You can't compare apples and oranges.
We've all heard it. It's pointless to compare things that aren't really related. Examples? New York vs. Los Angeles, vodka vs. whiskey, Mac vs. Windows.
Football fans tend to compare players using the word "better." It is highly subjective, as "better" is as vague a term as any. To say that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is "better" than Wesley Sneijder is futile. The former is a physical yet highly talented forward, while the latter is a relatively small yet highly creative attacking midfielder.
It'd be more useful to compare, say, Wayne Rooney to Ibrahimovic. They're both very physical but boast technique that their size doesn't suggest. It's not perfect, but you get where I'm going. Valid comparisons can only be made when you have two things that are similar enough to be compared. Here are two players that embody the same footballing philosophy.
For the sake of comparing apples to apples, let's compare Spain midfielder Xavi Hernández to Italy's Andrea Pirlo. The two face off on Sunday in the Euro 2012 final.
Both Barcelona's Xavi and Juventus' Pirlo are world-class center midfielders. If football players were famous artists, you'd be looking at Picasso and Michelangelo. They're a rare breed of playmaker that sit further back in the midfield, acting like a quarterback would on an American football team.
Both are masters at controlling games—they spread the play, control the tempo and start attacks from midfield. They are among the best passers in the world, with a range and accuracy that few players can rival. Their perfectly timed defense-splitting passes have led to more goals than can be counted. They are both dead-ball specialists, and each can score from long range.
Xavi and Pirlo boast astonishing vision on the pitch. They see developments on the pitch several seconds before they physically occur. It's the combination of their clairvoyant vision, range of passing and ability to control a game that makes them so indispensable for both club and country.
In the modern era where speed and physicality are valued above all else, it's refreshing to see players so talented that they don't need size or speed in their arsenal. Players of their breed make football worth watching. Their play embodies the passion and spirit of football. Watching them work their magic on the field is a mesmerizing experience.
Clearly, there's not a lot separating these two. Pirlo is 33; Xavi is 32.
It's no coincidence that Spain and Italy have been so dominant in the last 10 years. With these two, any team on the planet's midfield would be better. They've each won all there is to win and more—they've each won a World Cup, multiple Champions Leagues and multiple league titles.
Players like Xavi and Pirlo are the reason football is called "the beautiful game."
In what will be a fascinating midfield battle, Xavi and Pirlo will attempt to control the midfield against each other in the final of Euro 2012.
Now that we've declared Xavi and Pirlo apples and apples—who's better? Leave your comments below.