It’s been a period of choosing the world’s best players today, so Cricket Soccer is jumping on board. But for once, a defender has made the top 5 list, but where?
All the usual disclaimers have to apply when compiling a list of the world’s best footballers. Why isn’t player x included? On what planet is player y not one of the top 5? Why are you so biased against (include name of generic top European club here …).
Neymar is excluded on the grounds he’s a theatrical irrelevance in a one-horse race. Zlatan is omitted because he’s playing exhibition football. Luis Suarez is left out on the grounds that I can’t willingly include a player who tries to eat his opponents, no matter how long ago it was.
5 – CRISTIANO RONALDO
The question: “What precisely is Cristiano Ronaldo?” elicits a whole glut of possible answers. But as a showman he remains unrivaled. That’s a loaded compliment: even at the age of 33 he still seems to be able to summon a rage whenever the match situation demands it – and quite often when it doesn’t.
As tempting as it is to leave him out for any number of reasons, you just can’t.
Pundits are suggesting he may be on the wane, but scoring rate of a goal every other game for Juventus (against Italian defences) would, in any other era, mark him out as an elite striker. What’ll happen when he settles?
4 – LUKA MODRIC
Champions League winner, FIFA Men’s footballer of the year, but another player who can elude the untrained eye. People who “know” football, as opposed to people given jobs by Mike Ashley, have always rated Modric. Part of the Croatia side that stopped England qualifying for Euro 2008 by tactically outwitting Steve McClaren (readers are once again invited to fill in their own punchline here). Modric returned to haunt them in the second half of the World Cup semi-final, running the game against a team that seemed to have burned itself out in the first 45 minutes.
Just as crucially he had the nerve to take a penalty in the shoot-out in the quarter-finals against Russia having missed in extra-time a few minutes earlier, when lesser players would have been “doing an Anelka.”
3 – LIONEL MESSI
As with Ronaldo, the only grounds for excluding him would be that he’s too obvious.
Blaming Messi for Argentina’s failure to win the World Cup is a bit like blaming the fire brigade for an arson attack. After Messi dragged them into the second round, the lack of support he got from elsewhere in the team finally caught up with them against France in the last 16, largely thanks to this man.
2 – NGOLO KANTE
“Il est petit, il est gentil, il a stoppé Lio Messi.” English Premier League winner in 2016 and 2017, World Cup winner in 2018, Kante is the Claude Makele you actually notice, or the Didier Deschamps you can like. Kante is like a turbo-charged trouble-shooter, putting out fires all over the pitch and starting them wherever he needs to. Regularly described as an unsung hero, something you can’t, by definition, be when a crowd of approximately one million have sung your name during a victory parade on the Champs Elysees.
1 – DIEGO GODIN
A classic, old-school defender in a classic old-school defence, built on an idea, discredited in some quarters, that defenders are there to stop attackers. Watching Atletico Madrid smother Arsenal in the Europa League semi-final second leg was a painful reminder for Gunners fans of the Tony Adams era. He can “play” when he has to, but that isn’t the point. Defenders aren’t supposed to make life easy for strikers and Godin is the best active representative of a philosophy too many coaches have abandoned.