These are not the five best players in the world, or even the players who performed the best in the last 28 to 31 days. These are the players who improved themselves in terms of perception in the public eye, who made their managers smile, or whose legacy got a nice polish, on the field or off the field, spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically, whatever.
1) Demba Ba, Newcastle. Other than the awesomeness of having a name that could be spelled two ways (“Dem Baba,” “Demba Ba”), the lanky striker has had himself a helluva month, capped by a spectacular goal in Newcastle’s shellacking of an aimless Manchester United herd. He added six goals in December, bringing his yearly cache up to 15, just two off some nobody from Holland named Van Persie.
2) Tim Howard, Everton. In a slow month, any goal from a keeper would see him get consideration in this list. A goal like Timmy’s though, what with it’s 80 yard flight, wicked swerve, and anti-celebration after, puts him near the top of the list. Seriously though, when I got texted that Howard had scored and not off a header, I thought through just about every other possibility before this one.
3) Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona. Fab continues to show the form that we all knew he was capable of last year at Arsenal but chose judiciously not to demonstrate. A goal in the Clasico, two at the beginning of December, and two in Barca’s most recent Copa Del Rey match leaves little to desire. Only one question remains: why are the hair care standards so ridiculously low in Spain. Isn’t Europe a haven for governmental regulation? We need a haircare czar to ensure Fab shapes his pate in a way that is pleasing to others than himself.
4) Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy. Alright, it’s offseason. We get it. And yet, Gonzalez gets on the list because he received his first call-up to the USMNT and got loaned out to a German club with the potential to buy. We all know he’s got the toolkit to be a really good one. Will the coming months see him finally learn how to effectively use his tool? In retrospect, we should probably add an “s” on that. Oh wait. He what? Son of a …
5) Lionel Messi, Barcelona. As long as he hasn’t broken both his femurs, been kidnapped by some angry Real Madrid fans, or fallen passionately in love with Justin Bieber and sworn off soccer for the rest of his life to devotedly follow the pint-sized Canadian to every tour stop, Messi will be on this list. Oh, he had a couple of goals in the Copa Del Rey and had an unbelievable Club World Cup final.
Bonus Ranking: Strange But True (life moves in waves...sometimes there will be a multitude of wackiness in the world of sports, other times it will be as boring as a Stoke/Norwich 7am game…right now is one of those wacky times…we give you the five strangest footy happenstances in the last month).
1) The Mint Coin explaining the Offsides Rule. Once again proving that the British care more about soccer than we Yanks will care about anything, the Royal Mint released a coin elucidating a traditionally obtuse (but essentially simple) facet of the game. We can reveal that the Triangle team does go on to score in the moment depicted on the coin, but Phil Dowd overruled the linesman and dramatically dubbed the goal offsides.
2) The injured player’s face forced into the medic’s netherparts. This clip received a ton of airtime all over ESPN, as it should. I suppose it’s a form of collective karma. We hereby decree that for every player that fakes an injury to vacuum time away from the clock, that same or another player should be carried off the pitch with his face deep in the frumunda cheese of a medic. Seriously though, why can’t trainers get this right?
3) Tim Howard scored a goal. The first time a player has made both the regular Power Ranking and the Bonus Ranking. For Timmy’s 100th goal milestone, we’ll scale the Eiffel Tower using no equipment, pop a bottle of champagne, and proceed to shout obscenities.
4) Manchester United are swooning. OK, so this isn’t really big news. But think about it. Getting shellacked by your normally inferior crosstown rivals? Losing to Crystal Palace in the Carling Cup? Being made to look like a bunch of hasbeens by Newcastle? United may still be in second in the Prem, but that Arsenal match feels like it took place a long, long time ago. Who knew Paul Scholes was that important?
5) The new hot goal celebration: Fan Make Out Moment. Now I have even more reason to make a pilgrimage to Villa Park. Looking at you, Bazza.