Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Like millions and millions I have no doubt that Messi is the best footballer in the world today. No one comes anywhere near him as far as creativity, grace and elegance are concerned. He is a pure delight to watch. I agree with Barca coach Pep Guardiola’s assessment of him: “He is the best player in the world by some distance from the rest.” But The World Player of the Year 2010? In my view, no.

There is no contradiction in the above really. Just as the best team in a tournament does not always win the trophy, the best player need not be the best player award winner in a particular year. When his team knocked out Barcelona in the semi finals of the Champions League last year, Jose Mourinho observed that Inter Milan had defeated the best team in the world. When Arsenal defeated Barcelona in the first leg of the pre-quarter finals of the same tournament this year, its coach Arsene Wenger said virtually the same thing. Was Italy the best team in the 1982 edition of the World Cup? Certainly not; it was almost indisputably Brazil, but Brazil was eliminated in the second round. With Maradona maturing, Zico was arguably the best player in the world then, but in 1982, it was Rossi, who received the best player award. He played well only from the second round stage of the finals (not a mean achievement really). In the year of the World Cup, performance in the World Cup must matter. Although Messi did not play badly, unlike the much (in fact too much!) hyped Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo in the last World Cup finals and Ronaldinho in the 2006 World Cup finals, he did not play up to expectations. He did not impact a match, and did not score a single goal. And it was not just in the finals; his performance in the earlier matches for that World Cup was nothing much to write home about.

World Cup finals is the ultimate stage where a player must demonstrate his class. Many outstanding players do not get a chance to play in the finals. The brilliant Samuel Eto’o is a case in point. More often than not, a player’s career is made or marred here. After his disappointing performance in the 2006 World Cup finals, Ronaldinho was never as highly rated as he was before. These apart, at that stage one plays for one’s country - one plays for both an abstraction with so much meaning and a living reality in the form of real humans. There is quite something at stake. Sometimes a victory enlivens a day or two of a cheerless people, giving them something to celebrate. Dealing with people’s hopes, fears and expectations can be tough and can affect one’s performance. In brief, doing well at the World Cup finals is the supreme test of a player’s talent, skill and character. This is why World Cup finals is so special.

Some are excellent club level players, but they do not do very well in their respective national teams. Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo, etc. – the list is long. There may be genuine reasons: at the club level the coordination among players is far better than at the national level, sometimes at the national level a player has to play in a position where he normally does not at the club level, which is how Ronaldinho tried to explain his failure in the 2006 World cup finals, and then one like Drogba plays with many more talented players in his club team than in the national team, etc. These apart, there are conspiracy stories, always spicy- there was a rumour that Maradona did not want Messi to do well at the world stage out of jealousy! Not having the resource to separate fiction from fact, if at all it is doable in the conspiracy stories, we have little to do with such things. In any case, there are players too who have done very well at both levels: more recently, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho (despite 2006), Zinedine Zidane, Ballack, Klose, Nesta and Luis Figo, among many others.

So I am uncomfortable when in the year of the World Cup the World Player of the Year award goes to someone who did not impact any match he played in the finals and did not score a goal. Notwithstanding the fact that that someone is the best player of the world today!

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