The game of football has evolved drastically over the decades, to such a level that fans from the 21st century would probably not be able to recognise the sport if they were somehow transported to the 50's or 60's.
The tactics of those decades weren't nearly as sophisticated as they are today, and players didn't have bundles of information about their opposition buzzing around in their head like they presumably do every time they step onto a football pitch today.
Football in the 60's was like a breath of fresh air taken by a sport in the infant stages of it's development, and players were allowed to enjoy a certain level of freedom with the ball that the footballers of today aren't.
This freedom allowed the likes of Duncan Edwards (a legend of the game at 21) and Pele (the most perfect footballer ever)--two very different players in every sense--the chance to explore their abilities by performing in different roles on the pitch, which in turn made them better footballers than they probably would have been today, when coaches would have sprayed them with tactical instructions, thus restricting their freedom.
Over the years, Duncan Edwards, the shining light of the generation of the Busby Babes, became the subject of British folklore for his ability to play in every outfield position on the pitch, and still be the best player of the game (he actually started a game for Manchester United as a striker, but ended it playing as a central defender in place of an injured team-mate).
Brazilian legend Pele on the other hand needs no introduction, and Sir Bobby Moore's eloquent summary of the player's abilities describes him better than almost every other account.
"Pele was the most complete player I've ever seen, he had everything. Two good feet. Magic in the air. Quick. Powerful. Could beat people with skill. Could outrun people. Only 5 ft 8 in tall, yet he seemed like a giant of an athlete on the pitch. Perfect balance and impossible vision. He was the greatest because he could do anything and everything on a football pitch. I remember Saldhana the coach being asked by a Brazilian journalist who was the best goalkeeper in his squad. He said Pele. The man could play in any position."
I must ask for forgiveness for my incessant rambling and unbridled digression, but when talking about footballers of the legendary capabilities of Pele and Edwards, I don't see how one can not be overcome by awestruck enthusiasm.
What I have been trying to point out is that the likes of Pele, Edwards, Maradona, Alfredo di Stefano and very few others, were in every sense of the word, complete. They were perfect footballers.
This article takes a look at some of the few candidates from the current crop of players who can come close to that level of perfection, and represent the coming together of technical, physical and mental attributes.
Taking into consideration the tactical complication of football today and the impediment it probably is to players' creative freedom, these are the most compete footballers of today.
5) Sergio Ramos- Real Madrid & Spain
A controversial inclusion, without a doubt, but if you were to cast aside any prejudices regarding the Real Madrid player (especially those concerning his atrocious hair-do and poor ability from the penalty spot), you would realise that he is truly a fantastic footballing specimen.
He started out as a right-back, and was considered one of the best in the world at 19. Blessed with fantastic pace, physicality and stamina, the former Sevilla defender has all the physical attributes requisite in a defender.
The legendary Paolo Maldini even went so far as to say that Ramos could eventually prove to be his equal as a defender. A great header of the ball, and a fierce competitor, Ramos gives nothing but his all in every game.
For a defender, the Spaniard is also excellent with the ball at his feet. Peerless technique, a great eye for a pass, an excellent first touch, Ramos has them all. What separates him from two of the best centre-backs of his age--Rio Ferdinand and Thiago Silva--is that he is better than either at carrying the ball, and running with it, a trait he no doubt trained himself to possess during his years as a right-back.
The overall opinion shared by the footballing community is that Phil Jones will go on to fill the massive shoes of Duncan Edwards, but if you were to look for modern-day players with the most similarities to the style of play of the victim of the Munich disaster of 1958, you would probably arrive at Sergio Ramos.
4) Wayne Rooney- Manchester United & England
Again, Wayne Rooney is a player who has recently divided a lot of opinion within the footballing fraternity. His own club's fans--people who adored him from the moment he scored a hat-trick on his debut--have turned against him in the midst of the furore surrounding his desire to swap Manchester United for Chelsea.
