The golden laurel summer 2011: the 50 greatest players in the world

Introduction

Contents

Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Cristiano Ronaldo

Leo Messi and Xavi get the better of Cristiano Ronaldo: will it be the same in our list?

Welcome to the very first of what we hope is a regular feature on Football Pantheon. At the end of every season and calendar year, we’ll be attempting to sort the reality from the reputation in order to determine the world’s greatest player of the day.

Although this is something of a change for the website, given that this list is based on the present rather than the past, we feel it is in keeping with the overall style. For a start, the players who are viewed as the best in the world at any one time generally enter football’s pantheon themselves. Secondly, we’ll be attempting to sharpen that view by using methods that are objective and as relevant as possible.

On that note, there are a few caveats to this list. This isn’t merely a ranking of the most talented players of the day. There is little doubt, after all, that – for the moment – Steven Gerrard is a higher-quality midfielder than Eden Hazard. However, there is little point in having Diego Maradona’s ability if you cannot actually apply it regularly or maximise it. A player must have used his quality to a certain effect and to lift the overall performance of his team over an extended period of time.

As such, this list attempts to ascertain the extent of a player’s ability and how well he actually applied it. Application is key.

Because of that, there is a natural weighting towards the top teams and competitions. After all, the biggest measure of whether a player is maximising his talent comes in his battles against the rest of the very best players.

On a similar note, it’s less use taking your team to a certain level only to then wilt when the pressure increases. But that’s not to say the ranking excludes those from lesser regarded teams and leagues. Whatever the level, extraordinary achievement demands extraordinary recognition. And if a player was instrumental, say, in lifting a lower-tier side to the Champions League places – for example – then he must be duly recognized.

Because of the nature of this list, it is necessarily more subjective than previous entries on Football Pantheon. But we have still attempted to base it on stats as much as possible.

Share your opinion

39 comments
taaol
taaol

I've come across some splendid remarks here concerning your write-up, and I also concur with them plus the information you've supplied. Thank you so much.


Icecubeguest
Icecubeguest

Neymar ANd Lionel Messi And Cristiano ronaldo And Ronaldinho Are The Best !

footpascher
footpascher

However, it struck me that on the one hand, you know the story of the “Colony: a great PSG or get lost”-banner, and that on the other hand, you seem to ignore the hard times the parisian supporters have been facing since 2010.

Football Pantheon
Football Pantheon

Oh, his ability's actually 16.5 ... although none of the 0.5s seem to have come up in the grid. Irritating.

Iain Duncan
Iain Duncan

Where did you get the 78 for Victor Valdes? If you dont include internationals then he got 32/40 which is 80% or if he gets 0/5 for internationals then he gets 71%. In the list he gets 78

swvolkmann
swvolkmann

I'm sorry but the validity of this otherwise excellent and exhaustive list is obliterated by the omission of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Not even on the 'Players that missed out'. Wow...just...wow. The World Cup 2010 confirmed him as the best central midfielder in the world that isn't Spanish. Granted neither him nor Bayern had storming seasons in 2010-11 but neither did many players on that list. If he was outside the top 25 it would be a bizarre anomaly. But outside the top 50? It's hard to find the words.

Shere_Khan1
Shere_Khan1

No Lahm? No mention of why the only player to be in the team of the tournament at the last 2 world cups missed out? Also i'd suggest Schwienstige.r

MamunHAli
MamunHAli

I like how the list has been compiled and after reading the comments from readers, like the intellect behind the arguments! I cannot argue with the list much either. If I be honest I had almost fallen out of love with football last year (due to not playing much of it myself and other reasons).

Just a shame Stevie G was not in that list anywhere and I really don't want to see the last of his ability... Not yet anyway.

Cant wait for the xmas edition where I hope to see a lot more changes and surprises!

olig23
olig23

An interesting read. Although I cannot fathom how Ronaldo's club form is merely an 18! The guy scored the most goals ever in a single league campaign. Moreover, he has 66 in 63 for Real. I appreciate that players are not judged only on goals but to have Ronaldo and Tevez rated the same is madness, Tevez has been great for City but not anywhere close to being as devastating as Ronaldo.

