A few weeks ago, Bleacher Report's basketball writers tried to build the perfect NBA superstar. We wanted to see how it would work with football.
We asked five of our regular football writers to piece together their ideal star using six attributes from current players. Here are the categories we presented to them (you might recognise them as they are the core attributes that make up a FIFA card).
PACE - speed, acceleration, agility
PHYSICALITY - strength, balance, jumping, stamina, size
DRIBBLING - dribbling, technique, flair
PASSING - all pass variations, crossers, set pieces
SHOOTING - all finishing variations - shooting, heading, composure
DEFENDING (not physicals) - all defending - tackling, marking, anticipation, positioning, aggression/passiveness
Snake-style draft with a random order in the first round.
All current players are eligible until drafted.
Writers may draft player attributes in any order but may only draft a single attribute once.
For example: If you draft Lionel Messi for dribbling, you may not draft another dribbler, and nobody else may draft Messi.
1. Tom Williams' Superstar
First pick: Lionel Messi, Dribbling (1st overall)
Second pick: Kalidou Koulibaly, Physicality (10)
Third pick: Adama Traore, Speed (11)
Fourth pick: Giorgio Chiellini, Defending (20)
Fifth pick: Robert Lewandowski, Shooting (21)
Sixth pick: Marco Verratti, Passing (30)
Draft strategy going in: I'd never taken part in a draft before, and I hadn't realised that you're supposed to do some homework beforehand, but the other lads kindly gave me 10 minutes to make a few notes. Then the draft started and I blew them all out of the water.
I had first pick overall and getting Messi for his dribbling was a no-brainer. I figured that while there are a lot of elite footballers who pass, shoot and defend well, there's only a small number with genuinely eye-popping physical characteristics, so I made that my next priority and then focused on rounding out my player's technical skill set.
Why my player tops the rest: My player is so freakishly complete that I genuinely considered forfeiting my last pick in order to level the playing field.
Messi's dribbling ability means that right off the bat, my guy is the greatest dribbler the game has ever seen. Not only that, but he possesses the pace and jaw-dropping acceleration of Adama Traore, who is one of the quickest players on the planet. Add Kalidou Koulibaly's immense strength and hulking physique to the mix and you're left with a player who combines the power of a weightlifter and the speed of an Olympic sprinter with the nimbleness and poise of a ballerina.
Not only that, but once my guy has put the opposition full-back on the seat of his pants and left a trail of scorched earth between the two centre-backs, he will finish with the unerring accuracy of Robert Lewandowski, whose ability to score with both feet and with his head from almost anywhere within 20 yards of goal makes him a uniquely accomplished goalscorer.
At the other end of the pitch, my player tackles, heads the ball, positions himself and anticipates opposition attacks with the unparalleled mastery of Giorgio Chiellini, a rugged and uncompromising centre-back who embodies the finest traditions of Italian defending.
Picking Marco Verratti for his passing was the one indulgence that I granted myself. I love Verratti as a player and his impish, ceaselessly inventive passing range makes sure that my man will play football with a bit of soul. Although having said that, with this mind-blowing skill set, I'm not sure he'd ever need to pass the ball anyway.
2. Sam Tighe's Superstar
First pick: Cristiano Ronaldo, Shooting (2nd overall)
Second pick: Neymar, Dribbling (9)
Third pick: Toni Kroos, Passing (12)
Fourth pick: Alphonso Davies, Pace (19)
Fifth pick: Aymeric Laporte, Defending (22)
Sixth pick: Sergio Ramos, Physicality (29)
Draft Strategy Going In: I knew going into the draft I had pick No. 2, which ensured I was going to get one of Messi's dribbling or Cristiano Ronaldo's shooting—the two traits that stand above all else. You simply cannot miss with either of those selections. I resolved to take whichever one of those Tom didn't, then react to the board from there.
I built a shortlist of 10 players per trait, with a gem or two in each I believed no one would take and would be available to me later on if all the big dogs had been taken. That proved useful in my Alphonso Davies selection in the fourth and Sergio Ramos selection in the sixth.
