Who Da Man?
France and Brazil kickoff their world cup campaigns today. This means all eyes will be on arguably the two best players in the world: Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho. The burning question is which one is the best player. Both players have already won the world cup with Henry winning with the France squad of '98 and Ronaldinho winning it with Brazil in '02. Henry has also won the European Cup with France at Euro 2000. Additionally, both players are excellent at club level as well. Prior to the infusion of Russian capital at Chelsea Henry led Arsenal to two league titles, the most memorable of which came in 2003 when Arsenal went through the league without losing a single game, a feat that hadn't happened in England's top flight in over a century. Ronaldinho has been equally impressive leading Barcelona to two consecutive league titles in La Liga and also leading the Catalan giants to the champions league title this year over Thierry Henry's Arsenal.
Though both players have already won the World Cup they both still have something to prove as this time around they are expected to contribute more than they did when the won the cup. In '98 Henry was a young forward with little experience or responsibilities. Indeed, he did not play in the final game of the '98 tournament and that was Zidane's team anyway. Similarly, in 2002 Brazil was Ronaldo's team. Though Ronaldinho made key contributions it was Ronaldo who won the golden boot and scored the two goals against Germany in the final game. This time around the pressure will be squarely on each player to deliver. A strong case can be made for either player being the best in the world and I will try to do just that.
The case for Henry:
Henry's greatest strength is that he has no weakness. He scores goals and creates goals. In 2002, Henry lead the premier league in goals and assists. He has scored at least 25 goals in the past four seasons for Arsenal. His combination of speed and precision is deadly because as we have seen at this world cup there are many forwards who can get open for a shot but very few are clinical in their finishing in front of goal. Henry is one of those forwards. Another beauty of Henry's game is that he can play anywhere on the field in an attacking position. He's not a traditional forward in the sense that he is not always central. He pops up all over the field, on the left wing, in the center of midfield or around the box. If there is one criticism that can be levelled against Henry it's that he hardly scores a goal with his head and he sometimes over elaborates and doesn't make the straightforward play.
The Case for Ronaldinho:
At only 26 years old Ronaldinho is already in the conversation of greatest player ever. If he leads Brazil to the world cup this summer his only peers will be Pele and Maradona. He's won the world player of the year the past two years and has won the award as Europe's top footballer twice. It's hard to argue with his accolades: world cup winner, two time spanish league winner, champions league winner and winner of the confederations cup(utterly meaningless but an accolade nonetheless). He is an irrepressible character on the field. It seems that no matter where you place him he exerts his influence on the game. To see him with the ball at his feet is always a privilege and a sight of horror for opposing defenders. Unlike Henry, his talents aren't as easily quantifiable in goals and assists. His teammates are often the benefactors of his hard work. For example, Rivaldo will be credited with the goal that equalized the game with England in the quarterfinals of '02 but if you remember it was Ronaldinho who picked the ball up at midfield and turned Ashley Cole inside out and laid the ball on a platter for Rivaldo to finish. That play was typical Ronaldinho. In his three years at Barcelona the team went from not winning the league in six years to winning the league twice and winning the champions league for only the second time in their storied history.
So...who's better? It's hard to say but it is difficult to argue against Ronaldinho given his individual accolades as two time world player of the year. Despite what opinions exist right now it will likely be settled over the next month. In the end, I think it will be the man in the yellow jersey and the funny looking teeth hoisting the Jules Rimet Trophy.