The World Cup is off until Tuesday for the semifinals. So with a break in the action, why not throw up an arbitrary list of the Top 10 players in the world? Everyone loves lists and the arguments that ensue. The European transfer mill is only now just getting over its case of blue balls caused by the World Cup, meaning its only a matter of time before any standout player from Brazil is linked to every club in England.
Most of this listed will be skewed off the World Cup, so it’s why you won’t see many Spanish National Team players. Manchester City’s Yaya Toure probably makes the list before the World Cup, but his performance was forgettable in Brazil — justifiably as his brother passed away on the eve of the tournament. One notable player who missed out on Brazil merits inclusion.
Just missed: Yaya Toure, David Luiz, Gareth Bale, Marco Reus, Diego Costa, Aaron Ramsey, Angel Di Maria, Vincent Kompany.
10. Thibaut Courtois, goalkeeper (Belgium/Chelsea): Americans should be cursing the tall Belgian’s name after he saved Clint Dempsey’s would-be equalizer in extra time following a masterfully executed set piece by the Americans. Courtois also stoned Lionel Messi 1-on-1 in the quarterfinals, allowing only two goals in open play during the tournament, backing up his excellent club season with La Liga winners Atletico Madrid. It’s a shame he is finally being recalled by Chelsea. (Guess we’ll all be cursing his name soon enough.)
9. James Rodriguez, midfielder (Colombia/AS Monaco): Six goals in five World Cup games put the 22-year-old on track to win the 2014 Golden Boot. Should he be higher on the list based off these five games? Even though Monaco is trying to buy its way into the big-time, it’s only a matter of time before Rodriguez ends up (inevitably) at Real Madrid. Independent of the money, it’s certainly more appealing to play for the most prestigious club in the world rather than one which plays in a half-empty stadium on top of a parking garage. If and when James moves to Madrid, he won’t be the go-to goal scorer like he was for the Falcao-less Colombia.
The fact we’re even considering him for a world Top 10 list goes to show how great he was in Brazil, when most saw him play for the first time.
8. Philipp Lahm, right back/defensive midfielder (Germany/Bayern Munich): Call Lahm’s inclusion a token spot for a German player. The World Cup semifinalists deserve a player within a Top 10 list. Maybe it’s sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer. Yes, Thomas Müller scores goals, but that’s a product of clever movement mixed with some good luck. If you’re building a team, how far down the line do you pick Müller? He’s a great, useful player, but more of a complementary one. Mesut Özil has been subpar for Germany, while Bastian Schweinsteiger isn’t 100 percent. Lahm is excellent at right back and useful in defensive midfield. Maybe this is a legacy pick, akin to Derek Jeter still making the All Star team.
Call Lahm the best representation of Jogi Löw’s German collective depth.
7. Paul Pogba, midfielder (France/Juventus): Why is Pogba higher on the list than James? Excellent rhetorical question, Mike. For one, Pogba is a year younger and has already integrated himself as vital component of Juventus, the Serie A winners. Like James, Pogba is the subject of huge, $75+ million transfer rumors. Unlike James, those huge numbers were in place before the World Cup. Everyone in club soccer knows how good the 21-year-old can become.
The easy label here is to call Pogba the next Patrick Vieira. That’s a semi-lazy comparison and selling Pogba’s potential short. A 6-foot-2 stud who can dribble, win balls in the midfield and score sensational goals doesn’t come along all that often. Again, to use the “building a team” scenario, Pogba might be the first off the list for a lot of managers since he can do it all.
Bonus points for great hair, too.
6. Neymar, winger (Brazil/Barcelona): Until taking the knee to the back from Juan Zúñiga, Neymar showed he could carry Brazil offensively in the World Cup. Perhaps the fractured vertebrae is a fluke, contact injury. You just have to wonder with his slight build, how long Neymar will be able to continue doing what he does best. One of the marvels of his club teammate, Lionel Messi, is he’s avoided any significant injuries.
5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, striker (Sweden/PSG): Too high for a guy who’s only dominating France’s Ligue 1? Nah.
4. Luis Suarez, striker (Uruguay/Liverpool?): During the 2013-14 season with Liverpool, Suarez did his best to make people forget about all his baggage, scoring 31 goals in 33 Premier League games and helping the Reds book a spot in the Champions League. Naturally he goes out and eliminates England from the World Cup and follows that up by biting another opponent. Now he’s trying to force a big-money move to Barcelona. Absolutely devastating, but maddening player — one you’d take on your favorite team, albeit with a lot of sighs of regret.
3. Arjen Robben, free range attacker (Netherlands/Bayern Munich): There is something weird, crazy and unique about Arjen Robben (amazingly only 30 years old!). For one, he’s all left foot. You know he’s a) going to cut inside and b) theatrically sell minimal contact, yet opponents at the World Cup haven’t been able to stop him. This goes against the grain of Twitter group-think, but perhaps Robben is always on the ground writhing in pain because the only way opponents can stop him is by fouling or muscling him.
Watching Robben in Brazil has been fascinating, as he’s basically operated as a solo artist, getting the ball and then driving straight to the goal and trying to make something happen, like an undersized, me-first point guard in basketball. You don’t have to like him, but you do need to respect him. Plus let’s remember sports are a lot more fun with balding villains who look about 55 years old.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, winger (Portugal/Real Madrid): As painful as it was for Americans at the time, watch that cross in the 95th minute in Manaus again. Ronaldo didn’t exactly have a “bad” World Cup, all told, but depending how these final matches play out, the gap between him and the No. 1 player on the list will continue to grow, as Messi adds to his legacy with a potential World Cup triumph with Argentina.
It’s not really Ronaldo’s fault, is it, he happens to play in the same league and at the same time as the G.O.A.T.?
1. Lionel Messi, god, (Argentina/Barcelona): The best player in the world is 5-foot-7.