Shocked
Shocked

This list is a joke.

Modric ahead of Fabregas? Febregas destroyed Madrid in the bernabeau when he was about 19.

Alexis Sanchez at 8? He's only played well in a relatively poor team in a relatively poor league for a year.

I can go on.

Joke.

jirobevis
jirobevis

Tevez seems way too high for me, yes he had a great season but did nothing in Europe or for Argentina, and while he was undoubtedly City's most important player, apart from Chelsea at home I can't remember a big game where Tevez was instrumental.

Similar things can be said about Eto'o, didn't really do much in Europe and didn't compete internationally, Inter were never really contenders for the Scudetto so most of his performances had little significance or importance.

Rooney had a terrible start to the season but for me his contribution to United was far more important that Tevez's to City. Without Rooney United wouldn't have won the league or reached the CL final, without Tevez City would have still won the FA Cup but possibly would have missed out on a top 4, I don't think that warrants being the 5th best player in the world.

Also why is Robben the Budesliga's highest entry, surely last season was all about Dortmund?

Great list as usual though!

joeyslimjim
joeyslimjim

Marcelo had a better season than a lot of players on that list. I think you'll find he is more important to the way Real Madrid play, than what meets the eye. He is essentially another midfielder, and without Marcelo in the team Ronaldo, and the whole team look disjointed and toothless. Apart from Barcelona, Real Madrid never failed to score or lose with him in the side.

Mario Gomez, Van der Sar, Benzema, Borja Velero, Gotze all deserved at least a mention.

aplamm
aplamm

What about Schweinsteiger?

BenTN
BenTN

@MDelaneyST Why does Pastore have 78 and is in 37th when no one until 30th has that score as well? I'm sure it's just a slip, but it's strange

luther_bliss
luther_bliss

Very interesting and impressive list. Difficult to argue with most of it, although I do think that #18 is perhaps a bit harsh on Rooney. Perhaps I'm showing my colours, but I thought that given the guys Rooney had behind him in central midfield, he did exceptionally well in the second half of the season as a no 10, starting many attacks, creating goals and scoring them. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that United would have won the double last season had he played in the Fa Cup semi final against City, such is the way that he orchestrates United's attacks, as we saw on Sunday. Maybe I'm using hyperbole, but I'd say that having Villa and Pedro - who, given the service they received from Alves, Xavi, Iniesta etc, faded a bit after christmas - ahead of Rooney, is harsh to say the least.

y2k156
y2k156

Lot of work has gone on to this and hard to disprove the rankings. We can always argue though:).

For me, DiMaria was way more effective to put RM into where they are as compared to Ozil. I would swap him with Ozil. I also think that Villa at 6 is tad higher than i would have thought of his contributions last year. He was quite good in first half (when Barca were brilliant) but suffered quite a dip in second half when fatigue caught up with him.

Completely agree that Iniesta missing in 2010 (and the long bus ride) where huge factors in Barca's exit against Inter in 2010. Iniesta is a fantastic player and he is key to Barca breaking deadlocks against parked buses.

scott oliver
scott oliver

Hard to disagree with this side, other than, perhaps, to take Tevez out and swap for Suarez. (I am a Liverpool supporter, and don't disagree with the omission of Gerrard...although, I thought he might have merited inclusion in the 'Players who missed out and why' section.)

Of course, the great intangible here is how an individual player's output is affected by his team mates. For instance, you would imagine a virtuoso such as Messi - or, at a level below that, Suarez - flourishing in almost any side. Conversely, players as brilliant as Iniesta might struggle to have the same impact if playing for, say, Blackburn Rovers, where the circulation of the ball isn't quite so impressive. (In the philosophical idiom with which I'm familiar, Iniesta's talent would fail to be actualised, and would thus remain virtual.)

