Reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi
Football fans love creating lists.
Oftentimes, we do it in order to rank who are the best and worst in a particular league during a season.
Sometimes, we get more creative and try to classify the most skillful, lethal, aggressive, hotheaded, and useless players. We do it for our own teams as well as for others in different leagues on different continents.
As the 2012 summer transfer window marches on, one of the ongoing debates is deciding who exactly are the most valuable players on the planet.
Although many of these stars will probably not be on their club’s transfer list this summer—or ever, for that matter—they are inarguably some of the most coveted players in world football and each have transfer values likely in excess of 30 million euros.
This list does not take into account veteran footballers who are still excelling and dazzling crowds like Andrea Pirlo or Xavi Hernandez, who both participated in the recent Euro 2012 final between Italy and Spain.
Nor will it take into account stars who have only in the past season moved for massive fees such as South American rivals Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez.
Instead, these are currently the most monetarily valuable stars on the market, each of whom would vastly improve even the most pitiful football team.
In the end, it proved remarkably challenging to get it down to such a small figure, but here are your top five most valuable players in world football.
The selection of the diminutive Catalan may shock a few football fans.
Although unquestionably skilled, Iniesta has suffered recently from a few injury-laden seasons at his hometown club Barcelona, and is sometimes easily pushed off the ball due to his small stature and fragile frame.
Another hindrance for the Catalan is that while playing as an attacking midfielder and oftentimes a left-winger in Pep Guardiola's classic 4-3-3 formation prior to this season, he has only managed 41 goals in 408 appearances for Barcelona in all competitions.
Nevertheless, when he has scored they have been undeniably decisive.
It was Iniesta's stunning strike late in the 2009 Champions League semifinal away tie against Chelsea that saw Barcelona advance and eventually win the competition.
For the national team, he also managed to score the lone goal during extra time of the 2010 World Cup final to bring Spain their first ever World Championship.
Big performances on stages like the Champions League, World Cup, and European Championships have resulted in his selection in the top four of the Ballon d'Or/FIFA Ballon d'Or for three consecutive seasons and his being named UEFA Player of the Tournament in Euro 2012.
Only 28 years old, Iniesta surely has several more seasons in front of him to improve and continue to stake his claim as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.
While it is unlikely that Iniesta will leave Barcelona in the near future, his worth—as illustrated by his decisive goalscoring, creative wide-play and majestic footwork in even the most difficult matches—should exceed that of the biggest transfer targets in 2012.
If anyone disagrees, simply ask Vicente Del Bosque and Pep Guardiola and see what they have to say about their miniature midfield magician.
Colombia is no longer regarded in world football as the power they were back in the days of Carlos Valderrama. However, they never stopped producing fascinating footballers such as Radamel Falcao.
The 26-year-old Atletico Madrid hitman is probably the most unlikely selection in this ranking. A mere glance at his goal return, though, should easily dispel any doubts about his inclusion.
Following his €4 million transfer from River Plate to Porto in 2009, Falcao took Europe by storm and netted 25 goals in 28 league matches (34 goals in all competitions) during the 2009-10 season.
He improved on that total margin the subsequent campaign, as he scored 38 goals in 42 competitive matches—breaking the record for goals scored in a European season with 17 goals in the Europa League as Porto took home the trophy.
After only two seasons in Portugal, the Colombian was sold to Atletico Madrid for roughly €40 million—potentially rising to €47 million with performance-based clauses—and managed to place only behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the league scoring charts as he netted 24 times for his new club.
His continually impressive form in Europe also helped Atletico Madrid to conquer the Europa League for the second time in three seasons.
Falcao is still relatively young and has great re-sale value for a club that is certainly not unwilling to part with its talent, as it showed by selling both Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero in recent seasons.
Manchester City and Chelsea have been rumored to be interested in the striker, and it is likely that he would be worth well over €50 million based merely on his consistent performances for club and his devastating goalscoring potential in European competition.
While the debate has roared on in Europe regarding Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there has been another young star who has emerged in the debate regarding the World's Best Player.
Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, or simply Neymar, is one of the most promising footballers to have emerged from Brazil in over a decade.
