Why Premier League players are no longer being picked in the FIFA FIFPro World XI
It’s a new year (relatively) and with that came the annual unveiling of the FIFPro World Team of the Year for 2015. This term’s edition saw usual suspects Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo start up top alongside Brazilian forward Neymar while Manuel Neuer retained the title of the best goalkeeper for the third year running.
There were some surprising inclusions as well. Real Madrid’s Luka Modric may well have raised a few eyebrows but, ultimately, the main talking point remains the continued lack of Premier League players making appearances in this prestigious eleven.
The statistics are alarming. Boasting eight representatives, La Liga stole the show, while the remaining three players (Thiago Silva, Manuel Neuer and Paul Pogba) were scattered across France, Germany and Italy respectively.
Yet, despite the stellar reputation the Premier League claims to have, no players from England’s top division were selected in the FIFPro XI for the fourth consecutive year, while only eleven players from the nation’s top flight made it into the remaining four reserve teams. So, where does this bizarre aversion in opting for EPL talent stem from?
Premier League has become tougher and evened the playing field
To begin with, it may be as simple as questioning if the standard of the Premier League has declined over the years. There has certainly been concern surrounding the performance of British clubs in elite European competitions, namely the Champions League, in which no English club advanced beyond the round of 16 last season.
It could result in the omission of the fourth Champions League qualifying spot in the future, while the absence from the latter rounds means the global football community becomes less aware of the talent gracing the Premier League but more familiar with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid players. This may well have contributed to how the 26,478 votes were distributed.
Although the voting didn’t favour it this time around, the Premier League cannot be beaten for entertainment and unpredictability and this also may play its part. The likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs could find themselves toppled on a cold night at Stoke or sent licking their wounds by the in-form Foxes Leicester City.
On the other hand, with all due respect, the teams at the lower end of the ladder in France, Germany, Spain and Italy would probably struggle against a solid English Championsip side.
By playing against such tough opposition every single week, the gems in the Premier League may fail to sparkle on a consistent basis, making it difficult for them to catch the eye of football lovers and work their way into the FIFPro XI.
Popularity of big clubs an important factor
Next arises the political aspects. Perhaps Manchester City could give them a run for their money (pardon the pun), while Chelsea certainly aren’t operating with a shoestring budget. But, in reality, Barcelona and Real Madrid have both the financial firepower, history and captivating statuses to attract the greatest players in world football.
Furthermore, the dominance which Barcelona especially have ascertained over the years, especially in the past decade, means their players hold sentimental value and it is difficult to exclude the likes of Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves purely because of the reputation the duo have mustered up and rightfully so.
This is not to say that the two didn’t deserve their spots but I struggle to see how a Premier League player who has an incredible season could nudge out a Barcelona or Real Madrid inidividual who has performed adequately.
To put it into context, Chelsea, although poor at the latter end of the year, romped to an emphatic Premier League title win and won the League Cup last season, only for none of their players to make it into the FIFPro team. In contrast, Real Madrid won nothing yet Marcelo was deemed the greatest left-back in the world last year and Sergio Ramos one of the best centre-backs. Logic? I think not.
Personally, I feel it boils down to the prestige of club. Real boast more ‘marketable’ players, so FIFA are destined to opt for them in an attempt to fuel interest from fans across the globe, where the Spanish clubs are affirming a stronger status.
Let’s be brutally honest, the selection, in some respects, mirrored the thinking of a group of 10-year-old boys on their Playstations. The romance of the best football performers winning the award was stripped back, in order for those earning the biggest bucks to be awarded.
Alternatively, it could simply be the fact that the best players no longer ply their trade in the Premier League, in which case we must ponder why. With the growth of competition in the division, it is becoming harder for the big clubs to dominate and so their players aren’t seen as winning week-in-week-out. Hence, so few are selected.
Of the talent on show in England, the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and David Silva must surely have been in the mix. But due to their clubs’ failure to conquer the best on the European stage, they were very much left behind and forgotten.