Rooney suffered from a few injuries and gained a noticeable amount of weight, and was at times a shadow of his former self, but that does not take anything away from the fact that Rooney is a magnificent footballer.
The England striker has gone from strength to strength over the course of his time with Everton and Manchester United in the Premier League. He boasts everything you could want from a striker: energy to spare, superb finishing abilities, pace, technique, excellent distribution of the ball, shooting from distance, set-piece ability and heading.
He has superb vision and excellent passing abilities, no doubt the result of having trained with players like Paul Scholes for so long. All in all, Rooney possesses all the traits you'd want to have from a modern-day number 10 player.
Rooney is also not one to shy away from the dirty work, and tracks back to pick up loose balls, and often finds himself playing as a midfielder rather than a striker.
Sir Alex Ferguson once compared Rooney to Pele, calling him "the White Pele". If this praise isn't enough to convince detractors of the England star, consider this: after the then-16-year-old scored a last-minute scorcher from 30 yards out to give Everton a 2-1 win over Arsenal in December 2002, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said that Rooney possessed "everything you dream to have as a footballer", and had "intelligence, quick reactions and accuracy in front of goal".
Coming from the oft-laconic Frenchman, this statement just about sums up what Rooney is all about.
3) Steven Gerrard- Liverpool & England
While Gerrard does not possess the individual skill that the other players on this list do, he gets a spot on the list because of his immense mental attributes. While he boasts decent technique, what really makes Captain Fantastic special to football fans all around the world is the passion with which he wears the Liverpool red and the England white.
The fact that footballing legend Zinedine Zidane called Gerrard the best player in the world, placing him above the likes of Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, already confirms Gerrard's qualities.
"He has great passing ability, can tackle and score goals, but most importantly he gives the players around him confidence and belief. You can't learn that -- players like him are just born with that presence", Zidane said of the Liverpool captain in 2009.
From the technical and physical point of view, Gerrard's tackling, stamina, passing and ferocious shooting from distance make him a tough competitor to go up against, but what really makes the man once compared to Roy Keane, by none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, a truly extraordinary player is that he is a leader by heart.
Fueled by an passionate hatred of losing, Gerrard strives to be the very best he can be, and rarely ever has bad games. He carries his team on his shoulders, and puts himself on the line time and again in an attempt to ensure victory.
Steven Gerrard represents the perfect combination of technical quality, excellent physical attributes and mental maturity, and was the finished article as a player at aged 23, when he was awarded the captain's armband at Liverpool.
Gerrard is also a very tactically versatile footballer. Over the course of his illustrious 15-year career with Liverpool and England, 'Stevie G' has played in just about every possible central midfield role (deep-lying playmaker, box-to-box midfielder, anchorman, holding midfielder, second striker), on the right of midfield, and as a right-back.
He has even filled in at left-back when asked! A fantastic match winner, Gerrard is adored by all, and is universally admired for being a fantastic footballer. He is probably as close as one would get to a 21st century version of England legend Sir Bobby Charlton, and that is saying something, considering Sir Bobby was a cracker of a player!
2) Cristiano Ronaldo- Real Madrid & Portugal
Many fans of the Portuguese winger vociferously clamour for his inclusion in the elite list of the greatest players of all time, and although I do not believe he deserves to placed on the same pedestal as the immortal legends of Pele, Maradona, Di Stefano, Zidane or even his contemporary, the footballing legend Lionel Messi, I shall not hesitate to proclaim that Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most technically and physically complete footballers of all time.
While the reigning God of football, Lionel Messi, is undoubtedly the more naturally-talented of the two icons, Cristiano Ronaldo can claim to have reached the dizzying heights of personal achievement that he has thanks to years of hard work and perseverance, efforts that have resulted in him being considered a superb example of sporting excellence for a whole generation.
Ronaldo trained himself from a very young age to improve his physical attributes--immense upper-body strength, great pace, endless stamina, flawless balance, great athleticism and agility--and also focused on the technical aspect of his game.
