Odion Ighalo not yet a world-class player
Now, this is one question that has generally not succumbed to any particular answer. While every regular football fan has an idea what, or more appropriately, who a world-class player is, it’s not quite easy explaining what makes those players world-class. Is it trophies? Skills? Is it sheer ability or potential?
It will be pretty difficult to attribute world-classness to trophies because while we have players like Harry Kane who many consider world class but doesn’t have trophies to show for it, a certain goalie named Pinto had won almost every major club trophy even though he’s nowhere near class.
We also can’t join world-classness with dazzling skill because a certain Quaresma and Denilson came fully equipped with all the dazzling skills in the world but Beckham and de Bruyne achieved world class where they failed without half the flashiness. We also can’t chalk it down to potential with the curious case of Alex Pato and Hatam Ben Arfa whom the world thought were world-beaters but Didier Drogba and Diego Forlan made it there ahead of them.
So what makes a footballer truly world-class? Below I’m going to enumerate some criteria that guide my own assessment of a player’s class. I believe a player should fulfill all or most (at least 80 per cent) of these criteria to be called world-class. So let’s go.
1. HIGHLY SKILLED AND COMPETENT
This is actually quite basic and probably is the first quality a world-class player must have. Just like a doctor or lawyer or salesman or architect, the best footballers simply have to be highly skilled and very competent in their crafts and roles. This is simply why Manchester United’s Phil Jones will never be world-class. He’s simply neither highly skilled not competent, except of course with own-goals and anti-club activities on the pitch.
A world-class player has to be clear about his purpose on the pitch, clear about the manager’s instructions, and always deliver his KPI match to match with ruthless and near-perfect efficiency.
2. CONSISTENCY AT THE TOP LEVEL
It doesn’t matter how good a player is, if he can’t turn up with a class performance every time or at least most times, then his claim to world class would be superficial. Class is wasted on a player if he could turn up at his best only when the conditions are right and oppositions are easy.
Tottenham’s Lucas Morah and Juventus Douglas Costa quickly comes to mind. For all their game-changing abilities, they just happen to lack the ability to be consistent with their outputs.
3. PERFORMANCE AGAINST WORLD CLASS TEAMS
While it’s a good thing for a player to be at his best against the smaller opponents because 3 points is 3 points regardless of whether the 3 points were earned from lowly Coventry or from an exalted Liverpool, it is important that a world class player consistently turns up at his best against big teams. Because more often that not, those performances would always define the player at least in the eyes of the fans, no matter how fickle they may be. And since being world class can in many ways be a matter of individual opinion, the fans matter a lot in this discussion.
So it is not enough for a player aspiring to be world-class to turn up at their best, it is important that they don’t fizzle out when faced with the big clubs. This flows from the saying, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. If you want to be world-class, you just have to perform against world-class teams.
4. TROPHIES AND INDIVIDUAL HONOURS TO SHOW
This criterion, in a way, derived from the criterion of playing for a world-class team. It will be extremely difficult to win trophies and laurels when you’re not playing for a top club. Yet, if you must be considered world-class, you should have the trophies and individual honors to show for it.
This is where you have to respect a player like Harry Kane and Jaime Vardy. While Kane doesn’t tick the trophy box, he has some individual honors to show. Vardy ticks the trophy and individual honour list.
5. INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL
In my own opinion, you can’t talk about world-class players and not mention them in light of international football. Properly put, country-side football. A world-class player must be a critical part of his national team, or at least record some degree of success with the national team. He doesn’t need to have won the World Cup or the continental championships, but he must have featured prominently and won some very important games, achieved qualification to major international tournaments, and maybe even hold some record with the national team.
This is where John Mikel Obi and Vincent Enyeama whom I think are the only world-class players Nigeria has produced in the last 10 to 20 years come in. A player like Wilfred Ndidi might be on his way there but he isn’t quite there yet. Chukwueze, Osimhen, etc are also on the right path to world-class. I don’t consider Odion Ighalo a world-class player. Not yet.
6. ABILITY TO WIN GAMES OR RESCUE POINTS FOR HIS TEAM
In the world of inventors, developers, and creators, they call this the stroke of genius. And in football, the ability to win games, especially big games, or rescue points for your team doesn’t come easy. But it is a defining quality of world-class. This is where players like Aubameyang, Kun Aguero, Jan Oblak, and Sergio Ramos come to mind. When the stakes are really high, these guys turn up with impossibilities that end up making all the difference. It is imperative that a world-class aspirant has this game-changing and outcome determining ability.
7. ATTRACT AND PLAY FOR THE BIG CLUBS
If you’re going to be world-class, then you have to attract the interest and indeed play for the world-class clubs. It’s as simple as that. A big fish in a small pond never truly knows how big (or how small) it is until it swims in the bigger waters with other big fishes. So, if a player is truly good and awesome enough to be called world-class, he has to feature for a club capable of competing in both the local and continental club competitions CONSISTENTLY.
For all my love for players like Inaki William and Iker Muniain, they are still far from world-class for this particular reason (as well as others).
8. PRIME TIME FOOTBALL
Okay, prime time football is a term I coined myself so I’m going to explain. A world-class player, in my estimation, must be a major and very important part of the teams he played for at his prime, especially at the club level. In other words, if during his prime he was a bencher, you may call him a super-sub for all I care but if he’s a bencher at his prime, then he can’t be world-class. You can’t be world-class and be Number 2 to someone else. Unless of course that person is other-worldly like Ronaldo and Messi and Lewandowski. But even then, there has to be a role that involves not having you on the bench.
I understand that there are players who blossomed very late. Didier Drogba, James Vardy, Fabio Quagliarella, Dimitri Payet, and the rest. For those kinds of players, I recognize that their prime came later in their careers.
For the record, I don’t consider Dimitri Payet a world-class player.
Other considerations include club and national team legendary status, major league legendary status, individual football records held etc.
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