La Liga Team of the 2000s
There’s no question that the Serie A was the gold standard of football in the 1990s. Italian clubs dominated Europe and fielded the best players of the era. Real Madrid’s triumph over Juventus in the 1998 Champions League final, however, can be seen as the passing of the torch as La Liga mantled the Serie A to become the league where the best strutted their stuff.
Harking back to the noughties, here I am forming the best La Liga XI of the 2000s (in my opinion, of course). I had to choose from a motley crew that included FC Barcelona’s treble winners, Real Madrid’s Galacticos, Sevilla’s unheralded side and more.
A player’s statistics, achievements and performances from the 2000-01 season to the 2009-10 season have been considered for the La Liga Team of the 2000s. Men whose peak was in the 1990s and faded away in this decade were not given too much thought (Fernando Hierro being one example). Same goes with players who debuted in the later part of the 2000s and hit their peak in the 2010s (case in point, Cristiano Ronaldo).
Team performances of course, have played a big role in the evaluation. That being said, this team is not a Real Madrid-FC Barcelona duopoly. Unlike today’s situation, first half of the 2000s saw multiple teams contend for the La Liga title and outstanding players from that time make the cut in the La Liga Team of the 2000s.
The 2000s was a time when Iker Casillas broke into and consolidated his position as Real Madrid’s premier shot stopper.
The La Fabrica product played as a backup to Cesar Sanchez, after a poor run in the 2001-02 season. Casillas’ impressive performance in the 2001-02 Champions League final win over Bayer Leverkusen, however, paved his way to regular first-team football.
His acrobatic prowess proved to be handy for Real Madrid in a decade that saw Los Blancos capture four La Liga titles. Casillas himself played a major role in three of them. The 2010 FIFA World Cup winning captain also laid hands to his first Ricardo Zamora trophy when Real Madrid marched to the 2007-08 La Liga title.
I did contemplate putting in either Santiago Canizares or Victor Valdes in here, but Casillas’ achievements combined with his performances and talent merited him a place between the sticks in this La Liga Team of the 2000s.
Four at the back in this one.
Roberto Carlos was one of the first names in the defensive line. The Brazilian wing-back dominated at his position for the first half of the decade, contributing on both ends and helping Real Madrid win three titles. His best moment in the league was arguably on the final day of the 2002-03 season where his free-kick goal helped Real Madrid defeat Real Sociedad 3-1 and pip Athletic Bilbao to win the club’s 29th La Liga. His goal against Recreativo de Huelva in the fourth-last game of the 2006-07 season was crucial in helping Los Blancos winning the La Liga title on the head-to-head rule.
Roberto Ayala is not a household name among today’s fans but the Argentine was one of the toughest defenders in the world in his prime. The Argentine formed a steel-like defensive backbone alongside compatriot Mauricio Pellegrino and later Carlos Marchena for Rafael Benitez’s Valencia side of the 2000s.
Ayala was a key figure in Valencia’s 2001-02 and 2003-04 La Liga triumphs as well as the 2004 UEFA Cup win and the 2000-01 Champions League final appearance. Ayala symbolized los Che’s defensive solidity in those years as Valencia conceded only 27 goals in their La Liga winning seasons. The Argentine great moved to Villarreal in 2006 but then joined Real Zaragoza without playing a single game for the yellow submarine.
Joining Ayala in central defense is FC Barcelona legend Carles Puyol. The shaggy-haired defender built his credentials as a premier defender in this decade, leading two successful dynasties at FC Barcelona.
A tireless worker on and off the pitch, Puyol was the beating heart of both Frank Rijkaard’s Blaugrana side of the mid 2000s and Pep Guardiola’s cohorts at the end of the decade. Under Puyol’s leadership, the Catalan club won four La Liga titles – two with Rijkaard at the helm and two with Guardiola. Puyol’s tenacity and marking made him the best defender of his time in the league as well as for the national team. In addition to that, he was also adept at playing as a right-back. The Spanish great’s crowning moment this decade was to lead FC Barcelona to a Champions League treble in the 2008-09 season.
For the right-back position, I have gone with Dani Alves. The Brazilian got into a habit of winning trophies with FC Barcelona but his work for Sevilla for most of the 2000s merits him a place in the La Liga Team of the 2000s.
The Brazilian full-back joined Sevilla on loan from Bahia in 2002 before making his transfer permanent. At the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, Alves became a hot defensive prospect. While he is remembered primarily for his attacking impetus at the Camp Nou, the Brazilian was also renowned for his defensive contribution while at Sevilla. The fact that he stood out in a side that consisted of stars like Luis Fabiano, Freddie Kanoute, Jesus Navas and Andres Palop, speaks volumes of Alves’ performances in the decade.
After winning two UEFA Cups, a Copa del Rey, a Supercopa de Espana and a UEFA Super Cup, Alves jumped to FC Barcelona in 2008. With the Cules, Alves went on to have a storied career, winning the treble in 2008-09 and following that up with another league title, Supercopa de Espana, UEFA Super Cup and a Club World Cup. He continued in the same vein with the club in the 2010s.
A three-man midfield with two holding midfielders in Spaniards David Albelda and Xavi Hernandez.
Albelda was the no-nonsense defensive midfield who protected Valencia’s defensive line for the better part of the decade. His playing style wasn’t glamorous in any way but he sure was effective. Albelda, along with compatriot Ruben Baraja, was a regular fixture for los Che and helped them to win two La Liga titles in the decade. It is a shame that Albelda’s departure from Valencia in 2008 was far from a fairytale ending.
Xavi Hernandez needs no introduction. The embodiment of tiki-taka and one of the greatest midfielders to have graced the pitch. He, of all people, had to be in this team.
