A new decade has crept up from seemingly nowhere, just as most of us are still getting used to the idea of a new millennium. At moments like this, we turn to reminisce of the ten years that have passed and reflect on times gone by. Picking an XI of Premier League players for these ten years seems like an unenviable task. However, after much consideration, plenty of soul-searching and the putting aside of many personal grievances, I have constructed a team. A team that does not only include players that have excelled from 2000-2009, but one that as a unit would be a formidable side of balance, power and attacking threat. So here we go:
I have decided on whatever variable of 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-2-3 or 4-3-2-1 that you wish to choose as my formation.
Goalkeeper: Shay Given. The Irish international has been a model of consistency, even during his 12 years at Newcastle. Where it seems consistency is frowned upon. An exquisite shot-stopper, with excellent handling, it seems a shame that Given never played regularly for a club challenging for top honours. Without doubt the most practical and successful of all Mark Hughes’ purchases at Manchester City. Excelled at international level too.
Right-back: Gary Neville. One of Great Britain’s most dislikeable men, but one that seems to be getting wiser with age. His rants regarding coaches not earning their coaching badges and young players unable to contemplate the real world were spot-on. On the field, he formed an excellent understanding on the right side of Manchester United’s team with David Beckham until 2003 and played up to a high level until an injury against Bolton in March 2007 slowed him down considerably. Currently a shadow of his former self.
Left-back: Ashley Cole. Another figure that evokes the ire of the general population. After the publication of his autobiography, My Defence, he was public-enemy number 1. This led to a dip in form, and a horrendous on-field attitude. He struggled to hit top gear in his first two years at Chelsea. However, now Cole is playing with the care-free abandonment of his youth and can argue his case as being the world’s finest left-back. A world-class performer, he edges out the magnificent Patrice Evra due to his longevity
Centre-back: John Terry. Chelsea’s captain since 2004, Terry is the rock on which the Pensioners defence is built. Whilst he has had exceptional defensive partners alongside him in William Gallas and Ricardo Carvalho, his leadership and organisational skills make him a rare commodity in the game. It is irrelevant if Chelsea are winning 5-0 in an FA Cup tie against non-league opposition, or hanging onto to a 1-0 advantage in the dying seconds of a Champions League semi-final there is one constant: Terry does not want to concede a goal. He puts his body on the line like on-one else around, barring perhaps Jamie Carragher. Another whose public image has taken a battering, but it’s on the field that counts for this team.
Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand: Having commanded almost £50 million in transfer fees in his career, the former West Ham prodigy has probably been worth the lavish amounts spent on him. At his peak, as elegant a central defender as you could wish for, dominant in the air and with pace to burn. Kept on improving until he had a bit of a slump in 2009, and injury could ruin his 2010.
Central Midfield: Claude Makelele. It’s not too many players that have position named after them, but the Frenchman is the founder of the ‘Makelele Role’. Despite the position of protecting of the defence has been around for decades. Economical in both his passing and energy, it was his positioning and reading of the play that made him such a unique player. Real Madrid’s implosion after his departure in 2003 only added to his reputation.
Central Midfield: Frank Lampard. As self-indulgent a player as in the game, in the last decade the statistics paint a very rosy picture for Frank Junior. Since 2000, he was been on the winning side the most times, played the most games, scored the fourth highest amount of goals and has the second most assists. One of the most effective footballers in the top-flight, and he doesn’t half let us know about it.
Central Midfield: Steven Gerrard. I am leaving myself open to much ridicule for even attempting to pair Lampard and Gerrard together. But Steven Gerrard has to be in this team. He can play with anyone and has had more midfield partners than most, ranging from the sublime (Xabi Alonso) to the ridiculous (Salif Diao). A player of passion, drive, acceleration, instinct and no little skill, it would be an absolute travesty if Gerrard ends up without a Premier League winner’s medal. But time is running out for Stevie G
Right- Forward: Cristiana Ronaldo. 2007/2008 will go down as Ronaldo’s season. 42 goals in all competitions, Premier League and Champions League medals and in late 2008 awarded the Ballon D’ior and was voted FIFA World Player of the Year. A phenomenon, the Portuguese forward is absolutely unplayable on his day. A potent mix of pace, dribbling, power, aerial ability, strength and resilience.
Centre-Forward: Alan Shearer. Possibly the most controversial choice of them all. Brute strength, determination and an absolute piledriver of a strike, Shearer had seen better days as the 2000s wore on. But it is very few of us that have managed to fulfil our childhood ambitions. He wore the number nine of his beloved Newcastle and is the top scorer in the clubs history. Plus he would be a perfect foil for his two strike partners.
Left-Forward: Thierry Henry. Had this feature ran before November 18th last, I would have been a lot more gushing in my praise of Henry. So I am typing this through gritted teeth. Top scorer in the Premier League in the decade with 169 goals, Henry was capable of moments of magic and had searing pace that left many defenders trailing in his wake. That’s about as nice as I can be about the chap as this time I’m afraid.
There were many players that were in my thoughts for this team, but alas there is only room for eleven. This is an endless debate such is the difference in opinion that is evident from the various teams I have seen. One interesting aspect of it, is that players such as Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira and even Shearer, would be in most people’s all-time Premier League team (all-time being since August 1992), but are lost in the overlap between the decades.
So here’s to another ten years of continued excitement in the Premier League. Perhaps in a decade’s time, I might find a place for Ryan Giggs. Surely he won’t still be around, will he?