We created a series to determine once and for all which brand—Adidas or Nike—has the better world football talent.
Messi vs. Neymar. Xavi vs. Iniesta. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Gareth Bale.
Which brand actually boasts the better players?
Since having the most talent doesn't always mean fielding the best team, the final installment of the series will pit the two rosters against one another in an EA Sports FIFA 12 simulation.
Before playing the actual game, however, we thought it prudent to attempt to find which brand has the best talent at each position. Pitting starters for each brand against one another, our panel tried to determine which brand stands out from the other. A select number of our panel members also offered their thoughts on the selections.
You can help as well, voting for your favorites at each position.
GOALKEEPER – Iker Casillas (Adidas) vs. Tim Howard (Nike)
Who is the better keeper?
The overwhelming vote was for Casillas, making a case that three or four of Adidas' top keepers would be chosen over Howard. That's not to say Howard isn't a world-class keeper, but as Tony Mabert, Football Editor at Eurosport-Yahoo! puts it, "[o]ne look at trophy cabinet tells you why. Nike need to bolster their keeper roster."
Jim White, columnist for the Daily Telegraph puts it more bluntly. "One world and European champion, the other plays for Everton."
CENTER-BACK – Mats Hummels (Adidas) vs. Carles Puyol (Nike)
Who is the better center back?
Puyol took this battle in a near unanimous vote, which comes as a bit of a surprise with how well regarded Hummels is in Europe. Perhaps we should revote after this summer's Euros.
Michael Milberger of KickTV has the prevailing sentiment of the panel: "I always want Puyol on my team," while White calls him a "serial achiever."
Will Tidey, World Football Lead Writer here at Bleacher Report, says, "Puyol combines great physicality with a calmness in pressure situations. He's also a born leader of men."
CENTER-BACK – Lucio (Adidas) vs. Vincent Kompany (Nike)
Who is the better center-back?
I wonder if this question had been posed a month ago if the result would be different, but our panel unanimously selected Kompany as the better center-back over Lucio. After watching the City captain the last few weeks of the EPL season, you can see why.
Tidey agrees with that, saying, "Up until recently I would have gone with the beast they call Lucio, but Kompany has been so impressive in City's title success you can't overlook him."
Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports says Kompany is "not spectacular but steady as a rock," which sure sounds like a compliment for a center-back.
Keith Hickey of KCKRS.com posits, "Is there a better center-back than Kompany right now? He's got every tool possible."
RIGHT-BACK – Dani Alves (Adidas) vs. Sergio Ramos (Nike)
Who is the better right-back?
There is probably a good reason Ramos has moved more to central defense for Real Madrid, so it comes as no surprise that Dani Alves, arguably the best full-back in the world, wins this in a near unanimous vote.
In comparing the two, Rogers points out that Alves is "as good defensively and offers more attacking threat," while Hickey ads, "Nobody does attacking wing-backs like Brazil, and Alves is the best since Roberto Carlos."
White goes so far as to say Alves on the wing is like having "almost another forward" on the field.
Chris Hall, Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report, writes, "I don't know if he even counts as a right-back anymore. But no other player duplicates the kind of contribution Alves provides down the right side for Barca," a sentiment duplicated by Mabert, who adds, "in truth, he's not much of a defender, but Alves is such a potent weapon going forward."
Milberger has the best comparison of all: "better tattoos, more dangerous going forward."
You can't beat that if you try.
LEFT-BACK – Philipp Lahm (Adidas) vs. Ashley Cole (Nike)
Who is the better left-back?
Perhaps the panel's English tendencies skewed the vote on this position a bit, with Cole bringing in a surprising 70 percent of the vote.
Lahm may have been placed a bit out of position, too. At the very least, his versatility on the back line—like Ramos—could hurt him in a one-on-one position battle.
Still, that is no knock on Cole, who has been the best wing-back in England for a decade.
White says, "Pace, experience, nous: he has it all."
Mabert writes, "Two great veterans, but I always feel Cole is a tougher test for the very best in the world."
Tidey looks past Cole's wild personal life in lauding him: "Like him or loathe him, Ashley Cole remains Europe's premier left-back. He has pace to burn, excellent technique and is a fierce competitor."
In picking Lahm, Hickey did not, saying, "Both great full-backs, but Lahm is more versatile and isn't an awful human being."
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD – Xabi Alonso (Adidas) vs. Sergio Busquets (Nike)
Who is the better defensive midfielder?
It has to be the beard. Seriously, is Xabi Alonso the best bearded athlete in the world at his sport? I suppose LeBron James is tops, but Alonso can't be much lower than second.
The panel agrees, choosing Alonso over Busquets. (No truth to the rumor Busquets was so hurt by the news he fell on the ground in agony for five minutes.)
Hall is in my corner on Busquets: "I chose Alonso because I just can't really stand Busquets. He's a great footballer who I just don't enjoy watching."
Milberger and Hickey agree on the beard, calling it both "exceptional" and "excellent," respectively.
Rogers picked Busquets, suggesting he doesn't get the credit he deserves. Mabert agrees with that, saying, "Busquets's reputation means he doesn't get credit he deserves sometimes, but Alonso's passing ability is exceptional and he's not afraid to get his hands dirty either," but ultimately helped put Alonso over the top.
CENTER MIDFIELD – Xavi (Adidas) vs. Iniesta (Nike)
Who is the better center midfielder?
By far the toughest decision on the field so far, picking between Xavi and Iniesta is like picking between which lung you think works better. They both are entirely necessary to the process, helping each other achieve a common goal for both club and country.
