Can quality in football be defined?

Football has always been a game which divides opinion and certain issues polarise people further. In many a debate or commentary will you hear someone branded as “quality.” Actually defining it though is difficult.

Classifying quality is something very subjective; such is the gregarious nature of football. Everyone involved in the game whether they are a fan, player or chairman has their own views on how it should be played and how it should be run. In this way, even in England, each fan will have their ideas of what quality is. A Stoke supporter used to the direct style of Tony Pulis may have a differing vision of quality to an Arsenal fan used to the flowing football Arsene Wenger has preached in North London for the last 15 years.

What’s more they will have an opinion on who is quality and who isn’t quality. The greatest player of all time, that is to say the player with the most quality, is something consistently debated for example. Some feel the best players were from yesteryear and include the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff in their argument. Others more familiar to 21st century football can’t get their head around the twinkle toed maestros that are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. However this is the beauty of the debate for several and the bane for others. No matter how strong your opinion is on the matter or whether you have a plethora of statistics at your mercy, there is no correct way of proving which player is the best.

Even if the statistics may show for example that Pele has a much better record than Messi, the debate will probably have to wait until the Argentine finishes his playing career to do a more accurate comparison. What’s more, who you play against affects your supposed quality. Was Pele playing against lesser defenders than Lionel Messi is now?

This is where the argument becomes relative, for a team or a player’s quality is dependent on what league they are playing in. Gateshead’s striker Jon Shaw is quality in the Blue Square Premier as the current top scorer in the division. However, compare him to Wayne Rooney and it’s much harder to call him quality.

At the higher level, it’s perhaps easier to define. “Barcelona are absolute quality,” is a phrase you would have probably heard from many a begrudging Manchester United supporter after the demolition their team suffered at their Catalan rivals in the Champions League final in May.

If the best are “quality” though, then where does everyone else fit in? Football is not necessarily worse off from not knowing exactly what quality is. Trying to decide who’s good and who’s bad in football fuels hours of endless debates on the radio, in the pub or at work.

Raphael Honigstein’s book “Englischer Fussball” appreciates how fans in different countries appreciate different styles as the German football writer recounts a conversation with José Mourinho. “Italy has the tactical league, Spain the technical one.” He continues, “And in England passion dominates,” emphasising how various elements are valued in different footballing cultures.

There is one quote which accurately pinpoints the nature of quality in football.

“Beauty is in the eye of beholder.”

Ultimately, there is no correct answer as to what quality is. It comes down to any lover of football’s personal taste. It’s for the best that quality remains indefinable in the sport. After all, it leaves greater room for new sides to leave an impression on us and the beautiful game. Quality is something that as long as football is played will be redefined for years and years to come. That doesn’t mean however there will be any universal agreement on what it is in football.

Do you think it can be defined? What are you views? Feel free to comment below.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, then why not follow me on Twitter – @arhindtutt – Or visit my blog ‘Gone with the Rhind’ for more football opinion

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