World-class, similar to the word ‘legendary‘, gets thrown around far too easily. Those fans and pundits, alike, brandishing the two phrases at the drop of a hat is as irritating, as it is incorrect. The two don’t go hand-in-hand; for instance, to be regarded as a legend, we think it’s pretty essential that you’ve spent X amount of time at a club to have such a status.
Let’s say eight years? Fair enough? Luis Suarez can never be considered a legend at either Liverpool or Barcelona as this creates a licence for the word to be thrown around with such ease. World-class at both clubs, though? Definitely.
So what makes a player world-class? The definition for the term goes by…
“Being among the best or foremost in the world; of an international standard of excellence”.
If you break it down by taking the first case of that phrase: ‘being the best in the world’ – so, naturally, take the positions from your No. 10’s right down to your No. 1’s. There can only be a select few, the ‘best’ in a certain position. Saying there could be several for each position is void, there can’t be; this kills the meaning of ‘best’. As a rule of thumb, there can naturally be no more than five for each position.
This does not mean the ‘five’ best for that position are all automatically ‘world-class’, but as a maximum for their position; there has to be limit, which we don’t think Rio Ferdinand quite gets…
Rio Ferdinand: “Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic are world-class superstars. We’re now back into signing world-class players." #MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtdUpdates_) January 12, 2017
It is to be effective regularly, on all stages, for a substantial period of time. For example, the Mesut Ozil debate. Effective regularly? No. Big games? No. One of the top five No.10s in the world? No. You do the math; not world-class, never has been, and never will be. The German’s ability to drag Arsenal through a Champions League match, or drag them to a Premier League has not been there for the German’s time in north London; he’s not worthy of the status.
Take Diego Costa. Effective regularly? Yes. Took both Atletico and Chelsea to domestic honours. Big games? Yes; Champions League semi-final, Madrid Derby, top of the table Premier League clashes – surely says enough. Currently top five No.9s? For sure; the Spaniard fills enough of the criteria to be world-class.
You can have the world-class status for a couple of years and lose it; Wayne Rooney is the standout example of this. But for contribution to his club, for the amount of time, his service certainly warrants ‘legend’.
Two players who can certainly combine world-class and legend is Theirry Henry and Didier Drogba, with their times in London. Both players gave their services for eight years, both constantly delivered on the big stage, and dragged their teams to titles. They were the best in the business during their peak years, and created a legacy at both their clubs.
Thierry Henry poses for a picture with some fans… pic.twitter.com/kkIQYk5AjX
— Arsenal Related ⚽🔥 (@ArsenalsRelated) January 15, 2017
So, going back to the current era, there’s only a handful of these world-class talents in the Premier League. And, if you take a player such as Toby Alderweireld, there’s certainly a case for the Belgian to be in this bracket. The Belgian is in the top five centre-backs in the world, but because he’s been limited by club and country to certain honours, people perhaps will take him out the equation. If you put the the 27-year-old in a Barcelona, Real Madrid or German shirt, his trophy cabinet would expand and suddenly he merits such plaudits.
At the end of the day, it’s the fans that are creating this issue of debate. We too often throw around the erratic statements after pumping a club like Watford away from home. It’s not enough to put in the odd ‘world-class’ performance to be considered ‘world-class’ in general. Yeah, social media will probably blow up with 20-second snippets of ‘mad skills’ which will feature on Soccer AM’s ‘Showboat’. But, it needs to be on the big stage, being the ‘best’ in your position; there needs to be this criteria to fill out. It can’t just be given out because you’ve nutmegged Danny Shittu fifty times in your career. Fill out the criteria, tick the ‘elite’ boxes, then you can come aboard in the prestigious world-class club.