QPR midfielder Joey Barton has caused a stir today with comments he has made to the BBC, claiming that Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney is not a 'world class' player.
The press relish examining Barton's every word, and his comments appear to have been sensationalised.
Barton has clarified on Twitter that he enjoys watching Rooney and thinks he is a great player. The ex-Marseille loanee merely feels he does not rank highly enough to be considered amongst the very highest ranks of the world elite.
An analysis of the top players in the world inevitably leads to comparison with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Rooney's statistics haven't compared with the pair for years. They appear to be streets ahead of him. But, this is beside the point.
Messi and Ronaldo can rightly claim to be two of the finest players the game has ever seen, and when they hang their boots up they will be recognised as greats. The fact is that very few players in the world even come close to matching them.
Rooney has scored against Confederations Cup winners and World Cup hosts Brazil home and away in the past year, and has averaged nearly a goal every two games throughout his England career, despite the team underachieving for almost all of it.
Granted, many of these goals were against weaker opposition, but so are the majority of the goals of all top players at international level. As well as his strikes against Brazil, Rooney has also scored against Argentina, Holland and Croatia whilst sporting the England jersey.
Perhaps it rankles with some supporters and observers that a player who burst onto the scene with such talent is not at the very top of the game. Yet it remains true that Rooney has scored, created and won trophies prolifically with one of the world's largest clubs for years now.
He has scored in a Champions League final against Barcelona, as well as playing an integral part whilst winning five Premier League titles with Manchester United. He is on course to replace Sir Bobby Charlton as their top scorer ever.
Barton has cited Luis Suarez as an example of the world class player Rooney is not. The Uruguayan is undoubtedly brilliant, yet he has not been tested in the same way as Rooney. He has played almost no Champions League football, and his goal scoring record was nowhere near as prolific when he first joined Liverpool.
Only a fool would dispute the fact that he is now one of the best in the world at the moment, yet it would be strange to hold him in such a higher regard than Rooney considering the success and longevity enjoyed by the latter.
If we define world class as a title reserved for the very few top talents in the world, perhaps Rooney doesn't make it. However if world class is defined as a player proven at the very highest level, indeed over a number of years, then the England talisman certainly fits the bill.
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