uefa.com presents a ten-point guide to some of the great players of 2003.
1) Age no barrier
At the ripe old age of 35, Paolo Maldini's powers might be expected to be on the wane. The reality is quite different, however, as the AC Milan skipper has just enjoyed one of his best seasons for the Rossoneri. Not only did he lead Milan to UEFA Champions League and Coppa Italia glory but the quality of his performances has made him one of the favourites to land the prestigious European Footballer of the Year award.
2) Back to his best
Ronaldo played a pivotal role as Real Madrid CF regained the Primera División title and his goals also helped carry his side to the Champions League semi-final, where they lost to Juventus FC. The former FC Internazionale star was third in the voting for FIFA World Player of the Year.
3) Becks appeal
When Madrid declared an interest in David Beckham, many observers put it down to a cynical marketing ploy. But the England captain has become one of Madrid's star turns in a squad already packed with talent. His displays have won over a sceptical Spanish media and with the UEFA EURO 2004™ finals to come next summer, Beckham has the opportunity to cement his place among continent's greatest players.
4) In Ruud health
Seldom has a side relied on one source of goals like Manchester United FC do with Ruud van Nistelrooij. The Dutch international was the top scorer in last season's Champions League and has been in inspired form this season too, equalling Denis Law's United's record of 30 European goals.
5) King Henry
For Van Nistelrooij and United read Thierry Henry and Arsenal FC. The French international is the attacking pivot on which Arsenal hope to land some silverware as well as one of the players France coach Jacques Santini will rely most on at EURO 2004™.
6) Good Ara
Not a name which will be familiar to many but Ara Hakobyan has had the kind of year which makes him impossible to leave out. Goalscorers are a prized commodity in football and Hakobyan's record for Armenian side FC Banants is simply sensational. He scored a record 45 league goals, a tally which included nine hat-tricks.
7) Case for the defence
There have been many outstanding Italian defenders down the years and the latest one appears to be Milan's Alessandro Nesta. Alongside the likes of Maldini, Nesta could only learn and he has done just that, playing a key role as Milan won last season's Champions League and Italy qualified for the finals of EURO 2004™.
8) Bouncing back
Pavel Nedved may have suffered Champions League heartbreak last season but he was outstanding for both club and country over the past 12 months. The Czech international, who was suspended from the Champions League final, is simply irresistible for Juventus and played a crucial role as the Czechs topped a EURO 2004™ qualifying group which also included the Netherlands.
9) Takes no prisoners
Over the past year, Roy Makaay has confirmed his status as one of the continent's top strikers. The leading scorer in Spain's Primera División last season with 29 goals, Makaay moved to German champions FC Bayern München over the summer. The Dutch international has continued to find the back of the net with remarkable regularity.
10) Kezman's tradition
Following in the footsteps of Romário and Ronaldo, PSV Eindhoven's latest star striker is Mateja Kezman. The Serbo-Montenegrin international was comfortably the top scorer in the Eredivisie last season to attract covetous glances from clubs across Europe.
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