41 appearances, 13 goals
2006: 3 app, 1 goal
Lionel Messi is the best pound-for-pound soccer player in the world, and perhaps of all time. At 22, Messi has won just about everything there is to win, both individually and in club soccer. Missing is any sort of hardware with Argentina, aside from an Olympic gold medal. Messi’s game relies on its unpredictability and magnificent control of the ball, which seldom demurs to anything Messi asks it to do. Listed at a charitable 5-foot-7, he’s even a good header. While transcendent with his club, Barcelona, in the last few years (his 17 goals this season are tied for the most in Spain), the knock on Messi has been that he doesn’t match that dominance for Argentina. For the most part, this is blamed on Argentina manager Diego Maradona’s refusal to deploy him in his natural position — on the right, allowing him to cut in — and posting him behind a deep striker instead. Maradona, one of the best of all time as a player, has named Messi his successor as Argentina’s soccer savior, a label that has proved disastrous for all others so designated previously by Maradona.
Scouting thumbnail: Technical genius with a low center of gravity and pace who can break down any defense off the dribble and conjure something out of nothing. Struggles when used as a striker and prefers playing out wide and cutting in on his left foot.
68 appearances, 22 goals
2006: 6 app, 1 goal
“Buy that kid,” Manchester United players told manager Alex Ferguson after an 18-year old Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, whose middle name allegedly honors Ronald Reagan, had torched Man U in a friendly in the summer of 2003. Ferguson obliged his players’ wishes, shelling out some $20 million and handing Ronaldo the No. 7 jersey, previously worn by legends George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and David Beckham. Ronaldo responded by outdoing all of the aforementioned in a six-year romp during which he scored 118 goals and won three Premier League titles, one Champions League and one Club World Cup, swiping 42 individual prizes, including the 2008 FIFA World Footballer of the Year, along the way. Last summer, Ferguson sold him to Real Madrid for a record $132 million. Ronaldo has become a lethal dribbler, superlative header and long-distance shooter and one of the better free-kick takers on the planet and will anchor an aging Portugal looking to shine one last time.
Scouting thumbnail: Explosive, pacy and an astonishingly prolific goal scorer for a winger. Specializes in long-range free kicks and shows the ability to shoot from anywhere.
57 appearances, 25 goals
2006: 4 app, 0 goals
When Wayne Rooney broke through internationally at just 17 years of age and took his place next to then-England striker Michael Owen, a British journalist referred to them as “the baby-faced assassin and the assassin-faced baby,” with Rooney accounting for the less flattering of the descriptions. An England side without him has become unimaginable, as the Liverpool-born Rooney developed into a world-class striker in a country starved for them. The highly athletic Rooney has reinvented his position, swerving all over the attacking half of the field to drop back into midfield when needed or provide the final tap on a goal. With former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo now in Spain, Rooney has carried the scoring load for Man U, leading the Premier League with 23 goals. Rooney sports a tattoo that says, “Just Enough Education To Perform.” While this may be generous, his on-field intelligence is off the charts. One half of another British power couple, Rooney and his wife Colleen have taken England by storm, he as a soccer player and she as a fitness guru/fashion commentator of some sort.
Scouting thumbnail: Complete striker who can play anywhere across the front three. Powerful build and aggressive attitude poses problems for any defense. Can score any type of goal and has improved his
73 appearances, 26 goals
2002, ’06: 6 app, 1 goal
Kaka belongs to Jesus. The T-shirts he has shown underneath his jersey say so. An oxymoronic principled soccer player, Kaka also happens to be the rare Brazilian star who comes from an upper-middle-class background. Money couldn’t tear him away from Milan and its fans. Kaka said he wasn’t interested in the heaps of money offered him by Manchester City and Real Madrid. So long as Milan would have him, he would be staying. Milan needed his transfer fee to stay afloat though, so after Kaka won everything there is to win for club and self, Milan sold him to Real Madrid for about $95 million in June. So now Kaka also belongs to Real Madrid. Kaka has become a central figure in manager Dunga’s new Brazil, masterminding its lethal counterattacks, which have made a Brazil team not as deep in world-class players as in past years still one of the world’s best.
Scouting thumbnail: Knee injuries have sapped some of his speed and he no longer goes on galloping dribbles the entire length of the field. Artistic playmaker who can break down defenses via dribble or pass.