Why My Player Tops The Rest: My first four picks are either best-in-class or close to it.
Ronaldo's finishing prowess is rivalled only by Messi, but the Portuguese has a better variation of finishes and can score the widest range of strikes. Whether it's in the first or the 95th minute, from an angle, running through one-on-one or from the spot. A headline trait embodied by a headline player.
Neymar's dribbling ability isn't far off Messi's, his technique and close control truly sumptuous, and packaging that with Ronaldo's shooting feels like a bit of a cheat code. This monster can fire off any shot but can also work those shooting positions for himself.
Add in Davies' Olympian speed—is there a faster man in world football than the breakthrough Canadian star?—and this starts to become a prospect defenders will have to wave the white flag at.
Toni Kroos' passing gives my player an elite creative element and a remarkable aesthetic, too: Kroos' passing, at any range, is pinpoint, but he also looks so good while clipping those balls into his team-mates' path. A true joy to watch.
Aymeric Laporte's complete defensive game and Ramos' physical build round out the player. To grab Ramos at the end was a delight; I wouldn't trust his defensive game (too rash compared to the others), but his build? Super strong, super springy and, crucially, extremely well balanced—just like the player I've built through this draft.
3. Marcus Alves' Superstar
First Pick: Sergio Aguero, Shooting (3rd overall)
Second Pick: Luka Modric, Passing (8)
Third Pick: Philippe Coutinho, Dribbling (13)
Fourth Pick: Paulo Dybala, Pace (18)
Fifth Pick: Leandro Paredes, Physicality (23)
Sixth Pick: Frenkie de Jong, Defending (28)
Draft Strategy Going In: It was solely based on one thing: I wanted to build an improved version of the player I've enjoyed watching the most all these years, Pablo Aimar.
The idea of the perfect footballer is, obviously, entirely subjective, but if you still think my strategy was, say, a bit unconventional, I can only argue that I find myself in very good company on this. This is the man Messi grew up idolising, Diego Maradona himself described as his "natural heir" and, most importantly, the only one who ever dragged me into an online auction to buy a Valencia shirt he used (a shirt I somehow managed to lose after winning the auction). So this is pretty much me trying to make amends for that.
Why My Player Tops the Rest: What better way to execute my strategy than to take Messi in the first round? That was originally my—and, silly me, everybody else's—plan.
Having been given the third choice in the draft, I knew I had to quickly forget about it. It allowed me to adopt a relaxed approach from there, though, because I knew I wouldn't be fighting for the likes of Ronaldo, Virgil van Dijk and Kevin De Bruyne. I simply wasn't in it for the big guys...literally since I deliberately put size aside in my picks.
Above all, I wanted to prove a point—in a world where players such as Aimar (and Juan Roman Riquelme, Leandro Romagnoli, Marcelo Gallardo) seem to be at risk of extinction, there's still room for them, regardless of their physical attributes.
With Messi off the board, I decided to start with the finishing of Sergio Aguero to add some goalscoring to my player's repertoire. It was a chance to make a statement right away with a proven predator and at the same time anticipate competition that I would certainly face for him later.
Passing was next on my list, and while I was initially tempted to take David Silva, I went with Luka Modric. I rounded it out with the dribbling of Phillipe Coutinho, a midfielder who has that slipperiness about him and is an absolute joy to watch at his best. To complement all that, I needed some elite pace. Paulo Dybala's ability to change direction with the ball at his feet was the obvious choice.
In the fifth round, I went a little under the radar and landed a No. 10 who has been successfully converted into a No. 5, Leandro Paredes and his physicality. And to finish, I was lucky enough to add Frenkie de Jong and his power to turn defense into attack.
There's no stopping this player.
