Team of the Decade 2000-2010


Manager: José Mourinho

Bench: van der Sar, Kahn, Casillas; R. Carlos, Lahm, Ramos; Maldini, Puyol, Terry, Lucio, Ferdinand, Hyypiä; Thuram,  Zambrotta, Cafu; Davids, Emerson, Vieira; Xavi, Lampard, Deco; C. Ronaldo, Nedved, Riquelme; Messi, Kaka, Figo; Totti, Bergkamp, Gerrard; Eto’o, Ronaldo, van Nistelrooy

Best player: Andrea Pirlo

Best club: Manchester United

Best team: FC Barcelona 2008-10

Best match: Real Madrid – FC Barcelona 2-6, 02.05.2009

A preliminary remark: when people compile Teams of the Decade, they most often restrict the meaning of the term ‘decade’ to something like the 80s or the 90s. I don’t. When I say ‘decade’, I simply mean a time span of  10 years. This post is the second in a series of articles in which I compile Teams of the Decade. I will work my way back in time in 5 year steps. After this post, the next one will be about the 1995-2005 Team of the Decade, the last one was about the 2005-2015 Team of the Decade. I’ll work my way back until the 1950-1960 Team of the Decade. I will stop there because the lack of footage for players before 1950 makes it impossible for me to form an opinion about them that is truly my own. I chose to go back in steps of 5 years, because that seems to be a good compromise. Going back in steps of 10 years is unfair towards those players who have performed the best around the turn of a decade (take Xavi, for example). Smaller steps would mean a lot of repetition; a 2004-2014 Team of the Decade won’t be that different from a 2005-2015 Team of the Decade.

Inclusion in this team is based solely on quantity and quality of performance during the respective period of time. It’s not about whether a player has won a lot of trophies, or fits some artistic ideal, even whether a player was ahead of his time in itself isn’t a criterion. It’s about performance and performance alone. You don’t necessarily have to get top marks for both quantity and quality of performance to be included. If the quality of your performances was outstanding, you have a chance to be included even if, for example, you only performed on that level for, say, 5 of the 10 years. But the lack of quantity of performance will speak against you. Also, the chances of any given player to be included, of course,  heavily depend on the quality and quantity of performance of other players who played in the same position during the same period of time. This is all still a bit vague, but since fantasy football teams are far from being exact science to begin with, I think that’s okay. The main point that I want to emphasize simply is, that both quantity and quality of performance matter. I define the 2000-2010 decade as starting with the final whistle of the 2000 Champions League final and ending with the final whistle of the 2010 Champions League final.

Gianluigi Buffon

Compiling this team wasn’t easy. A lot of great players played some fine football during these ten years. There was hardly one position where I knew whom to pick right away. Except for the position of goalkeeper, that is. Gianluigi Buffon was always gonna be my choice in goal. However, that is not to say that he was the only excellent keeper during this timespan. Far from it! The likes of Oliver Kahn, Edwin van der Sar, Petr Cech and Iker Casillas also had a fine decade. But all of them lose out in some respect. Kahn and Cech weren’t playing at the highest level for the whole decade, Casillas struggled to establish himself at Real Madrid during the early years, and van der Sar had problems at Juventus before he spend some years in the second-tier of elite level football at Fulham. Buffon basically had ten years of non-stop brilliance both for club and country. Cech and Casillas aren’t a real danger to his throne anyway because he did all that they did, only that he did it better and for the whole ten years. Kahn had a peak in the early 2000s that rivalled what Buffon did in terms of quality of performance. But since Kahn’s career ended well before the end of the decade and since he had some relatively weaker years before that, he’s no real threat to Buffon either. Also, he wasn’t as well-rounded a keeper as Buffon was. Van der Sar came closest. Being one of the great sweeper-keepers, he possessed some qualities that Buffon didn’t possess, or at least not to that degree. Had Alex Ferguson signed van der Sar as Peter Schmeichel’s direct replacement, as he originally planned, and had van der Sar been able to perform for the whole ten years at the highest level, competing against the best of the world every year, it would have been close between him and Buffon.

Gianluigi Buffon’s weaknesses are… well, non-existent, really. There are some things he isn’t mind-blowingly good at, for example Manuel Neuer and Edwin van der Sar are better than him with the ball at their feet, but he is at least very good at everything. He is able to produce fantastic saves, is very reliable, controls his area well, passes the ball well, has an overall good decision making and is a great leader of men. He’s the complete package. One quality that is often singled out is how well he interacts with the defenders in front of him. He constantly organises his defense and is told to be very good at it. But by and large, Buffon isn’t associated with a specific quality. He isn’t a revolutionary keeper who does one thing way better than everybody else, but someone who is in all respects either the best or among the 2-3 best keepers in the world. He really is the complete goalkeeper.