83 appearances, 8 goals
2002, ’06: 7 app, 0 goals
Every soccer team need a Xavi, a savvy midfielder whose organizational skills are the glue that held both Barcelona and Spain together in their respective runs to glory. Along with Andres Iniesta he makes up the superb engine room for club and country, connecting the dots between those around him with his infallible short passes. The natural successor to Pep Guardiola, now Barcelona’s manager, Xavi has been a mainstay in Barcelona’s lineup since 1998 after joining the club’s academy in 1991. With a contract running through 2014, he isn’t liable to be leaving the only employer he has ever had anytime soon. His Player of the Tournament award for Spain’s EURO 2008 triumph was justified. Perhaps the best illustration of the force that is Xavi was his performance against archrivals Real Madrid in May 2009, when he notched four assists in a 6-2 Barcelona win.
Scouting thumbnail: Intelligent playmaker who combines precise passes and artistic vision in both the final third and from a deep lying position. The pulse of the Spanish team. Superb ability to keep the ball.
65 appearances, 43 goals
2006: 2 app, 1 goal
When Chelsea splashed out $37 million for him in 2004, Didier Drogba seemingly came out of nowhere, uncommonly late in arriving on the world scene at 26. Now 31, he nonetheless has become one of the world’s foremost strikers, and probably the most athletic one. Both captain and all-time leading scorer of Ivory Coast, he will be relied upon to debunk the stereotype that for all their ability, African teams never perform. This robust striker both takes up and covers a lot of real estate, often requiring several opposing defenders to keep him in check — although Premier League opponents haven’t been too successful at that this season, as Drogba ranks second to Wayne Rooney with 19 goals. Known for his big personality and intense looks, Drogba is spectacular to the eye.
Scouting thumbnail: Talismanic striker and physical specimen whose power makes him practically unplayable when he puts his mind to it. Can score all types of goals and excels as a lone front man.
39 appearances, 6 goals
2006: 1 app, 0 goals
There’s a reason they call him “El Illusionista” — “The Illusionist.” Andres Iniesta is a whimsical playmaker who transcends position and role to create a steady flow of chances for whoever is lucky enough to be playing in front of him. So multifunctional as to be capable of slotting into just about any midfield or attacking job, Iniesta is the creative counterpart to Xavi’s pragmatism in Barcelona’s and Spain’s golden tandem. Coming up as Ronaldinho’s understudy, Catalunya and all of Spain now shudder at the thought of life without Iniesta. Luckily, lithe as he may be, he has an uncanny ability to play through injury.
Scouting thumbnail: Small, technical playmaker with low center of gravity and tremendous ball control and creative vision, regarded by some peers as the best player in the world. Very difficult to dispossess and can also run at defenders and take them off the dribble. Sometimes overpasses when he should take the shot himself.
71 appearances, 23 goals
2006: 4 app, 3 goals
Fernando Torres was born to score goals. He was converted from a goalkeeper to a striker at age 7 and scored 55 goals as a 10-year-old, which caught the attention of his beloved Atlético Madrid, which had relaunched its academy after disbanding it a few years earlier (sending superstar Raul into the arms of Real Madrid). The club wouldn’t make that mistake a second time. Torres broke into Atlético’s starting lineup at 17 and never did stop scoring goals, earning him a transfer to Liverpool in 2007. At 25, Torres, the embodiment of the modern striker, already has 132 competitive league goals under his belt.
Scouting thumbnail: Well-rounded, pacy striker with tremendous technique who draws much support as the best in the world. Likes to play off the shoulder of the last defender and can finish with aplomb with either foot and is also superb in the air. Can sometimes be thrown off his game if defenders dish out the rough treatment and the referees are lax in calling fouls.
77 appearances, 16 goals
2006: 5 app, 2 goals
Dismissed as too slight for professional soccer as a child, Gerrard went on to be voted the second-best Liverpool player of all time by the club’s fans and is even a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Several clubs passed on him when he was in his teens, before his hometown Liverpool finally committed to him. Regret it they did not, as Gerrard emerged as a superb attacking midfielder, who also operates as a second striker or as a winger. Gerrard is a nine-year veteran of England, pairing with Frank Lampard to form the best duo of attacking midfielders in the world.
Scouting thumbnail: Complete player who can play virtually anywhere on the field, but excels at club level with his own unique English interpretation of the trequartista role. Combines an explosive long-range shot with aggressive tackling, but struggles at times to shed man markers.
54 appearances, 36 goals
2006: 4 app, 3 goals
Where David Villa goes, the goals inescapably follow. At 28, the son of a miner has already accumulated the second-most goals for Spain of all time, trailing only Raul, who has eight more goals but in 48 additional games played. That’s not all; Valencia’s Villa is also 11th on the all-time Primera División top-scorer charts (and is tied for the top with Lionel Messi this season with 17) and was the most prolific scorer in the world between 2005 and 2009. Strongest when running on to through balls threaded past defenders by Spain’s midfield, the perfectly ambidextrous Villa is the ideal complement to Fernando Torres, a taller target man.
