By Peter Staunton
So Bayern Munich beat Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate en route to winning a treble last season but the Catalans outscore Bayern 4-3 in the headcount for the Fifa FIFPro World Team of the Year.
If that illustrates anything it is that the football fraternity is still wedded to the notion that football begins and ends in Spain.
Some 45,000 players cast their vote for the World XI and, while a lot of the choices are irrefutable, there are still some baffling inclusions that can only be explained by the way of reputation. It's a long time since Xavi merited a place in a list like this - based on form, ostensibly, not reputation - while his Barcelona team-mate Dani Alves is the standout in the 'What were they thinking?' category.
“It’s something special. The importance of being chosen by other players is the fact that you have been selected by people who know what they are talking about – people who know how difficult football is, how hard it is to compete and to win in a world where everyone plays and plays so well," was Alves' assessment of it. “So you are being chosen by people who understand whereas, for example, the Ballon d’Or is chosen by people who think they understand.”
It can only be assumed that a good proportion of the electorate either did not see much of Barcelona in 2013 or that they are voting on autopilot.
Likewise, while Sergio Ramos was lucky to make it into the 2012 XI when he won the Liga title and Euro 2012, his selection in the 2013 list is laughable. He was not even the best central defender at Real Madrid in 2013, let alone in the world. After seeing his name included, this writer was half-expecting Iker Casillas to be lurking in goal. Thankfully, the football world at large has noticed that San Iker is no longer first-choice in Chamartin.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are awe-inspiring clubs and it is clear that footballers the world over still admire their players like no others. While Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, quite rightly, are the yardstick by which other attackers are measured, the remainder of the squads at Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabeu are not always worth shouting about.
There are more deserving candidates out there for positions in this XI. Mostly from Bayern.
“They won so many competitions and perhaps the most important one of all, so it’s normal they should have so many players with a chance of being in the XI,” Dani Alves told Goal. “My year has been fairly consistent and I have won things too. But they have done really well and, if they are chosen, it will be on merit.”
Manuel Neuer and Franck Ribery are shoo-ins but their team-mates are conspicuous by their absence. Why not put Philipp Lahm to right back - it's a long time since he played left-back in any team - and switch his Bayern team-mate David Alaba for Dani Alves?
Dante has had a year as close to flawless as any central defender in the modern game. He was a must-pick. Ramos must go.
In midfield, Ilkay Gundogan was the best central midfielder in Europe before injury struck. Out go Xavi and his reputation. By bringing in more Bundesliga-based representatives, it adjusts the picture accurately, just as a more credible world XI at the bottom of this feature illustrates.
Nonetheless, it is an encouraging portent that the talents at Paris Saint-Germain are rightly being lauded. Zlatan Ibrahimovic can count himself unlucky to be out of the running for the main award so it is heartening to see he is held in such high esteem by his fellow pros. Thiago Silva has long been acknowledged as the best centre-back in the world and that, belatedly, is borne out after earning the respect of his peers.
But this lineup does not show the players in the most encouraging of lights. In a world in which Nicklas Bendtner claimed to never have heard of Andrey Arshavin before he joined Arsenal and Mario Balotelli does not know who Jack Wilshere is, perhaps the players themselves are not always the most accurate weather vanes for the game's top performers.