The Worst of the Best

Real Madrid CF v FC Basel 1893 - UEFA Champions League

Thank God football is a team sport. And generally, the best teams are rewarded, in that, as the old adage goes, ‘a team of superstars doesn’t make a superstar team’. The clubs that aim the highest, that expect to be permanent residents sipping brandy in the chalet at the very summit of the sport, tend to realise these expectations for one reason; they have the most money.

No seriously – though money is the reason, if we’re being realistic cynical – the reason is that the managers and the club hierarchies of these juggernauts are constantly drafting an endless revision assignment, doggedly relentless in the pursuit of a stronger, more accomplished group of athletes. Team building never ends, and as each transfer period breaks the record amount of money spent, the machine simply rolls on. And the best teams usually have the nous, and funds, to try and assemble a group of players where every position is well covered with quality and consistency. The operative word in that sentence being ‘try’. No team in history has been perfect, and, thanks to the very nature of the sport, weaknesses in individual players or positions can usually be masked by work ethic, chemistry and team-appropriate tactics. If the left back is a little shaky, you put a hard working left-sided midfielder in front of him, providing an extra security blanket. If your defenders are all slow, play a deep line. You get the idea.

Still, there are some players in three of the current crop of masterfully assembled starting line-ups that stick out, for the wrong reasons. Every champion club in Europe has a player that gets made the scapegoat, that draws the whistles. Often, not always, but often the ire of the fans is well aimed; a team’s harshest critics are their most fanatic supporters. It’s through love that we bellow at the manager, or chastise the decision to start that poor sap, whoever he is, at left back for the derby.

Let me make the point of this article clear; of course, this is wholly a personal opinion of mine, that others might differ from, when it comes to the worst of the best that will be listed below. Also, “worst” player doesn’t necessarily mean that that man is the actually the worst player on the team, it might just be a way of describing the player who has been, rightly or wrongly, most focused upon by the vocal masses lurking in the stands. That said, here they are.

Real Madrid

The ‘team of superstars/superstar team’ rule was best exemplified by Real’s Mach I Galactico era, when after winning the Champions League in 2002, it famously took them 11 years to reach another European final, despite having some of the most glittering team sheets ever written up. Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham, Figo, Roberto Carlos, Raul, it didn’t matter. Their Mach II era, currently starring Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema, Rodriguez and Kroos, has only been slightly more successful overall, with 1 La Liga title since Ronaldo’s arrival in 2009, but they just last season won the club’s tenth European Cup, la decima, finally and gloriously, beating their city rivals in the final. So who’s the current weak link? If we’re to go by the noise raining down from the stands, incredibly, it’s the club captain and Madrid legend, Iker Casillas. The last two seasons have been a damaging period of decline for Casillas, beginning with Jose Mourinho dropping him in 2012, and reaching it’s darkest nadir in Casillas’s and Spain’s horror World Cup. Casillas has started the first few games of the new Spanish season and has been audibly whistled and jeered by the crowd. How the mighty have fallen in the eyes of the many. Casillas, though undeserving of such abuse, is certainly not what he once was, and Keylor Navas is primed to replace him.

Manchester City

He started out very badly, and was immediately in the cross-hairs. He was embarrassed by Messi in the Champions League, but what defender hasn’t been? He steadily improved and became a fairly reliable presence for the English champions. But, such is the strength of City’s squad, Martin Demichelis has to be the worst player in starting line up. It’s not really an indictment of the Argentine, who scored the equaliser against Arsenal last week, because when you’re around players like Toure, Kompany, Aguero and Silva, you’ve really got to be a superstar to outshine them. A superstar Demichelis is not, and if Kompany were to get injured, few City supporters would be entirely comfortable relying on Demichelis to see them through as the backup defensive marshal. With Eliaquim Mangala yet to appear for City, Demichelis may well be on the bench momentarily.

Bayern Munich

A victim of Brazil’s brutal 7-0 mauling at the hands of many of his Bayern team mates, Dante is a mystifying continued presence in the German champions’ starting line-up. Always good for a gaffe, the afro’d Brazilian isn’t very mobile, is often caught out positionally, and tends to make some questionable decisions in nearly every match. For a club so powerful and attractive to potential targets, Bayern are curiously short at centre back, with the general median quality of the defence heftily pulled up by Alaba, Lahm and Neuer. Perhaps another raid of Borussia Dortmund is on the cards, with Mats Hummels a definite upgrade on Dante.

Agree? Vehemently object? Who do you think are the worst players at your clubs?

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