding exception rather than a vision of what is to come.

Beyond the bit where Ronay falls a bit into a trap by assuming the opinions of professional footballers are commensurate with objective, empirical fact, his point is valid. However, it deserves a little more scrutiny.

First, while Ronay does not say it outright, he implies the reason the FIFA XI is limited mostly to two clubs in the same league is because of their financial heft. It’s therefore worth looking in detail though at the career trajectory of each player.

Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Lionel Messi were all products of La Masia academy. Iker Casillas learned his trade with Real Madrid Castilla, Xabi Alonso with Real Sociedad’s youth team, and Sergio Ramos with Sevilla. Marcelo and Dani Alves were both scouted right out of Brazil, by Real Madrid and Sevilla respectively.

Of the entire starting eleven, only Falcao and Ronaldo came to Spain after first making their name at other, high profile European clubs as established stars. Spain, in other words, is quite good at both developing players and spotting promising young talent.

That’s a good thing for world football, not necessarily a sign of the increasing concentration of wealth. It means that other nations might try to emulate the Spanish model, a nation that as of 2010 held 23,995 UEFA coaching licenses to England’s 2,769, and one that allows its youth sides to compete in the lower leagues, thereby gaining precious, competitive first team experience at a comparatively early age. England is stumbling toward the rebirth of a player development model that in some ways reflects Spain. Other nations might follow suit.

The model is there; it’s up to various national associations to learn from it what they can.


QPR’s Ryan Nelsen to coach Toronto FC.


Barcelona tell Arsenal Villa is off limits.

QPR part ways with Kieron Dyer.

Blackburn apologize to Allardyce.


Berlusconi expresses interest in Guardiola.

Blatter lauds Boateng for his actions.

“If you place a bad apple in the dressing room then it can infect all of the others. Balotelli is someone who I would never accept in the Milan squad.” – Silvio Berlusconi

La Liga

Paulo Assuncao signs with Deportivo La Coruna.

Alonso says all is well at the Bernabeu.


Schalke 04 face major blow, Afellay sidelined for two months due to injury.

The playmakers in the Bundesliga.

Bit and Bobs

Here are ten other shameless plays you don’t want to remember.

Guardiola says he can’t wait to coach again.

The failure of Chinese football.

One more time: FIFA’s goal of the year.

Kids score Barca like goal.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.