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. Here’s the first part of a list of the best 25:
25. Thomas Muller
23. Radamel Falcao
22. Arjen Robben
21. Carlos Tevez
19. Luka Modric
18. Fabio Coentrao
17. Fernando Torres
16. Gareth Bale
15. Sami Khedira
13. Dani Alves
12. Ezequiel Lavezzi
A classic German international, Muller’s poise, pace and shooting mean he is comfortable in virtually any attacking position. A fine World Cup on the back of a remarkable breakthrough season at Bayern Munich got him noticed beyond the Bundesliga; Bayern’s struggles this year have kept him out of the international spotlight, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more efficient forward in world football today.
The prodigious Brazilian’s troubled career appears to be settling, at last, in Italy. The forward’s movement and trickery appears, strangely, to flourish more in Serie A than either the English Premier League – where he was considered a flop at Manchester City – or La Liga.
Video: Robinho Highlights
The Colombian international is the focal point of a Porto attack which has swept all before it in the Portuguese Liga and the Europa League this season (he is the top scorer in both). The striker’s devastating scoring exploits are beginning to draw comparison with those of Mario Jardel; a player with good movement, excellent finishing, a good deal of power and sound decision-making, Falcao also boasts a frightening ability to score memorable back-heeled goals. Big offers are expected over the summer.
Video: Radamel Falcao Goals
It has often been said that only niggling injuries has held Robben back from being recognised as one of the best wingers in history. Having played at Real Madrid and positively shone at times for Chelsea, one might be forgiven for thinking the Holland international has gone off the radar a little at Bayern Munich. Nothing could be further from the truth. The dazzling Dutchman is still one of the deadliest wide men in the game.
Video: Robben Still Has It
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes Sir Alex Ferguson has made in recent years was that of the British public at large: namely, thinking that the combative Argentine is little more than a second option for Wayne Rooney. Cleverer and stronger in front of goal than the Englishman, Tevez has since flourished across at Manchester City, but appears to be hankering for a move back to Argentina. The Premiership will be that little weaker without him.
Video: Carlos Tevez 2009/2010 Manchester City Goals
After a slow start to his Chelsea career, the Brazil international is turning into an instrumental player for the London club. The fact that he seems to always get used as a foil for someone else in midfield (at former club Benfica, he was used to help an extremely attacking 4-4-2 function by combining the role of right-winger with defensive midfield) overlooks his ability to make timely runs into the box to score crucial goals, as well as good technical ability which has seen him stand out against nominally similar players like Michael Essien.
The Croatian international sometimes gets left in the wake of Gareth Bale’s trailblazing runs or Rafael van der Vaart’s spectacular goals, but he is a fundamental component of the most exciting Spurs side in years. Bursting with flair and ingenuity on the ball, Modric epitomizes the importance of a player who can construct moves from deep, picking put the runs of more advanced forwards. The kind of player who makes things happen without always being noticed. The kind of player who belongs on this list.
Video: Luka Modric Compilation
One of the most exciting prospects in Europe, Coentrao’s career began on the left wing. Manager Jorge Jesus controversially converted him to left-back early last season and since then, the Portugal international has blossomed. His ferocious pace and relentless desire to bomb forward at any opportunity are perfectly balanced by a never-say-die attitude which masks his (improving) technical shortcomings as a defender. With a sweet left foot and an eye for goal too, Coentrao is arguably the most complete full-back in the world.
Though this may seem like a strange time to be sticking Torres anywhere near a list of the best players in the world, greatness doesn’t vanish overnight. It doesn’t even disappear over the course of one season. Rather, what we are seeing with Torres is the combination of a) a gradual decline, which has perhaps come a couple of years earlier than you might expect for a player of his age; b) poor form, which has lasted, loosely, since the end of last season; and c) difficulty adjusting to new technical systems – this is a player who has had to endure the dismal tenure of Roy Hodgson, the shift to Kenny Dalglish and then a move to Chelsea all in one season. Expect him to recover, if gradually.
Though the ‘Balemania’ earlier this season has thankfully subsided, the Welshman’s meteoric rise has to be recognized as one of the most exciting developments in English football this season. The PFA Player of the Year’s pace, power and unstoppable left foot have marked him out as one of Europe’s most sought-after players. Could he cut it abroad? Judging by the manner in which he sliced open Inter Milan, you’d have to imagine ‘yes’.
Video: Gareth Bale 2010/2011
The German international is arguably the unsung hero at Jose Mourinho’s new-look Real Madrid – while Ronaldo hoards the acclaim with goals and Xavi Alonso gets the purists drooling with passes, Khedira’s all-round ability in midfield goes relatively unnoticed. Strong in the tackle, good on the ball and with a remarkable ability to read the game for a relatively young player, the German international is arguably the most important member of Madrid’s midfield. His versatility is particularly important when Mourinho adopts a more cautious, lopsided midfield diamond which relies heavily on a central midfield player being able to combine his role with that of a wide player (see also Ramires, number 20 on this list).
Video: Sami Khedira in 2010
Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s a Portuguese winger who ‘goes down too easily’. Perhaps it’s because his name sounds reads like ‘Nanny’ to the English eye. Perhaps it’s because he isn’t Ronaldo. Who knows why the mercurial Manchester United wide man is not being universally lauded for a series of fine displays which have carried Manchester United towards the Premier League title.
True, the Portugal international does still have the occasional tendency to gallop around like a headless chicken but, for the most part, the ingenious trickery, pace and goal threat are now combined extremely effectively. More productive as well as more creative than Antonio Valencia, who appears to have shunted him to the left flank, Nani’s sheer unpredictability mark him out as a winger in the classic sense of the word.
Video: Nani 2008/2009
True to the spirit of a list which recognises players who are able to perform in more than one position at once, Alves does more than merely conjure images of Cafu. Having displaced Maicon at right-back for th Brazilian national team, the Barcelona man is now widely regarded as the best right-back in the world. His ability to defend the right flank yet appear to spend an entire game in the opponent’s half is a testament to the sheer pace and stamina of the man, whose phenomenal work ethic provides Barca with a vital outlet out wide.
Video: Dani Alves 2009/2010 Highlights
Arguably one of the most under-rated players in European football. Lavezzi’s combination of pace, power and trickery has finally been harnessed by Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, who allows the Argentinian a floating role coming in from the left flank. The sheer competition for places, combined with his until now uncertain role has kept him out of the national team’s first eleven, but Lavezzi – whose abundant skill is not always matched by great finishing – is the kind of rough diamond (see Riquelme, Veron, Ortega) who inspires the adulation of fans in his home country. Here’s a snippet of what the man can do:
Not much needs to be said about the Barcelona and Spain playmaker. Allying superb vision to a sure touch and the battling spirit so typical of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, Xavi is arguably the one player able to distract the attention of pundits away from Lionel Messi to and extent which unfairly detracts from the merits of other members of the side. The mark of a great player.
Video: Best of Xavi Hernandez
And here are the The Top Ten