Pascal Cygan (Lille OSC)
The form of central defender Pascal Cygan was one of the main reasons that Lille OSC made such a wonderful impression on their first season back in the top flight. He was voted the most consistent player in the league by the French press as he led Lille to a third-place finish. He continued to impress in the UEFA Champions League and has attracted the attention of some top European clubs. However, he has recently been offered a new contract, with Lille coach Vahid Halilodzic saying that if Cygan is sold, "the club can ask me to pack my bags and look for another job".
Mauricio Pellegrino (Valencia CF and Argentina)
Even if he is likely to be best remembered as the player who had his crucial penalty saved by Oliver Kahn, Pellegrino played a key role as Valencia CF reached a second successive UEFA Champions League final. The former FC Barcelona player was especially impressive in the semi-final encounter against Leeds United AFC, when he outplayed Mark Viduka. He recently turned down a move to Celtic FC, but his form his such that he has been linked with Internazionale FC and Manchester United FC. Strong in the air and an excellent man-marker, Pellegrino is at the peak of his powers.
Walter Samuel (AS Roma and Argentina)
Gabriel Batisuta may have grabbed the headlines, but another Argentinean international, Walter Samuel, was equally responsible for AS Roma's Scudetto triumph. The 22-year-old enjoyed a sparkling year for club and country. Big and strong in the tackle, he certainly lived up to his sobriquet 'The Wall' in 2001, in which he has earned comparisons with Daniel Passarella and Paolo Maldini.
Igor Tudor (Juventus FC and Croatia)
The Croatian’s mature displays for Juventus FC and the national team belie his 23 years. He has emerged as the mainstay of the Juve defence, and also spent the start of this season in the centre of midfield. He scored six Serie A goals last season and has already hit three this term in the league as well as a goal against Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the UEFA Champions League. Meanwhile, he is the most well known of the new generation of players that have propelled Croatia so impressively to the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Rio Ferdinand (Leeds United AFC and England)
This atypically ball-playing English defender has revelled at Leeds United AFC since his €29m move from West Ham United FC. He scored against RSC Anderlecht in his UEFA Champions League debut in February and has not looked back since. He has adapted to playing in a flat back four with aplomb and is now England’s first-choice centre back and club captain.
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