Still only 20 years old, the unpretentious striker has already scored 9 times in 18 appearances for the nation and has tallied over 100 goals for local side Santos in just four seasons.
For years, he has been compared in South America to Argentinian rival Messi and Pele has even taken advantage of media inquiry to come out and claim that Neymar is by far the best player in the world, prompting millions of football fans to react.
Certainly, he will have a ways to go in order to surpass either Messi or Ronaldo in terms of personal accolades or trophies, but Neymar has quickly built for himself quite a reputation in his home nation.
Last season, he led Santos to their first Copa Libertadores triumph since Pele played in 1963, and he has collected a series of individual credits in Brazil: the 2011 Golden Ball and Golden Boot, followed by the FIFA Puskas award for most beautiful goal of the year.
In September 2011, Neymar also shocked the football world when he chose to sign a contract extension at Santos that would keep him at the club until 2014, neglecting all of the transfer speculation claiming he would sign for Real Madrid for over €60 million.
The news may have disappointed audiences across the globe, but proved the forward has a good head on his shoulders and is willing to improve at the hometown club that he signed for in 2003 before making an early move to a major club in Europe.
In any case, when he does move, he will certainly cost a record fee as he is already the 7th richest footballer in the world, according to France Football magazine.
Whether football fans like him or not, Cristiano Ronaldo is unquestionably one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
His freekick ability has been the study of physicists in England who are attempting to understand the unique rotation he puts on the ball as he drills it towards goal.
He single-handedly defeated Barcelona in the 2011 Copa Del Rey final to claim Real Madrid's first trophy against their archrivals in three seasons.
Furthermore, he holds the honor of being the last person to win the Balon d'Or for being the best player on the planet in 2008—before his Argentinian nemesis went on to bag himself a hat-trick of trophies.
For his national side, he has not been as fortunate as he has proved for Manchester United and Real Madrid. However, he did captain his country en route to the semifinals of Euro 2012 and played in the magnificent 4-0 victory against neighbors Spain in November 2010.
While still in England, he managed to break the record for goals scored by a midfielder when he topped the Golden Boot standings in 2008 with 31 goals, and also managed to come home a victor in that year's Champions League—despite missing a penalty kick in the final.
Following several impressive years under Sir Alex Ferguson, he was bought by Real Madrid for almost €94 million—the highest transfer fee of all time. There, he continues to excel as he and Messi battle back and forth for each season's top scorer prize.
For generations to come, the debate between Messi and Ronaldo as to who in fact was the best in the world will wage on. However, in terms of accolades alone, Messi has edged this battle for now.
Ronaldo is unlikely to leave for a new club any time in the near future. At 27 years old, he still has several seasons in front of him, and is likely valued at well over €100 million. He will probably wind down his years in the Spanish capital as he continues to collect trophies.
There is nothing that can be said of the man affectionately known as La Pulga (The Flea) that has not already been stated by some other person.
He is the three-time reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, three-time winner of the Champions League with Barcelona, and captain of one of the top footballing countries in the world.
Still only 25 years old, Messi has shattered just about every record in Spanish and European football on his way to becoming FC Barcelona's all-time top scorer with 253 goals in 329 appearances in all competitions. It could understandably be said that there is nothing the player cannot do.
When he was criticized for his heading ability, he drilled home the match-winner in the 2009 Champions League final with his noggin as the towering Rio Ferdinand looked on in agony.
Similarly, when many Argentinians and other critics of the miniscule playmaker lambasted him for failing to turn up in the national jersey, he almost single-handedly rejuvenated a weak Argentina under Diego Maradona and his similarly poor replacement Sergio Batista.
In 2012, he has already scored 7 goals in only 3 games for his country. Three of these strikes were netted in a 4-3 victory against eternal rivals Brazil.
The player has already stated that he has no plans to leave Barcelona, and unless a club like Manchester City comes in and offers over 200 million for the skillful Argentinian, it is unlikely that the club will sell him.
All that is left for Messi to do in his career is add a World Cup winner's medal to his already packed trophy case.
And, based on what he has done already, there is no doubt that he will achieve it.