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In this new annual feature, we at Outside of the Boot aim to unearth the best performing footballers from each of the 5 primary Confederations in the past calendar year. Rather than do the work ourselves, we had the bright idea of crowd-sourcing the answers and the football-sphere has spoken with its votes.
Drum roll please. And the winners of Global Series: South America is…
One of the top marksmen in Europe during his time at Napoli, Edinson Cavani made the move to Paris a few seasons back as one of the big money stars that the club went about acquiring. However, it hasn’t been the most comfortable time of his career, as Cavani has mostly played second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’s either been left on the banch, or been forced to play out wide to do so. Slowly but surely though, he’s adjusted to life as a wide man, and is growing in strength and effectiveness.
This season, he’s been in terrific form, scoring 10 times in 16 appearances. He hasn’t been as prolific in the Champions League, with just 1 goal coming against Malmo, but he’s been a potent force in Ligue 1. His pace, size, and strength are his standout characteristics. The Uruguayan uses these strengths as a wide man too, often serving as an outlet to receive diagonal balls due to his ability to win aerial duels, especially against full backs.
The Brazilian winger has often been made to look un-Brazilian because of the Jose-itis inflicted upon him. But this year has seen Willian produce the best of both worlds. Combining attacking creativity and flair with incredible defensive work rate, Willian has been the silver lining of a very grey 2015-16 season for Chelsea. He’s also easily one of the best free kick takers in football, having made it a habit to score direct from these situations, especially in the Champions League. The success though, is not just restricted to Chelsea. For Brazil too, he’s become a starter and an important selection for Dunga, as he too is a coach that believes in the primacy of defensive effort.
Willian is used as one of the three players operating just behind the striker, and often drifts and changes his position with the others operating in that region of the pitch. Though he is said to prefer playing through the middle, he usually is stationed out wide on the right. Last season, he was the perfect foil for the inventiveness of Hazard on the other side, but this time around, he’s taken up the creative mantle, with 7 goals and 2 assists this season.
A tremendous striker, who has had a tremendous 2015, Carlos Bacca has set the stage alight, for both his clubs, AC Milan, and Sevilla. He had a fantastic first half of the year with Sevilla, as he scored 17 goals from January to the end of May, and ensured that his team won the Europa league for a second year in succession. His performance in that competition was particularly impressive, with 6 goals coming in the knockout round matches, including a match winning performance in the final, which featured a brace from him, and an assist.
His performances won him a lot of admiring glances, with teams like Liverpool also chasing his signature, but eventually, it was AC Milan who won out, and managed to bring him in. He’s had a steady start to his career at the San Siro, and 7 goals in 16 games is a record he will build on in the future. The 29 year old is a player who relies on his movement to get his goals, and soon, he will gain a lot more experience about how to break down Serie A defences, and this will help him bring his superior finishing ability to the fore.
One of the players who has had a great 2015, Alexis Sanchez has been stopped only by the limits of his own body this year. He started off the year with Arsenal, and ended the season as one their prized assets. It is hard to believe that he has only completed 1 season at the club, such is his popularity and impact. He scored 6 goals in the league during the second half of the season, but it was in the FA Cup that he really carried them forward. 2 goals in the semi final, with 1 coming after extra time to seal the win, and 1 in the final won the trophy for Arsenal again.The summer was also great for Sanchez, as he led Chile to their first Copa America triumph in almost a century, on home soil, and in dramatic fashion.
He’s had a brisk start to this season as well. His goals and performances have come in spurts this season, with a drought at the start of the season being followed by a run of 7 goals in 4 games. This was followed by another drought, before an excellent run of form was halted by an injury. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal will miss him while he’s out, and hopefully for his sake, a bit more rest will be afforded to him the next time around.
Having signed for Valencia from Porto at the start of the 2014-15 season, Otamendi adapted beautifully to the La Liga. Otamendi, to be fair, has for too long been one of the most underrated defenders in European football, and anyone who has watched Porto play in the past can attest to that. It was his role and performances in the system that Nuno set up that really won him plaudits, and allowed him to shine.
His fine performances in a tight and organised Valencia back 4 drew the attention of many big clubs, with Manchester City eventually winning the race of the two Manchester clubs to sign him for a massive fee. Since his arrival, he’s established himself as the first choice defender for the club alongside captain Kompany. The fact that City got thrashed 4-1 at the Etihad when he was left out in favour of Mangala and Demichellis is telling about the scale of his impact.
