Very often a player will be called ‘world class’ and a debate will ensue about why that player is or isn’t deserving of the term.
More and more in recent years, the term has found itself to be over-used especially on social media. It’s a term that at one point was reserved for the best of the best in the game, but now gets thrown around for anyone performing to a high standard for more than six games in a row.
For me personally, the term world class is still reserved for the best of the best.
There are new fields and brackets that players fall into, but world class is the top dog. The only players that extend beyond that term are the ones who will go down in generations as the greatest to ever play the game – namely Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
World class is not enough for them, but for the mere mortals in the sport it’s more than apt.
While some disagree, to me the best of the best are the top five in the world in their position. It can get a bit clouded sometimes, because positions in the centre of the pitch are almost exclusively filled by more than one player at a time, per team so exceptions can be made.
For example, you only ever have one right-back on the pitch but you will almost always have at least two centre-backs. In midfield, there are so many different midfield roles despite the same position that some players excel more than others depending on the team they’re in.
For me, these things are all taken into consideration on a case-by-case basis. But when judging the overall criteria of whether a player is world class or not there are usually enough factors to separate players before that point that it’s often not even necessary.
There are several things I look at when comparing players and their status in the game. Not only is their ability called into question, but also their application of said ability, their reliability fitness wise, their consistency over an 18-month to two year period and the level of competition and performance at the highest level.
An example that’s easy to use in this instance is Paul Pogba. He has exceptional ability as a footballer, which as a stand-alone attribute sits him comfortably in the top five bracket of central midfielders for me. However his performances and application of said ability drop him down a peg or two, as does his fitness issues.
Now that’s not to say Paul Pogba is a bad footballer, he isn’t. He’s still an elite talent but he isn’t among the best of the best.
The depth of quality in positions doesn’t mean other players should or shouldn’t be world class either. Right now, defenders in the game are at nowhere near the level they were 20 years ago. But they shouldn’t be compared to defenders of today when talking about the game of today because they’re not playing.
It seems obvious but Andrew Robertson not being better than Ashley Cole was, doesn’t mean that Robertson isn’t world class because Cole was. It’s a different era and they’re not competing with each other.
Being top five in the world in your position to me means that you would get into any team in the world, regardless of how good their current option is. If you wouldn’t, it’s because they already have a world class player there or it’s because you’re not world class.
What I will say, is that in this current era of football it’s much harder to separate a world class player from someone turning in top level performances due to a system.
Someone like Jordan Henderson, who is a fine footballer in his own right but nothing stand-out, has been able to be a key-cog in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool midfield that has taken the Premier League and Champions League by storm.
The individualism that the game used to have isn’t there anymore, with football now much more system-oriented than ever before. It leads to more debate and open discussion about who the best players are, but it doesn’t change much for me.
At the end of the day, it’s all subjective and that’s what makes football the beautiful game but the term world class will always be reserved for the best of the best, to me anyway.