Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Who's Number One? (Part 1: Leo Messi)

Who is the best player in the world at the moment? It's a question that many football fans will ask, and it can often bring up an interesting debate. However in the past ten years we have had obvious answers to the question of who is the top player in the world, players like Ronaldinho, Zidane and Ronaldo were the easy answers, top players playing at the top of their game.

But now, we've got a much more interesting selection of players to choose between. What I'm wanting to do here is present the arguments for the three players who are, in my opinion, the top three in the world. I'll give a few reasons for each one, let you know who I think is number one, and you can form your own opinions and let me know who you think is the best, or if there is anyone I've missed. I'll split this up into three posts so I can write a substantial amount for each player.

So I'll get started with a certain Argentinian forward I think you may have heard of...

Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona & Argentina)
Date of Birth: 24 June 1987 (age 22)
Place of Birth: Rosario, Argentina
Position: Winger/Striker

Perhaps the most obvious choice when it comes to the world's best players, Lionel Messi has been astounding football supporters and pundits alike ever since he broke into the Barcelona first team in 2004 at the tender age of 17. As with all young Argentinian stars, Messi was constantly touted as "the next Maradona", and no-one has ever deserved that title more. After some memorable performances and goals (almost too many to mention), and being the current holder of the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards, Messi has truly earned his place in this list of the top footballers in the world.

At Barcelona, Messi is in the best team possible to nurture his abilities. He will play as a part of a front 3, often partnered by top players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry and Andres Iniesta. It would be hard to define Messi as having one position, he plays in the centre, he plays out wide, he cuts inside, he comes deep to get the ball, he breaks the offside trap, he does EVERYTHING. Messi can steal the show, as he has done so many times, he can win the game with an outstanding solo performance, but his teamwork is something that is often ignored. He has an unbelievable ability to pick out a pass, and his movement off the ball, making space for team-mates, is phenomenal.

Another of Messi's amazing abilities is his balance. This is one of my favourite things about his game, and it isn't really mentioned much. When you watch Messi running at defenders, no matter how tall or powerful these defenders are, it seems like he can never be knocked over. I remember watching last year's Champions League Final against Manchester United, and the only times Messi was on the ground was after he was fouled. At a height of 5'7", and with a pretty slight figure, the way he can keep his balance under pressure from big defenders is nothing short of a miracle.

The current debate regarding Messi is whether he has now surpassed the ability of Maradona in his prime. Because I have been watching Messi all through his professional career, and Maradona's best years were before my time, I would love to say that Messi is now the superior player. Unfortunately I don't think I can say that... Yet. Maradona is often named as the greatest player of all time, and everything I have seen and heard of him he just seemed like a truly special player. Messi is special too, but he is young. Ask me again in three years and I'm hopeful that I would say yes.

Football fans should watch Leo Messi play as much as possible. For me, he is currently the best player in the world. So enough talk about the genius that is Messi, let's allow a bit of his football to do the talking. Here's a nice compilation of some of his best moments, its truly amazing. Watch it right until the end, the best clip is the last one.

So that's it for Leo Messi, tell me what you think of him, is he better than Maradona? Do you think he is overrated? Leave a comment.

Next time I'll be talking about the man who is carrying England's World Cup 2010 hopes on his shoulders. Watch this space.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

WC2010: Whos Going? (Part 5)


Due to the lack of coverage that we have here of the Asian qualifying, Japan have been a bit of an unknown quantity for most football fans in Europe. Now qualifying for their fourth consecutive World Cup, they will be looking to improve on their Second Round exit in 2002, their best result so far.

Qualifying was fairly straightforward for the Samurai Blue, ending up in second place, losing only one game in the final qualifying group, brushing aside the likes of Bahrain, Qatar and Uzbekistan. I've not really managed to get a proper look at them during this qualifying campaign, but from what I've seen they do look very confident and ready to impress in South Africa. Also, as part of their World Cup warm-up schedule, they will play against England at the end of May, so I'm sure we will be able to watch that game here.

Japan are drawn into Group E alongside the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon. This is a really tricky group for them, will bring up some great matches.

Star Man: Shunsuke Nakamura

Since the retirement of Hidetoshi Nakata in 2006, there is now only one man who could ever be chosen as Japan's top player, Shunsuke Nakamura. A bit of a hero of mine thanks to his four years at Celtic, Naka is still capable of some real moments of magic. However at 31 years old, he isn't getting any younger and it's widely regarded that this will be his last World Cup.

His game is quite expansive, his off the ball movement is hard to beat, his vision to pick out the killer pass can bamboozle any defense, and of course he can take a mean free kick. He may be a bit past his best, but Naka still has the ability to light up any football game.

