fredag den 30. oktober 2009

The 200 best players in the world: Foreword

Football journalist Gabriel Marcotti (one of the best it should be said) made this rather unfortunate list back in 2007. It's not as good as mine will be of course :) and much shorter, settling on "just" 50 players.

But I did like his introduction and agree with most of it and it seems relevant to my list as well:

When my editor suggested putting together a list of the top 50 players, I greeted it with a healthy dose of apprehension. For journalists, such lists are often a lose-lose proposition, exposing you to ridicule and, occasionally, venom. Then again, they do generate debate and I like open-ended discussions as much as the next guy.

But before we get into it, here are the usual caveats. Making comparisons between different positions on the pitch is extremely difficult. Equally, while I do watch a lot of football (far more than is healthy), I haven’t watched most of these players week in, week out, for all ninety minutes. Then again, nobody has. So what you’re getting is a combination of personal assessment and, perhaps more importantly, the distilled views of people I talk to, from scouts to fellow journalists, from agents to managers, from club officials to, yes, ordinary fans.

I couldn’t even have begun to compile such a list without basic criteria. So here they are: imagine you are the manager of a totally new team. You have a certain budget to spend, but first you get one freebie, one guy to build your team around. You get him only for one season, the 2007-08 campaign, so you want to go for who can do the best job for you here and now, without worrying how good he can be down the line. Who would you choose? Who would your “ringer” be? Have a look at all at my selection and then post yours in the comment box below.

AND now here are my thoughts before my list:

Well first of all I didn't want the list to get this big. With a list this deep there is a real danger of maybe hundreds of players left out who will have a decent case of should have been included, over certainly some of the lower ranked players who actually were.
Instances where there may not be all that much difference in talent.

But what I quickly found out when shortlisting players, were the staggering amount of excellent players out there.
Exactly you could say like it should be with the most global sport of all, the talent pool appears insanely deep and tons of very good players, some big stars, had to be left out.

A top 50 or top 100 I think would just have excluded too many players who really when I think about it are among the best I've ever seen, and quite frankly that would suck!

Also, more than concluding that the 31st ranked player in the world definitively is better than whoever ranked 35th, this really is more of an excuse just to put some thoughts down, on all these great players, so please don't go berserk if your darling favorite is ranked below someone you really thought was terrible.
First of all, very likely, he isn't terrible, and second separating these players, especially across the different positions, is very very hard sometimes (some are just so so close that one or two places between them really don't mean much either) and of course highly subjective.

Also speaking of subjective I do have tendency to kind of sometimes rank according to what would be the more interesting, the more (in my mind) thought provoking if you will, so that's kind of the x-factor happening here.

All right, another factor is my intention of this list very much being who are the best players at the moment.

Therefore more than a year ago won't matter much if there has been a significant drop in quality since, and if a young player at this very moment is judged by me to be at a very high level, he won't get punished too hard for not having proved himself over time other than whatever great potential he may possess not being a deciding factor either.

And finally some positions will be (much) less common than others.

I have to say that especially trying to compare goalkeepers to the others was troublesome and I wonder if it's not really pointless. But I have included some and left out a lot. (UPDATE: Since writing this elsewhere I have decided to REMOVE GOALKEEPERS ENTIRELY. Feel free to make a best goalkeeper list. I might make one too!

There are also not that many defenders!
Especially central defenders who for their team compared to the other "outfield" positions generally have more limited roles. A job to defend so to speak. I think it could even argued, if still splitting up defending and attacking, that the evolving ball-playing defenders (who I will look more favorable at on the list),  in theory play-ball so to speak as part at least in-direct defending or simply preventing attack.

Now it's been somewhat fashionable to criticize football player awarding almost exlusively benefiting the attacking players, and I used to do it too, after all defending arguably is just as important as attacking, and while when broken down centrebacks generally speaking don't compare favorably to most other outfield players, they can still be as valuable (and sometimes more of course) on any team, the thing is though that defending is something very much (increasingly for many years now) done by the team as a whole and not really "just" by individual central defenders standing all tall and brave through adversity.
It may look that way sometimes sure, but fact is that even the very best defenders in the world will come up short if isolated against good attacking talent.
They need help!
And they get it, from almost the entire team very often, dropping behind the ball or applying to various degrees high ball-pressure, narrowing space, defending their zones. You name it, a good defensive team, do it (as a unit)!

If enough of that defensive play isn't working very well, even the best defender at the time, and according to FIFA the best player even, Fabio Cannavaro, is someone we've seen can go from looking his usual dominant self on a well balanced Italian World Cup winning team, to quite amateurish for his club team, Real Madrid, where exactly the defensive side of the game often wasn't very good.

Simply, if the team doesn't defend well, likely not even the best defender will have a great positive impact, not even at what they do best.
Instead I think there is a very large number of good central defenders out there who on a team that defends well could do a fully adequate job without much of a drop in a quality, and of course that has some value too, but replace an elite forward or midfielder like Messi or Xavi with a say number 25,35 to 65 player at their position and you'd see a real negative impact and a team definitely less capable.
So even though I definitely admire excellent defending and think there are a lot of defenders capable of it, I just don't see them adding individually the same value to their teams as some of the great players in other positions do.
Therefore not THAT many central defenders (ranked very high) on this list. It's not say they're not as important, like goalkeepers and their thin margin for error, they're extremely important, but in this context comparing technical, physical and tactical/mental performance generally speaking they will come up short against the best midfielders and attackers.

Interestingly though I had a whole bunch loosely ranked around the 250ish area but in the end only defenders doing their job extraordinarily and thereby adding real value to their team will have made the list.

Titus Bramble My apologies.

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