Buffon during the Euro 2012 Final – 17 years after his professional debut. – Кирилл Крыжановский

In terms of quality of performance, Oliver Kahn came close to reaching Buffon’s level in the early 00s and van der Sar did the same, although by playing a very different game, during parts of the second half of the decade. None of them reached a level that was significantly better than what Buffon played for the whole decade. Thus, his place is well secured.

By the way, here’s my favourite save by Buffon.

Ashley Cole

The 00s were in some way the decade of the Premier League. Clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool were among the few clubs that dominated for the whole decade. They did so partly because of their new-found financial power and partly because of a golden generation of English players. One of these players was Ashley Cole. In my estimation, he isn’t one of the truly great full-backs of all time, but he’s among the very few defenders who were world-class from 2000 right through 2010. A strong attacking presence, he may have lacked the defensive stabilty of a Paolo Maldini or Lilian Thuram, but he wasn’t that bad at defending either and made up for his shortcomings by covering pretty much the entire left flank of the field by himself. Attacking full-backs like Cole are often criticised for their defensive play, but people tend to overlook that their attacking prowess often limits the opponent’s ressources for attacking on that flank, and that adds to their defensive value.

Two days back, when I first published this blog post, I fielded Zanetti at left-back and Thuram at right-back. Usually I don’t like to change my selection after I published the piece, but in this case Rob Fielder made the suggestion to swap Zanetti to right-back, where he played for most of the decade, and to field Cole as left-back. After thinking about that for a time, I have to say he’s right. Given my own criteria for inclusion in this team, Cole gets a better score at left-back than Thuram did as right-back because of Cole’s much better quantity of performance. Since Zanetti can play on either flank, rebuilding the team in this way makes sense.

Fabio Cannavaro

Both Buffon and Zanetti made my team partly because they played at their best or close to their best for the whole decade. In this Team of the Decade that will be the exception rather than the rule. Many fantastic players took part in the game during those ten years but only very few of them stayed at the top for the full time span. Fabio Cannavaro is one of those players who didn’t manage to perform at their best for the full ten years. I nevertheless chose him for this team because during his best years his quality of performance was absolutely outstanding.

Cannavaro started the decade with an excellent Euro 2000 and some strong years at Parma, before a move to Internazionale saw his career make a downturn. To his defense he was often played out of position and his performances weren’t that bad, just not as good as they were before and after. When he was transferred to Juventus the best years of his career began. Reunited with Liliam Thuram, his old defensive partner from their days at Parma, he performed so well that he won the price for the best defender in Serie A both in 2005 and 2006. Usually I couldn’t care less about football awards, but being named as the best defender in Serie A twice during a period when some of the best defenders around played there is no mean feat. Following the Calciopoli scandal, Cannavaro moved to Real Madrid. Most people think of his time there as rather underwhelming, but that is because they only think of his final season there. In 2008-09 Cannavaro really was past his peak and was outplayed by the likes of Henry and Messi (hardly something to be ashamed about, really), but between 2006 and 2008 he performed quite well for Los Merengues.

The peak of Cannavaro’s career surely was the 2006 World Cup in Germany. From what I’ve seen, he was never better than during those weeks. I’m rather confident in that judgement, because I can’t see how he could be any better than in that tournament. He led Italy’s back four brilliantly and had many fine moments himself. Be it last ditch tackles, tight marking, clever interceptions (lots of those) or precise and creative passes – he did it all. I don’t think any defender has ever had a World Cup that was significantly better than Cannavaro’s in 2006. I recently re-watched some of those matches and can only encourage anybody who is interested in quality defending to do the same. You’ll have the pleasure of seeing a player perform at his full potential.

Now, there have been other centre-backs who came very close to being included in this team instead of Cannavaro. Carles Puyol and Paolo Maldini are two of them. Puyol is ahead of Cannavaro in terms of quantity of performance, but I think Cannavaro at his best was the better player, at least in part because he was better with the ball at his feet. Maldini, of course, is an absolute legend, who managed to have a fine decade despite being 32 years of age when the decade started. This is very remarkable, to say the least. But one should keep in mind that he was in the twilight of his career during the second half of the decade. He was still a very good player overall and an amazing player given his age, but I don’t think he was quite as good at the time as Cannavaro was. It’s not much of a spoiler when I say that Maldini will feature in some of the next Teams of the Decade. In this one, though, Fabio Cannavaro makes the cut.

