Just 48 hours after capturing their second consecutive Champions League title, Real Madrid are celebrating the inclusion of eight of their stars within the 18 players that make up the 2016/17 Champions League Squad of the Season.
The illustrious roster is comprised from the votes of UEFA’s Technical Observers who currently list Sir Alex Ferguson, Roy Hodgson, Alain Giresse, Ioan Lupescu, Christian Chivu and Ryan Giggs amongst their number. Their group’s collective reports record the tactical and team innovations within the association’s tournaments, leading to the annual Champions League report similar to the UEFA Euro 2016 Technical Report.
Confirming the dominance of Spanish football within UEFA’s premier competition, there are 12 players in total taken from La Liga clubs. Spanish-based players make up two thirds of the experts panel’s choices. That’s eight from Los Blancos, three from Atletico Madrid’s and surprisingly, just one Barcelona’s player in Lionel Messi.
And that will be the most contentious takeaway from the current Champions League campaign.
There is no Neymar, despite his starring role in the comeback of comebacks against PSG and the Brazilian supplying eight assists before Barcelona were knocked out by losing finalists Juventus. There is no Luis Suarez.
But arguably the most ominous sign-off from the 2016/17 Champions League Squad of the Season is that there is no place for a single Barcelona midfielder. And that is an incredible indictment of the current status of the Catalan club, a side that have dominated world football for a decade and more due to their colossus-like midfielders.
The club of Xavi and Iniesta, the club of Guardiola have a relative paucity of centre of the park resources. Arda Turan, Andre Gomes and Rafinha simply aren’t strong enough players to augment the clear qualities of Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, players who look like they have the world on their shoulders currently within the Barcelona engine room.
It is notable that Turan, Gomes and Rafinha are all bought in players at Barcelona. And with the conveyor belt of precocious La Masia graduates seemingly stalled, and indeed overshadowed by their equivalents at Real Madrid, it is now absolutely imperative that the incoming Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde hits the ground running with a summer of effective recruitment – of a kind that is both long overdue and also beyond recent memory in terms of upheaval.
How Valverde performs this summer will go a long way to answer the question: “Is this just a snapshot in time or the end of an era at Camp Nou?”
Gianluigi Buffon and Jan Oblak were chosen as goalkeepers at different ends of the age spectrum.
There’s no argument with either selection though Manuel Neuer is another major figure to pointedly miss out alongside Neymar and Suarez.
The defensive line is comprised of Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci, Atletico’s Diego Godin and Madrid’s Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal. It is hard to argue with any selection here although Dani Alves deserves notable mention as he enjoys his Indian Summer in Turin.
The most controversial section within UEFA’s squad sees Los Blancos’ men dominating the midfielders. The inclusions of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Isco Alarcon, is complemented by the Bianconeri’s all-rounder Miralem Pjanic and Monaco’s never-tiring Tiemoue Bakayoko. However, the latter pairing have more negatives than positives to answer for me.
Pjanic lost his head and both sank without trace and was lucky to stay on the park in the Cardiff Final. Bakayoko’s pants seemed to go also, in what was an abject showing against Juventus in the semis. Both are good players but neither justifies inclusion here based on the black marks against them. Even an under pressure Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic have stronger claims, while N’Golo Kante, in a year where no Premier League player features, must be kicking himself that he didn’t feature in this season’s Champions League.
In a panel comprising Roy Hodgson, Sir Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs, you’d have to consider the lack of even one single Premier League entrant to the squad list to be a very pointed snub.
Lastly, the UEFA Technical Observers put together a star-studded front line featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski. The six men combined to score 43 goals throughout the campaign.
But again, though the claims of all are strong, the eyes are drawn to the absentees, specifically Suarez, Neymar and Higuain. Surely all of this trio have stronger claims than the solitary Bundesliga representative Robert Lewandowski?
The Polish number nine is one of those players whose all-round game lags significantly behind his profile as a goalscorer. Albeit Lewandowski’s support play has improved markedly at The Allianz Arena since the days when his then Borussia Dortmund teammate Shinji Kagawa revealed the extent of his selfishness as a glory-hunting number nine. However, the impression remains that this is a ‘token German’ selection of a player who despite his high profile still offers little when he isn’t scoring.
If I was a Real Madrid fan I’d be delighted with this list. Ditto as a fan of Spain and La Liga.
However, for those whose allegiances lie in Germany, in England or with Barcelona I’d be distinctly worried by the lack of representation in the ratings of UEFA’s Technical Observers. If they are right, with what is a distinctly chilly appraisal, then there may be darker days ahead for the Bundesliga, England’s Premier League and for Barcelona. And much more to think about than a minor, end of season award.