By Eric Beard
Last year, there were only two players (Drogba and Valencia) in the PFA Premier League team of the year that were not of European origin, which prompted me to create a Non-European Best XI. This year, the list only contains one player from outside of Europe, Señor Carlos Tevez. Not to say that players such as Gareth Bale, Edwin Van der Sar, and Samir Nasri don’t deserve to be in the team of the season, but it does provide enough reason to dedicate a post focused on a team of non-European class acts. For me, the point of this list is to counteract the Euro and even Anglo-centric fixation media outlets such as Sky Sports thrust upon us by showing just how much the Premier League benefits from all the talent that (sadly) won’t be partaking in the EUROs next summer.
Forwards: Javier Hernandez (Mexico), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Clint Dempsey (United States). Bench: Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Asamoah Gyan (Ghana), Kenwyne Jones (Trinidad and Tobago).
Okay, so perhaps Luis Suarez would be better as a left winger in the 4-3-3 than Chicharito, but the little Mexican’s work ethic and pure eye for goal has been nothing but remarkable. Someone forgot to tell Suarez or Hernandez that foreigners are meant to be terrible from the start and then blame it on the pace and physicality of the Premier League. Chicharito, Drogba, Dempsey, Suarez, and Gyan were all goalscorers this past summer in South Africa and all were able to cement ‘legend status’ amongst their supporters. Didier Drogba actually has been under some criticism by pundits and Chelsea fans alike, however, the Ivorian has still shown enough this season to be in the Premier League elite, and he should be credited for keeping his composure when the dressing room train-wreck Fernando Torres arrived. Clint Dempsey’s inclusion in this squad is an obvious one. His technique, physicality, and ability to do the unexpected is nothing new to US Soccer and Cottagers supporters, but this year he continued to go above and beyond all expectations playing at striker instead of in midfield, his more natural position. In truth, he is a primary reason Fulham will finish so high in the table and fans of Deuce can only imagine what he could do if he was surrounded by teammates with his level of skill. Oh right, and this list of forwards doesn’t even include Carlitos. Deadly.
Midfielders: Alex Song (Cameroon), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), Cheik Tiote (Ivory Coast).Bench: Michael Essien (Ghana), Park Ji-Sung (South Korea), Stuart Holden (United States).
The midfield three were the hardest to choose, as Park Ji-Sung has been consistent class for United whenever Sir Alex called upon his services. If Stuart Holden had managed to play the whole season and avoid that terrible knee injury, it would have undoubtedly been the best season for a central midfielder in Europe, sorry Claudio Reyna. There’s a reason Holden was given the player of the year award by the Bolton Wanderers’ Supporters Association, just look at the how distraught the midfield has been without Stu’s ability to disrupt the rhythm of opponents with possession. However, when it all comes down to it, the all-African midfield trio of Alex Song, Yaya Toure, and Cheik Tiote would be absolutely menacing. Song, considered by many before this season as not good enough for a club like Arsenal, flourished into an essential presence for the Gunners and allowed Cesc and Wilshere to have newfound freedom going forward. At only 23, he’s one of the older presences for Arsene’s army, but he still has plenty of time to grow into a consistent force Arsenal fans expect him to be. Yaya Toure was branded a failure by many early in the season, however, he has gone through the ‘adapting to the Premier League’ ropes and his intelligence, size, and athleticism has been enough in itself to overwhelm smaller opponents (no pun intended). Along with Tevez, Toure has been Man City’s player of the season. Cheik Tiote, like his fellow Ivorian Yaya, has been absolutely essential in the Newcastle midfield. He didn’t have the price tag to match Yaya, but his time at FC Twente seemed to be an adequate preparation as his decision-making with passing and ball-winning ability is already amongst the very best in England.
Defenders: Benoît Assou-Ekotto (Cameroon), Christopher Samba (Republic of Congo), Fabricio Coloccini (Argentina), Rafael (Brazil). Bench: Ahmed Elmohamady (Egypt), Carlos Salcido (Mexico), Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast).
Assou-Ekotto, with Dani Alves-esque tendencies to go forward and join in on the Tottenham attack, has been the most entertaining left back in the league. His balance, pace, and footwork is world class and it’s difficult to imagine Spurs without Bale and Assou-Ekotto on the left. If Blackburn stay up, Christopher Samba deserves all the credit. The Congolese footballer puts his body on the line every match at Ewood Park and it’s fair to say that the average forward in the Premier League doesn’t look forward to an encounter with the 6 foot 5 inch defender. Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle’s only connection to Boca Juniors, has been a fantastic, calming presence in the back for the Magpies. Working alongside Jose Enrique has helped developed a defensive partnership with a level of skill and composure you wouldn’t expect at St. James’. At 29, he still has a few more years to help Newcastle build off of their mid-table success. Gary Neville retired in the middle of this season, but Rafael was able to fill in at right back in a way that made United fans forget that Gary was even still in existence. It’s hard to believe Rafael is only 20. Surely a Brazil call-up is in his future, though pushing out Dani Alves and Maicon may prove to be a little more difficult than ol’ Gary.
Goalkeepers: Ali Al-Habsi (Oman). Bench: Tim Howard (United States).
Tim Howard has already proven himself to be one of the most reliable keepers in the Premier League, however, Ali Al-Habsi has well and truly been a wall for Wigan. Roberto Martinez’s squad, without Al-Habsi in net, would likely already be planning to navigate through the Championship. He’s still on loan from Bolton, but during these past few months he’s been linked to clubs as big as Arsenal. At 29, he doesn’t deserve to be playing anywhere but the top flight.