Alessandro Nesta

Centre-back probably was the position I spend the most time thinking about which player to choose. But those thoughts always circled around the question “who will play next to Nesta?”. Nesta’s place in this lineup was never in question. He simply was the best centre-back of the decade. Roughly until 2007 he stayed at the very top, before injuries took their toll. He lost a bit of pace and mobility and players like Vidic, Ferdinand, Puyol and Terry took his crown. Nesta, when fit, stayed an elite central defender, though.

Alessandro Nesta is a favourite of mine. Nesta was a very tough defender, a typical example of the Italian tradition of defending. He was capable of playing very cynical and knew every dirty trick in the book, but at the same time managed to keep a certain elegance to his game. Of course, most of the time Nesta didn’t need to use the dark side of his game at all, because he was able to deal with most situations in a clean and controlled way.

Nesta maybe wasn’t a second Baresi or Beckenbauer, but he surely was among the central defenders of the 2000s to come closest. He had a very good passing game and there was hardly a defender better at reading the game than him. This enabled him to diffuse many situations before they became really dangerous. But when things went sour he could deal with that as well. He had pace, he was strong, he was remarkably mobile given his height and he could tackle with great precision and calmness. I think precision is something that really played a big part in Nesta’s game. Often did you see him in situations where one should think that all a defender could do was to somehow clear the danger. But surprisingly often that last ditch tackle resulted in the ball landing at the feet of a teammate of Nesta’s and that ball that he cleared with a flying header didn’t went for a corner, but only for a throw-in. He did what he had to do – but he managed to do more than that. Precision enabled him to do so.

Nesta’s club career, first with Lazio and later with AC Milan, was certainly more memorable than his time at the Italian national team. Mainly because he injured himself in all three World Cups he played in. But that is not to say that he didn’t perform very well on the international stage when he was fit. For example, he had an excellent Euro 2000 and was probably the man of the match in the legendary semi-final against the Netherlands (aka ‘the Battle of Thermopylae of international football’).

Top of the world for most of the decade, among the best for the remaining part – Alessandro Nesta, the best centre-back of the decade.

Here’s a little video showing him at his peak vs Barcelona.

Javier Zanetti

When you’re a top level footballer, versatility is a strength. Therefore I decided that when a player has shown his versatility by playing several positions over the course of the decade, that shouldn’t speak against his inclusion in one of these positions, even if he only played in it for some of the time. Javier Zanetti during the decade in question played as a left-back, a right-back, in both wide midfield positions and as a defensive midfielder, as far as I’m aware of. I currently can’t think of any other elite player who played that many positions on a recurring basis.

Joao Moutinho (L), Cristiano Ronaldo (R)
You won’t find many right back – left winger duels better than this. – Fanny Schertzer

What qualities do you associate with Javier Zanetti? Reliable, hard-working, solid, committed and a true captain of his team. Given these attributes, it’s hardly surprising that ‘El Tractor’ is one of his nicknames. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Zanetti was a kind of one-dimensional running machine that constantly sprinted up and down the field but provided little else. When you watch him in his prime you’ll find that he was basically the full package. Yes, he was an industrious worker who covered lots of ground, but he was also very adapt at initiating combination play, dribbling and had a precise all round passing game. I think that even as of 2015, Zanetti at his peak would make it into any team in the world. If not as a right-back, then as a left-back. He’d oust Alba and Alves at Barcelona, Marcelo and Carvajal at Real Madrid and Rafinha at Bayern without having to make major modifications to his game.

Zanetti performed at, or close to, his best for the full ten years. He hardly missed a game all decade. Now that I think of it, he just might be a candidate for the player with the most matches played during the 00s. The best possible mark for quantity of performance and a very high mark for quality of performance that was not bettered by anyone for a longer period of time, justify his inclusion.

Claude Makélélé

You won’t find a more defensively solid midfielder than Makélélé. He’ll occupy that 20×20 yards of space in front of the defence and tackle any opponent who dares to enter. So much for the cliché. And I can’t deny that there is a lot of thruth in it. Makélélé was indeed one of the sturdiest defensive midfielders you’ll ever come across. He’s a tough player, an outstanding tackler and simply a pain the ass for any opposing playmaker.

But he was more than that. When I re-watched some France, Chelsea and Real Madrid games during the last few weeks, I found Makélélé to be a lot more creative and playmaking than I thought he would be. He also does the odd dribble now and then and isn’t as positionally conservative as it is often said. The ‘Makélélé position’ basically was half the pitch. He does more than just play the easy pass to more talented teammates. You rarely see him hit 40 yards cross field balls, but he is very capable of finding his teammtes with precise passes between the lines. Also he is very good at evading pressure. Due to his low centre of gravity he was a very mobile player who was very hard to press. He may lacked the genius of Sergio Busquets or Fernando Redondo, but he was a significantly more playmaking defensive midfielder than people give him credit for.

