World’s Best 20?

Not even good enough to be considered a bridesmaid

So I was putzing around ESPN’s main site and came about this little fun widget thingy.

First, the fact that this was accessible from ESPN’s homepage shows how far soccer has come. It’s often mentioned on Sportscenter and there is usually a highlight or two in every show…and somewhat frequently a great goal or play from the champions league, premiership and or MLS is shown in the top ten.

There was nothing remotely close to this 4 years ago (yes, Soccernet was popular but was treated more like the red haired bastard step child of the Worldwide leader…the Roger Clinton to Bill Clinton as it were). I excitedly filled out my rankings, ignoring the fact that Ballack and Henry were mentioned in the world’s top 20, and where as my bottom 3 and top 3 were fairly consistent with the ESPN sports nation poll, the middle varied drastically. For example, I had both Xavi and Iniesta ranked very high as I believe what they do is bed-wettingly-exciting and Eto’o ranked close to last which seemed the opposite of most people. I personally think the Barcelona creative engine are in the top 6.

Now…2 questions for all of you…First: Who is noticeably absent from this list? I would suggest that Ballack, Henry, Eto’o have no business being there (4 years ago. yes) but I see why they are, as they are who the general public might recognize.

There is also no goalkeeper or defender on this list (Maicon is a defender like Roberto Carlos or Dani Alves are defenders!) which I guess means they cannot be considered an MVP (Cannavaro anyone?). Iker Cassilas deserves to be on this list, if not for the fact that he has been one of the top 3 goalkeepers for over a decade but for this incredible save. Others that should certainly be on this list are Ibra and Aguero amongst others but who else? Your thoughts?

Second…does your ranking list compare to Sportsnations’…aside from Messi, Ronaldo and Kaka in the top three, the only other one I got compared to others was Stevie G at 9.

So have fun with it…remember that ESPN are probably catering to the new somewhat informed fan not the hardcore one, but it does bring up an interesting argument about what is considered an MVP in soccer.

Time and time again, Claude Makelele was considered the MVP by his teammates of every team he played for, but he was about as exciting as…as…as…a very boring thing. He never scored goals, he rarely passed the decisive pass BUT no team won without him. For country he was equally important. He made everyone around him better, did all the dirty things such as make hard tackles, hold up play for the forwards to get there, make the pass that set up the attacking play etc…but never even cracked the ten for FIFA footballer of the year (guess here).

Is a January move to the Premiership in the cards?

And while we’re on the subject of winning players….the same goes for Jay DeMerit at Watford. He was often in the top three voting for  player of the year for Watford and his no nonsense, tough, smart defending was instrumental in Watford getting promoted (he scored the first goal in the playoff final too) and if it wasn’t for their lack of goals they would have stayed up in the EPL.

I hope he gets another chance this transfer window to play in the Premiership. I see him as a poor man’s Jamie Carragher (I say poor man’s only because he hasn’t proved himself at the very top like Carra) and he is what many teams like Everton, Man City, Hull etc. need right now. I would love to have him at Liverpool except that Benitez would never play him even though he is the type of player that Benitez covets.

His only downside is that he’s slow but many great defenders are not blessed with any speed..Terry, Maldini, Blanc to name a few statues. Personally, I think he’s better than Gooch as he doesn’t make many mistakes (I think Carragher vesus Rio Ferdinand is a good comparison between DeMerit and Oneywu) and will be key to the US’s progress in the WC.

So thank you ESPN for trying. You’re getting there. Everyone loves the MVP talk but like in all sports, the real MVPs often get unnoticed.

39 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 1:00 PM


    I’ll comment quickly and then again shortly…

    I’ll leave the Donovan argument up to our readers….and I’ll let you casually know that Sweden and Ibra will be watching from home….

    But holy hell what a terrible list: Gerrard? Ballack?
    I think Eto still

    If I take 2 off I have to put two on…right? I’ll put more…

    How about Sergio Aguero? Diego Forlan? Fanis Gekas? Edwin Van Der Saar?

    and CESC FABREGAS! Ever hear of him….Hmm…..I’m starting a team on a playground and I can take Michael Ballack or CESC FABREGAS!