The decision was difficult for the entire panel, leaning toward Xavi in the end.
Milberger calls Xavi a "maestro of all maestros," while Hickey writes, "Xavi could pass his way through a minefield in rollerskates."
Rogers wonders, "Does he ever lose the ball?"
Tidey asks, "How do you choose between them? Maybe, just maybe, Iniesta is more dynamic going forward."
Mabert compares it to picking one of your kids: "Talk about Sophie's choice! Xavi is one of my favourite all-time players, but I think the amazing Iniesta would add dynamism to this particular central pairing."
Ultimately, the sentiment shared by Tidey and Mabert were outnumbered and Xavi won the vote.
RIGHT WING – Arjen Robben (Adidas) vs. Mesut Ozil (Nike)
Who is the better right wing?
This was the closest decision on the pitch, with Ozil very narrowly beating out Robben. As I wrote in the Adidas selection post, I find it abhorrent as a lefty that Robben is so terrible with his right. Watch him dribble the ball and count the number of times in any given possession the ball touches his right. It's uncanny how skilled he is on just one leg.
Still, he is a fantastic player. Ozil, right now, just seems to be the better choice. Not to mention in a match like this, Ozil is far more versatile than Robben.
Hickey loves Ozil. He really, really loves Ozil: "I want to make sweet love to Mesut Ozil's through balls."
Thank goodness the word "through" didn't get lost.
Tidey picked Robben, saying, "Robben was written off by some, but he's proved this season that he remains the most dangerous natural winger in Europe. One of only a handful of players who can win a game on their own."
Mabert was as conflicted as any of us before choosing Robben, saying, "Ozil is probably the more gifted all-around player, but Robben is custom built to terrorise on the wing."
Milberger points out that Robben is too fragile. Maybe that was the deciding factor for others. Or maybe Ozil is just that good right now.
LEFT WING – Gareth Bale (Adidas) vs. Cristiano Ronaldo (Nike)
Who is the better left wing?
A unanimous decision by our panel, Ronaldo took the vote easily. If there are people in the world who think Bale is the best player alive, they were not part of our panel.
Rogers: "Bale's great but this is a no-brainer."
Hickey: "Ronaldo scores goals like few other players do. It's unfortunate for him that Messi is around, or we'd be arguing whether Ronaldo is the best player ever or not."
White: "Not just a winger, a goal scorer"
Tidey: "Easy choice. Ronaldo has proved himself at two of the world's biggest clubs and already left a legacy as one of the game's greats. Bale is just getting started."
Mabert: "Bale is good—very good—but he will almost certainly never get close to Ronaldo's incredibly high level."
Milberger: "Can't beat CR7."
FORWARD – Robin van Persie (Adidas) vs. Wayne Rooney (Nike)
Who is the better forward?
This is a fascinating contest, pitting the best living English player against the best player in England this season. Van Persie had a supremely historic season, but is that enough to pick him over Rooney?
Though a tough decision for some, our panel selected RVP in a landslide.
Rogers credits Van Persie's current form for the nod. White says he's "at the moment, the best striker around."
Tidey, a United apologist, picked Rooney: "Van Persie has had a quite sensational season, but the tools at his disposal are still inferior to those of Rooney in my opinion." That's an opinion I tend to agree with, especially with Rooney's penchant for hustling back on defense and dropping into an offensive midfield position when needed.
Milberger calls RVP a "Man in Form, Man in Full."
Hall adds, "I think Van Persie is just a more refined player than Rooney. Rooney gets by on sheer physicality on occasion. Van Persie is touch perfect all over the field. Not nearly as busy as Rooney, but just as effective."
Rooney also needs to prove himself more for his country, getting a fantastic opportunity in a few months to change some people's minds about him.
FORWARD – Lionel Messi (Adidas) vs. Neymar (Nike)
Who is the better forward?
No, Pele isn't on our panel (we couldn't afford his fee).
This is a landslide vote, though not unanimous. Maybe someone clicked the wrong button.
Why Messi? "Because I have eyes," writes Hickey. "You know why, LOL," writes Rogers. Yes, this is such a ridiculous question that the esteemed Martin Rogers LOL'd us.
BENCH – Manuel Neuer, Laurent Koscielny, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kaka, David Silva, Nani, Edinson Cavani (Adidas)
Which brand has the better bench and reserves?
Hugo Lloris, Gerard Pique, Andrea Pirlo, Juan Mata, Franck Ribery, Ramires, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Nike)
Adidas could get the slight nod on the backs of Schweinsteiger, Silva and Neuer, but Ibrahimovic and Pique buoyed the votes for Nike. In the end, it's a push. It really does depend on the situation, as both benches have players who probably should be starting.
RESERVES – Petr Cech, Clarence Seedorf, David Beckham, Raul, Alessandro Del Piero (Adidas)
Clint Dempsey, Wesley Sneijder, Ronaldinho, Michael Essien, Didier Drogba (Nike)
Cech almost made the roster and Seedorf may still be one of the top players in the world. Despite the fact that Dempsey, Sneijder and Drogba all made strong cases for inclusion in the active squad, it's Adidas's reserves that get the nod. It has to be the Beckham Effect.
RESULTS – ADIDAS VS. NIKE
Which brand has the better overall squad?
Based on a position-by-position comparison, Adidas narrowly beats out Nike in our panel's vote. Adidas took the goalkeeper, right-back, both central midfielders and both forwards. Nike took the two center-backs, left-back and both wing positions.
The vote was as close as we could get. The match simulation is going to be epic.