Power Ranking Players with the Best 1st Touch
One constant of football, for as long as it has been played, is the necessity to control the ball.
It's a skill at which all professionals are proficient. But when the world's best do it, it just looks that much...better.
With tactical formations designed to cover ever greater areas and the physical nature of players—the ever-increasing search for greater pace and power—the need for football's biggest stars to possess a killer first touch is more important than ever before, particularly for those who occupy overcrowded central areas.
With that in mind, here's a look at ranking 10 players in the game today who possess arguably the very best first touches on the planet: those players whose first touch manipulates the ball to the extent that no matter the situation, they remain in control and can 99 times out of 100 pick the correct option.
Thus, in no particular order, here's a look at 10 players from across the globe who possess the silkiest and, quite frankly, best first touches.
Juan Roman Riquelme
Koji Watanabe/Getty Images
Jorge Valdano once said that to witness Juan Roman Riquelme was to witness a player who preserves a separate age and he was right.
Not interested with the hustle and bustle of the modern midfielder, Riquelme was and, despite the is-he, isn't-he retirement of 2012 and his advancing years, remains the archetypal enganche.
Now the Boca Juniors playmaker may no longer be anywhere near his 2005-06 best, which saw him lead Manuel Pellegrini's Villarreal to the Champions League semi-final, but he remains an artist, capable of weaving the most magical patterns whenever he sees fit to dictate matches.
Andrés Iniesta—"His touch. His vision. That passing range. The time it seems he is afforded on the pitch. We could all learn from Riquelme"
— Nik Postinger (@nikpostinger) February 5, 2013
No longer blessed with a body that will enable him to ease away from defenders looking to squeeze his space, the 35-year-old has to rely on his technical qualities more than ever before, so as still to have an influence for the club where he is looked at as though he is a living God.
And fortunately the Argentine genius, perhaps modern football's last romantic hero, remains the possessor of a touch sent from above.
Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Not quick nor looking to cover every blade of grass, this regista sits in midfield and uses a more cerebral approach to allow him to dictate matches from a deep-lying midfield position.
"Andrea Pirlo can do more with one touch than most other players in the world." —Fox Soccer Channel analyst Christopher Sullivan— Teya (@motwi_86) June 14, 2012
And aside from his intelligent positioning, one of the key factors behind Pirlo's apparent timeless qualities have been his magnificent first touch.
With central midfield being the most crowded area on the pitch—even more now with the advent of inverted wingers and the "false 9"—Pirlo's touch has had to be outstanding as he's grown older. And it has more than stood the test of time.
Whether going left or right, under pressure from opponents either facing or behind him, Pirlo's first touch has always given him the platform from where either to extricate himself from difficult situations or to play those cross-field and killer passes that he has so excelled at for more than a decade.
With a touch like silk, allied to a nous to place his body between the ball and an opponent, his first touch has long been, and continues to be, one of his greatest qualities.
Perhaps the best proponent of finding themselves an optimum area away from others from where they can receive the ball, protect it with their body and subsequently pick a pass is the Spanish World Cup winner, Xavi Hernandez.
The Barcelona man has been Los Cules' chief midfield dictator for more than 10 years, the main string-puller at the heart of their tiki-taka stylings.
Throughout that time, much has been made of his passing and the choices he makes during each match.
However, often overlooked is the sheer quality he possesses whenever he receives the ball. More often than not, his touch is flawless and, more than that, he positions the ball so he is perfectly placed to play his next pass.
It may appear one of the game's more simple manoeuvres. But at the highest level, in the face of hostile pressure, for a team which has for the best part of a decade dominated possession like none that came before, it is simplistic perfection; which just so happens to be the ideal way to describe the first touch of Xavi Hernandez.
But as with the video above, he's also capable of the outrageous, a point further proven in the recent match with Rayo Vallecano.
Van Nistelrooy: "Xavi's a spectacular player. Clean, great touch, never loses a ball, great vision. An example in every aspect of the game."— barcastuff (@barcastuff) December 26, 2012
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
In terms of a striker who is ideal for a midfielder to play the ball up to and then run off, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is pretty much the perfect No. 9.
The 31-year-old PSG striker has been one of the most feared strikers in the game throughout his time at Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, AC Milan and now in Paris, and much of the reason for that is because of his technical acumen and the outstanding general nature of his first touch.
Perhaps Pep Guardiola didn't like that his 6'5" striker wasn't the mobile pressing machine he wanted at Camp Nou, but Ibrahimovic's ability to control whatever kind of ball is fired into him—with whatever part of his body it arrives at—is pretty much unrivalled among forwards across the planet.
I love Zlatan Ibrahimovic, exquisite touch & technique, unique playing style & an excellent finish, he's got everything. Simply world class.— Joseph Musker (@Musker_LFC) October 17, 2012
Not many players can pull off a "keep calm and pass me the ball" T-shirt, but if anyone can, it's Dimitar Berbatov.
And throughout his time in the Premier League, it is something that he has more than proven.