Makélélé is one of the few players of the decade who had succesful extended spells at two clubs. Between 2000 and 2003 he played for Real Madrid before Florentino Perez famously decided that a Bentley really doesn’t need an engine and sold him to Chelsea. There he was the midfield anchor for another 5 years and was integral in turning Chelsea into a top-class side. He wasn’t a starter for the French national team until some years into the decade, failing to take Emmanuel Petit’s place. Petit, of course, also was an excellent defensive midfielder, but in my estimation Makélélé was the better player by the start of the decade.

I think no other defensive midfielder between 2000 and 2010 matched both the quantity and the quality of Makélélé’s performances. Picking him therefore wasn’t a tough decision.

Andrea Pirlo

I have thought long and hard about whom to choose as my player of the decade, but in the end I decided that it should be Andrea Pirlo. As of 2015, Pirlo is somewhat of a cult figure among football fans. Partly because of his looks and his demeanour, partly because of what he did on the pitch during the last few seasons at Juventus. This is entirely understandable because Pirlo really had a golden autumn of his career after switching to Turin in 2011. But it really was the autumn of his career, not the summer.

Pirlo was at his best during long spells of the 2000-10 decade. When you watch him play at Milan in some important domestic or Champions League matches, for example back in 2003, you’ll see a player who is way ahead of his time. He played like a world-class central midfielder did in 2013, not in 2003. The way he does only seldomly aim for the spectacular decisive action (way more seldom than later at Juventus!) and prefers to play little one-twos that slowly but surely break the opponent down was very rarely seen back then. Stuff like that became mainstream after the Guardiola-led revolution of 2008-12, but Pirlo played that way long before it was cool. No wonder Guardiola wanted to sign him in 2010! Basically, when you watch a high profile match from before, let’s say, 2008 featuring Pirlo, you could be rather sure that he was the smartest guy on the pitch. He may have been less spectacular than later at Juventus, but upon closer inspection what he did on the field was even more extraordinary. I actually think that Juventus-Pirlo is a bit overrated. Of course he was a world-class player and he did a lot of brilliant stuff, but that came at a price. He was always trying to play those 40 yard killer passes and maybe he overdid it a bit. In my estimation his decision making was slightly worse than it was at Milan. Still a great player, but past his peak.

Central midfield royalty. – Илья Хохлов

From what I’ve seen, Pirlo was on the top of his game from around 2001 to 2008, which means that he gets a pretty decent score for quantity of performance. I already raved about his quality of performance during those years, so there’s no reason for getting into that again. In a decade that lacked a player that truly dominated world football for an extended period of time, like Messi did during the ’05-’15 decade, Pirlo not only makes my Team of the Decade but is also crowned Player of the Decade. His inclusion in the team is beyond doubt for me, him being Player of the Decade is, I confess, a very tough call. There have been other players who performed on a similar level for a similar time span (Scholes, Buffon, Henry) or maybe even a bit better for a shorter time span (Ronaldinho, Zidane), but I think he narrowly edges them out.

Paul Scholes

Scholes’ role on the pitch did significantly change during the course of the decade. At around 2004 he became less of a box-to-box midfielder and more of a deep-lying playmaker. Before that change, I thought he was a very capable player belonging to the ten best players in his position. After that change, he became a member of a much more elitist circle that basically consisted of Pirlo, Xavi and himself. These three formed a generation of central midfielders/deep-lying playmakers that is, I think, unrivalled in history. I’m not sure if there has ever been a central midfielder as good as one of these three, but their certainly have never been three players of that sort and of that quality at the same time.

Paul Scholes is one of the main reasons why Manchester United was among the consistently succesful clubs of the decade. Even if they failed to win anything, they kept being a relevant side of true quality. I don’t think there has been one season when people didn’t say “Well, ManUtd are certainly among the wider circle of contenders for both domestic and European trophies”. On the field, Paul Scholes basically guaranteed that United stayed a competitive side all by himself. Of course, he had excellent teammates who were also hugely important for their success, but Paul Scholes stands out because he was among United’s key players for the whole decade.

A lot of what I said about Pirlo also applies to Paul Scholes. He was a massively intelligent player who was far ahead of his time. He kept the United machine ticking. That wasn’t always spectacular, although he certainly was capable of that too, but all the more important. And if somebody think basically everybody could do what Scholes did, that just means that this person hasn’t got a clue about football.

