Searching for the perfect XI
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A starting XI containing the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Didier Drogba and Thomas Muller may seem like the stuff dreams are made of, but that dream could soon become a reality. All will be revealed at 10 January’s FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala in Zurich, where the second ever FIFA/FIFPro World XI line-up is set to be announced.

In 2009, FIFA and FIFPro joined forces to honour the best 11 players of the year in the inaugural edition of the FIFA/FIFPro World XI, with FIFPro having held its own award between 2005 and 2008. Fifty thousand professional footballers and FIFPro members from across the globe all voted in secret on the players they felt should be included in their World XI for 2010. Each voter selected one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards, with the results leading to a 55-player shortlist, from which the definitive World XI will be selected.

FIFA.com brings you some of the pertinent facts and trends behind this year’s shortlists and those of years gone by.

Familiar faces
Consistency is undoubtedly a key factor at the highest level, and the pretenders to the FIFA/FIFPro World XI throne are no different. All 11 of last year’s select band have reappeared on the 2010 shortlist, though Chelsea defender John Terry is the only man to have appeared in all five editions of the World XI since 2005. “It’s an honour to be voted for by your team-mates, your opponents, those who you play against week in week out all over the world. It’s a privilege to be part of this team and it’s something that will stay with me long after I retire,” said the former England captain after the 2009 ceremony.

Not far behind Terry are three-time World XI nominees Steven Gerrard, Kaka, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo; closely followed by twice-selected Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, Alessandro Nesta, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres. Bringing up the rear with one appearance to date are Daniel Alves, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Sergio Ramos, Nemanja Vidic, Andres Iniesta, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and Didier Drogba.

It’s a privilege to be part of this team and it’s something that will stay with me long after I retire.
John Terry

Intriguingly, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney and Lucio, all of whom have made this year’s 55-man selection, have appeared in the shortlist each and every year since 2005 without ever making a World XI berth their own. Finding themselves in a similar position are the four-time shortlisted quartet of Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar, Philipp Lahm and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will also be hoping for a debut in the XI come 10 January.

Meanwhile, ten players are celebrating their first appearance on the shortlist. These are Welsh wide-man Gareth Bale, Brazilian trio Marcelo, Michel Bastos and Thiago Silva, Germany internationals Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Argentina stars Esteban Cambiasso and Gonzalo Higuain, and Uruguayan goalgetter Diego Forlan.

The case of Atletico Madrid front-man Forlan, adidas Golden Ball winner at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, is significant in that he is the first South American player not hailing from Argentina or Brazil to be included on the shortlist. Dutch wing wizard Arjen Robben, for his part, makes a long-awaited return to contention having last appeared on the preliminary list back in 2006.

Moreover, the evidence suggests experience is a crucial factor between the sticks. Forty-year-old Van der Sar is the oldest player on the shortlist – the keepers selected have an average age of 32 –while the youngest player was Bayern Munich’s Muller at 21, part of a midfield contingent averaging just 27.2. Finally, the figures for the forwards and defenders on show came in at 27.6 and 28.5 respectively.

European game holding sway
As has been the case in recent years, all 55 shortlisted players ply their trade in Europe. Indeed, to find the last non-European-based player to make the shortlist, you must go back to 2007. That man was magisterial Argentinian playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, who by that time had left Spanish outfit Villarreal to return to his beloved Boca Juniors.

The selection pattern narrows still further when you consider that no one playing their club football outside Spain, Italy or England has ever made the World XI. In fact, the 2009 XI was made up entirely of Premier League and La Liga representatives, including Spain captain Casillas, voted best goalkeeper in 2008 and 2009. “It’s gratifying to be recognised like this and it makes you want to be back again, which forces you to perform consistently,” said the Real Madrid shot-stopper.

The Old Continent also enjoys an edge when it comes to players’ nationalities, though that gap has reduced significantly. In fact, this year’s ratio of 34 Europeans to 21 non-Europeans is the closest yet, with the biggest margin recorded in 2008, when the shortlist was 43 to 12 in the Europeans’ favour.

However, just as in four of the previous five shortlists, only players born in three federations have found their way into contention. Leading the way for 2010 are Europe (UEFA) with 34, South America (CONMEBOL) with 18 and Africa (CAF) with three, while you have to go back to 2006 for the only shortlisted player from the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone (CONCACAF): Mexico’s Rafael Marquez. To date, no professional player from Asia (AFC) or Oceania (OFC) has ever made the shortlist. Can they finally break their duck come the 2011 awards?