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.