I like to think that it is somewhat fitting that Scholes, the English part of that trio I mentioned, while being a very continental player in many respects, also had some typically British aspects to his game. For example, his ability to hit precise cross field balls is unmatched even by Pirlo and Xavi.

I choose Scholes over Xavi for this team, because I think Xavi reached (and even surpassed) Scholes’ level of play only very late in the decade. Having said that, I watched only a handful of matches featuring the Catalan from the first half of the decade. And as I said myself, Scholes, too, wasn’t as good at the start of the decade as he became later on. Scholes probably was a bit better than Xavi from 2004 to 2008 and Xavi was better than Scholes from 2008 to 2010. So it was a close call, but for now I’m going with Scholes ahead of Xavi. (Xavi obviously makes the 2005-15 Team of the Decade.)


What if… what if Ronaldinho had been a little less interested in partying and good food, what if he had instead been blessed with a work ethic like the one Cristiano Ronaldo has, what if… Okay, let’s stop there, but those questions capture a fundamental thruth about Ronaldinho: as great a player as he was and as fine a career he had, he could have been more than that. Ronaldinho could have been the stand-out player of the decade, both representing and transcending what was typical for these ten years in football history. He had the power and the pace typical of the times, but he somehow managed to combine that with a technique to rival the best of Brazilian legends of the past. He could have, he should have dominated world football, well, maybe not like Messi did after him, but for a longer time than he actually did.

But let’s focus on what he actually did on the field and not on what could have been. Ronaldinho at his peak was a player capable of unthinkable acts of genius. A quick look at some of his YouTube highlight reels will confirm that statement. That’s the main reason why he was a great player. Unlike in the case of Pirlo or Scholes, Ronaldinho’s greatness is obvious and that is why I won’t lose too many words about it. Just see for yourself. In five minutes you’ll have seen most of what makes him great: imagination, technique, audacity, genius. I will only add that one should not underestimate his physical strength. At his peak, he was an immensely powerful player, who could compete physically even with the strongest of defenders.

Ultimately, a word of caution regarding Ronaldinho. If you watch the highlight videos on YouTube, there is quite a chance you will think he’s among the best players ever. He did some stuff that even the likes of Messi and Maradona didn’t pull off. He’s not one of the best players ever, though. His moments of genius came at a price. He frequently tried crazy stuff and not all of it worked. In fact, he had a lot of days when very little of what he tried to do worked. But due to his general ability, he was always capable of deciding a match with one moment of inspiration. As an opponent, you could never be sure that Ronaldinho wouldn’t do some magic and decide the game, even though you seemingly had him under control for 90 minutes. That’s what made him great and that’s what gets him the place in the team.

Zinedine Zidane

Between 1998 and 2006 I didn’t support any football club or even any football team. I only supported a single player, Zinedine Zidane. Even as of today, I haven’t seen a more elegant and artistic player than him. He’s one of my all-time favourites.

But inclusion in this team is not based on my personal preferences or some form of artistic quality. You get in this team only because of your quality and quantity of performance. This is why I thought long and hard about including Zidane. The main problem, of course, is that he retired in 2006. Therefore, for nearly half the decade he didn’t perform at all, which means he gets a pretty bad grade for quantity of performance. Also, his last one or two seasons at Real Madrid weren’t as good as the ones before. His age was showing. He managed to raise his playing level one final time for the 2006 World Cup, but in the years before that he wasn’t as good anymore. All the worse for his quantity of performance grade. His inclusion in this team can only be justified if the quality of his performances in the early years of the decade were truly outstanding. Unsurprisingly, given the fact that I did include him in this team, I think they were.

I want to say a bit more about Zidane’s quality as a player. There are quite a few people, who think that Zidane is overrated. Some of them simply base their argument on the fact that he scored comparatively few goals, but others make a more compelling case. René Marić from for example, once wrote a player analysis on Zidane. His main thesis was that people often claim that Zidane was things that he really wasn’t, but at least implicitely he also reaches the conclusion that Zidane is overrated all things considered. I have thought a lot about that and subsequently re-watched a lot of matches featuring Zidane and my preliminary opinion on that is the following: he’s right about people saying things about Zidane that aren’t warranted, but I don’t agree with him being overrated all things considered. True, Zidane wasn’t the strategic mastermind a lot of people claim he was. He was no Xavi, Pirlo or Scholes, and not just because he played in a different position. He also wasn’t as flawless as many people remember him. When Zidane received the ball, you couldn’t be sure that he would make something intelligent with it. For example, he often kept the ball for too long. His amazing close control often enabled him to avoid losing the ball in those kind of situations, but that doesn’t change the fact that he didn’t help his team by not playing an earlier pass. He also wasn’t immune to the odd act of stupidity. I’m not only talking about his violent moments, but also about him missplacing easy passes or choosing the blatantly wrong passing option. Stuff like that happened and while it may not have happened more often to Zidane than to most other world-class playmakers of his generation, one should not ignore these flaws.