Much as with contemporary debates about the notion of collective, 'swarm' intelligence, this opens the debate about individual talent out on to questions of collective talent - i.e. where the whole displays 'emergent properties' that are more than the mere aggregate of the parts' capacities, but are the result of those parts' interactions (Barcelona and early '70s Ajax provide the best examples here).

SORRY ABOUT MESSING WITH THE SEQUENCE MICHAEL - DELETED AND EDITED AS YOU WERE POSTING !!!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@swvolkmann Cheers but, unfortunately, we didn't include the World Cup as part of our assessment. Just the start of the 2010-11 season. This is what made Schweinsteiger drop so much. Indeed, when we conducted a predecessor to this list in one of other employers at Christmas 2010, Schweinsteiger was in the top 20.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@Shere_Khan1 Only because it was based on form in the 2010-11 season! Lahm didn't replicate his previously excellent World Cup form!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@olig23 Many thanks for the words and comment.Yes, the only reason that Tevez has more than Ronaldo is because, ultimately, Tevez had a more holistic effect on his team's performance. His goals lifted City to the Champions League (hugely important) and also broke a 35-year trophy drought.Ronaldo, by contrast, didn't improve their overall league points and there is an argument, initiated by Jonathan Wilson, that his individuality is a actually a liability for teams in the biggest games. And that actually takes away from his team.

So, in that sense, his goals didn't mean *that* much. But it's still 18 out of 20, which is 9 out of 10... not far off perfect!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@Shocked Or perhaps it's more of a joke that you feel free to pass such critical comment despite not reading how such a list is comprised.Fabregas's performance at the Bernabeu at 19 is irrelevant since the list is primarily based on performances over the last season.Fabregas may have more ability than Modric - as the list actually illustrates if you'd bothered to look through - but he didn't apply it as well over the last season. That is undeniable.

As for Sanchez and a "relatively poor team". Well, surely if he lifted that "relatively poor team to Champions League" then that's a massive achievement?

I could go on.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@jirobevis I suppose the only reason that Robben is ahead is because the 'ability' aspect acts as a control. And, since many of Dortmund's players were so young last season, we still don't have complete idea of their ability.Tevez only so high because he was so important to City making that big breakthrough. But, in their position, there wasn't that much competition for Eto'o, Tevez. Rooney as you say but, unfortunately, we had to take a complete view of season which did stand against him! Expect him to be much higher at end of the year.

Cheers for the words!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@joeyslimjim All very fair points and Marcelo just missed out. He, along with every one of those players you mentioned, should be in those who just missed out.

Except Van der Sar actually... because he retired and is no longer active player by the time list published, we took executive decision to omit him!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@BenTN That is a slip! He should be on 76. A few things like that slipped through. Will rectify!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@luther_bliss I would completely agree on Rooney's late-season form. He was back to his best and approach Ronaldo/Messi levels. But unfortunately for him, the list had to view season as a whole and take into account first few months - where he was miserable! We're updating at Christmas, when I expect him to shoot up.Cheers for kind words too.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@y2k156 Many thanks sir. Interesting point on Di Maria. It's certainly up for debate, as you say!We did a similar list (for the Tribune paper) at Christmas and Villa was fourth so he has fallen in that since. Like many Barca players, though, they're such a fluid system that every player becomes inherently important, if you get me? And they did reach a sensational level last season.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@scott oliver Very interesting thoughts and thanks for the input. In fact, we plan to address this issue a little more in our forthcoming (and biggest!) list: the 100 greatest players of all time.

In something like this, though, we can only go on the evidence we've been given. And how a player applied his ability over the last year. I'm afraid Gerrard didn't at all, so he didn't get near the list.

Re Iniesta at Blackburn... you'd have to imagine he'd impress in patches but appear increasingly frustrated as he consistently tries. Nevertheless, a bigger club woul spot enough in his appearances to snap him up!

swvolkmann
swvolkmann

But as I point out, there are many players that had poor seasons that still command high positions on this list. Sneijder wasn't much better. So Schweiny should have fallen out of the top 10 along with them, but as I say I just can't understand not including him in the top 50. Also the title of the list is 'The 50 greatest players in the world', not 'The 50 best players in the world at the moment' or 'The 50 best players in the world in the 2010-2011 season'. And as I say, I'm just amazed that anyone that knows their football as well as you clearly do not regarding Schweinsteiger as one of the 50 best players on the planet, whatever his form may have been in that period. But at the end of the day it's your list, and as I say otherwise I think it's great.

