Friday, March 13, 2009

Zizou Loves Him Some Stevie G

At one time a step behind, Zizou now rates Stevie G ahead of everyone.

Everyone knows that Zinedine Zidane is one of the all-time greats to ever step on the pitch. During his time with the Galacticos, he also played alongside some of the world's greatest, suiting up with Ronaldo, Luís Figo, Roberto Carlos, Raúl and David Beckham. So when Zizou says that someone is the best player in the world, we should certainly respect that opinion.

After watching his former club get demolished 4-0 at Anfield, Zizou noted:

“Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of Messi and Ronaldo but yes, I think he just might be...For many years, Patrick [Vieira] was the most complete midfielder in the world and now that award must go to Gerrard. No team will be successful without a heartbeat and you can see Gerrard is that heartbeat."

Obviously arguments can be made for Messi, Ronaldo, or others whom Zizou did not mention (poor Kaka), but the striking thing about this statement is how it reflects (or doesn't) fans' thinking about what constitutes "the greatest player."

All professional sports have a version of an MVP trophy, and some have numerous awards which generally honor similar accomplishments. In footy, we have the FIFA POY (voted on by captains and coaches of international teams), the Ballon d'Or (which is restricted to the "best" player in any European league), and the Golden Boot (which is for leading goal-scorer in any European league). At varying times, the winner of any of these awards has been referred to as "the best player in the world."

But, as with American sports, is the winner of an MVP trophy (or something similar) equivalent to "the best player in the world" or do they reflect different notions? In the NBA, for example, there is debate almost every year about whether the league MVP is truly the greatest basketball player, or just the one who has achieved the greatest individual success. Can an MVP play on a losing team, or at the very least on a team that does not make the finals or win its division? Few people complained last year when Kobe Bryant won the award due largely to the fact that, despite not leading the NBA in any statistical category, he was an NBA All-Star, NBA First-Teamer, NBA Defensive First-Teamer, and led that LA Lakers to the NBA Finals. There had been much more consternation when Kevin Garnett won the MVP in the 2002-2003 season with fairly similar statistics after leading the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals, perhaps because Minnesota had a poor history of playoff performance.

The uproar was even greater when Steve Nash won the MVP trophy in the 2004-2005 season and repeated the feat in the 2005-2006 season (and almost took the award again the next year). Was it because Nash is Canadian (although he was actually born in South Africa)? After all, he was an NBA All-Star and NBA First-Teamer, averaged a double-double, and led the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals in both of those seasons. No, it was because Nash, despite being declared one of the Top 10 point guards to ever play in the NBA, was not often "showy" when making all of his teammates better. Just like Steven Gerrard.

Stevie G has won almost no individual awards throughout his long and distinguished career. He took home the UEFA Club Player of the Year in the 2004-2005 season (hey, Nash won the MVP that season!), and was the Professional Footballer's Association POY in the 2005-2006 season (same as Nash again). And other than the 2005 Champions League Final victory over Milan, he has not seen the greatest heights of success with either club or country. He has scored over 60 goals (in over 300 appearances) for Liverpool in EPL play and 14 goals (in 70 apperances) for the England senior team in international play, but has failed to win the EPL, a World Cup, or a Euro tournament. In short, Steven Gerrard is Steven Nash.

But then what makes someone like Zidane say that Stevie G is the best player in the world? Watch Liverpool play and notice how Gerrard controls the midfield (much as Zizou in his day), shifting his teammates into position, always talking (occasionally having too much to say to the referee), always probing the opposition's defense. Notice how when he has the ball within 35 yards of goal everyone in the stadium, including the opposing defenders, seem to hold their breath waiting for a bit of magic. Notice how respected he is by teammates and opponents alike (generally), and how he is treated as an ambassador of the game (setting aside a few missteps).

Now all of this may sound strange coming from a Gunner (and a Frenchman), considering the subject. But the truth is that, outside of Arsenal and most of those who have played for Les Bleus, there are few players that I like and respect more than Steven Gerrard (and Michael Owen, as well). Perhaps the fact that I have overcome my natural aversion to someone who plays for England and one of the other "Top 4" is the best compliment yet for Stevie G.

Well, that and what Zidane said.


Anonymous said...

He's a tremendous talent. My problem with him is his inefficiency.

The highlight reels show the one brilliant play. They don't show the 15 other times where he hoofed the ball forward hopelessly, or tried the impossible pass and lost the ball.

I seem him as a very rich man's Robbie Keane. He's a tremendous instinctual player. But, there's no measurement to his game. I don't believe he's that bright.

Liverpool surround him with reserved, tactical players which allows him to play to his strengths and the two holding midfielders afford him some freedom.

When he isn't in a system specifically designed for him, as with England, he falters.

Bigus Dickus said...

Just because he doesn't always shine for England does not mean he is ineffective for them. With England it's more about who he plays with rather than the system. He just cannot play with Lampard yet has great games when Barry plays to his left. Also, England games are a one shot deal, pretty infrequent. He has the abiity to be more consistent with Liverpool purely based on familiarity of team mates and regular games.

Jason said...

The fact that Gerrard not only functions but thrives in Benitez's uber-tactical set-up would tend to indicate to me that he's the opposite of Robbie Keane; he's instinctive and tactical at the same time. His instincts serve him well, but he understands the game; Benitez wouldn't use him if he just ran out and didn't understand the system, a la Robbie Keane.

Magnakai Haaskivi said...

Oh, yeah, that was me. Dammit. I'd be a shitty superhero.

Autoglass said...


