After the conclusion of a mightily entertaining year in the soccer world, Gemini is back in business and ready to hand out its end-of-year awards. We recognize FIFA and UEFA’s choices but aren’t satisfied by them, and we want to pay due to the most deserving players. So, without further ado, here is the Gemini Sports team of the year:
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Olympique Lyonnaise and the French national team’s young goalkeeper had his breakthrough year and proved he is one of the best goalies in the world. He carried league underdogs Lyon to the Champions League semifinal — with a 620-minute shutout along the way. Although Lloris did not get much international attention in June thanks to France’s embarrassingly poor performance in the World Cup, he was one of the best performers for Les Bleus.
Right back: Maicon
One of Brazil’s biggest headaches has been one that no other team would mind having: choosing between Maicon and Dani Alves for the right back position. Yet the Internazionale fullback has earned his place on the Brazilian national team with his strong defensive play and deadly forays down the flank, essentially nullifying the impact of opposing wingers and defenders. Although his level of play has slipped a little after the departure of Jose Mourinho, his overall consistency and display at the World Cup is evidence of his quality. His performance — and goals — for the Selecao, especially his wonder-strike against North Korea, cemented his place as one of Brazil’s World Cup greats.
Center back: Carles Puyol
This year, Barcelona’s captain continued what he has been doing for years. The center back was a key cog in Barca’s league win and impressive overall Champions League performance. He started every game in the World Cup for Spain, justifying his nickname — “The Wall” — by leading a Spanish backline that conceded only two goals in the tournament. Puyol even chipped in on the offensive end by scoring the only goal for Spain in their semifinal win over Germany, sending La Furia Roja to their first World Cup final.
Center back: Gerard Pique
Pique, who plays alongside Puyol at the club and international level, has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the list of great defenders and has even been dubbed in some circles as “Piquebauer,” a nod to the on-the-field likeness he shares with German legend Franz Beckenbauer. Like Beckenbauer, Pique is the ideal center back, towering over opponents while still able to outmuscle forwards. He’s extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet, a trait that endowed him with great goal-scoring abilities uncommon for defenders.
Left back: Philipp Lahm
Lahm, who captained the German national team’s surprising World Cup run, is one of the few players in the world who can play with the same efficiency at both right and left back. As Bayern Munich’s vice-captain, Lahm was at the heart of another surprise run, as his efforts helped his unfancied side make it to the finals of the Champions League. He was consistent and effective on both offense and defense throughout the year.
Xavi was predicted to win the Ballon d’Or (European Footballer of the Year award) by Johan Cruyff, Mourinho and essentially all soccer analysts. Although he lost to Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi, Xavi is undoubtedly the best central midfielder in the world at the moment. Barca has a wealth of great players, but Xavi has been the center around which the Barcelona tiki-taka style of play has revolved. Suffice it to say that Messi could not have won the Ballon d’Or without assists from Xavi, as proven by his sub-par performance for Argentina in the World Cup. Spain, on the other hand, benefitted greatly from Xavi and his partnership with Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta.
Midfield: Andres Iniesta
Another talented maestro of the Barcelona system and a World Cup winner with Spain, Iniesta has demonstrated an extraordinary sense of soccer intelligence, an ability to read opposing defenses and simplicity and finesse of play that trumps harsh and physical play any day. His propensity for scoring crucial goals — as he did in the Champions League semifinal for Barcelona and in extra time at the World Cup in South Africa this summer — has endeared him to Barcelona and Spain fans the world over.
His compassion and national pride was demonstrated when he dedicated his World Cup-winning goal to Dani Jarque, a fellow Spaniard who had just died. He brought a nation together at a time of extreme pride and has proven himself on and off the pitch as a humble and compassionate human being.
Midfield: Gareth Bale
While the introduction of Rafael van der Vaart and the spectacular display of Luka Modric, among many others, have certainly helped Tottenham’s rise up the Premier League table, Bale has been immense for Harry Redknapp’s side. As he showed in the Champions League against Inter Milan, Bale has the ability to singlehandedly change games. In the two games against Inter, Bale tormented Maicon, the best right back in the world, and provided one of the most memorable performances of any player in the past year. At a measly 21 years old, Bale has more to show and is set to be Tottenham’s highest paid player ever with a salary of 100,000 pounds a week.
Midfield: Wesley Sneijder
The creative, talented Dutch midfielder had the most impressive year of all players and many contend that he deserved to be on the Ballon d’Or shortlist. Besides winning the Champions League, Italian League and the Italian Cup with Inter Milan, he also led Netherlands to the World Cup final, tying for the tournament lead with five goals. He was a classy leader for both Inter and Netherlands with his impeccable passing and scoring instincts.
Midfield: Arjen Robben
Due to his proneness to injury, Robben has always been disregarded in the conversations about the best players in the world, but he has once again proved he is one of the most talented and dominant players in the game. A runner-up in both the Champions League with Bayern Munich and the World Cup with the Oranje thanks in large part to his fantastic performances in both, 2010 was a stellar year for Robben. His exploits were recognized as he won the Footballer of the Year award in Germany.
Forward: David Villa
Villa has at times been referred to as an “insurance policy” and rightly so. At 29 years old, he is already a four-time top scorer in La Liga and tied for Spain’s all-time highest goal scorer with Raul. Blessed with great pace, an eye for goal and an ability to shoot equally well with both feet, Villa has found the perfect place in Barcelona after several years with Valencia. With teammates like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, no striker could ask for better support.
After scoring his 150th La Liga goal earlier this month, David Villa is set to be one of Barcelona and Spain’s greatest players and even though he is not the top scorer from his team — that particular honor goes to Messi — his two goals and assists against Real Madrid show that that he has become a more complete team player.
Finally, the Gemini Player of the Year award goes to Wesley Sneijder of Inter Milan and the Netherlands, as he played the biggest role in both of his team’s spectacular performances in 2010. Xavi, Iniesta and Messi all had fantastic years, but Sneijder’s accomplishments throughout the year eclipsed the rest.
Coach of the Year: Jose Mourinho
The self-given nickname of “The Special One” says it all for this man. He won the Champions League with Inter Milan at the end of last year. He then left for Real Madrid, taking them to the knockout stages of the Champions League and keeping Los Merengues within striking distance of Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table. Inter, on the other hand, has been struggling in his absence and his replacement, Rafael Benitez, has already been fired for failing to live up to the impressive standards set by Mourinho. Without a doubt, he is the best coach in the game today.
Michael Appau is a sophomore in the College. Cem Yolbulan is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Gemini Sports appears in every other Tuesday edition of Hoya Sports.