Ronaldo & Balotelli star in Goal.com's football Team Europe in honour of Ryder Cup

By Peter Staunton

I don’t like golf. It is, in my opinion, anodyne, bordering on the pointless. Furthermore, I hate the Ryder Cup. I pity the players and their cringe-inducing attempts at team spirit and humour. Two attributes which are by and large anathema to successful golf. “A boring game for boring people,” according to George Carlin.

Nonetheless, every two years, we are cowed into a reverential hush when the Europeans are on the tee and golf fans pretend to support even that Belgian lad. This is juxtaposed with the yeehaa’d Americana excreted by that shower across the pond. We are supposed to care. I don’t. Football is much better; it takes up less room for a start. Golf, I simply cannot abide. “An arrogant, elitist game that takes up too much room,” says Carlin, and I can’t but agree.

Nonetheless the ‘dream team’ element, present in the Ryder Cup, I like.

The best of the best, pitting their skills against the best of the best, is quasi-Olympian. In the context of football, it brings forth thoughts of fantasy XIs, the likes of which were created by the dozen at school in a copybook. And a European team, and who would fill it, now that is a concept I can get behind.

Europe’s Ryder Cup team comprises, essentially, the 10 best-ranked European golfers from the past year. That lot are joined by two captain’s picks.

The Ryder Cup captain is a non-playing player, in effect, but – for our football team purposes here – I will pick him as manager. The captain’s pick becomes my pick because, as things stand, Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t interested in my game. The captain’s pick will therefore take his place on my European dream team.

The other 10 are the top-ranked European players from the Goal.com 50 series, which rewarded the best 50 players of the season past. For once, and handily, this year’s edition conjured a good spread positionally among the top-ranked Euroboys.

So here it is. The Goal.com European dream team to do hypothetical battle against Jurgen Klinsmann’s burger-eating, monster truck-loving, fanny pack-wearing sons-of-a-gun.

Between the sticks, this year, there is no alternative to Iker Casillas. Second in the Goal.com 50, Casillas enjoyed a trophy-laden season with Real Madrid and Spain although his ability to catch crosses and push shots around the post remains dubious. He would not be my first pick for the goalkeeping position but he qualified. Could be worse. I could have been lumbered with Wojciech Szczesny.

The defence features, at right back, Casillas’ club-mate Sergio Ramos. Recently, the superbly-haired defender has had a spat with Jose Mourinho, who seems to finally have discovered what a liability he can be, but there is no doubt that last season and through the Euros, he was ‘mint’.

At left-back comes English national treasure, Ashley Cole. The Chelsea man takes a disgusting amount of grief from a public who do not know how lucky they are to have Cole play in front of them. Another massively consistent season for the Blues finally brought Champions League glory for Cole after two final disappointments. Laughably clear of any other contenders for the best left-back in the world slot.

In the centre is Vincent Kompany, who led plucky underdogs Manchester City to their first league title since 1968. He is a beast; just look at him. Physically as impressive a defender as there is in the world, Kompany shrugged off most strikers he faced last season while also chipping in with a vital goal or two. A key element of club and country now, delivering on his huge potential.

Joining him is the laid-back stud muffin, Mats Hummels. Despite the considerate demeanour of the sensitive one in American rom-com, Hummels was meaner than a junkyard dog in defence last season. His ball-playing capabilities and commanding presence helped Dortmund to the double in Germany. He is the captain’s pick, too, seeing off stern competition from the rapidly-improving Pepe. Can’t have too many Madrid players you see.

Andrea Pirlo occupies a slot in centre midfield. Of course he does. Pirlo should be in every select XI. He  passes the ball like he is charming a snake from a basket and experienced the most successful comeback since Jesus Christ after joining Juventus from Milan. He has got the beard to rival the Chosen One now too. Played like a man in a boys’ game for Italy at the Euros. Imperious.

Swift, diminutive ball-magnet Xavi Hernandez joins Pirlo in a midfield that more says ‘bridal suite’ than ‘engine room’. Barcelona were not massively successful last season, just the four trophies, but Xavi was again key to their endeavours. He quite literally tore Italy a new one in the Euros too for Spain. Passed to death.

Also flitting around the central third is Andres Iniesta. Slight, unassuming, you would barely know he was there until he popped up with a goal. He did not enjoy the best of seasons for Barca but excelled for Spain at the Euros. He was man of the match in three out of their six games and also took home the Player of the Tournament gong.

Mesut Ozil takes the first attacking slot. He has not been in the best of form so far this season as he has been too busy clubbing or else resenting the presence of fellow alice-band enthusiast Luka Modric. There can be no denying his effect last term though; he delivered 24 assists for the Blancos. Has a clause in his contract that dictates he plays only an hour of every match.

Joining Ozil is the domineering, the phenomenal, the little bit sad, Cristiano Ronaldo. Quite simply, the best player in the world. He can shoot off either foot, head the ball, chase back, is quick and indefatigable. Without him Real Madrid would be Atletico and Portugal would be Ireland. I love him and he would beat Messi in a fight.

