A rather inexplicable tendency that we human beings have is that of striving to quantify everything we possible can.
This tendency has not escaped millions of football fans around the world, and each growing generation has spawned innumerable 'Best of' lists: 'The Best XI of All Time', 'The Best Player of All Time', 'The Best Manager of All Time' and countless other variations are testimony to this scientific curiosity that is probably the single factor binding every fan of every team on planet Earth.
People treasure their 'lists' as they would their children, and take great offence when people disagree with them, point out mistakes and do just about everything they possibly can to tarnish the reputability of the lists.
Also, crucially, these disagreements arise just about all the time, everywhere, owing to the subjectivity of the matter (a personal standard, for example, for judging the quality of a Best XI list is simply to see whether Zinedine Zidane features, and I'm sure there are a few people who would love nothing more than to fervently disagree).
Perplexed by our unfailing inability to arrive at a definitive conclusion to any "Best of" list when it comes to The Beautiful Game, I decided to attempt to view the matter from a different angle. What if the key was to not look at the NAMES of players, and teams, but at the qualities that made them great?
Further thought brought me to the conclusion that this would bring about a lot more agreements between football fans. An example: Barcelona supporters will never cease to claim that Lionel Messi is far and away the greatest player in the world today, while followers of Real Madrid and Manchester United will assert that the world has never seen a force of nature quite like Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now, it would be impossible to choose one argument over another, but one statement that would strike a chord with both sets of supporters would likely be: if you took Messi's ability on the ball and undeniable talent, and somehow combined it with the aura exuded by Cristiano Ronaldo, his breathtaking pace, physical attributes and heading ability, why, then you would have a truly fearsome player.
This thought led me to the task of coming up with the perfect midfielder; one that has probably never been seen as a whole, but only as partial incarnations in the form of the Zidanes, the Riquelmes, the Iniestas and Scholes'.
Over the next few paragraphs, I have attempted to create an amalgamation of the best qualities of the best midfielders that I have ever seen. Ah, I can almost smell the wet paint, the raw leather, the feel of creativity in the air.
And so we begin. First, an overview of the players I have chosen to provide the qualities needed to create The Perfect Midfielder. And they are: Zinedine Zidane (ball control while receiving), Michael Laudrup (vision), Paul Scholes (ball control in possession), Ronaldinho (creativity), Diego Maradona (tenacity), Roy Keane (passion), Steven Gerrard (leadership), Andres Iniesta (skill).
Zinedine Zidane: Ball Control While Receiving
Arsene Wenger, and no less, has said that Zidane epitomises the perfection of the technique of receiving the ball, in terms of body shape, awareness of what is going on around him, and execution; also, he said that Zidane was the master of every blade of grass in a 3-by-3-square-foot area around him, and could do whatever he wished with the ball when given that space.
And oh, was he right or what. Zidane is to this day one of the most elegant, skilful and technically untouchable midfielders ever. He quite literally beat opposing players even before he received the ball, such was the quality of his peerless technique. Words simply cannot do justice to this otherworldly talent.
Michael Laudrup: Vision
Danish maestro Michael Laudrup is my pick for the most under-rated player of all time: no question, end of story.
People may scoff at this claim, but one can guarantee that the viewing of snippets of the man's career will leave even the most stoic in tears of awe. Quite simply said, this man could see everything on a football pitch.
He could pick passes - first see them, and then execute them - that no other player, before or since, could even begin to grasp the notion of. People have even said that he kept a crop of long unruly hair to hide his third and fourth eyes, the ones on the back of his head that helped him see The Beautiful Game like no one else.
Trust me, watch the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zUsCZvol-I and feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
Paul Scholes: Ball Control In Possession
Paul "Goals" Scholes is the one man everyone looks up to. Real Madrid ace Luis Figo once remarked that Scholes was like a "ghost" on the pitch: impossible to catch.
Apart from that one spectacular season in 2002/03, when he decided to turn into the world's best box-to-box goalscoring midfielder, the diminutive Ginger Assassin has gone about his career consistently staying away from the spotlight, yet pulling all the strings from midfield.