Shere_Khan1
Shere_Khan1

@MDelaneySTWhy not Di Natale then or Gomez then? They both scored far more goals than Drogba or Forlan. Gomez scored plenty in the champions league.

olig23
olig23

Fair point on Tevez, an I do think he has been hugely important for Manchester City so I certainly can see where you are coming from on that one.

As much as I respect Jonathan Wilson I disagree with him on the Ronaldo argument, and this coming from an Arsenal fan. I think there is certainly some truth that his individuality could be detrimental to the team and that makes sense to me intuitively.

However, if I accept that this current Barcelona side are a once in a generation sort of team I think it is fair to say that Ronaldo has had a hugely positive impact on Real. During his first season Real set their highest points total ever in La Liga and in his second he broke the league record for goals by a single player. Had we not been witness to a truly special side in the form of Barcelona I am sure this Real team would be two time champions in practically all other eras. so I cannot see much evidence that his self serving style has had a negative impact on the team.

Ne3vertheless, I think this is a good read and of course there are always going to be aspect people disagree on. I just cannot believe I am defending Cristiano Ronaldo!

Shocked
Shocked

@MDelaneyST

I did look through how the list was compiled - and if your formula throws up such obvious errors maybe you should consider that it is the flaw.

Stats show that Fabregas created more chances per minute of on-field play than any other player in europe last season. If Messi suffers a hamstring injury this year are we to assume that he is no longer the world's best player?

"Hulk: The reason as brilliant as he was, the feeling remains he need a bit more road-testing on the biggest stage"

Ganso is on the list. Identify the big stage he excelled on last season.

Di natale scored 28 goals in 36 Serie A league games and doesn't make the it.

Alexis Sanchez is at position 8 because of his achievements. I don't contest that he should be on the list but putting him ahead of Vidic, Casillas etc. is a joke.

I stand by my opinion.

MyrmidonMaristrotc
MyrmidonMaristrotc

Iniesta at Blackburn would probable have an impressive season amidst inferior teammates, aka Charlie Adam at Blackpool.

@MDelaneyST

swvolkmann
swvolkmann

Ok we'll have to agree to disagree! Take care and keep up the good work, look forward to the next installment of this series. Will be looking for Schweiny's position with interest given his form this season! ;)

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@swvolkmann Schweinsteiger should, admittedly, be in players who just missed out.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@swvolkmann We were actually going to call it exactly that: 'the 50 best players in the world in the 2010-11 season'... but unfortunately it was far too unwieldy (if still accurate) so just included the prefix 'summer 2011'. The rankings are exclusively taken from 2010-11 and Sneijder did drop considerably form his position in late 2010! He'll drop even further when we update it at the end of the year!

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@Shocked If you looked through how the list was compiled then why did you mention Fabregas's performance at the Bernabeu when he was 19. And we saw that Fabregas stat. But we also saw when he did and didn't create chances.

And, if Messi did get a hamstring injury then, although he would undoubtedly remain the most talented player in the world, he wouldn't - for example - be in contention for a Ballon D'Or. And, in fact, his ability rating on this list would keep him very high.

Ganso was utterly superb in the Copa Libertadores and Brazil's best player in the Copa America.

Di Natale just missed out. If there were 100 players, he would have made it. But 50 isn't that big a number. His goals weren't as important to Udinese as Sanchez's overall influence - which any Serie A watcher pretty much agrees. Sanchez was named the best player in the division by most pundits last season. Either he or Cavani. He also bolstered it with a good Copa America.

And he's also exceptionally talented. More so than Casillas and Vidic, whose performances he arguably matched/probably surpassed.