It’s a big Question. For such questions, it is very hard to have one definite agreed-upon answer. However, there is something everyone has to know : The most celebrated aren’t the most important. I would say that the most celebrated attributes in today football are dribbling, skills, long shots and killer through passes. It’s much easier to be amazed by a thirty yard goal than to be amazed by how a player control the tempo of a game. As a young fan (maybe 12 yrs old), I thought that Ronaldo was the 2nd best player next to Kaka (my favourite) just because I watched his magnificent skills at Man United. I’d dare to say that none of “fans-favourite” attributes is anywhere near the most important. My picks, I think, are more general ones that happens throughout the game, throughout the season.
– Decision Taking
It doesn’t matter if you are the master of “trickery and flickery” if you use in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Any coach ,any sane coach nonetheless, would surely prefer having a player like modric making the right simple pass which may eventually result in a goal or a scoring chance rather tan having a player like L.Diarra running past 3 players and failing to beat the 4th giving the opposition a chance to start a threatening counter-attack. In easy matches where the quality and performance gap is huge, this may not matter much as you should be ridiculously bad decision taker to drop any points. Big games, where scoring chances are scarce, are decided by “little” details. The most important of which is decision taking. When you have three or four chances in the whole game, one decision can alter the final outcome of the match.
One of the best examples of that is the picture above. Bale and Ozil were in very similar situations ; the same stage, leg and available player. Now, nobody can argue that Ozil has the better vision, game awareness and passing in general. However, the player who made the better outcome and, many days later, won La Decima was the welsh simply because he took the better decision.
– Off-ball Movement
With the massive revolution in information access and analysis, it’s become easier to determine and track key players of any team. Man-marking key players in the right way using an expert to do it will he a significant influence on the team strength. It may not terminate the danger but, it is capable of minimizing it. This even worked, in several occasions, against the best dribbler in the globe today, Lionel Messi. If you do it correctly, you will have your opponent player think : What should I do ?! , they cut me every time I have the ball. Well, here is the answer : Don’t “have the ball”. Don’t fight a losing battle. Here comes the importance of off-ball movement. It lets you defeat your opponents without facing them. It isn’t easier by any means. However, it has, if done properly, a higher chance of success for 3 main reasons. First : When you are off-ball, your marker have to track you and the ball in the same time which obviously is a harder task than marking a man with the ball in his feet. Second : The ball holder is the superstars, all eyes are on him which gives you the chance to lose your defender without him knowing it. Third : You are absolutely free, you can run with any speed you wish in any direction you want. Off-ball movement is the most important “tactical tool” nowadays simply because it makes reading and tracking you very hard, sometimes a nearly impossible task. Without it, you will go just as the book reads. We all know the consequences.
An answer to such question needs a good solid evidence. I’m not going to offer any type of a “theoretical” evidence. These, by the way, aren’t usually strong in football. The evidence I’ll provide is more reality-based. The observations are quite clear.
Let’s start by forward area. Who do you think is the best forward, or offensive player, at decision taking ?. To me, and many others I believe, it’s undoubtedly Leo Messi. He exactly knows when to pass and move, when to dribble and when to wait where he is. One recent example is his goal against PSG. Many players would have ran at full speed as they receive the ball. Even is they passed, most players will quickly move to get behind the defenders. Although he is more gifted dribbler than anybody, Messi didn’t, probably because there wasn’t enough space, and he scored, Yes, his team-mates helped but, understanding your teammates’ style and acting accordingly is an important aspect of game intelligence.
Now let’s move to midfield. With zero doubt, Xavi is the best midfield when it comes to taking decisions. No other player can match or even near Xavi’s sheer involvement in the game (represented by number of passes, number of touches and distance cover) and he still makes close-to-perfection decisions day in and day out.That’s what sit him apart of other midfielders. He is not “only passing sideways and backward”. He is making the best out of each touch he takes and each pass he makes.
In the same way, let’s start with the best forward at it : Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s his main strength. His teammate Bale , for example, has pace, physical strength, long shots and even headers but, he isn’t at Ronaldo’s level and off-ball movement is the main reason.People keep talking about tap-ins and easy goals and never ask themselves : Why Always Ronaldo ? Ozil left, Ronaldo is still scoring. Di Maria left, Ronaldo is still scoring. The simple answer is THE master of when and how to make a run. Unmatched. He, consequently, did and will always make playmakers look better. He enabled players like Almida and Perrera pull Xavi-like passes. His miraculous night against Sweden is a prime example of his jaw-dropping off-ball movement. A hattrick : no strengh, trickery or long shots required. Another example is RMD wonder goal against Ajax in 2011. Everybody is moving straight forward but, Cristiano is Better than everybody. The little zigzag he made at the end freed him totally so that he scores the perfect counter attack.
Moving to the midfield again, Xavi and iniesta are the two best midfielders off the ball. I won’t talk about it much. These two videos will show the genius of the two spaniards in moving off the ball and attacking spaces and how vital it is for there game.
To have the four stand-out players of this generation with these two attributes as their stand-out strength , I believe, is quite a solid evidence.
Do you agree ?
What is your answer and why ?
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