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 1:03 PM

      Whoa Whoa…I know you are a Liverpool fan and I should treat the poor man’s Jaime Garragher as a compliment to TSG’s boy DeMerit….but….

      DeMerit virtually never complains compared to the big man in the back for Liverpool.

      I would also auger that DeMerit is faster than you think…he can be stood up…like we saw on Fabiano’s brilliant shot in the Confed Cup…but he’ll track you down…


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 1:24 PM

        Just did mine…of course I biased myself with putting Michael Essien…..numero uno–I’ll reserve that column for another day.

        Iniesta at 14th is laughable at best….with Rooney at 6 and Frank Lampard at 13….hysterical.

        Michael Ballack above Essien and Ribery is hysterical as well.


        • Posted by Rhodie on 2009/12/18 at 11:29 PM

          Totally agree with you on Essien (ok, maybe not totally, I think I put him at 7th), but 16th is just laughable


        • Agreed. However, I stopped filing out my top 20 after I discovered Ibrahimovic wasn’t on there.

          Seriously, WTF.


  2. Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/12/18 at 1:29 PM

    Gerrard is still a top 20 player and there is no way Donovan is in the top 20. He is the best US player to be sure but is not world class at the level of making a difference on a top caliber team. He has never proved himself at the top level by any means. Everton is by no means a top level team either but this is a GREAT opportunity for him to make a good name for himself. That said by your argument you are saying that NZ best player (?) is better than than Ibra…i mean Argentina, Germany, France and Portugal almost didn’t make the world cup…clearly than Donovan is better than Messi, Ballack, Ribery and Ronaldo if those 4 don’t go. Donovan is good but has only proved himself in MLS where i think his talents are somewhat wasted. He does well for country but that’s due to the fact that team is very well organized and compliment each other well. Lets see if Everton are down 2-1 away somewhere in Europe, if Donovan can take the game by the scruff of its neck and will them to a 3-2 victory.

    Carragher only complains at the rest of his players as he is the field marshall that organizes the back 4 and the rest of the team. He is always the first take on responsibilty for any mistake that he makes or recognizes when he is not playing well (read any article). After the defeat to Milan in 2007 he didn’t bring up the dodgy first goal or complain about refereeing but just said he lost fair and square. He doesn’t bitch and moan at referee’s the way Masherano, Rooney or Terry do (though does dish out his case through some choice words) or so as far as saying Carragher is a complainer, you couldn’t be FURTHER from fact. Carragher while getting on in his years was always one of the top 3 center backs in England (with Rio and Terry). He doesn’t have Terry’s aerial prowess or Rio’s passing ability but aside from this year Liverpool’s defense since he was a regular in 2003 was one of the most stingiest in the league. DeMerit possesses many of the same qualities hence the poor man’s reference. While i believe he is a premiership caliber defender, the fact is, no one has called.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 1:35 PM

      First, I’m not a huge Stevie G fan….and I biased myself on the fact that he sleepwalks through country games….but in fairness…yes he is easily a top 20 player in the world and probably a top ten player in the Champion’s League.

      Garragher is a great player, but he is on a downslide and that has led him to be very vocal with the referees this year…not in Terryland or Rooneyland…but still is very vocal *this year* with the officiating.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 1:37 PM

      And I agree that Donovan is not there in the top 20 (if I said that this publication would lose most credibility)….but if you are including Ballack in that list than you might as well rank the top 50.


  3. Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/12/18 at 1:46 PM

    I don’t think he sleep walks through England games but just up until now he has been poorly used due to the whole lampard/gerrard debate. Personally i think Lampard is the more skilled player but Gerrard is more tenacious and feared. Capello has finally figured how to use them both though unfortunately at the expense of Joe Cole. Before Lamps was an england regular, Gerrard was huge for england (5-1 win over germany is a great example).

    This is why i think Gerrard and Deuce are very similar in the club/country huge/disappointment talks. I don’t think Dempsey is being played in the right role (Donovans role and Landon is a more skilled player) for the US and he tends to drift to where he wants to play and is more or less confused cause he is focusing on a role that is not used too.

    Gerrard is given a role with Liverpool that brings out the best of his abilities and is given license to roam. With England he has a very specific duty so he isn’t all over the place like he is with club.