For a player supposedly reaching the twilight of his career, Carlos Tevez certainly isn’t heading gently into the night. The former Juventus man has had a cracking 2015, with goals and important contributions for both, Juventus and Boca. The first half was spent in the pursuit of the treble. While Juventus did go close, winning Serie A and the Coppa Italia with a fair degree of comfort, they fell at the final hurdle in the Champions League. Tevez was the talisman in that Juventus side that enjoyed one last hurrah on the continent, with a crucial goal coming at home against Real Madrid to win the first leg of the semi final, and an assist coming in the final.
Since his move to Boca Juniors in the summer transfer window, his performances have been crucial to the team. He’s been their best player, and there have also been talks about him possibly returning to the international fold for Argentina. His partnership with Morata at club level certainly was impressive, with the Argentine shuttling up and down the pitch tirelessly to pick up the ball, and run at defenders on the break. He not only scored, but also created a lot of chances.
A player fast emerging as serious competition to the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly in world football, Neymar has taken large strides forward this year. Last season, he was the final piece of the most deadly attacking trident on the planet, using his pace, skill, and finishing ability to score a bucket load of goals that led Barcelona to the treble. This season though, he has matured, and has become a leader within this team, carrying it on his shoulders in the injury enforced absence of Lionel Messi.
Neymar has always been a very skillful player, but he’s slowly added a lot of dimensions to his game. When he first arrived in Europe, he had the physique of a pre-pubescent child, but it has slowly and surely developed, to the extent that he can easily ride a tackle or two now. He still has the ability to bamboozle the opposition with an unpredictable move or two, but tries to do so at a much lower frequency now, with interplay with his teammates also improving. A year from now, it wouldn’t be surprising if we were talking about Neymar as the favourite for the Ballon D’or.
All the talk of the big transfer this past summer centered around Paul Pogba. Ridiculous fees were often touted for the Frenchman, with everyone said to be interested in landing their man. But Bayern Munich proved that everyone had the wrong Juventus midfielder in their sights, as they snatched Arturo Vidal, the best central midfielder in the world, away from Juventus.
The Chilean had wonderful season, performing at a consistently high level all throughout. His efforts as a box to box midfielder meant that Juventus could easily play 2 strikers without the fear of being outflanked because of Vidal’s (and Pogba’s, to be fair) energy. This season, Guardiola has deployed him in a different role to the one he had at Juventus. His starting position is much deeper, and he adds a whole lot of energy to the area where the previosuly slower Schweinsteiger, Lahm, and Alonso used to operate. He’s also a far more physical player, and this helps him set up the platform for players like Alonso against teams that are ready to press and attack Der Roten.
When Suarez joined Barcelona to create this deadly attacking trinity with Neymar and Messi, there were doubters who felt that Suarez may be an ego that would prove to be a little too big to play second fiddle to the other two. How spectacularly wrong have they been? The trio has excelled, and scored a lot of goals between them. Suazrez has shown that he isn’t just a skilled player, but a very intelligent one too. He makes some wonderful runs to complement the movement of his two strike partners, and works hard to press and harry the opposition too.
The perfect example of his game intelligence can be seen for his first goal against Guangzhou Evergrande. He seems to be following up for the shot even before Rakitic actually shoots the ball, and eventually gets to the rebound much before the defenders even wake up. His numbers are also might impressive, as he has 22 goals and 9 assists in just 23 appearances this season. These include a very important brace against Real Madrid in the 4-0 rout at the Bernabeu.
No real prize for guessing the occupant of this position. Messi stakes his claim this season as not just the best of South America, but also the best of the world. There were noises last season about Messi disagreeing with Enrique and having a training ground bust up with the manager, but he turned it all around after a point, and an incredible send half of the season saw him lead Barcelona to glory in 3 competitions.
Messi had to adapt his play and shift to a slightly deeper role initially. The move turned out to work wonders over time, as he was able to tear teams apart in midfield, with his defence splitting passes, or run at them and score himself. He was drifting off the right hand side to do this, and it was a move that caused too many problems for the opposition, with Dani Alves and Rakitic also moving down the right hand side vacated by him. All in all, Messi had a tremendous year, with another bucketload of goals and assists and trophies, and presumably, another Ballon D’or at the end of it.