Arguing, debating and fighting about the identity of the world’s best player is a frequent occurrence amongst the football fraternity.
And the reason why it’s so fiercely contested is because it’s a living, breathing contest that is always evolving.
The general consensus is that Barcelona’s Argentine superstar, Lionel Messi, is the man to challenge for that honor. But what about the players that hit that mystical state of Nirvana for a brief moment? Surely they too deserve a title and the accolades (best player on the planet), if only for ninety minutes?
Currently the best player in the world (and trust me I watch a lot of football) is a young twenty-one-year-old with a bad haircut and very big ears who plies his trade in North London. No Cesc Fabregas, you don’t have big ears but Gareth Bale does and ‘right now’ there is only one player who can touch him. That man in Barcelona.
Now before we get into this, let’s clarify what ‘right now’ means. It signifies current form over the last few weeks. It doesn’t mean the last six months or the last year, okay?
At present I will concede that Messi, statistically speaking, has more impressive numbers than Bale but as he plays in a league that consists of only two meaningful matches per season that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. For Bale, it’s very different as he plies his trade in an environment where almost every match is contested with a life-and-death commitment.
So just who is Bale right now?
Personally I think he looks like a combination of Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos in his prime. He has an electrifying change of pace, blindingly fast quick feet, strength, power, tremendous aerial ability, unselfishness, a left foot to rival the Argentine and an engine that just won’t quit.
All in all it’s a potent combination that has attracted the interest in the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan and the ‘Special One’s’, Real Madrid but it wasn’t always like this.
Who can forget that he played in a record 24 Premier League matches for Spurs without once being on the winning team. His poor manager, Harry Redknapp, must’ve been terrified to pick him as the streak kept going.
However, lets give Redknapp ten out of ten for persistence and belief. The $7.5 million that Tottenham paid Southampton for his services (it may rise to $15 million) now feels like daylight robbery when you consider that the sums being mentioned for his services have gone as high as $80 million.
Overpriced, maybe, but what he did to Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League will boost valuations, especially when you’re tearing apart the world’s best right fullback, Maicon, like you’re in the playground.
His Tottenham teammate, Rafael van der Vaart, summed it up best when he said, "tonight he’s up against Maicon, one of the best defenders in the world, and he’s killed him." High praise indeed but the Dutchman isn’t alone as Luis Figo, who knows a thing or two about wing play, also told Redknapp that "Bale has killed us twice."
Obviously the key for continued greatness is to play on an exciting team that is going places and competing for trophies. I think the jury is still out on Tottenham. They have the ambition that’s for sure and with a possible move to the Olympic Stadium in 2012 the additional match-day revenue would allow them to compete with the ‘big boys.’
With a transfer kitty to match the likes of Barcelona you could envision a team being built around Bale in much the same way, Pep Guadiola has constructed his side around Messi. We all know the results of that experiment.
And like Messi, Bale appears to have his feet firmly on the ground. Even with all the attention of being the best player in the world ‘right now,’ Redknapp has nothing but good words for the young Welshman who I wish was English.
I’ll leave it to his manager to sum him up: "He’s a great lad. You couldn’t meet a nicer, lower-maintenance boy than him. He just comes in and plays his football. Fantastic young boy."
No arguments here Harry.
Nick Webster is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the Barclay’s Premier League and the English national team.