When writing an article on why I felt Ronaldo was the best player in the world, just a shade ahead of Messi, it got me to thinking – exactly how had I come to this conclusion – yes I know many of you felt the only way I had come to this conclusion was wrongly, but how did you decide that? In fact, Ronaldo and Messi aside, exactly how do we define a top player? Is it one who can do it across the major leagues in Europe, or one who has been at a club for their entire career and has become a legend? Or do you measure a player by how many trophies they have won – either as an individual or as a team?
Obviously the first requirement for a world class player is talent. No amount of work ethic will make up for a complete lack of ability, and to be really special a player must be able to pull something out of the bag when their team needs it most. This might come during a Classico at the Camp Nou or on a tough night away at the Britannia – either way a top player can change tight games through that little bit of magic and that is what makes them just that little bit better than run of the mill players.
Take a Casillas or a Messi – when their team is struggling to find the break through, they are able to produce just that extra spark to inspire their team and either dig in for that result through a brilliant save or break down a tough defence through a little bit of magic that then wins the game.
All that being said, a top player must be willing to put the effort in, not just during the run up to big games, but everyday on the training ground. A lazy player does not make a top player, and it is the work ethic that can separate very good players from great players. Take someone like Frank Lampard- whilst a talented player, he is no Xavi, and would be the first to admit that, but Lamps has managed to build a career at the very top of the game over a sustained period of time and has done this through working hard on the training pitch day in day out, practicing free kicks, penalties and timing his runs into the box with precision. Beckham is much the same – yes there was ability, but it was work ethic and all those practice sessions that made his right foot such a game changer.
It is said work ethic that can win over a manager and fans alike, and especially in the Premier League, we appreciate players who try hard and wear their heart on their sleeves. A player does not have to be the creative spark or even the defensive rock to be a special player. Take Claude Makelele – a more understated player you could not find, yet without him both Real and then Chelsea realised what a huge gap the little French man left. It is players such as this, or a Scott Parker, who you may not notice at the time, but are the ones who can make all the difference. Just because they are not getting nominated for the golden boot or Ballon d’or, does not mean someone is not a top player.
Individual plaudits are not the be all and end all – it is easy for certain types of players to get overlooked if they are not that galactico in the team, or are around in an era of so many greats – most midfielders will pale in comparison to Kaka or Iniesta, and will not make individual award shortlists, but it does not mean that they are not what we should consider to be a top player. For years Cesc Fabregas has been over looked in both the Spanish national side and also when it comes to midfielder of the year awards because Xavi and Iniesta were ahead of him. Does this mean he is not a top player and you would not have him in your team – as Arsenal fans will testify, of course not.
Much the same, do we judge if someone is a top player on collective trophies they have amassed through their career – whilst some will say that a player is only remembered by the amount of major trophies they won, I suggest Alan Shearer and Newcastle fans would beg to differ. After a Premiership title at Blackburn and a subsequent move, Shearer did not win another major trophy at the magpies, yet is both remembered as a prolific goal scorer and a legend in Geordie land – a more loved player you will struggle to find.
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There are some players who just through sheer luck and timing can win a surprising amount of trophies – more than they really deserved to win, and all because they were at the right club during the right time. Look at Wes Brown and O’Shea – they were at United for years, and won more league titles than most, but does it mean that either of them are better than say a player like Stevie G or Carragher – who have never won a Premier League title? Does this mean they are not top players – of course not. You find me a person who would not have Gerrard at his peak in their dream team and I will show you a liar – or, like myself, a very biased Frank Lampard fan.
Many people believe that what can distinguish a player from the rest is their ability to perform at the highest level in the top leagues around Europe, and be able to not only handle say the physicality of the Premier League, but the technical level in La Liga and the tactical requirements in Serie A. Look at someone like Larsson, Rudd Van Nistelrooy or Henry – they can do it not just in one top league, but across Europe.
How often does a player come from Holland, or even Spain, and fail to acclimatise to the pace of the Premier League? People underestimate how hard it is going to a foreign country, to a different style of club and a different way of life – hell Fernando Torres couldn’t navigate a move from Liverpool to London.
Certain players have a versatility about them, and can adapt to any league and any team and still perform at the highest level – look at Ronaldo. Other players simply can’t cope with the pace and physicality of the Premier League compared to say in Italy – look at Shevchenko. Of course you also have players who can’t cope in either England or Spain – take Mateja Kezman, who may have seemed to be a prolific goal scorer in native Holland, but anywhere else in Europe made him look like a one legged donkey on a bad day.
That being said, you will always get players who are more faithful to their clubs than their wives throughout their career, and as Ryan Giggs will testify, staying at one club for your entire career does not mean you are not a top player. In fact it can mean you are a very, very good player.
Giggs has won more throughout his career than anyone could dream of when starting out in the youth team, and more than deserves every trophy he has collected. To stay at the top of your game at such a big club and still manage to play every week despite the talent that is bought in means that you are indeed a very special player. Sometimes a dynasty at a club can mean more than a big money move or the chance of more titles, and certainly does not mean you cannot cut it in other leagues across Europe.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to tell you that because someone has been loyal to Rotherham their entire career and have stayed in the first team all that time that they could cut it at the San Siro, I think they might struggle, but I am trying to enforce the point that being at one club for a life time does not mean someone is less of a player than those who have experience in other major leagues.
Finally, to be a top player, more than a one season wonder is required, and when you look at players like Gary Neville or Zanetti, who remained at the very top of their game for so long, how can you say these players are not both consummate professionals and someone that you would give your right arm for in any first team? In an age filled with Carlos Tevez’ it speaks volumes that there are still professionals like Lampard around, and without a doubt, this more than makes someone a top class player.
So there you have it – all the requirements I think are needed to become a top player. Of course to be a top player it helps to have a special manager, and this is something that cannot be underestimated when looking at how far a player has come in their career. There are many factors that make a top player, and I’m sure you will have a couple more for me. Who do you think is a top player – and why? Comment below or follow me on twitter @RebeccaKnight01