Clap-clap clap,clap,clap


Clap-clap clap,clap,clap

The NY Kid said...

@Auto - don't talk about me that way. I was never rated to begin with.

Mike Georger said...

In the best individual season he has ever had, and coincedentally the best points haul they have ever had, they barely ever played with two holding players. Didi was on the way out and Momo was only there half the year. It was usually just ALonso.

And I'm sure as an Arsenal fan you watched more Liverpool games that year than me, so I'm sure the players you're referring to that are 'reserved' and 'tactical' in that situation are Riise, Kewell, Garcia, Zenden, and the rest of those stalwarts that held down the midfield like a rock for him.

Mike Georger said...

Has Steve Nash led him team to a comeback in the one trophy that every team in Europe is dying for every year? That comparison doesn't make any sense.

Mike Georger said...

Frankly I'd say Nash is more akin to Zlatan. Tears it up during the regular season and his team does great, but once it gets into a playoff system against the best teams, they falter.

Gerrard is the only player to ever score in an FA Cup Final, League Cup Final, UEFA Cup Final, and Champions League Final. He is one of the best big game players in the world, something which certainly wouldn't be said about nash.

The NY Kid said...

The comparison isn't perfect, but your criticism isn't either, considering that Nash doesn't have the opportunities in so many different venues that Gerrard does (i.e. there is no FA Cup or Champions League for the NBA)

Anonymous said...

1. Maybe you do watch more Liverpool games than me, maybe not. Since they are one of the big four clubs in England, they are on a great deal. I don't need to hunt down a Liverpool match.

But, I don't see how that negates my right to an opinion, particularly when you go on to make a dismissive assertion about Ibrahimovic. If you watched him every week you'd realize how he has carried the load for Inter this season.

2. Gerrard is the only player to ever score in the finals of those tournaments. He's probably the only player to have had a chance to play in them. For that combination, it would have to be someone who played for Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal. And anyone from Man U gets a disqualified because they weren't in the UEFA Cup.

Mike Georger said...

My point wasn't that he is the best player because he has scored in all of those finals, rather that he has come up big in all of those games, and that Nash isn't known for coming up big when it matters at all.

And for what it's worth, Gerrard has 32 goals in 100 games in Europe. Half as many goals as he has in the Premier League, but with 220 less games played. He plays well under pressure, Steve Nash tends not to.

Though they do have something in common, they're both of a nationality that isn't winning an international competition anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

I think the Ibrahimovic criticism for that game is misguided. It's similar to what happened with Ronaldo at the World Cup.

He is Inter's only weapon going forward. He scores most of their goals. The ones he doesn't score he creates with his passing and link up play. Man U knew this. They have the best defense in football, and they put a straight-jacket on him.

Why is it Ibrahimovic's fault that those surrounding him couldn't take advantage of the space and didn't alleviate the pressure? It's not his fault Balotelli gave Man U no reason to bother diverting resources toward him.

JT said...

Ty, Man U's victory on Wednesday had nothing to do with stopping Ibra. It was all about stopping Maicon. When Rooney switched to the left-wing to man-mark, it was game over.

The NY Kid said...

@Georger - my point for the comparison was simply that when Nash won the MVP people went apeshit saying that he had no business doing so, despite his decent individual accomplishments and relative success with the team, because he did not win a championship. The same criticism is likely to be raised regarding Stevie G as "the best player in the world."

Mike Georger said...

You do realize that the NBA MVP award is awarded immediately after the regular season and that the playoffs have no baring on it right?

Nash won it because he's white.

Mike Georger said...

Oh and by the way, I don't agree with Zidane. I think he is the best central midfielder in the world and one of the most complete players, but nobody can even come close to Messi right now, and I don't think Gerrard is the best player on him team anymore either. But it's Messi's world and nobody, other than injuries, can compete with him at the moment.

With the possible exception of Dossena.

Magnakai Haaskivi said...

You're talking about a guy who's strike rate goes down by 20% when he's in European competition; certainly it's possible that his style doesn't translate internationally, but to say he's just being well-covered by better teams is oversimplifying the issue. Either way, those same European teams are also covering Gerrard, and he's still scoring.

The NY Kid said...

yes, Georger, I realize that. But the reaction of the people to the award includes those who were not content when "the MVP" couldn't take his team to the finals. And considering that Nash won 2 in a row (and almost 3), people take that body of work into consideration.

But again, that's mostly beside the point for my comparison of an individual being termed "the greatest" (or MVP) when a large portion of those who watch the sport are not in agreement with that assessment.

Mike Georger said...

"that's mostly beside the point for my comparison of an individual being termed "the greatest" (or MVP) when a large portion of those who watch the sport are not in agreement with that assessment."

I think we're putting a bit much stock in what Zidane is saying. It's not like Gerrard is getting an award for this, and I don't remember any clamoring when he won PFA considering it's voted on by the players, who I would say have a better idea of what's going on than us.

SkinScience said...

er this would adidas pitchman zidane saying adidas wearing gerrard is better than nike wearing messi and ronaldo...let me think for a second

as regards gerrard's merits he's not the best player in his team so how can he be the best in the world, he's tactically inept and a bit of a flat track bully

Teeknuts said...

Have you SEEN the Doss's recent goal to game ratio? It's unbelievable. Literally. I can't believe he scored. I still don't think it actually happened.

Anonymous said...

Dosenna has become a punchline ahaha


Gerrard the best? Why not?

~ Vote at ~

machine gooner funk said...

messi wears addidas

The Fan's Attic said...

dossena is clearly the best player in the world based on today's performance.


Is Dossena Nike or Adidas?