The brain behind FC Barcelona’s rise to the top in the 21st century, Xavi served as the team’s primary orchestrator under both Rijkaard and Guardiola. After winning Euro 2008 with Spain, Xavi nearly joined Bayern Munich but Guardiola convinced him to stay and made him his treble-winning side’s primary creative outlet. Xavi topped the La Liga assists chart in the 2008-09 season with 20 and was also named the Champions League’s best midfielder. He exerted his influence in the following season as well as FC Barcelona won four trophies.
Xavi’s creativity, composure and passing ability truly made him the greatest midfielder of his era.
Rounding up the midfield trio is the effervescent Ronaldinho.
His time at the top might have been short, but in that duration, nobody came close to the magic he could conjure on a weekly basis. With his majestic stepovers, outrageous flicks and bamboozling tricks, Ronaldinho brought the Camp Nou faithful to their feet as Rijkaard’s Barca won back to back league titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06. The Brazilian won the Ballon D’Or in 2005 and was also named the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005.
His finest season in the Blaugrana shirt was the 2005-06 one where he played a major role in leading FC Barcelona to a league and Champions League double. That, and also becoming one of the few men to receive a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu after humbling Real Madrid 3-0.
The Brazilian’s inner demons and lack of work ethic got the better of him and he was shunted out to AC Milan in 2008. Still, when Ronaldinho was on song, the whole world stopped to watch and admire his stupendous talent.
La Liga in the 2000s had an abundance of supremely gifted forwards. From established front-men to young turks looking to make their mark, the decade sure was one to feature brilliant goals.
Choosing from a stacked pool of forwards was the toughest task while making the La Liga Team of the 2000s. Despite having fantastic careers in this decade, I was unable to include Ronaldo, Samuel Eto’o and David Villa in the team.
The front three I’ve gone with is that of Raul Gonzalez, Diego Forlan and Lionel Messi.
Los Blancos talisman Raul started the decade at the peak of his powers. His 25 goals in the 2000-01 season helped Real Madrid win the league title that year. El Ferrari’s tally was also good enough to win him his second Pichichi Trophy. A goal-poacher and creator in his prime, Raul led the way for Real Madrid for most of the decade.
Florentino Perez’s Los Galacticos project saw Ronaldo arrive at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2002 and Raul was shifted to the wing as a result. Still, the Spaniard managed to remain deadly in front of goal, tallying double figures in the league for three more seasons.
He succeeded the departing Fernando Hierro as Real Madrid captain in 2003 but struggled in front of goal in the mid-2000s. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s arrival in 2006 helped Real Madrid win the league title- Raul’s first as captain. The following season, Raul experienced a resurgence, scoring 18 goals as Real Madrid won a second consecutive league title.
In this decade, El Capitan wrote himself into Real Madrid’s history books, becoming the club’s then leading goalscorer and appearance maker. He also became the then highest goalscorer in Champions League history. A golden decade for one of Real Madrid’s beloved stars.
On the right wing, we have Lionel Messi, who is also a sure shot selection in a La Liga Team of the 2010s. The Argentine superstar made his debut in this decade and quickly rose to the top of the football ladder.
La Pulga played his first La Liga game for FC Barcelona in the 2004-05 season and also scored the first of his 438 league goals in the season – a cool chipped finish against Albacete.
Injuries limited his appearances in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 season. Messi still was able to score 14 goals in the 2006-07 season. The 2007-08 season again saw injuries limit his appearances. With Rijkaard’s Barca on the decline, Guardiola stepped in as manager in 2008 and unleashed Messi on to the football world.
Messi, assisted with changes in training regimen and diet, became the centerpiece for Guardiola’s Barcelona project. The Argentine formed a deadly attacking trident with Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry as the Catalan side romped to the treble – becoming the first Spanish side to do so. Messi led the way with 23 league goals and also finished as the top scorer in the Champions League.
The 2009-10 season saw him shift from the right wing to a false nine, which helped in increasing his goal tally. 34 goals in 35 league games saw Messi bag his first Pichichi Trophy and European Golden Shoe award.
Uruguayan goal machine Diego Forlan is my pick as the center-forward in the La Liga Team of the 2000s. This was a tough pick with Eto’o and Ronaldo also in the reckoning, along with David Villa.
Forlan’s two Pichichi trophies, with different clubs, despite not having the same quality of teammates like Ronaldo or Eto’o, tilts the balance in his favor.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winner finished as La Liga top scorer twice in this decade. He scored 29 goals while at Villarreal in the 2004-05 season and then repeated the feat in 2008-09, suiting up for Atletico Madrid. The second time out, he scored 32 goals and provided 10 assists and pipped the likes of Eto’o, Villa and Messi for the award. In both of those seasons, Forlan also won the European Golden Shoe.
A talisman for pre-Diego Simeone Atletico Madrid, Forlan always scored in double digit figures in this decade. His goalscoring exploits helped Villarreal to a third-place finish in the 2004-05 La Liga and Atletico Madrid to two fourth-place finishes in 2007-08 and 2009-10. He also played a major role in winning the 2009-10 Europa League, scoring twice in the 2-1 win over Fulham in the final.
A complete forward who could drop deep and help in the build-up or function a traditional striker, Forlan’s stats and accomplishments despite not playing for a title contender merit his inclusion in the La Liga Team of the 2000s.
In a decade which saw some of the world’s best talents ply their trade in Spain, some big names had to be excluded.
Additions to this list are David Villa, Joan Capdevila, Juan Carlos Valeron, Santiago Canizares, Pablo Aimar and Deco Souza.