Zinedane Zidane of Juventus and teammate Alen Boksic celebrate
Zidane wearing what is my favourite ever Juventus shirt. – Source

Having said that, one should not ignore that these flaws pale in comparison to his many outstanding qualities either. Zidane was a great player in many ways and in some aspects, I think, he was better than any other player in history. He is sublime at initiating dynamic movements in midfield. He often slowed down himself, waiting for the opponent do to the same, only to play a perfectly timed quick pass to  a running teammate. Things like that often led to the full collapse of the opponent’s midfield structure and frequently resulted in Zidane’s team having a shot on goal.

Ealier on I wrote about Zidane keeping the ball for too long at times. But more often than not, he took fewer touches than anybody expected, a quality that he shares with modern greats like Sergio Busquets. Even taking one touch fewer than what is normal for an elite player can change the dynamic of the situation significantly and catch the opponent off guard. Zidane often took two or more touches fewer than anybody else. He could do so because of his amazing ball control. Not that that was flawless too: Zidane always tried to control the ball as fast as possible which sometimes resulted in him not controling the ball at all, but overall his control of the ball ranks among the best in history.

Zidane was a player that could not be contained. Even on a weaker day, he would create at least some dangerous situations. In that regard he is similar to Ronaldinho (and to pre-injury Ronaldo), only that he did so in a vastly different way and more frequently. With Ronaldinho you could be sure that he was always capable of making something happen. Zidane always actually did make something happen. Maybe not the big game deciding moment, but at least he would create a chance or a highly advantageous dynamic that his teammates should have converted into a chance.

Since I’m pretty sure this won’t be the last Team of the Decade Zidane will feature in, I’ll safe some of the things I want to write about Zidane for next time. For now, let me just say that although he gets a bad mark for quantity of performance, Zidane’s amazing quality of performance during the early years of the decade justify his inclusion. I did not compile Teams of the Season/Tournament back then, but I’m rather sure he would have been a contender for Player of the Season/Tournament at Euro 2000, in season 2001-02 and 2002-03, and at the World Cup 2006. That alone is quite something. Zidane may not have been the player some people think he was, but in my book he is an all-time great nonetheless.

Thierry Henry

After I’ve written so much about Zidane, I’ll restrict myself to only a few words about Henry. He was a world-class player for most of the decade (exceptions are 2007-08 and 2009-10) and had his peak around the year 2004.

At his best he was a lethal combination of pace, technique, instinct and attitude. He was very much a modern centre forward, often switching to the left wing to collect the ball. He had playmaking skills as well and a good composure in the box. Not the most dangerous header of the ball, he was adapt at taking set pieces such as corners and free kicks. I already mentioned his pace, but that’s a quality of his that you can’t really stress enough. He was a terribly fast player, both on the first few yards and in terms of top speed.

His career seemed to be on its way down after he moved to Barcelona in 2007, but in 2008-09 he improved again and formed a deadly attacking trident together with Leo Messi and Samuel Eto’o. The last great moment of his career probably was the El Clasico in the spring of 2009. As Barcelona destroyed Real Madrid 6-2, Henry was one of the best players on the pitch and caused Sergio Ramos to have a night to forget.

Equally good marks for quality and quantity of performance, paired with the absence of a true rival in his position, make him an obvious choice for this team.



13 thoughts on “Team of the Decade 2000-2010

  1. As always just a few words (and I hope they are controversial enough):

    I don’t like this team that mutch as the last one because

    a) this midfield couldn’t play together at all. short: to many people playing great balls and to few player running after great balls. The defensive part is relativly bad, too. Pirlo was always better at collecting the loose balls than actually covering the space agains opponents and Scholes is famous for being propably the worst tackler of english history. All three player were exceptioanlly great but with an (estimated) 80% overlapping profile. I’m sorry but Viera and Gerrad replacing any (central)player you chose would put the team on a much higher level.

    b) I think the overall quality reflects that the first half of this decade was just atrociously bad. If it wasn’t for Bergkamp and Zidane I wouldn’t recommend even watching a single game. (I tried and now I am not-so-proud owner of the remaining parts of six different keyboards…)

    Now on to some notes on specific players 😉
    Pirlo: I agree that Juventus-Pirlo looked for the 40m omg-pass to often but I’d argue he had to hit 2-3 per game to make smthg. happen while this wasn’t the case @Milan.