Scouting thumbnail: Elite finisher who’s comfortable with either foot. Instinctive, predatory goal scorer who constantly finds openings in the defense and penalty box.
2002, ’06: 8 app
Iker Casillas showed what he was about when, after having established himself as Real Madrid’s starting goalkeeper at barely 18, he didn’t bother to upgrade his dinky secondhand car. Indeed, Casillas is what anyone would like their goalie to be: boring and reliable. After he joined the club when he was 9 years old and made his senior debut at 16, it’s difficult to imagine Real without Casillas, who doubles as Spain’s captain. Just how good Casillas, an unrivalled shot-stopper, really is best is illustrated by the buyout clause in the “contract for life” he signed in 2008 — which actually runs out in 2017 — which is set at $186 million.
Scouting thumbnail: Lacks the physical presence of other top goalkeepers but possesses superior reflexes and positioning. Composed and deals solidly with aerial crosses.
51 appearances, 8 goals
2006: 4 apps, 1 goal
We knew the world had changed when West Ham United bought a player owned by an investment company. When Carlos Tevez moved from Boca Juniors to Corinthians in 2005, a shady deal saw his rights go not to the latter club but to Media Sports Investments, which would go on to rent Tevez to several clubs during the coming years before he was sold to Manchester City for a reported $70 million this past summer, a tidy profit on MSI’s $20-odd million investment. (Manchester City isn’t complaining as Tevez has tallied 15 goals in the EPL.) While putting off numerous interested clubs with his complex contract situation, the multifunctional forward did become an important player for Argentina.
Scouting thumbnail: Whirling buzzsaw of nonstop hustle and energy who can play anywhere across the front line. Capable of scoring spectacular goals, but is a streaky finisher.
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|Full name||David Robert Joseph Beckham|
|Date of birth||(1975-05-02) 2 May 1975 (age 36)|
|Place of birth||Leytonstone, London, England|
|Height||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
|Current club||Los Angeles Galaxy|
|1995||→ Preston North End (loan)||5||(2)|
|2007–||Los Angeles Galaxy||81||(12)|
|2009||→ Milan (loan)||18||(2)|
|2010||→ Milan (loan)||11||(0)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 00:30, 14 April 2012.
† Appearances (Goals).
‡ National team caps and goals correct as of 3 November 2009
David Robert Joseph Beckham, OBE (born 2 May 1975) is an English association football player, who currently plays for Los Angeles Galaxy. He has previously played for Manchester United, Preston North End, Real Madrid, Milan, as well as the England national team, for which he holds the all-time appearance record for an outfield player.
Beckham’s career began when he signed a professional contract with Manchester United, making his first-team debut in 1992 aged 17. During his time there, United won the Premier League title six times, the FA Cup twice, and the UEFA Champions League in 1999. He left Manchester United to sign for Real Madrid in 2003, where he remained for four seasons, clinching the La Liga championship in his final season with the club. In January 2007, it was announced that Beckham would leave Real Madrid for the Major League Soccer club Los Angeles Galaxy, signing a five-year contract with them on 1 July 2007. While a Galaxy player, he spent two loan spells in Italy with Milan in 2009 and 2010. On 20 November 2011, he joined an elite group of players to have won three league titles in three different countries, when Los Angeles won their third MLS Cup.
In international football, Beckham made his England debut on 1 September 1996, at the age of 21. He was made captain from 15 November 2000 until the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals, during which he played 58 times. He earned a much-publicised hundredth cap against France on 26 March 2008, and became the all-time outfield player appearance record holder on 28 March 2009 when he surpassed Bobby Moore‘s total of 108 caps. With 115 career appearances to date he has stated that he does not intend to retire from international football, having missed the 2010 World Cup through injury and not featuring in England manager Fabio Capello‘s post-World Cup plans.
Beckham has twice been runner-up for FIFA World Player of the Year and in 2004 was the world’s highest-paid footballer when taking into account salary and advertising deals. Beckham was the first British footballer to play 100 Champions League matches. He is third in the Premier League‘s all time time assist provider chart, with 152 assists in 265 appearances. When joining the MLS in 2007 he was given the highest player salary in the league’s history, with his playing contract with the Galaxy over the next three years being worth US$6.5m per year.
He is married to Victoria Beckham and they have four children, Brooklyn Joseph, Romeo James, Cruz David, and Harper Seven. As of 2009, the couple’s joint wealth is estimated at £125 million.