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A decade of fantastic football memories

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Nick Webster

Nick Webster has been the voice of the Barclays Premier League, FIFA World Cup's and UEFA European Championships in America since 2001. Insightful, provocative and entertaining, you'll always find him at the heartbeat of the action with stories that matter.
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With the first decade of the new Millennium drawing  to a close, it’s time to name names and honor the player, manager, team and match of the decade.

Before I get to that though, I’d just like to add my perspective to what has been a challenging ten years.

Obviously we’ve moved forward as a people but, from a footballing standpoint, it’s felt like we’ve taken baby steps rather than giant leaps for mankind.

FIFA is still blundering, referees are still making mistakes, crowd trouble still rears its ugly head and players seem even more remote from the paying customer. However, the game still has this capacity to awe and humble me.

The Player of the Decade

How do you judge the player of the decade?

In my opinion it has to be someone who was a star in 2000 and is still considered on top of his game in 2009. With that in mind, I believe there are only three candidates who can rightly justify a claim to be the Player of the Decade.

Raul has been scoring goals longer than most of you have been having hot dinners. Four La Liga titles, three Spanish Cups, one UEFA Super Cup and World Club Cup along with two UEFA Champions Leagues are quite a tasty haul for ten years work. But it isn’t enough.

Ryan Giggs almost has a claim to be the player of the last two decades. But despite claiming six Premier League titles, two League Cups, one World Club Cup, FA Cup and a UEFA Champions League in the noughties, that isn’t enough either.

Lets see if you can guess who the Player of the Decade is from major honors alone.

Two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, one of the following; La Liga, Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Champions League, World Club Cup, Confederations Cup and a European Championship.

Yes, it’s him, the Hand of Gaul, Thierry Henry and in a way it’s fitting. He started the millennium on top of the world stage with one mesmerizing performance after another at Euro 2000 and he finishes the last ten years at that same center stage as the biggest villain of the decade.

No other footballer has made the impact Henry has at both the club and international level in this time frame and that’s why he is number one.

Manager of the Decade

In my opinion the manager of the decade is a two horse race between Sir Alex Ferguson, the runner-up and the man who pips him by a nose, Jose Mourinho.

The ‘Special One’ gets the nod over the Scottish One because of his ability to win in multiple countries. League titles in Portugal, England and Italy show that he has the ability to adapt to changing situations and different tactical problems with aplomb.

I also like the fact that Mourinho won the Champions League with unfashionable FC Porto in 2004. This is a feat that in all likelihood will never be repeated due to the bloated financial resources of the big boys. I’m also in awe of his unbeaten Home streak in league play with FC Porto, Chelsea and Inter that currently stretches 126 matches.

Mourinho has added that special something to football and no other manager in my opinion displays the charisma, arrogance and utter belief that he is the greatest.

Team of the Decade

An almost impossible award to bestow on a team because consistency must be achieved in both domestic league play as well as on the European stage. This effectively knocks out Lyon who won a staggering seven consecutive French League titles but couldn’t go the extra mile in the Champions League.

For my money that leaves the field narrowed down to four clubs, the ‘Big Four’ of World football; Manchester United (six league titles and a Champions League title), AC Milan (a league and two Champions League titles), Real Madrid (four league titles and two Champins League) and Barcelona (three league titles and two Champions League titles).

Real were dominant in the early part of the decade but couldn’t sustain it in Europe. United were the most consistent domestically but have too many near misses on their European resume. AC Milan has faltered badly in Serie A despite three final appearances, which makes the team of the decade, Barcelona.

Barcelona has built three teams over the last ten years. The first under Luis van Gaal was technical and functional. The second under Frank Rijkaard took the Dutch philosophy a step further adding joy and unpredictability while the current model under Pep Guadiola is the most explosive, colorful team since Brazil in 1970.

If FC Barcelona is to be the poster boy for how football should be played, the next ten years are going to be wild.

Match of the Decade

No look back at the last ten years would be complete without a match that leaves a mark on your footballing soul. I’ve probably watched close to four thousand matches over this decade, which makes me incredibly sad.

Germany versus Italy at the Westfallen during World Cup ’06 and USA versus South Korea during World Cup ’02 were both pretty epic in terms of the most spine tingling atmospheres I’ve ever experienced but they wouldn’t make any all-time lists, would they?

Okay, I’ve been at this for hours now, reading matches, looking at scores, remembering moments that made my hair stand on end.

Alright, here it is, the greatest match of the decade:

May 25th 2005 Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul.

AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (after extra time).

Liverpool wins 3-2 on penalties.

I was in a bar in Newburyport, Massachusetts and had to beg the owner to switch one of 20 TV’s to the final as the Boston Red Sox were on the other 19 sets. He gave me a corner and I watched this match unfold alone. By the time Vladimir Smicer made it 2-3, I wasn’t alone anymore.

When Jerzy Dudek produced one of the greatest double saves ever to deny Andriy Shevchenko a last gasp winner, the power of football had made itself felt to a part of the world that didn’t even know it had previously existed.

Thanks for all your posts. Have a great New Years Eve and I’ll see you all at the far post in 2010.

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