Arturo Vidal is the best soccer player in the world.
There, I've said it.
You can call me crazy. You can call me a Juventus tifoso brimming with pride. You can bombard me with highlights of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic—the three men usually talked about as the game's best.
But you won't convince me otherwise. Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic may score goals in bunches, and yes, goals are what win games, but there is more to this sport than goalscoring.
Vidal, of course, is no slouch as a goalscorer. According to ESPNFC, he's scored 31 times in all official competitions since he arrived at Juventus from Bayer Leverkusen—after a season in which he had scored 10 goals from the midfield in the Bundesliga and another in the DFB-Pokal.
But what sets Vidal apart from other players is everything else.
Here in the U.S., there is often a vociferous debate amongst baseball fans as to who is more valuable: a starting pitcher who plays once every five games or a position player who impacts every game on the schedule.
In my opinion, a modified version of that argument applies here. Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic are all prolific goalscorers, but as forwards, that is often their only contribution to their teams. Vidal's central role as a midfielder—and his nearly unique combination of skills from that position—gives him far more impact on an overall match than any forward.
I've already mentioned Vidal's abilities as a finsher. He has a ferocious shot, and his movement through the channels of the penalty area are well-timed and impossible to stop when run correctly. Vidal is also skilled enough to be Juve's primary penalty-taker—pipping none other than dead-ball master Andrea Pirlo for the job.
But Vidal's impact goes far beyond the front of the opposing goal. His passing ability, for one, is superlative. He has notched 16 assists in league play since joining Juve, and this season he has completed 84.3 percent of his passes in Serie A, per WhoScored.com. It's a higher rate than Messi, Ronaldo or Ibra.
What makes that number more impressive is that Vidal is a higher-volume passer than any of the three. This year he has averaged 27.9 percent more passes attempted than Ibrahimovic and slightly over 50 percent more than CR7. Even Messi—who passes more than the average forward in Barcelona's tiki-taka tactics—averages 19.3 percent fewer attempts than Vidal.
His attacking talents allow him to make the most of his passing game. Defenders who collapse on Vidal in an effort to keep him from finishing leave teammates open to do the job. The effect this has on the team as a whole cannot be overstated.
Juventus may have won the last two Scudetti, but they did so with a subpar forward line. Chances were wasted or not taken. On top of his scoring ability, Juve needed the space that Vidal could create in order to facilitate scoring.
But for all of Vidal's contributions in the front two-thirds of the field, his greatest impact may be in defense.
WhoScored.com's statistics give Vidal an average of four tackles per match and 1.2 interceptions in Serie A. In Champions League play, those numbers go up to 5.4 tackles and 1.4 interceptions. The tackle stats rank seventh in Serie A and second in the Champions League amongst all players, not just midfielders.
Vidal's defensive abilities are so advanced that Antonio Conte has turned to him as an emergency center-back during times of selection crises. It might seem an odd fit for a man who stands 5'11", but Vidal's outstanding leaping ability makes him deceptively effective in the air.
Let's take a step back and look at what we have: In one package, Arturo Vidal is a player with elite-level skills in all three phases of the game.
If he played full-time as a striker, it's not hard to see him as a 25-goal player. His size could be looked at as a disadvantage as a defender, but his leaping ability compensates for that in much the same way it did for the likes of Fabio Cannavaro and Ivan Cordoba. His abilities as a midfielder—both in attack and in defense—are on full display every weekend.
The debate about the world's best player has revolved around the biannual La Liga duels between Messi and Ronaldo. But the two superstars—along with Ibrahimovic, who has recently drifted into the conversation after his out-of-this-world form at PSG this year—offer their teams little else than their goalscoring abilities.
That's a crucial contribution to be sure, but on the whole of the field Vidal offers more value. He can act as facilitator, finisher and stopper with equal skill and effectiveness. I can think of no other player in the world who can bring the same level of quality to every phase of the game.
So who really has the greater impact? The pitchers, like Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, who exert immense influence over one part of the game? Or the position player, Vidal, who impacts a much larger portion of an overall match, and therefore provides much greater value to his team?
In the opinion of this writer, it's the latter.
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