Endless hours of determined practice have resulted in Ronaldo possessing immaculate technique and ball control, excellent on-the-ball and off-the-ball skill, set-piece ability, remarkable two-footedness, chest control, heading.
His repertoire of skill really is mind-boggling. Ronaldo has hardly ever played in any role other than that of an attacker--unlike the other players on this list, who have plenty of versatility in terms of roles on the pitch--but the fact that he is so good at what he does, and is a physical phenomenon, makes him just as perfect.
Sir Alex Ferguson had this to say about the player he signed in 2003: "His speed with the ball, either foot, manipulating it, making decisions in and outside a full-back, playing it in, moving to another position, and done at speed; everything done at great speed. That was the thing that made me sit up".
And it did not take long for the rest of the world to sit up and take note, and footballing fans have followed the journey of Cristiano Ronaldo from being a flashy 18-year-old with raw quality to the world's most formidable attacker, with great passion.
Being a hardworking professional, Ronaldo represents everything that young footballers aspire to become. Of course, the superstardom doesn't hurt, but it sometimes takes the focus of the footballing fraternity away from the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is a terrific footballer, frighteningly good.
1) Yaya Toure- Manchester City & Ivory Coast
We have talked about the likes of Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Sergio Ramos; three great footballers in their own respect, but the truth is that if you put either of these players, or just about any player from anywhere, up against Manchester City's monumental midfielder Yaya Toure, you'd have a David vs Goliath situation on your hands, except in this version of events, Goliath would win hands down.
Having a player like Toure in your team can only be described as having the key to a bomb detonator. You can either keep your finger off the detonator--a situation not dissimilar to Toure playing as a holding midfielder, using his bulking frame to shove opponents off the ball and regain possession. Or you could flip the top of the detonator and threaten to use the key, which in footballing terms is akin to relieving Toure of his defensive duties and granting him free rein to make destructive rampaging runs into opponents' halves.
When Toure is allowed to gain momentum, he is more a tank than a footballer; an unstoppable force of nature. I'd stop with the melodrama, but if you have seen Toure in full flow, you will know that he is fully capable of leaving in the wake of his lung-busting penetrating runs scenes of unspeakable carnage.
Even three defenders' challenges do not cause the Ivorian to break his stride; he just swats away their attempts away as if they were non-existent.
Yaya Toure is a true monstrosity of a midfielder to go up against, and can make the transition from being a defensive midfielder to becoming the best box-to-box midfielder in the world in the blink of an eye.
Quickly going over his physical and technical attributes: amazing physical strength, the ability to hold up play, a good range of passing, the ability to switch the ball between his feet when in possession, a great header of the ball, a superb tackler, deadly from long distances, Toure is a fearsome presence in every area of the pitch.
Despite his noticeable frame and sizeable bulk, Toure is surprisingly fleet-footed, and can cover the length of the pitch in sprints so dynamic that they can have your jaw drop in sheer awe of the player. Toure is like a science experiment that went perfectly right.
A matchwinner like very few others can claim to be, he is capable of coming up with the goods time and again, irrespective of the stakes.
While Sergio Aguero's winner against QPR on the final day of the 2011-2012 league season got all the plaudits, it is a true testament to the younger Toure's fantastic ability to win games on his own that the four most important Manchester City goals during the reign of Roberto Mancini were all scored by him.
While he may not be the most popular choice, Yaya Toure is certainly the most perfect player in the world today. He is the perfect alliance of brute physicality and silky technique.
So there you have it: five players who offer you different combinations of all the attributes you'd expect to find in any world-class footballer. These five players have, over the course of their careers, established themselves as perfect footballers. Since the nature of the topic is such that it will likely sparkle debate and protest, I have listed some of the other players that immediately come to mind for their qualities.
Gareth Bale, Marco Reus, Dider Drogba, Vincent Kompany, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar, Frank Lampard, Lionel Messi, Kevin Prince-Boateng, Marik Hamsik.
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