It’s always been a conversation starter. Conversation has a tendency to escalate to debate. Debate at times gives way to argument.
And it goes 98 footballers deeper than that never-ending question: Messi or Ronaldo? In the FourFourTwo UK office, a friendship occasionally cools off for a day or two when compiling the 100 Best Players in the World.
The same thing happens across the Atlantic in the STATS headquarters as the list is revealed, so 2017 brings a fitting union of expert opinion and reliable data. FourFourTwo enlisted STATS this year to provide the leading football publication with analytical support for their much-anticipated annual list.
The 2017 version marks its 11th year, but it’s the first with STATS augmenting the collective opinion of FourFourTwo’s extensive worldwide staff of journalists. The list is being revealed from No. 100 to No. 1 over the course of the week, and it’s the culmination of a comprehensive global effort to provide an objective take on the calendar year’s performances.
“I would always say that it’s a starting point for conversation,” said FourFourTwo Global Digital Editor Gary Parkinson. “It’s a collective opinion. It’s a snapshot of the moment in time. There are a lot of moving parts to the 100 because it’s not just about the year that’s gone. There’s also an element of form is temporary; class is permanent.
“There are a lot of different ways to look at this, but it is certainly an entertaining and involving and engaging way to look at the year gone by, and it’s fascinating to look back through the history as well to look at years past. Hopefully we’re doing our job in analysing and educating, and STATS is now a part of it.”
This year, it began with a 19-year-old American at No. 100:
It’s the latest step for a partnership in which STATS has provided FourFourTwo with live data-driven insights during Premier League matches for the 2017/18 campaign.
“It’s very impressive – the level of service that STATS provides,” Parkinson said. “It easily meets the level of information we need to back up our judgement. It’s not purely a data-driven list, but we can use the data that STATS provides to make our case for why this guy should be No. 37 whereas the other is No. 38.”
Those numbers were revealed midweek with an Italian playing in Paris narrowly missing the top 30:
The value of the list doesn’t end at the fan engagement level. FourFourTwo isn’t shy about pointing out the occasional miss, but over a decade of the list shows there’s plenty to be gained from it in terms of forecasting football trends. At the list’s 10-year mark, FourFourTwo analysed itself, finding the 100 in recent seasons reflects the concentration of top talent moving more and more each year to top clubs. Or, from an international perspective, the list can help foretell how one nation might be about to experience an upturn in form while another is headed for a drought.
Evolving football trends or not, the list’s objective remains unchanged as it enters its second decade. Where certain awards in sport may heavily consider a given player’s collection of trophies, FourFourTwo tries to value the individual.
“It’s about the players within the teams,” Parkinson said. “Football is a team game, but this is an individual award that recognises that the player can be performing better than their team. So it’s not just about medals and even necessarily victories.
“A goalkeeper that’s playing really well on a struggling team might not win the most games, but he could be impressing. It’s about evaluating the players individually, and it’s not necessarily about the results of his team in the calendar year.”
Let the debates begin.