World's Greatest Footballer? There Is No Such Thing

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst IMarch 31, 2010

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 24:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona shoots a corner during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Osasuna at the Camp Nou Stadium on March 24, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona won 2-0.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

How many times do you hear people harping on about someone being the "best" player in the world?

It is ridiculous.

There can never be one player who encompasses all of the gifts that are covered in a team. It is a team game, it is impossible for one player to beat a team by themselves.

Even if it seems to happen in one way or another on occasion, it never actually happens.

One player can win a match if his team provides a platform of sound defense and possession.

But they cannot defend, attack and keep goal while playing possession football that tires out opponents, by themselves.

The whole idea that there can be a "Greatest player in the history of the game" is also completely illusory.

Pele could not have played the often sublime football he produced without the assistance of his various teammates.

The ridiculousness continues when you get someone like Joan Laporta saying that Lionel Messi is the "greatest ever Barcelona player."

Not only is it completely over the top, but it is also unprovable because of countless variables that come into play every time teams take the pitch.

Were the players Messi played against in a particular game as good as the players Hristo Stoichkov played against? Or were the Bulgarians opponents better?

Has football technique really improved in the last few years or has it declined while it's proponents just get faster and fitter?

These factors are what make it impossible for the debate on who is the "greatest" or "best" to ever take place.

Is Messi as good a defender as Carles Puyol was at his peak? Never. 

One of Messi's teammates was also heard recently to remark that Messi was "better than Maradona," which again is naive in the extreme, because the factors surrounding the greatness of Maradona can never be repeated and cannot be duplicated either.

This brings us to another problem that exists when comparing players and their various attributes.

There is constantly a comparison made between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, when, in fact, it is impossible to compare the two, because they are different players with different attributes and approaches to the game.

Both of them are phenomenal players without a doubt.

However, the idea that one is better than the other is an illusion.

Even if they were to play against each other in a match, the fact that they are part of a team and that the team contributes as much to the individual player's effect, as the individual does to the unit, negates the idea that one player can be "better" than another.

What is meant here is that certain individual players can shine regardless of how well their team plays in any particular match.

The obvious thing here is that if a team is playing well, a player on said team will look even better because his team is providing a stage and a platform for him to shine upon.

I highly doubt Lionel Messi would have won the Ballon D'Or if he was relegated with Newcastle United.

This all comes back to the fallacy that comes from the idea that one player in a team can be the "best" player on a particular squad.

It is impossible to predict how important any individual will become the day of a match because of the variables that come into play in a match.

Take the example of a World Cup semi-final involving Argentina.

In the lead up everyone will talk of how important Messi will be and how his play will determine the outcome. Then in the match itself, it might be Mascherano who scores and sets up a goal for Tevez.

Historically, it can be seen in the idea that for much of the world's footballing history, teams as units have been revered, rather than the individual players that appeared in these teams.

Examples of those squads are The "Mighty Magyars," the great Hungarian side of the 1950's or the Brazil team that won the 1970 World Cup.

Maybe even the Ajax team of 1972 or Liverpool's famous 1984 European trophy winning side could be examples.

These teams have set precedents for the game in that they are generally remembered as units of players rather than by the individuals who were a part of their make up.

Therefore, in conclusion, it seems more prudent to say that the only real comparison is to compare entire starting elevens with other starting elevens, rather than players with other players.

But even here, such things as footballing styles, tactical changes, and even equipment can influence the final comparison and make it difficult (or impossible) to come to a decision.

There is no such thing as the best player in football, it is a team game, and cannot be measured on an individual level.

There is not a greatest player of all time either, it is impossible to gauge or measure such a subjective notion.

Too many variables in such comparisons, render the conclusions meaningless when everything is taken into account.


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