In my opinion it can remain a valuable tool for measuring a players ability if utilised correctly, strictly and in a way we can all agree on. Objectivity over Subjectivity, is the key to restoring any value into this now currently abhorred phrase.
I will go through a number of suggestions, to help provide an objective criteria for the definition of World-Class and in doing so prove why each and every one of them fail.
- World XI: Quite simple this one, basically if you’re the best in your position then you’re world-class, anyone else just isn’t good enough. Sounds fair enough, until of course you realise that there is no universal formation we can all agree on and that certain positions are prejudiced against i.e. goalkeeper or striker say if we were going to go with a 4-5-1. In any given era there might be for instance a plethora of prodigiously gifted strikers and a lack of defensive talent in that particular generation, yet due to restrictions of the reality of a Football Team set up, we would be left with having to call the defenders world-class whilst ignoring the much-admired attributes of the forwards. Put simply this plan of action doesn’t work.
- 23 Man World Squad to play Mars: Another touted solution that falls short, why? because it leaves too much to subjectivity, we all have different ideas as to what our dream 23 man squad would be. In many ways this is a worse idea than the first one, because at least with the World XI, we have a generally similar outlook as to whats the worlds best XI, with a 23 man squad, it leaves far too much choice and variation between each individual.
- Top 3-5 in their respective positions: Once again, this assumes all the positions on a football pitch have the same standard of talent coming through for each particular generation, as we know football is dynamic, ever-changing… one particular generation could possess a lot of talented forwards which are much admired and yet defensively we could struggle to name a top 5 instinctively and resort to just finding any defender who happens to play for a top club to make up numbers. Not to mention once again, there is an opening for subjectivity to find its way into the debate once again.
- Measure Players on their trophies won: So simple its not worth going into detail about. Plenty of great players were born into the wrong nationality and unable to showcase their talent, thus they were prevented with a genuine chance of winning an international trophy. Likewise, loyalty to a club can hinder a greater player than a mercenary average player who has no qualms with joining a dream team and racking up the medal count. Thus medals, is not a great way to judge the ‘world class’ ability of a player.
- Pele, Maradona, Cruyff , Beckenbauer etc and that’s it: In many ways, this is a very strict, perhaps more objective criteria and the best thing about it, is that it judges players at the end of their careers rather than in the midst of their playing time, when emotions are running high and club supporter biases are playing a big role. That said, its arguably too strict and this category is more ‘Football Greatest of All Time’, rather than ‘World Class’. Regardless its a category which is very useful in providing a prior standard with which to judge current generations, and can prove useful in my overall proposal for what criteria should be used in order to define world-class footballers.
So having gone through all the aforementioned criteria and not having been satisfied with any of them, its time to offer my own proposal, one which I think is the more objective and easier method for us all to use in defining a footballer as ‘World-Class’ and not let our biases come into play. It basically comes down to the breaking down of the word itself ‘World’, which seems to suggest Universal agreement, an issue we can all agree on and share the same opinion on it. For example if I was to say ‘Water or H2O’ is important in order for humans to live, the whole world would agree and there would be no disagreement, likewise if I was to say Maradona is one of the greatest footballers of all-time, there would be no disagreement although whether you like him or not is a different question entirely, and can impact on whether you consider him the ‘greatest bar none’.
Thus I propose the world-class definition for a player, is a player for whom there is no debate on whether or not he is world-class, there is just universal acceptance that player is great. We all recognise his excellence. Players like Xavi and Messi, there is no debate regarding their quality on a World Level, the only debate regarding this duo is where they will end up on the pantheon of all-time greats. Its players where regardless of club loyalties, prejudices, we can all agree.. yep that guy’s a player and a half, one of the best in the world at what he does and there is very little debate, just pure consensus.
Selected examples of Recent players who were/are World Class (No Debate) – Not Retired:
Buffon (pre-injury), Van Der Sar (retired very recently)
Dani Alves (as a wing back, no one questions his ability.. as a right back, question marks yet to be asked about him defensively), Nesta (Pre Injuries), Ferdinand (Pre Injuries), Carvalho (Pre injuries), Terry (pre injury), Puyol, Lucio, Vidic, A. Cole
Xavi, Iniesta, Sneijder, Schweinsteiger.
Robben, L. Messi, C. Ronaldo.
There are other players who may potentially get on such a list, or others whom I was less confident of putting on due to not really knowing whether there is a genuine consensus across the globe of their greatness. Another factor is whether or not they have proved their talent on a big stage yet, someone like Fabregas for instance is close to being defined as world-class but unless we see him dominating a big game on a more continental stage on a more consistent basis, there will remain debate on his ability. If the move to Barcelona goes through and he makes his way into the first team and dominates, he’ll no doubt finally earn the universal acclaim of world-class.
Another problem with compiling a list according to my parameters, is that many players lose form to such an extent they’re no longer exempt from debate, P. Evra is an example of this and Rooney’s inconsistency also leads to him being excluded from my strict world-class list. Defensively too in general, there are many players on that list who are no longer world class or exempt from debate, in fact it could be argued that only D. Alves as an out and out wing-back, Vidic and possibly Ashley Cole are still in world-class form and exempt from debate.
In conclusion, if you want to label a player world-class, make sure there is a consensus on it before you bandy it about as fact. Too quick are we to label players here there and everywhere as world class, without acknowledging that some regions in the world are reluctant to describe that player as great or the fact that player has failed to perform on continental/international stages. Drogba and Rooney for instance may be every bit as talented as Eto’o/Villa if not more so, but the latter duo have confirmed their world-class status due to the lack of debate regarding their greatness, both have excelled on the highest stages with little fuss and every football fan acknowledges both are top class strikers who can be relied on to score against any opponent.
Follow Rae on Twitter: @redrae7_mufc