And rounding off the XI is that timid little mouse Mario Balotelli. I would never have chosen him for this team in a million years but he has made it in through the Goal 50 so I am stuck with him. A good player on his day, no doubt, and his two goals against Germany in the Euros were excellent. But I honestly would prefer Danny Welbeck. I fully expect him to cost my team big time.

So that is the Goal.com XI for Team Europe to take on USA in some sort of Ryder Cup/football hybrid. I think we have close to the best team in the world there and Sir Alex is just the man to whip it into shape. And to see them in action? What a thrill it would be.

But curb your excitement. Back to the golf we must go; Dorko in the plaid knickers is going to hit it again.

Mancini: Balotelli can smoke as long as he scores goals

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has told Mario Balotelli he can continue to smoke as long as he scores goals for the club.

Mancini is believed to have a strong dislike of the player’s habit but has given up trying to make him stop.

The Italian boss insists his compatriot’s tobacco habit is not his problem, but feels it would be better if he quit smoking.

“It’s not my problem,” Mancini told The Mirror.

“If Mario wants to smoke, it’s his problem. But if he wants my opinion, it is better that he quits.

“But if he smokes 10 cigarettes a day and scores two goals every game, then that’s better.”

Balotelli sat in the stands during Manchester City’s midweek trip to Spain to face Real Madrid in the Champions League, despite being fit and travelling with the squad to the Spanish capital.

However, Mancini denied claims that Balotelli sat out the fixture because of a breach of club discipline relating to a late night out last week.

It was just a matter of squad rotation in a congested month in the fixture list, according to the 47-year-old.

“Mario was upset, but that’s normal. I don’t think there can be a player who doesn’t play and is happy,” he continued.

“But when you have five games in 20 days, like we do, you should pay attention to the consequences.

“It’s better that one important player, like Mario or James Milner, goes to the stand. When you have a full squad it’s very difficult.

“If you want to go through in all competitions, it is important that you have players who understand this situation.”

Mancini denies fresh Balotelli bust-up ahead of Arsenal clash

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has rebuffed reports he has fallen out with Mario Balotelli ahead of Sunday’s Premier League encounter with Arsenal.

The 22-year-old was omitted for the dramatic 3-2 Champions League defeat against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Tuesday night, sparking rumours of another bust-up with the manager.

But, Mancini refuted the suggestions, claiming it was simply a case of rotation and that the Italy international will be fit to play against Arsenal.

“This story is totally false,” Mancini told Sky Sports.

“Mario went in the stand only because we started to play with Carlos Tevez in attack and we couldn’t have three strikers on the bench.

“There has been no argument, and no row. Absolutely not.”

Meanwhile, the 47-year-old confirmed that Samir Nasri is a major doubt to face his former club, after the France midfielder was taken off during Tuesday’s game with a hamstring problem.

The France international’s injury is not as serious as first feared, but the Blues’ boss admits a comeback on Sunday is very unlikely.

“I do not think he will be ready for Sunday,” Mancini added. “We will try but it is difficult.

“I hope he will be OK for next week.”

Balotelli may miss Stoke clash after eye surgery

Mario Balotelli should be ready to play again for Manchester City in 10 days after undergoing laser eye surgery, according to the surgeon who conducted the operation.

The Italian striker is likely to miss the Citizens’ Premier League clash with Stoke after the international break, however, as he adjusts to the procedure.

Balotelli, who previously suffered from Mypoia, has used contact lenses on the football pitch for much of his professional career. However, he recently contracted conjunctivitis, rendering an operation necessary.

“He had a few problems with contact lenses some years ago,” surgeon Emanuele Scuri told Sky Sports Italia.

“We waited for the defect to stabilise over the last four years and this was the right time to have the operation.

“His eyes did not tolerate the contact lenses and he had problems at the start of the season.

“I think in around 10 days he should be ready to play again.

“We brought the operation forward by a day to avoid the paparazzi. This surgery will enable Balotelli to see very well.

“Already he asked if he could drive and I suggested he should get a lift until Thursday.”

Hazard has 'everything', says Chelsea favourite Zola

Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola believes Eden Hazard has “everything” required to become one of the Blues’ best players.

The Belgian has taken to the Premier League in impressive fashion, scoring once and racking up an incredible six assists in just three top-flight matches.

When asked who he thought were title contenders, Zola told Gazetta Dello Sport: “Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.”

“Hazard has integrated well into Chelsea’s team, people are already comparing him to myself. He has everything; technique, personality, goal-scoring instincts and imagination.”

Zola was appointed Watford manager this summer after the Pozzo family’s takeover, and the former West Ham boss insists he will be given time to bring success to Vicarage Road.

He added: “[I joined] for two reasons: England and the project. My family wanted to come here, we have always been very comfortable. I like the ideas of [Giampaolo] Pozzo. He wants to create another Udinese here in England.

“They have asked me for a season of adjustment. We will aim for a place on the play-offs and promotion next season.”

The 46-year-old also challenged Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli to keep improving, after his fine Euro 2012 performances for Italy.

He claimed: “Balotelli depends on Balotelli. The European Championships proved he can be a champion, but he can still do better.”