How seriously are we supposed to take Fifa's team of the year? Quite seriously, apparently, if the associated headline gripes about the Premier League having been "snubbed" are to be taken as anything more than a patina of aggrieved parochialism. For the first time Fifa's end-of-year composite team, as voted for by footballers across the world, is made up entirely of La Liga players, with 10 drawn from the conjoined superpowers of Barcelona and Real Madrid, supplemented by Radamel Falcao of Atlético Madrid.
It is of course not so much tribute to La Liga's playing strength and fiscal might, as tribute to the ever-gathering dominance of Spain's two top teams. A combination of regional dominance, individually negotiated TV rights deals and well-husbanded good fortune in terms of player-talent have allowed Barça-Real to mushroom beyond their borders into self-sustaining global Clásico giants, football's own Coke and Pepsi, reflection not just of football's ever-steepening oligarchy of top clubs, but also of the way the world is everywhere. This is football's own global triumph: just as everybody, everywhere wears Nike and Adidas, so Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo now bestride the global football-scape, star turns in the market-led triumph of football's most buoyant Iberian über-brands.
Mainly though, the Fifpro team is pretty much fair enough. There are areas in which the selection might be disputed. Is Iker Casillas really, once again, the greatest goalkeeper in the world? There is something reflexive about his repeat selection, the Bohemian Rhapsody of modern goalkeeping instinctively enshrined as an enduring No1 of No1s whenever these lists are compiled. Perhaps Manuel Neuer might have been chosen, or Gianluigi Buffon. But these are simply arguments. If a best goalkeeper really must be chosen it may as well be the generally excellent Casillas.
A back four of Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Daniel Alves and Marcelo is more debatable. Alves? Really? Given a choice between Alves and the ambidextrous Philipp Lahm, who would you really want out there defending the planetary dignity against a combined Mars XI? In the centre Mats Hummels or, in particular, Giorgio Chiellini of Juve's near-unbeatables – both of whom were outstanding at Euro 2012 – might have been a better fit, with Ramos relocating to the right. But again it is simply an argument rather than an overwhelming case for change. In midfield Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta are hard to budge. Perhaps Andrea Pirlo might have been chosen instead of Xavi, who remained peerlessly metronomic without so noticeably hitting the irresistible heights of precision penetration Pirlo managed at times.
In attack, well, it's Messi and Ronaldo, plus the very talented Falcao. Albeit it is perhaps here that the only false note is struck. Robin van Persie surely has a greater claim this year. Likewise, as a special case, Didier Drogba, who was far from prolific in the Premier League but became the defining presence of the season's Champions League (on a related note it seems bizarre this XI includes not a single player from the Champions League final).
Drogba basically dragged Chelsea to victory in Europe, not just in the final but at times in defeat of Barcelona's all-conquering Fifpro giants in the semis. Plus, not that this should matter, Samuel Eto'o remains the only African footballer ever selected in the team of teams. The votes have spoken. But in a year that brought one of the greatest, most poignant Africa Cup of Nations triumphs to date African football, never mind the Premier League, seems entirely irrelevant to Fifa's end of year glad-handing.
As, apparently, does the Bundesliga: Europe's most vibrant league currently, a Petri dish of fine young players, brilliantly-run clubs and a wonderful fan culture, but here rendered invisible, swamped by the twin-headed shout to the top of Europe's most famous and well-remunerated clubs.
So much for the quibbles and gripes, which are after all a standard response to any footballing measure of quality. When league tables, results and actual world titles are so often the object of jeering dispute, a vote of professional players stands little chance of meeting unanimous agreement. Beyond this there is a broader conclusion to be drawn from the Fifpro team.
Mainly there is a tragedy of disappearance here. What Fifa's team tells us year after year is that elite football is a violently stratified affair, with attention and resources increasingly focused on the very summit of the summit. In its eight years this team has never (yes: never) featured a player from outside the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A, while of 88 players selected 51 have come from Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The same process is visible to an even greater degree in Uefa's team of the year which as recently as 2002 could find room for Rustu Recber of Fenerbahce in goal, Christian Chivu of Ajax in defence and Damien Duff in midfield, still managed to feature two Porto players in 2004, but ever since has been dominated by the big four leagues, with just one player from the French league, one from the Dutch league, and one German-based player not from Bayern Munich in the last decade.
There is above all a sense of sadness about all this, of a global sport whose reach has never been so wide, but which is increasingly dominated by a dwindling cast of familiar institutions. Even among the elite the elite have sprung a brilliant coup here. It is to be hoped, with all due plaudits to the individual players involved, that this year will prove to be an outstanding exception rather than a vision of what is to come.