    Zidane: My point b) is part my argument that Zidane wasn’t that insane on an absolute scale, but I don’t argue about that with you. Everyone has his own religion 😉

    Nesta: (and Maldini) didn’t tackle all that much but when they had to it was on the same level of aesthetic as all the things that your midfielders could do with the ball at their feet. ❤

    Henry: It's a shame that his playmaking ability didn't got enough credit for most of his career and was always buried under his lightning speed and other greats around him. I hope you come back to him when you have time.

    wow. That was longer than I thought I'd write but I have to say it was always a pleasure to read from you.


  2. Thank you for the great comment!

    Please keep in mind that how well the team would work together isn’t very high on my list of priorities. I’ll make sure not to pick 4 strikers and no defensive midfielder and stuff like that but over and above that this series of blog posts primarily is about the players, not about building great teams. In fact, if I had wanted to make this team better as a team, I’d have fielded C. Ronaldo or Messi as a RW and omitted Scholes from the team.

    Well, in terms of player quality I think the first half of the decade was pretty great. So many amazing players at the height of their powers. Tactically things look very different, that much is true.

    I do admire Zidane (praise be, praise be) but I hope my views on him result from somewhat objective analysis of what he did on the field, and not just from my personal subjective preference.

    I think I will actually update the team later today. Rob Fielder made a very good point regarding my choice of full-backs. Playing Zanetti at right-back and Cole at left-back makes for a better team and is the more rational choice given the fact that I emphasized the importance of quantity of performance.

    Again, thank you for the insightful comment – I expected nothing less. 😉


  3. Ok, maybe my expectations were a little bit to to high after the first one, but I absoliutly understand your point.

    It just came to me that you forgot to mention Zlatan. There are a million reasons not to like him but individually he is abolutly great. he was very young at the start of the decade but he was the dominant player on every single one of his teams and he was National champion in 8/10 years.
    You mentioned van Nistelroy who was wores for most part of the decade and bergkamp(who I adore)who ended his career in ’06.


  4. Don’t lower your expectations. The next one will be more sound as a team.

    Yeah, Zlatan… I guess the fact that I’m watching mostly high-profile matches between strong teams didn’t help his case. I disagree with the statement on van Nistelrooy, though. He was excellent at United. And much more than just a penalty box striker. True, he scored a lot of his goals from inside the box, but at his peak he was a much more complete forward than what people remember him to be. Including myself before I re-watched some of his matches. Zlatan may have been more spectacular, but for most of the decade van Nistelrooy was much better.


  5. Zanetti reminds me so much of Lahm (and viceversa)! Another striking quality that came to my mind: I’ve rarely seen Javier lose a ball or waste a possession!!! So he was great at defending and conducting the ball! As you say,he was so reliable,clever,efficient that he could have been great even for Guardiola. He was not “offensively built” like most south americans left/right backs but he was good enough to venture forward without fear and obviously he was one of the best in positioning,tackles,initiating the play. Not to mention his body structure which allowed him to have enough pace to run after or past his opponents and still retain the physicality to challenge them. He was like the buffon of the full-backs 🙂 I’m sure he would have performed brilliantly even against the fast wings of those last years.


    • I absolutely agree. Marvellous player. Before I re-watched these matches I thought he was a good, yet not outstanding player. Mr. Reliable, but nothing special. I was very wrong. He must be one of the most intelligent full-backs of all time. And slowly but surely I’m beginning to think he was one of the best full-backs of all time all things considered.

      There certainly similarities with Lahm in his game, yes. David Alaba, too, could be the next Zanetti.


  6. Great article and I think good choice to switch to Ashley Cole.
    One player I missed on your bench is Michael Ballack – El Capitano.
    Although I am not the biggest fan of his – especially after leaving Bayern – I think you have to give him some credit.
    He definitely doesn’t belong in the starting 11, but his performance throughout the decade – starting at Leverkusen where he led that squad to the CL final in their infamous Vizekusen-season, then taking Germany to a WC Final in 2002 without much help outside from Kahn, Klose and Schneider and lastly dominance at Bayern and more than solid play at Chelsea with another two CL Finals – was great overall. He combined a very offensive approach at the beginning of the decade with a transition to a defensive midfielder at Chelsea. Something that not many players can do and still remain world class.
    I would certainly like your opinion in that matter.