    Where we do agree is that Essien is a great player…not a top 3 but i had him in my top 7, mainly cause he is so versatile. I would take him over Rooney, Ronaldo and Drogba. A midfield with Essien, Iniesta, and Xavi would be unstopable

    Ballacks pedigree and career is remarkable but he is no top 20…anymore


  4. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 1:52 PM

    Great conversation here on a quiet Friday Shaun…so much good stuff.

    I think Gerrard is more talented that Lampard, but Lampard is more clinical. Lampard, I see differently he’s a product of being a great team player, fundamentally sound, and nearly always making the right decision–we won’t beat you one-on-one and he won’t do the spectacular as often as Gerrard.

    And by the way…if you/we are speaking for England…James Milner is ON FIRE and deserves a nod in there somewhere…the starting XI that is….

    Agree on Ballack…history gets him on that list….and rightfully so.

    I will never take Michael Essien down from a pedestal….mind you, the man came from ACL surgery in less than 7 months to Premiership soccer…he’s a freak!


  5. Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/12/18 at 1:56 PM

    Milner is playing well…lets see where is in April…Geovanni was AWESOME for Hull last year for the first half too. Milner deserves to go SA though and certainly should get a healthy run out in the friendlies…FYI i just informed my Dad (he’s british) that US and England were in the same group…he had no idea…sigh


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 1:58 PM


      Correct on Milner….if Theo Walcott goes over him (which I doubt happens) it would be a travesty.

      Geovanni was continually awesome and then teams started saying…”We dare anyone else on Hull to beat us…..”

      …this much like everyone doing Giggs’ pieces in the beginning of this year. Great, great player…still integral to success….but not the world beater he once was….


    • Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/12/18 at 1:58 PM

      Essien = Beast and best champs league goal last year…what a shot


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 2:08 PM

        If you click on the About Us page and go to the second link for Michael Essien…the replay there resides….


  6. Posted by pckilgore on 2009/12/18 at 2:16 PM

    Carles Puyol is an absolute underrated beast on defense.

    I hate to think where Barcelona and Spain would be without him. He’s one of those players that doesn’t seem to age – and he’s one of the reasons that a player like Ramos, Alves, Pique can push upfield. He’s that good at covering defensively.

    If I had to build a defense around 1 player right now, it would be him.


    • Posted by sfshwebb on 2009/12/18 at 2:19 PM

      I agree. Only reason i didn’t mention him is that i haven’t watched him this year so didn’t want to comment. Last i saw him he had a bit of a shocker but the last few years he has been great. Another no nonsense, tough defender who rarely if ever makes mistakes…yes i like them types!


      • I wouldn’t say that he doesn’t make mistakes, but given Barca’s style are the mistakes true mistakes or is he caught out covering for someone else who has pushed up. Not to knock him because he’s certainly up there in terms of the level of passion and intensity that he brings to the pitch on a daily basis and he can more than handle himself defensively.


        • Ohh yeah. He messed up bad yesterday in club world cup final letting in that first goal. But, those performances are so few and far between they are hard to hold against him. Usually, he is the last line of D in front of VV and his ability to position himself in a way to cover both the middle, and the right (while Dani Alves is in the opponents penalty box…) boggles my mind.


  7. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 2:28 PM

    Lots of good ideas about columns here….hmm….if I had to build a defense around one defender right now…most likely I’m going with….

    …Puyol is up there…..

    He’s got to be in my top group I would imagine with (and focusing on central defenders): Vidic (calm down on the cards though, man), Chiellini….love the way that guy plays, absolutely non-stop, no quit….and …..Hangeland…he’s up there for me….Vermaelen, that guy is just nasty…


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 4:27 PM

      Couldn’t resist:

      * For those that don’t know, Michael Essien is my favorite player bar none
      * I biased Gerrard because of his play for country

      1. 1.Michael Essien
      2. 2.Lionel Messi
      3. 3.Cristiano Ronaldo
      4. 4.Kaka
      5. 5.Andres Iniesta
      6. 6.Fernando Torres
      7. 7.Didier Drogba
      8. 8.Luis Fabiano
      9. 9.Maicon
      10. 10.Franck Ribery
      11. 11.Wayne Rooney
      12. 12.Xavi
      13. 13.Samuel Eto’o
      14. 14.Steven Gerrard
      15. 15.David Villa
      16. 16.Frank Lampard
      17. 17.Robin van Persie
      18. 18.Andrea Pirlo
      19. 19.Thierry Henry
      20. 20.Michael Ballack


  8. As for this ranking thingy on Soccernet, it’s true they left off many excellent players, but I find it hard to acccurately put these players in any order without more direction. Are we voting on who’s the most valuable to their nation, or are we picking on pure brilliance.