4. Dean Jones's Superstar
First pick: Kevin De Bruyne, Passing (4th overall)
Second pick: Virgil van Dijk, Defending (7)
Third pick: Eden Hazard, Dribbling (14)
Fourth pick: Paul Pogba, Physicality (17)
Fifth pick: Harry Kane, Shooting (24)
Sixth pick: Leroy Sane, Pace (27)
Draft Strategy: There are only seven or eight players in the world who are unmatchable, so I had to make sure I got hold of two of those men.
I had the fourth pick, which gave me an edge as I'd also have seventh pick. Result! My only problem: I knew Messi and Ronaldo would definitely be off the table, so I would be at an immediate disadvantage.
I had to decide fast: Who would be my first-choice pick from the rest of the field? My plan was to build the most natural playing robot you could ever imagine.
Why My Player Tops the Rest: I narrowed Pick 1 down to De Bruyne's passing or Kylian Mbappe's pace. I chose the Manchester City man as there are simply fewer elite options in his area of expertise.
Passing is the most fundamental part of the game. A good passer can dictate a match, improve the players around them, and produce moments that lead to decisive goals. No one in world football can pass quite like De Bruyne, so that was my starting point.
Mbappe was off the table by my next turn, so I turned to a man who transformed Liverpool into a winning machine.
Van Dijk's reading of the game and timing of his challenges gives him an edge on every other defender in the world.
At this stage, I felt I was building the most complete, technical player possible. I just needed to add some guile and creativity. That's where Eden Hazard came in.
Adding a player with such unbelievable balance, trickery and control turns my Frankenstein into a true Frankenballer. The other traits from my final three picks were just going to prove complementary.
Paul Pogba's strength on the ball, Harry Kane's knack of scoring goals from any angle or distance and Leroy Sane's speed and directness completed my ultimate player.
5. Richard Fitzpatrick's Superstar
First Pick: Kylian Mbappe, Shooting (5th overall)
Second Pick: Mo Salah, Speed (6)
Third Pick: Erling Haaland, Physicality (15)
Fourth Pick: Casemiro, Defending (16)
Fifth Pick: Andres Iniesta, Dribbling (Replaced 25th pick Sadio Mane)
Sixth Pick: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Passing (26)
Draft Strategy Going In: My primary objective was to get a goalscorer. Goals win football games (and it often only takes one of them to sneak a 1-0 win), and there's arguably no better killer in the game than Mbappe.
The second must-have quality I wanted in my custom-built player was speed. It's such a rare commodity. Mbappe has that, too (as do some of my other picks like Mo Salah and Erling Haaland). I also gambled in waiting to pick Haaland for my third pick, hoping nobody else would scoop him up. After all, he already looks like a creation Dr Frankenstein would have cobbled together for the perfect footballer.
Why My Player Tops the Rest: Look, what more do you need to say about Mbappe? He's already a FIFA World Cup winner at 19 years of age (something Messi has failed to achieve in four efforts) and his rate of goalscoring is terrifying—he's still only 21 and he's racked up four 20-goal seasons (a feat Ronaldo didn't register until he was 22).
Once you have goals guaranteed, you want a player to defend your lead, and that's what Casemiro provides. I decided not to pick a traditional defender because nobody is more effective at tackling and intercepting than Casemiro (who tops those categories in La Liga). He's 28 and in his physical prime. There's a reason he's nicknamed "The Tank."
Mentioning physicality, choosing Haaland for that category was a no-brainer. So too was picking Salah for his speed. When it came to passing, I had to choose the king of assists: Trent Alexander-Arnold. He's been serving it on a plate for Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino for the last couple of seasons at Liverpool—and that's from defence. Can you imagine how effective he'll be when he inevitably moves up to midfield later in his career?
Lastly, I agonised over who best to pick for "dribbling" so much so that I discarded my original draft pick (the wonderful, mercurial Mane), honestly waking first thing the following morning with Andres Iniesta in my mind, so I went for him instead. I'd fight in the street with anyone who reckons there's a better dribbler in the game than Don Andres, the last piece of the jigsaw for an unrivalled laboratory footballer.