Rarely a day goes by before the argument about the best footballer in the world makes headlines. Is it Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? Recently, the popular opinion has placed Ronaldo a step ahead, after he scored a spectacular goal against Juventus and Real Madrid eventually saw off its Italian rival, while on the other hand, Barcelona came crashing down against Roma.
I have written this numerous times, I find the question of finding a poster boy for industrial football, which worships individual action rather than collective, utterly meaningless. A player's Individual performance can only be assessed in the context of the collective environment they operate in.
At first, let me formulate my thesis as a question for you. If I took Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi and put them into a regular Turkish team, would they perform better or worse? Given the fact that both Real Madrid and Barcelona are much stronger than any regular Turkish teams, neither is likely to perform better.
Try to think of it this way: Since no player on earth is able to score goals without the help of their teammates, whether it is just a goal kick or merely a distraction for the opponent defense. It means that a player is bound to the cooperation of his or her teammates. Thus, better teammates lead to better individual performances, of course to a certain point without a matching strategy.
This means that actually what actually gives Ronaldo and Messi their value is their team, and you cannot simply take an individual effort from there and assess it separately.
Football is not the sum of all individual talents put together, it is a dynamic process in which talents and strategies increase and decrease values while interacting with each other. Therefore, when you talk about Cristiano Ronaldo's value, you are actually talking about Real Madrid's value. It is the same for Lionel Messi and Barcelona. We can always talk about collective performances and assess a team's value because unlike an individual, a team is a complete product. Hence, the question, which team is the best is much more practical than the question about the world's best player.
I have one more problem regarding the world's best player debate. The general consensus in the football world is the answer to that question is either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Nonetheless, there is a hidden premise in these answers that suggest scoring goals is the most important thing in football. Of course, we play football to score goals, but saying that it is the most important part of the game is like making the same mistake of picking one best player.
Every single goal involves dozens of different, individual moves, all of which are crucial to a team's performance. A team's offense cannot begin in the opponent's penalty box; rather it starts whenever a team wins possession of the ball. In that sense, Luka Modric or Toni Kroos might be more valuable than Cristiano Ronaldo in the scoring of a goal.
Naturally, it can also be asked why defending do not stir up popular opinions? It is a fair question that sheds light on yet another hidden premise that attacking is more valuable than defending. Surely, most of us enjoy watching goal fests, but performance evaluations must not be based on entertainment only.
As we see in the case of Atletico Madrid, the defense can be a more important element in a team's success. Yes, it is not the most fun team to watch, but if we had given the individual awards according to the level of entertainment a player provides, our list would have more names beside Ronaldo and Messi.