ROGAN TAYLOR: IT’S ALL IN THE NUMBERS GAME

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Picking the world’s top one hundred players for 2013 is an invidious task. Simply keeping track of all the footballers who might be considered eligible is an almost impossible job, even if you get paid to watch football, and there will always be arguments about how it’s done. But it’s certainly fun to have a go.

The Guardian newspaper has been doing it for a couple of years, using a chunky-sized panel of fifteen members which this year includes people like Alessandro Nesta; former England women’s coach, Hope Powell, and retired USA goalkeeper, Kasey Keller. (I was delighted to see that two of our graduates from the Liverpool University footie MBA, Amy Lawrence & Fernando Duarte, were also included on the panel.)

Inevitably, the devilish interest is not in trying to decide between Messi & Ronaldo who the world’s No. 1 player is (at that level, it’s simply down to who you love the most which is why Ronnie keeps coming second best).

No, the real interest-devil is in the detail and the messages one can read from the data about where power lies. In this Guardian list the two best clubs in the world both begin with a ‘B’: Bayern & Barca, and they both have an equal number of players in the top 100 – eleven each (a whole team-full).

Yet when it comes to ‘quality’, the Catalans have four players in the top 10 and the German club has only one. So Barca has 40% of the world’s top 10 in their first choice team whilst Munich has a mere 10%.

Meanwhile Real Madrid have nine players in the top 100 but only two in the top 10 and one of those, Bale, has only been at the Club for a few months. Man City has only one (Aguero), as does Liverpool (guess who?).

But Man Utd have only one player in the world’s top 20, with van Persie at 11th, just missing the cut, and Rooney coming in at 27th. In fact, those two players are the only representatives for Man Utd in the top 50 which tells a tale.

Chelsea – despite Mourinho’s recent tactical denials of his team’s title winning credibility – has eight players in top 100; whilst Man City (Mourinho’s ‘favourites’) has only six. But the Prescient One might have a point: Man City’s Aguero (at 10th) is twenty places higher than Chelsea’s best: Juan Mata, at 30th.

One area where there are few surprises though is in the pattern of League strength indicated in the list. The geographical disposition of the top 100 players confirms the Premier League as the biggest employer of the world’s top 100 players, with almost one third of them (29) on the books. Unsurprisingly, too, La Liga comes in second with 26.

However, the PL has only two of the top 10 players on show whilst La Liga has three times that: a full 60% of the world’s top 10 players earn their living in Spain. The Premier League may feature the most ‘dramatic’ football (and pay the highest wages) but it don’t play the best. If you’re looking for clues as to who might win the World Cup, look no further than the three favourites.

Spaniards, Germans and Brazilians are heavily represented….

There is one eternal truth which shines out from the list: defenders are not sexy; they just don’t feature anywhere near the top end. Though there are nineteen defenders in the top 100 players, there are none in the top 10; only two in the top 20, and only three in the top 40.

As Jamie Carragher told his fellow pundit on Sky TV: ‘No one grows up wanting to be Gary Neville.’

Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.

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