    Either way Essien is in the mix because of his versatility, and all around play in any position; would Ghana be as scary without the Bison? Plus he can hit the 35 yard bombs when needed.

    If we’re talking about value to their nation, I would say Ballack and his big, dumb, German head is pretty valuable (seriously – I don’t like him as a player and probably not as a person) because be plays the Baby Sweatpants role for Germany which allows for the rest of the midfield to worry about their respective roles instead of dropping back to help on D or drop deep to help bring the ball up the field. If we’re talking about the brilliance, then Ballack doesn’t figure in this discussion.

    Same with Frank the Tank, he does his job which allows others to do theirs, and he finds the net somewhat consistently. Not flashy but solid.

    Stevie G is pretty much all brilliance in the high risk/high reward fashion and he hasn’t been paying out lately.

    Henry may be getting up there in age, but he’s still capable of producing some magic. That handball took quite a bit of skill to pull off…

    I agree that the Messis, Kakas, Ronaldos, and Torreseseses of the world are exciting, but each nation can win without them (Portugal just barely) which drops their value to their nation.


    • If we’re basing this on brilliance/excitment:
      1. Messi
      2. Iniesta
      3. Ronaldo
      4. Kaka
      5. Torres
      6. Drogba
      7. Fanck Ribery
      8. Rooney
      9. Essien
      10. Xavi
      11. Gerrard
      12. Fabiano (I haven’t seen him play that much…)
      13. Robin van Persie
      14. Henry
      15. Villa
      16. Maicon
      17. Eto’o
      18. Lampard
      19. Pirlo (he’s pretty washed up, but used to be clinical with that incisive pass)
      20. Ballack


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 4:40 PM

        Completely agreed on Pirlo by the way, not sure why Italy is putting all their stock in a rather slight, 32-year-old with a few knocks….meanwhile Cassano stews….


      • Posted by Kevin on 2009/12/20 at 11:46 AM

        I think Ronaldo is above Iniesta. Ribery seems a little over rated on your list. I would move Rooney and Ribery below Essien and Xavi. so 7 Essien, 8 Xavi, 9 Rooney, 10 Ribery. I’m with you on Fabiano. Everyone says he’s good, but I actually haven’t been able to see him play since the confed cup. Lampard might be a little under rated too, but I don’t really know where to put him I guess I’ll just have to make my own list.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/18 at 4:35 PM

      I feel a piece coming on after this spiked egg nog wears off in 2 weeks….good fodder Patrick, Nick, Shaun….


    • Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/12/18 at 11:46 PM

      I dont’t know man. . it’s hard to drop Messi’s value to Argentina. But stil, they have Higuain, Kun, & Tevez who are all beasts in their own right. and with that said, that’d be a beautiful 4-3-3 to watch in the world cup


  9. Sorry to pimp this on your esteemed site, but if anyone wants to discuss the world’s 20 best players in more detail tomorrow morning at 9am over breakfast skillets and leathal bloddy marys come to

    McMahon’s Pub

    3001 East Lake Street
    Minneapolis, MN 55406


  10. Posted by c2 on 2009/12/18 at 6:13 PM

    Demerit deserves to get a premier league team. In his year there, they didnt lose by a lot, it was one or two goals and Watford never scoring. He is Watford. Against Spain, that was MVP material. Glad to say i went to the same high school as him


    • But see that is kind of a problem. Being a Horn supporter I know that DeMerit is perfectly happy at Watford and he is a freakin’ legend at the Vic. The team is playing well right now and as long as the stupid freakin’ owners don’t screw it all up then we will have a shot at getting into the promotion zone.


