Popular choice awards

Five Barcelona players, five from Real Madrid, and one from Atletico Madrid. If this were the La Liga team of the year, it would have been a sad but accurate reflection of the financial and, consequently, footballing gulf that separates Real and Barca from every other club in Spanish football.

But this wasn't the La Liga team of 2012. This was the FIFPro World XI, voted for by over 50,000 professional footballers from the 49 national associations that are part of FIFPro, the world players' union.

This explains, to a large degree, the overwhelming populism of the names on the FIFPro lineup. Nine were part of last year's World XI. Eight have appeared for three or more years. This wasn't so much a careful selection of 2012's most influential players, in their respective positions, as much as a collection of global superstars with easy recall value.

And thanks to the skewed distribution of footballing wealth, a sizable proportion of football's glamour boys happen to play for Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Ironically, this has caused some of their own teammates' contributions to go unnoticed. The better-known of Barcelona's two fullbacks ó Dani Alves ó was part of the World XI, rather than the one who actually had a sensational year ó Jordi Alba. Xabi Alonso is a great player, but perhaps a little less vital than Sergio Busquets at the base of Spain's midfield.

But surely, neither Alonso nor even Busquets 'deserved' a place in the XI ahead of Andrea Pirlo, who was the most important cog in a Juventus team that went through the 2011-12 Serie A season unbeaten and in the Italy side that reached the final of Euro 2012.

And neither Gerard Pique nor Sergio Ramos was as impregnable in the centre of their respective back fours as Vincent Kompany, the English Premier League's player of the season, was in Manchester City's. And while Iker Casillas is a worthy contender for best goalkeeper of all time, he currently isn't even ó in his manager's eyes ó the best goalkeeper in his club.

... contd.

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