Opinion: The best player in the world right now

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

Let me define the terms straightaway. This isn’t the Ballon d’Or assessment over a full season. Nor is it a reputation judgement. It is simpler than either of those questions—what footballer is playing the best in the world RIGHT NOW? And you know where I am going with this. 

I will lean on some metrics—the whoscored.com player rating across the five major leagues—as well as some old-fashioned logic.

The candidates are pretty clear cut. We have the two old standbys—one or the other of whom have, but for an occasional Modric-Salah-Iniesta (or Neymar/Suarez) sighting, been judged as the best player on the planet for more than a decade. But they are getting on now—CR7 at 35 and Messi at 33.

The answer is most certainly not Lionel Messi—he actually leads La Liga in player rating now, but it is a pedestrian 7.70 average in a season where brilliance seems to have been left by the wayside and his team is struggling a la Man City in 10th place. (In 8th place in the La Liga ratings is one Kieran Tripper. Before you get all mental about that, consider that were his three games to qualify for the site’s minimum appearance standard, Serge Aurier would rank 3rd in the Premiership. That is not a misprint)

As for Ronaldo, he is a solid second in Serie A at 8.17 and certainly one can’t be too critical of his contribution to a Juventus squad that still seems likely to win their perennial trophy. First in the league is Old Man Wonder—the irrepressible Zlatan Ibrahimovic, having an amazing start at 39 years old in Milan, but no one is seriously going to put him top of this list. But we should consider Ronaldo.

Robert Lewandowski, Zlatan included, has been the best pure striker in the world for a few seasons now and he is not disappointing this year either, ranking first in the Bundesliga ratings at 8.36. The person nipping at his heels is perhaps poised to become his heir and perhaps challenge his French counterpart for best young player in the world—the extraordinary Erling Haaland at Borussia Dortmund, with an average rating of 8.07. That Frenchman is, of course, Kylian Mbappe, who dominates the Ligue 1 list with the best current rating in the world, a stunning 8.66. Nobody doubts his talents, his team should certainly win another league title and he is coming off a season where they almost found the Holy Grail in the Champions League.

Mbappe, Ronaldo, Lewandowski, even Haaland must all be in strong consideration for this moniker. Messi I am going to put to the side, knowing that within the next few months he could easily rise to his customary position as #1 or #2 on this list.

But you know where I am going with this. The highest-rated player in the Premier League at present is, of course, one Harry Kane at 8.28—slightly lower than the two strikers who lead the Italian and German leagues and a clear notch below Mbappe’s top mark in France. But France is, well, France. Is Mbappe more talented than Kane? Of course. Is Lewandowski a more ruthless goal scorer? Yes. So is Zlatan at least for the moment. But that isn’t the question. As an all-around player, I would take Kane over either of those two. He is on pace to break the Premier League’s all-time assist record in a season where, if he remains healthy, he could easily score 25+ goals in the league. He is simultaneously the best Number Nine in England and the best Number Ten—yes, better than Salah or Aguero on the first and better than DeBruyne at the second. 

I think it comes down to Mbappe and Kane. Are the talents of the former sufficient to make up for the weaker competition? Probably. But he still has Neymar working with him—a former strong candidate for this honour. Kane is the be-all and end-all of Spurs, a team now top in its league. Heung-Min Son is a wonderful player, probably knocking on the door of Top Twenty status in the world— maybe higher—but I would argue that it is Kane that is making his ascension so complete. Kane who had all those assists v Southampton and whose sense of the pitch cleared the path for Son’s opener against Man City.

So drink it up, Spurs fans. You are watching one of the two best players in the world right now. Keep those ankles strong, Harry.

 

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