  11. Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/12/18 at 11:43 PM

    well when I think about the best players in the world, I think about guys that immediately and overwhelmingly impact the game with their presence, both with club & country. So in no order my top 10(my attention span doesn’t allow me to write up another 10) is:

    Drogba, Messi, El Nino Torres, CR9, Kaka, Essien, Xavi, Casillas, Dani Alves, Carlos Puyol(i know i’m getting slack for this one)


  12. Posted by Smitty on 2009/12/19 at 8:11 AM

    Yo, Nick, I’d take you up on that but the short notice ain’t working. Anybody else in the Twin Cities? E-mail me and maybe we can set up a TSG Supporters gathering. retrobmx (at) hot mail (dot) com

    I don’t have anything to add to this discussion really, but it was fun filling this out. Good to see the World Wide Leader doing all these little things now, and don’t think for a minute that ESPN’s ramped up coverage of Soccer from around the world isn’t changing attitudes on Soccer in the US. Except for at least one: Jim Rome still is a Hater. It’s going to seriously chap his hide when his network goes wall to wall WC coverage this summer.


  13. Posted by kaya on 2009/12/19 at 1:33 PM

    I for one wouldn’t want Claude as my bridesmaid… but on my team, every time.
    They should provide 40 players for 20 spots imo. There are lots of head scratchers for inclusion and omission, but I know their only goal was to make us sit around and argue.
    I have a soft spot for small creative players and feel the english stars have egos twice as big as their skill set. Henry is definitely past his prime, but at least in the games I’ve seen him in, he’s been very skillful and instrumental, so I still put him ahead of a lot of the options on this list, though I agree he misses the top 20. To me, a really great soccer player is someone who is at least as good at making amazing assists as solo efforts, thus the prodigious talents of Ronaldo and Messi get docked… and goes along with my aforementioned problem with english players.
    I guess that’s not fair to strikers, but aren’t they going the way of the compact disc anyway? For the most part, it’s really tough to put GK’s into the rankings with the field players unless you get far more specific with the criteria.

    Given those choices, I ranked them:
    1.Andres Iniesta
    3.Michael Essien
    4.Lionel Messi
    5.Cristiano Ronaldo
    6.Didier Drogba
    7.Fernando Torres
    8.David Villa
    10.Franck Ribery
    11.Robin van Persie
    12.Wayne Rooney
    13.Frank Lampard
    14.Thierry Henry
    15.Steven Gerrard
    17.Luis Fabiano
    18.Samuel Eto’o
    19.Andrea Pirlo
    20.Michael Ballack


    • Posted by Kevin on 2009/12/20 at 6:53 PM

      You said Messi gets dock for his lack of amazing assists, but Messi has plenty of amazing assists to watch over and over. He’s not just a one on one or goal scorer, which is why he’s better than Ronaldo. Messi is the best in the world. Am I the only one that noticed when Ronaldo played for United he was widely in the argument as the best player, but as soon as Madrid bought him Barce’s Messi is pretty much considered the best by everyone? I think sometimes the “best player” is clouded by people who support certain teams.


      • Posted by kaya on 2009/12/20 at 7:11 PM

        Not exactly… but I’ve watched Messi hold on to the ball too long and lose it way too many times.
        I don’t like “best player in the world” arguments in much the same way ranking the 20 given players here is kind of lame. Messi is amazingly talented, but I don’t think he’s the best team player by a longshot.


  14. How abount DaMarcus ehh? Playing his way into January camp.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/20 at 12:55 PM

      Unreal — where does the coach take a shot with him, left back, left half, right half…..

      Suddenly a leftback fight amongst JB, Castillo and DeMarcus has perhaps materialized.


    • Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/12/20 at 9:57 PM

      speaking of old flames getting called back up. Look at Gaucho slowly but surely coming back to form. If he’s even near the level of fitness & domination that he was back in the barca days, El Selecao might actually. . .


      • Posted by kaya on 2009/12/20 at 10:48 PM

        Those party boys always have a way of finding fitness at the last possible moment. Some of them even use the WC itself to get in shape…😉
        Aren’t the selecao scheduled for this go around?


  15. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/12/20 at 12:58 PM

    Oh, Ibra is not listed because it’s players that will be at the World Cup….


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