by Adam Howard for World Football Commentaries
So the most hyped El Clasico of recent times (which in itself is saying something, as this fixture is always hyped beyond belief) certainly delivered a result that nobody expected. The men in Barcelona jerseys hammered Real Madrid 5-0, and Lionel Messi certainly outperformed Cristiano Ronaldo in the battle between the two players most often cited as the world’s best.
Indeed, much of the hype surrounding this fixture was centred on this one-on-one battle, seemingly because some felt it could decide which of the two the better player is. If one was to watch the match with that aim in mind, then Messi would be the clear winner. He controlled proceedings from start to finish, while Ronaldo was pushed to the fringes by Barca’s all-conquering display.
But I must dispute the wisdom of such attempts to ascertain the identity of the world’s best player, and as it happens, the very El Clasico which some sought to use to that purpose is actually ideally suited to help me refute them. Because what we saw last night, when Real Madrid were so comprehensively outplayed, was not Leo Messi beating the men in white on his own (though many a hyperbolic match report will attempt to convince you otherwise). No, we saw a slick, well-oiled Barcelona team comprehensively outdo their opposition. While Messi may be the dynamo who so often provides inspiration to Barca, to suggest he is the sole reason for their recent success or last night’s win would be absurd.
World's Best Player?
For a start, there are several other candidates for the title of ‘World’s Best Player’ in Barca’s ranks. Xavi and Iniesta are two of the finest footballers currently playing the game at the moment, while David Villa is as deadly a striker in a pair of Adidas F50 Adizeros as you can currently find in world football. Carlos Puyol seems to get better with age and Gerard Pique is a defender who has everything, while Dani Alves is arguably the ultimate modern wing-back.
One could also take a similar approach to Real Madrid’s team too. They have the best ‘keeper in the world in Iker Casillas, the likes of Ozil and Khedira who lit up the 2010 World Cup, as well as deadly forwards like Higuain and Di Maria, all playing alongside the aforementioned Cristiano Ronaldo. As you can see, there are a lot of candidates, at any one time, for the crown of ‘World’s Best Player’.
But that isn’t my point. My point is instead that picking any one of these players as being better than the rest might be a fun debate to have with your mates at the pub, but it is ultimately irrelevant and somewhat misses the point of the beautiful game. Singling out any player as being the best in the world belies the fact that he can never play football on his own. Football is a team game, and no matter how good that one player is, he must always be teamed up with ten others.
That may sound like quite an obvious thing to point out. Of course every football fan knows that you have to have eleven players, and no one would be foolish enough to suggest that Messi could play on a team all on his own. But really, there are plenty of examples in world football of football clubs who do not place the proper emphasis and value on playing as a team. Real Madrid for a start.
I listed a host of their talented players above. They have a phenomenal array of talent, and that list was significantly longer before I edited this article. And they will beat most sides because of the talent at their disposal. But the simple fact is that as a team, they are still quite inexperienced. The likes of Ozil, Khedira and Di Maria are recent additions to that line up. Even the likes of Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso have only been at the Bernabau for a couple of seasons.
And this means that they simply have not yet had time to gel properly into a complete team. They will not be able to play together autonomously, they won’t instinctively know where their teammates are going to be, they’ll have to think about which foot to weight their passes to, and all these little things. They’re a collection of individuals. Of course, they’re really good individuals, so they’ll win most matches, but they won’t outplay a similarly talented team. A team like... Barcelona.
Barcelona’s team that started El Clasico featured eight players (EIGHT!) who have progressed into the first team via the club’s fabled youth academy. And, David Villa aside, the entire line up has been with the club for more than a couple of seasons. They are, in a word, a team. They work as one, they play incredibly fluid football, they seem almost telepathic at times in their movement and vision, and it is for that reason that they comprehensively outplayed Real Madrid.
And it is for this reason that I don’t think we should be talking about the identity of the ‘Best Player in the World’. If forced, I would suggest either Xavi or Iniesta, but I can never pick one because try taking one without the other. They strike me as two sides of the same coin, one of the most natural and destructive footballing duos of all time. And this is precisely why players should not be singled out.
Instead of arguing whether Messi or Ronaldo is the greatest player in the world at present, I think that what El Clasico has taught us is that Barcelona are currently the best football team in the world at present. Despite all the hype and glamour surrounding Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho, they were well and truly upstaged and outplayed by a group of players whose phenomenal talent is matched only by their cohesion.
So if you want to hype something, don’t hype just one player. Hype a whole team of players who put the team first, rather than shooting for individual glory. And when you rewatch the match (or watch it for the first time) don’t just drool on yourself over Messi’s excellent dribbling and passing oozing from his soccer shoes. Drool too over the hard work of the players around him, whose running and intelligence creates the space and opportunities that allow him to weave his magic.
Who’s the best player in the world? Who cares?! The real question we should ask is who is the best team in the world? Right now, it’s Barca.
About the Author
Adam Howard is the founder of They Think It’s All Over…
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