Beyond Lionel Messi: An Alternative List of the Top 25 Football Players in the World (10-1)
In my previous article, I argued that the process by which we decide who the world’s best players are has been grossly distorted.
A combination of mainstream media hype (backed up with its ‘statistics’ – often little more than a ruse to get people gambling) and a nostalgic longing for the return of the great playmaker – a natural human urge towards hierarchy and order expressed on the pitch by those players who, commentators love to remind us, ‘dictate the tempo of the match’ (Spain) or ‘make the difference’ (England) – has reduced the role of the fan to that of consumer.
Abandoning our reason, we channel our passions into the banal tunnels dug by sensationalist pundits salivating over inane comparisons, half-witted ‘match analysis’ and pure marketing hype.
We’re forgetting that the beauty of football lies in the sheer multiplicity of possibilities abounding on the field; the best player does not always run the fastest, score the most or tackle the hardest. They need not even play for the best teams.
Now, with the increasing tendency towards a more ‘total’ form of football, we can appreciate more than ever the sheer variety of players whom we can admire and applaud. Finally. The Top Ten:
10. Yaya Toure
9. Didier Drogba
8. Ashley Cole
7. Cristiano Ronaldo
6. Mesut Ozil
5. Lionel Messi
4. David Villa
3. Rio Ferdinand
2. Andrea Pirlo
1. Andres Iniesta
The complete player. It’s almost scandalous that Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez should take so much acclaim when such a wonderful player is in the same team. The ball appears glued to Iniesta’s feet, yet rarely will you see him over-indulge. Always looking for the early ball, the scorer of the winning goal of the World Cup Final shoots, tackles, crosses and runs with the best of them. Unlike Xavi, Iniesta can play out wide, which often leads to his redeployment away from his preferred central position. He won’t score anywhere near as many goals as Messi, but Iniesta could play in any league, for any team, at any level and still have the same subtly brilliant effect of making everyone around him play better. Faultless.
The powerful Ivorian’s advanced role typifies the cautious approach adopted by Roberto Mancini at Manchester City, but Toure’s muscularity is supported by good use of the ball and excellent decision-making. Ranks so highly on this list because he can play any central midfield role at the very highest level. A highly under-rated player who was harshly unappreciated at Barcelona.
Another powerful Ivory Coast international. Drogba’s ups and downs with Chelsea are well-documented, but he remains one of the ablest strikers in the game, his physical prowess allowing Chelsea to pin down opposition sides with simple long balls. As if that weren’t enough, Drogba boasts pace and a superb finish which mark him out as one of the most feared forwards in Europe. Almost universally acknowledged as a better player than Fernando Torres, Drogba will probably still leave Chelsea this summer. A pity.
Video: Didier Drogba Compilation
Full-backs aren’t supposed to rank this high in lists of the world’s best players, especially if they’re as universally loathed as (C)Ashley Cole. But then the England international is that good. Almost impossible to get past for even the best wingers, Cole originally made his name as an attacking left-back with Arsenal. Though he now reigns in those swashbuckling forays forward, he is still capable of getting down the flank to overlap the winger at pace. The perfect full-back.
Video: CR in Ashley Cole’s Pocket
Were it not for his irritating need to shoot without a moment’s hesitation as soon as the goal is in his sights, the Portugal international might actually be better than his counterpart (and arch-nemesis) Lionel Messi. As it stands, blistering pace, a ferocious shot and a good deal of technical ability mark Ronaldo out as one of the biggest attacking threats in the world game, though few seem to have noticed that he can no longer beat his man with trickery alone like he could at Manchester United.
Still, just to fuel the Messi-Ronaldo debate, here is Ronaldo getting the upper hand with the winning goal at the Copa del Rey Final in midweek, with a goal that Messi could never score: Ronaldo 1-0 Messi
Video: Cristiano Ronaldo in 2011
Yes, a Real Madrid player ranked higher than Ronaldo. The truth is, Madrid’s rhythm is disrupted far more when the German international is left out of the side than in Ronaldo’s absence. Tricky, with great vision, pace and strength, Ozil boasts a keen (and bulbous) eye for goal and has already displaced Kaka from the first eleven. Should Mourinho stay in Madrid, the Turkish-born forward should grow into the fulcrum of the side. Even if Ronaldo scores 100 goals in a season. Did I mention that Ozil is just 22?
Video: Mesut Ozil 2010/2011
Coming in at 5th is The Best Player In The World. Messi’s dazzling runs, irrepressible goalscoring record and increasingly brilliant vision are, alas, not enough to put him at number one in this list. The fact is that with Argentina (hardly a team struggling up front), Messi appears to be half the player. Would he still be a top player without Xavi, Iniesta and co. to supply him with perfect passes and runs? Yes. Would he be universally acknowledged as the most exciting thing to have happened since sex was invented in around 1963? I doubt it.
His recent slump aside, Villa’s ability to make darting runs in behind defenses, carry the ball inside from the left channel and finish off chances with astonishing regularity make him the best forward in the world. Overshadowed by Fernando Torres before the latter began to lose form, Villa has been a phenomenal goalscorer since his days at Valencia. He is doing what Barcelona bought Thierry Henry to do, only better. While there is still debate as to whether Messi really is better than Ronaldo, there is no challenger to David Villa.
An absolutely impeccable defender, in spite of his recent struggles with injury. Strong, a brilliant reader of the game who is strong in the tackle and good on the ball, Ferdinand’s leadership of Manchester United’s back four has been almost as important to the team’s succcess as Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals in recent years. Just as strong as John Terry, with less of a tendency to give away free-kicks, Ferdinand can justly claim to be England’s best central defender of recent generations.
Video: Best of Rio
The epitome of the ‘cultured midfielder’. Pirlo’s range of passing and utter control in possession evoke only the best memories of the greatest players to have graced the game. His placement at number two highlights the importance of remembering that players should not be overlooked because of the team they play for (which seems silly when you consider that the man has won pretty much everything there is to win with Italy and AC Milan). A colossus of a player, now entering the final stages of his career but still able to take complete control of a game all on his own, with one of the most feared long range shots in the game.
Video: Pirlo – The Best Playmaker