Thierry Henry retired today and it’s sparked a few ‘Who was the best striker in the Premier League’ debates. In my opinion, ‘best’ is way too subjective and dependent on outside factors to be of any use – the most obvious, cliched caveat to a player’s quality being the ‘cold/wet/windy Tuesday/Wednesday night in Stoke’.
Every player has an upper limit and lower limit to their abilities. These limits may move over time as they improve or deteriorate as a player, but they’re there. No matter how on-form your Sunday league striker is, they’re unlikely to match the heights of Cristiano Ronaldo, for example. If you’re rating players out of 100, the Sunday leaguer might be between 0-35, while Ronaldo’s range (picking fairly random, arbitrary numbers) might be 45-90.
The range of the numbers/performance probably isn’t the most important thing though, it’s how often they perform at what level. A player might have an upper limit of 85, but they might often only play at a 50 level. These are the frustrating players, the ones who you KNOW can be fantastic, but they too often play so far below their potential. On the flipside, you might get players (arguably like Ronaldo) who consistently play at a pretty high level, say the 80s, but are quite capable of having absolute 30-rating stinkers.
This is where debates about best players can get so heated. You might have one player who is consistently very good but never great, while another who is absolutely amazing *on their day* but the rest of the time is only just above average.
This all, perhaps, is missing the point. Of course you’re going to want a different player for different circumstances and it depends what kind of argument you’re having. You can argue clinically about the ability of players and their scoring/assist/winning records and so on, but then doing that will probably mean having to admit that one of the players you love doesn’t deserve the pedestal you put them on in your heart.
I’ll always be a fan of Welbeck and Rafael because they seem like lovable people and players, but I can’t truly say that Welbeck deserves an England place ahead of Sturridge, for example, and part of the reason I love Rafael is because he has a tendency to leap into challenges like an excitable, adorable puppy. Similarly, Cole, Pires and Ljungberg will always have a small place in my hearts because some of my first memories of football are their overlaps on Arsenal’s left flank, but I was a kid and they probably weren’t as attacking and exciting as I remember.
I suppose the point is that ranking players as set in stone one better than the other is mostly a bit stupid. But then is that the point? Probably not. Do people get overly angry that someone has a different opinion to them about a person who kicks an inflated bag of whatever-they-make-footballs-out-of-these-days? Probably yes.
Basically, in conclusion, this is a 500 word shrug of the shoulders. And, in honour of Henry, I’ll make it a Gallic one.