Player to Watch: Keisuke Honda

Currently, Japan seem to have a good number of young players starting to emerge onto the national scene, Honda is one player who has done just that. Capable of playing anywhere on the left-hand side, Honda possesses the talent that could really make him a big star.

After two successful seasons at VVV Venlo in Holland (scoring 24 goals in 68 appearences), Honda has now been snapped up by Russian giants CSKA Moscow and has already endeared himself to their fans by scoring a last minute winner in their match against Amkar Perm.

I do recommend you keep your eyes on Honda, if Japan are going to have any success this summer, then you can be sure Honda will play a big part in that.

Prediction: High hopes and a decent squad, but their group is just too tough, expect them to finish 3rd or 4th in Group E.


Definitely one of the most interesting qualifiers in this year's World Cup for several reasons, North Korea will be one of the nations everyone will want to see this Summer. Their one and only World Cup appearance prior to this was back in 1966, where they managed to stun the footballing world by reaching the Quarter Finals, where they were beaten by Eusebio's Portugal. What followed was 40 years of obscurity, with the national team rarely coming close to qualifying for any of the future Finals. However they managed to put up a good attempt in 2006, and now they have managed to go one better and secure qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

The phrase 'unknown quantity' is the only way to describe the DPRK national team for me. I haven't been able to watch many of their qualifiers, and honestly I don't know any of their squad, with the vast majority of their players playing in their home domestic league. Thanks to that, this section will be a bit shorter than for other nations. But hopefully I will be able to remedy that soon, with them taking part in this year's Kirin Cup and a few other friendlies lined up for them.

It seems that DPRK prefer a defensive approach to their play, with their defense becoming famously hard to break down. It will be interesting to see how their defense fares in their group, alongside Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. Perhaps the likes of Luis Fabiano, Pato, Cristiano Ronaldo and Drogba might be a little bit too much for them.

Prediction: Would be a major upset if they managed to get out of their group, I'll say they will finish 4th in their group after a valiant display.


Now to continue this Asian-themed post, we move on to the other Koreans, South Korea. In the world of football, they are a bit more recognisable than their neighbours to the north, having competed in seven World Cup finals and managing to make it to the Semi-Finals in 2002. This year's qualifying started out a little tricky for the Taegeuk Warriors, with some poor performances in the third round of qualifying, but they still advanced to the final round and began to really show their dominance, brushing aside the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and earning a key 1-1 draw away to Iran.

Generally regarded as Asia's most successful footballing nation, South Korea have now built a squad which has a lot of European pedigree and big-match experience, and a good few recognisable names. You may remember the likes of Ahn Jung-Hwan, the striker who scored the winning goal against Italy in 2002, Seol Ki-Hyeon, who spent six seasons in England. Also recognisable are players like Park Ji-Sung, Lee Young-Pyo and Celtic starlet Ki Sung-Yong.

South Korea find themselves in Group B, up against Argentina, Nigeria and Greece. Not an easy group by any means, but I think the Taegeuk Warriors will really fancy their chances of passing through to the last 16.

Star Man: Park Ji-Sung

It really couldn't be anyone else, team captain Park Ji-Sung is the nation's most famous, most recognisable and most talented player. We know him from his five seasons at Manchester United, where he always provides a tireless and committed performance, making him a real favourite with the fans. Sir Alex Ferguson was famously quoted as saying that leaving Park out of the 18-man squad for the 2008 Champions League Final was one of the hardest decisions he had ever made as a manager.

Personally I am a big fan of Park Ji-Sung, his effort and determination is unbelievable, and despite being an automatic selection for his national team, he still shows that desire and hunger to win every time he plays. A real role model for a lot of young players, he has evidently influenced such young stars as Ki Sung-Yong, his new midfield partner and heir to his throne. I expect Park to play every minute of South Korea's involvement in the 2010 World Cup, and he will be hoping he can lead his side to some more success.

Player to Watch: Park Chu-Young

Park Chu-Young is a revelation in South Korea, in a nation that produces a lot of technical midfield players, he has emerged as the complete forward that they have been searching for for a long time. Playing with AS Monaco in France, Park is rapidly becoming one of the top strikers in Ligue 1, leading the attack for Monaco and scoring regularly.

He has a lot of valuable attributes and elements to his game that have got him to where he is today, he is very intelligent on the field, great with the ball at his feet, and very talented in the air. He will be an automatic choice for South Korea this Summer, and I'm sure he will come up with a few goals and really make a great impression.

Prediction: I think South Korea will have a really strong showing this year. They have a great opportunity to advance from their group, and with a good system and a kind draw they could make it into the Quarter Finals and really cause a stir. I'll stick to a Second Round exit though.