On January 10 next year FIFA will announce its World XI 2011. The result, they remind us, will be based on voting by over 50,000 professional soccer players from around the world. “Every voting player selects one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three strikers.”

The 3-year-old award feels like another one of those endless FIFA awards created to showcase sponsors’ products. But I’ll take it.

The news is that FIFA just announced a shortlist of 55 players from which the final 11 players for the World XI 2011 will come from.

A quick “analysis” suggests no surprises:

The bulk of those shortlisted play for European clubs in three countries: Spain (18 players), England (17) and Italy (15);

The rest on the shortlist play either for German clubs (4) or in the French first division (1);

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea dominate the list with the most players;

Finally, Spain has 10 players on the shortlist, with the second largest national representation coming from the largest African country in South America, Brazil–with 9 players.

As for African countries on the continent: only four players made the shortlist:

Yaya Touré (Cote d’Ivoire and Manchester City);

Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon and Anzhi);

Didier Drogba (Cote d’Ivoire and Chelsea); and

Michael Essien (Ghana and Chelsea).

Of the four, only Touré, Drogba and Eto’o still regularly turn out for their respective national teams. Touré and Drogba will be in action at next year’s African Nations Cup (ANC) in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Cameroon has not qualified for the ANC and Eto’o is the subject of a disciplinary procedure for leading a recent player revolt in the national team and is playing–bringing peace and cashing a huge paycheck–in the Russian league. Essien, who has been injured, hasn’t played for Ghana in a while–he did not make the 2010 World Cup squad–though he recently expressed an interest in playing again for his country.

I was surprised at the omission of Kevin Prince Boateng, (Ghana and AC Milan) from the list. He is arguably the most exciting player of this generation of African players. (Boateng recently announced his retirement from international football.)

I am not sure if this poor showing is a sign of the poor health of African football. In fact, all four players left their homes early and are really products of European, mostly French, youth club systems.

But perhaps, we can agree on one thing with the world’s professional players: the best African players come from West Africa.

Here’s the full list.