His ability to control the pace of the game to suit his team's needs is unmatched, and his long balls will forever be the stuff of legend. Legend is a word that is used too often, but in this case, it may not do the man justice.
While some players so far on this list chose to take passive control of games (Laudrup et Scholes), and Zidane chose to layer the game with his magic, Barcelona's Ronaldinho chose to take the game by the scruff of its neck and change the way people watched the sport.
In his bursts of inspired genius, a genius that we will never quite understand, he displayed all the passion, devotion, and love for the game that made millions around the world dream. He is perhaps the only player on this list who truly made fans dream of being him, because when he had the ball, he seemed like a child on the streets, happy beyond description, not a millionaire footballer with no care for fans or the game.
His unbridled passion for the game allowed him to create like no one else. I will go so far as to say that he was not a player on the pitch, he was not flesh and bones like the rest of us. He was true creativity, just an aura, a whisper that could never be caught, never be caged, and never be forgotten. Ronaldinho was magic.
Diego Maradona: Tenacity
El Diego will perhaps shade the battle for the title of the greatest player of all time, simply because he knew he was. Every time he walked onto the pitch, whether for Argentina, Boca Juniors or Napoli, he knew that the stadium was filled by people who only wanted to watch him perform his feats of sorcery. And he never, ever, disappointed.
He was a lion in human form, not distracted by the thresholds of tactical organisation or physical exhaustion. He was a God amongst men, a genius unbridled by worries. He could take on whole teams on his own, and then some. He was truly the most fearsome player of his time, or any, and what will separate him from his successor to the Argentine throne, Lionel Messi, will not be a trophy count, but the way El Diego roared on the pitch.
Roy Keane: Passion
Undoubtedly the least skilled of the names on this list, Roy Keane was probably more of a brawler than a footballer, but that's what made him an Old Trafford favourite.
His was the epitome of the no-nonsense, give-it-all-you-have-got, never-say-die attitude you'd expect from UFC mixed martial artists, and Keane was even called Sir Alex Ferguson's embodiment on the pitch. He just never admitted defeat, and chose to lift his team on his shoulders and carry them the distance time and again, even if it meant shouting his lungs out at them.
Many of United's greatest comebacks in the 90s and early 2000s can be traced right back to their Captain Fantastic, Roy Keane, and his passion for victory, or more accurately, hatred of defeat, and the fear he instilled in the hearts of his teammates and opponents alike. Keane's immortal performance against Juventus at the Stadio delle Alpi on April 21 1999 just about proves that he will go down in the history books as one of the game's true gladiators.
Steven Gerrard: Leadership
Roy Keane wasn't a bad captain for United - the club's extensive haul of trophies during his captaincy will attest to that - but the fact that he had the knack of getting himself sent off for outrageous tackles and fits of uncontrollable rage means that The Perfect Midfielder needs a different man to get its leadership qualities from - more accurately, a man who could be trusted to stay on the pitch for 90 minutes.
And that man is Kop darling Steven Gerrard.
The Huyton-born Liverpool legend will be remembered most fondly for the night in Istanbul in 2005, and the FA Cup final the following year. Very rarely has one man risen above the crowd to single-handedly lead his team to glory the way Gerrard made his mark on those two finals. And he's been doing the same thing for close to 15 years.
Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he has established himself as a true one-club man, and is still trusted with the captain's arm-band for both club and country. A true leader, a leader by example.
Andres Iniesta: Skill
At first glance, it may not look like the pale Spaniard is one of the most skilled footballers in the world, but over the course of his career, Iniesta has managed to constantly amaze people around the world with his God-given ability with a football.
The world has probably not seen a player with his ability to wriggle out of tight spots. Teams have marked him, double-marked him, and triple-marked him, but the La Masia prodigy has kept getting the better of them, with his ball control skills and low centre of gravity. His ability to beat players from a standing position is truly awesome, and as he has proved over the years, he is probably the most skilled player of his generation.
And there you have it: my version of The Perfect Midfielder, complete with mind-blowing technical ability and all the right mental attributes. It would have been a sight to remember, that of this figment of my footballing fantasies taking to a football pitch.
Of course, if you have opinions you'd like to share, please feel free to tell us which players you think would form The Perfect Midfielder.
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