Now we all know the reasons why the Bulgarian finds himself—an outrageously talented yet frustrating merc'—playing amidst relative mediocrity at Fulham.
He plays at his own pace, has a tendency to go missing when things aren't going to his liking and isn't adaptable to the high pressing game currently en vogue among the vast majority of European football's elite.
Nonetheless, those negatives don't take away from his technical attributes, chief among them being the velvety goodness which is his first touch. If controlling a ball to the point that it lies as perfectly as if it had been placed by hand was a sport in itself, then Berbatov would likely win the Ballon d'Or.
Make him what you will: lazy underachiever or effortless virtuoso. You simply cannot deny that his touch is rarely anything other than wondrous.
Oh my. berbatov's touch!— Harvey Swan (@____Norman) October 5, 2013
Xavi: "Busquets controls, looks and passes in one touch. He doesn't need more."— Kasper (@kaspermeidell) October 3, 2013
Often, it is the darker side of Sergio Busquets that garners the most attention. But the Barcelona and Spain midfielder has been integral to both club and country since breaking into Los Cules senior side in 2008.
And the reason? Quite simply his ability to do exactly what teammate Xavi Hernandez says: that Sergio Busquets is the best one-touch footballer in the game today.
The 25-year-old has turned the ability to move the ball vertically and as quickly as possible into an art form. He's intelligent in taking good positions but then possesses the technical ability to control and make the correct pass all in one, perfectly controlled touch.
What's more, when Busquets does take two touches, his first is always exemplary, positioning him perfectly to make the correct pass with his second.
Of course, his inclusion in a list such as this will displease some and will no doubt bring about responses voicing displeasure or offering similar players who are personally preferred.
But Busquets' trophy haul stacks up against any and his technique in controlling a football stands out even more.
Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Much of the beauty of Arsenal's German playmaker Mesut Ozil comes from his ability to move laterally to exploit space from where he can hurt opponents.
A major part of his effectiveness in such moves comes from his often-exquisite first touch.
Pires: Ozil has a bit of Zinedine Zidane in him, in terms of vision, touch n genius to make others play around him." The Legend has spoken— Reagan Arsenal (@regun_oti) October 10, 2013
Whether with the inside or outside of his boot, or taking the ball down with either his chest or thigh, Ozil has an outstanding understanding and ability to take the ball under his spell whilst on the move.
Time and again his technical wizadry effortlessly gets him in a position where he faces the opposition goal.
Real Madrid's loss is very much Arsene Wenger and Arsenal's gain.
Or just watch the linked video of Ozil's ludicrous first touch in last year's Clasico http://t.co/CHpjIshl5F— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) October 2, 2013
Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Much like Juan Roman Riquelme, Ronaldinho has seen better days, most notably between 2004-06 when at times he was simply unplayable—not many Barcelona players get a standing ovation by Real Madrid supporters at the Santiago Bernabeu.
And while the years and partying lifestyle may have wearied his physique and diminished the explosive acceleration that helped him surge straight through opposing defences, his technique and mastery of a football remain a thing of wonder.
The first touch, always so perfect prior to those mesmerising runs and scintillating goals, remains in full running order.
No player playing centrally in the game today is as much of a difference maker as the Barcelona star. His sheer goals output is proof of such a statement.
Additionally, in his role as Barcelona's "false 9", where he drops into deep areas to receive the ball and turn to attack the opposition defence or to link with his midfield pals, his first touch has to be immaculate.
And time after time, it is.
Simply, the Argentina international skipper controls the ball with the perfect appreciation for where space and opponents are, where he can move with the ball and where his next available options are.
And whenever Messi receives possession, no matter how little space he has to work with or how many men are around him, he commands the ball with such tremendous precision that it sticks and sets attacks in motion.
A perfect example of his outstanding first touch could be seen in this goal against Brazil, which sees him shift the ball between his feet to move and fool the defender, creating space for him to explode into. It's perfectly executed and is typical of the man.
That first touch by Messi.. magical!— La Masia (@Youngcules) November 17, 2012
Surely by now we've all seen the pictures of Andres Iniesta, in complete control of the football despite being surrounded by up to six opposition players.
For lesser players—and by lesser, I mean all but 0.001 percent of professional players—it would be a major problem.
And such is the reliability and sheer outstanding nature of his touch every time he takes possession, you never expect him to lose it.
His 2010 World Cup final goal was a perfect example of his supreme composure and unfailing first touch when the moment most needs it. With all the space open to his right, Iniesta takes a fizzed pass from Fabregas, opens his body and tees himself up for an angled drive, all in one movement.
In such a tense moment—not to mention having played 115 minutes of the biggest match of his career when he'd been struggling even to make the tournament due to injury—it simply rubber-stamped the magnificence that is his mastery of a football.
Iniesta is such a wonder to watch. Effortless and so efficient. Expert of the half-a-touch. He owns the ball, and draws others towards it.— Melissa Reddy (@1stLadyOfFooty) August 23, 2012
Thoughts? Leave your comments below or contact me on Twitter: @AA_Richards