    • You might just be right about Michael Ballack. I chose players like Riquelme and Bergkamp ahead of him but it could well be true that nostalgia did get the better of me in that case. Bergkamp was a great player, but he quit football in 2006 which is a heavy disadvantage. Riquelme, while being a somewhat unique player, probably wasn’t as consistent as Ballack. He had his moments (the World Cup in 2006, for example), but ultimately he wasn’t as dominant a club player as Ballack was. So, yes, I think you’re right. It’s a case of me choosing more fashionable players ahead of a more deserving one.


  7. The thing about Scholes was that he wasn’t actually that good as people claim to nowadays. He was underrated back then but overrated right now. It was not a coincidence that he dropped out of England since Gerrard and Lampard was better back then. Scholes then had some weak years until 2006 when he was a different type but he was not on level with players like Pirlo and Xavi. Or even Gerrard and Lampard during their peak. Just look at how much Scholes played in the later stages in CL after 2008. He was more of a rotation player and did not even start the CL final in 2009 and 2011. That says a lot.


  8. Paul Scholes was absolutely as good as people claim and this comes from someone who watched almost every game he played in from 2006 onwards. He was not dropped by England for Lampard and Gerrard, he retired in 2004 before he even reached his prime. From the time Gerrard got his first cap in 2000 up to Scholes’ retirement he received 31 caps Scholes got 46 in that time and Lampard got 28. It is true that he was moved out onto the left for Gerrard and Lampard to play through the middle and I believe this is one of many reasons why England’s golden generation won nothing. Even Sven (the manager at the time) wrote in his book that “Scholes was England’s best football player. It was impossible to take the ball from him, and he never mishit a pass. He did not belong on the left flank but that’s where we needed him most”. Scholes is not in the same league as Lampard and Gerrard and there is a reason why United, with him at the centre, won 11 league titles while Lampard and Gerrard won 3 between them.

    As for not being on the level of Xavi that’s because no cm has hit the levels of peak Xavi. However he reached and arguably surpassed the levels of Pirlo. From 2006 to 2008 Scholes was the best cm in the world and from 2008 to 2010 second best only to Xavi. There’s a reason Capello tried to bring Scholes out of retirement for the 2010 WC despite having Gerrard and Lampard at his disposal. Just take a look at Scholes’ under lying numbers from the 09-10 season ( The only area Pirlo is a better player is set pieces. Scholes has a better shot, is clearly levels above him defensively, has a better short passing game and an equally good if not better long pass. The younger cam Scholes was also very good at playing a through ball to assist a striker although now I think about Pirlo was probably slightly better in this area. Anyway don’t take my word for it just read how true legends of the game talk about him here and at . You said yourself that Manchester United were the best club this decade and so therefore their most important player has to make the team.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with this team. Cannavaro was overrated and should be changed for Puyol or Ferdinand, Zidane retired in 2006 and Ronaldinho (despite being my favourite player to watch after Messi and Xavi) was not consistent enough. I look forward to seeing your updated version of this team of the decade, hopefully with Scholes still in it.


  9. Well, that is the whole myth about Scholes that has been a thing after his career. He never got a single vote in Ballon D’or and both Gerrard and Lampard was quite high at their peak. Or just count all the individual awards those to have got, Gerrard in particular.
    Scholes underperformed for many years under Svennis, just look at how his goal rate dropped. And that thing about him playing on the left is mentioned all the time but simply ain’t right. He played there just during the Euro 2004 and some other games. Nothing more. Just look it up on Transfermarkt. And the reason was that both Gerrard and Lampard was considered better. Scholes even played on the left sometimes at Man U and has said he did not saw it as a problem. Claiming that England and their golden generation would have won a lot of things with Scholes in the middle is simply wrong.
    And mentioning league titles ain’t fair either. Just think how many titles Liverpool would have won of Scholes and Gerrard would have played in the opposite teams. Probably not many more since Gerrard carried that club for years.

    And don’t even agree on claiming Scholes was the best in the world during those years. Please give me some ranking made during those years that says so. And those quotes about him is not much to cheer for. Strange thing that all those players never voted on him when it comes to individual awards. Right? Not to forget that Sir Alex actually preferred a limited player like Nicky Butt partnering Keane during some important CL games back in the days. Or even buying a player like Veron.

    Or just read this thing. Tactical guru Michael Cox comment on this was: “It’s 100% correct.”

    The thing about Scholes was that he actually maximized his talents in the second phase of his career but never at the heights like players of Xavi and Pirlos calibre. He was quite good in the first phase to but both Lampard and Gerrard had a better peak as that kind of attacking midfielder. Scholes did hold a higher class in his later years tough. But even then he was used as a rotational player and Sir Alex could use quite unfashionable players like Fletcher, Park, Anderson or the older Giggs.


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