The question, who is the best player in the world, has assumed almost mythical status in recent years—in such that there is no definitive answer. We can whittle it down to two, but most mere mortals can go no further.
As one of the aforementioned mortals, I am unable to provide a definite answer to the question of who is better: Messi or Ronaldo (although I am inclined to say Ronaldo). I have, therefore, cheated.
Splitting the list by continent I can include both...and Tim Cahill.
The Portuguese champion—and most expensive footballer in the history of the game—is the obvious choice for "Europe’s finest."
With a quite staggering goal-scoring record at Real Madrid which equates to more than a goal a game, Cristiano Ronaldo is a deserving recipient of his numerous plaudits.
The title itself is quite an accolade as Europe is almost certainly the strongest footballing continent on the planet. Europe boasts a roll-call that includes Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Vincent Kompany, Wayne Rooney and Karim Benzema—a delectable concoction of talent.
Despite this, I have my doubts if you asked 100 people this question, you would have much derivation in the answers you received.
Cristiano Ronaldo, quite simply, is a revelation. One of the greatest footballers of all time, and the greatest current player in Europe without question.
As obvious as Ronaldo’s inclusion undoubtedly was, Messi’s was probably more so.
The Barcelona ace, who scored his 21st Barcelona hat-trick at the weekend, triumphs over a South-American continent that is considerably weaker than the ridiculously loaded European time-zone.
Despite this, South America still boasts the talents of Neymar, Sergio Aguero, Falcao, Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Valencia—hardly a region shorn of ability!
Yet Lionel Messi is a legend in his own lifetime. A little man with a scoring record that makes even the best defenses wince. Messi has, for the past five years, torn the footballing world asunder.
Despite being prodigiously talented players, Falcao et al. simply cannot compete.
With all due respect to Javier Hernandez, his triumph is over a continent not as loaded with top talent as the preceding duo.
Yet, whilst North America may not quite be the hot-bed of ‘soccer’ talent that Europe or South America is, it too possesses a clutch of very talented players.
Whilst Manchester United ace Hernandez is arguably the best of North America’s talent, his merits are played off against the likes of David Hoilett and Landon Donovan in a battle for supremacy.
To me, though, Hernandez is a clear winner—after Mexico’s inclusion in ‘North America’ has been ratified—with 28 goals in his 43 Mexican caps and currently plying his trade for one of the world’s biggest teams in Manchester United.
With some of the most instinctive movement and best predatory instincts in world football, Javier Hernandez is the Mexican and North American king.
Behind Europe and South America, Africa is the next strongest continent in World football. With a rich history of top-class players that includes the likes of Roger Milla, and more recently, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien, the African Cup of Nations has long been a breeding ground of high-level international talent.
Today the continent has lost a little of its lustre. Yet like the preceding triumvirate of cross-continental battles, Africa too, has an obvious victor.
Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, previous alumni of the famed Catalan finishing academy, has established himself as one of the Premier League’s finest talents.
An immensely strong player whose marauding forays into the opposition's territory has paid such spectacular dividends for City since his move to Manchester—Toure was arguably City’s player of the season last year.
In Africa, talents such as the aging Essien and Samuel Eto’o are no longer of Toure’s calibre. The younger generation have a way to go to claim parity.
The second Manchester United player on this list, Kagawa made his name in Jurgen Klopp’s exciting Dortmund team, before securing his big-money move to United this summer.
The Japanese international has continued where he left off. A series of energetic displays have cemented his place as the finest current exponent of Asian football.
A supremely technical player, whose slight build and lightning agility mark him out as a fearsome adversary, Kagawa fills the void in United’s highly lucrative Asian market vacated by Park Ji-Sung’s departure.
The continent boasts an ever-expanding roster of elite talent, that is arguably the world’s most improving. Among current practitioners that include Park and Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow, Japan’s Kagawa is the top talent.
I mean this as no disrespect to Cahill, of whom I am a big fan, but Oceania is the weakest of the continents where football is actually played (sorry, Antarctica).
I was very surprised when Everton decided that Cahill, a huge presence in the side over the past five years, was expendable—selling him to New York and the Red Bulls for £1 million this summer. Admittedly, David Moyes’ team's performance since has somewhat validated the decision.
Back home in Australia, Cahill is indispensable. His country’s finest talent for a number of years and certainly the best in Oceania, Tim Cahill has carried his country into the last two World Cup campaigns.
There are a growing number of top-league talents with Oceania heritage, such as QPR’s Ryan Nelsen and Aston Villa’s Brett Holman, but most would still vote for Cahill as the region's finest.
If anyone can tell me a single player who hails from Antarctica you are a better man/woman than me...and Google.
So congratulations on that.