Personally, I think that the best three players in the world are Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - in that order.
People may be shocked at my choice of Iniesta as the best, but allow me to explain why.
Although Messi and Ronaldo consistently score a handful of goals, neither possesses the creative ability of Iniesta. Before this weekend's matches, in all competitions, Messi and Ronaldo had both played 43 matches apiece, whilst Iniesta appeared in 33 games for Barcelona this season.
Messi had 11 assists in La Liga and Champions League combined, while Ronaldo lagged behind with six. Iniesta led the way by a short distance, setting up 14 goals. Taken into account Messi had made 33 appearances in both competitions, with a further three substitute cameos, and in addition to this Ronaldo had stepped out 33 times for Madrid, with two substitute appearances.
Iniesta, on the other hand, had played 22 times, being subbed on a further six occasions.
These figures leave Messi and Ronaldo well behind the Spaniard in terms of creativity, and my theory is bolstered by the fact all three players operate in a similar role - they are all allowed to roam in any position, whether on the left, right or straight down the centre, begging the question: is it better to have Iniesta in your team alongside a brilliant striker such as David Villa in the Spain set-up, or solely rely on one player (in Messi or Ronaldo) to provide you with match-winning goals time and time again?
Furthermore, the Spanish ace keeps the ball much better than his La Liga compatriots.
Ronaldo makes an average of 31.5 passes per game, and his pass succession rate is 77% in the league. Messi averages 58.9 passes a match, with 85.2% of them being accurate. Iniesta is again superior, with a passing average of 72.4 each week and a huge 90.8% of them being on target.
With respect to Ronaldo, he is only dispossessed 1.5 times per match; Iniesta 1.9 (equal to Ronaldo due to games played) and Messi 2.7. However, Messi and Ronaldo receive the ball more often.
Iniesta's work rate is perhaps another figure that stands out above the skilful Portuguese and the current Ballon d'Or holder. He averages one tackle per match for Barca in the league, which is more than can be said for Ronaldo and Messi's mediocre 0.4 and 0.7. Tackling is, of course, not a very big part of these players' games, but every little helps when working for the team.
Iniesta is also possibly a better player in the big games, scoring the all-important goal against Chelsea seconds before the final whistle that meant Barcelona reached the 2009 Champions League final, and he also scored against Holland in extra-time to secure Spain's first-ever World Cup victory in 2010. Messi scored in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals, however, and we saw Ronaldo bag the winner against his former club Manchester United in this season's competition, but have either produced the goods as often as the Spanish playmaker?
These are just a few statistics I have researched, and of course we all know that stats don't mean everything. However, regardless of match averages etc, I believe Iniesta is - technique-wise - greater than both Messi and Ronaldo. He is also more creative than them both, as the stats prove.
But undoubtedly there are many other aspects to these players individual games that make them excel above the others, with Messi and Ronaldo amassing astonishing goal tallies compared to Iniesta's lowly goalscoring record over the past few seasons.
This will always unquestionably remain open to debate, and Andres Iniesta is my own personal choice. Let us know who yours is by leaving a comment.
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