Ronaldo or Messi ready to pounce

Anja Niedringhaus/AP

Anja Niedringhaus/AP

Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, the man who calls himself, Kaká, was quite simply the best footballer in the world during 2007, of that there was no doubt.  The Brazilian won a list of awards last year, the most notable being the FIFA World Player of the Year and the coveted European Footballer of the Year, the Ballon d’Or.

If there is such a thing as the perfect footballer it would have to be Kaká.  He is the real deal, a creative talent on the field, intelligent off it and for the ladies, incredibly handsome in every way.

Kaká, unlike many other outstanding Brazilian footballers, did not come from a poor background.  His middle class upbringing presented him with a choice to either pursue a career in football or academia.  We are all thankful that he chose football.  Kaká is the player his Club side, AC Milan, have built their team around, and with good reason.  He played an instrumental part in lifting the 2007 UEFA Champions League winner’s trophy, the Italian Clubs seventh in their history.  I think Kaká is amazing value!

Two other supremely talented footballers are waiting to dethrone the Brazilian superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.  Ronaldo, some would call a twinkle-toed Portuguese pretty boy, has really stepped-up a notch this season, scoring freely and playing the best football of his life at Manchester United.

Ronaldo was signed by United Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, as a replacement for David Beckham on the right side of midfield, and has achieved more than expected.  Portuguese great Eusébio told him that if he wanted to be the best in the world he’d need to score more goals, and has he ever!

The Barclays Premier League 2007/08 season has been dominated by Ronaldo’s phenomenal run of form.  It would be hard to argue that the Portuguese wizard is not the best player in the league.  Ronaldo has scored 19 goals after 24 rounds, quite an achievement.

His ability to create space for himself, take-on defenders and finish is remarkable.  Not to mention Ronaldo’s sublime free-kick taking ability, his most recent an explosive rocket into the top right corner of the net, giving him a double on the night and United a 2-0 victory over Portsmouth in the league.  Ronaldo is just warming-up, it won’t be too long before we see him receive the same kind of accolades as Kaká.  I personally think this is his year.

Ronaldo won’t win award nominations without competition though.  There is a diminutive Argentinean with the surname, Messi, to worry about, both Messi and Ronaldo were consecutive runners-up to Kaká for the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year award.  Messi, who plays his Club football for Catalan giant, FC Barcelona in the Spanish Primera Liga, is definitely a threat to Ronaldo.  Although Barcelona isn’t experiencing the same prosperous run of form as Ronaldo’s United, Messi is still the most dangerous attacking player in Spain.

Messi, pardon the immanent cliché, is the closest player in terms of technical ability and creativity to Argentine legend, Diego Maradona, I have seen since or even prior.  Maradona will always be remembered for his “Hand of God” goal against England in the Quarter-Final of the 1986 FIFA World Cup held in Mexico, but it was his other goal in the same match that signified his greatness.  Messi famously scored an individually comparable and equally brilliant goal during Barcelona’s match against Getafe last April.  The kid has got talent!

What’s most exciting is that no matter who is voted the best player in the world come the end of 2008, Ronaldo, Messi or the incumbent Kaká, would have earned their prize.  All three will go down in the history books as the greatest players of their generation.  What makes them so great to watch is what they share in common: creative, technical and finishing superiority.  No wonder their wealthy European Clubs are so keen to hang onto them, they produce more often than not what the fans crave: entertainment.

It seems to me that playing amazing football is largely cultural.  All three players grew up with the game, watched the game and now play the game they love.  The life of a modern-day footballer must be a lot of fun.  The prospects look good in the years to come if the current crop is anything to go by.  This seasons climax to the UEFA Champions League should conjure up some breathtaking moments if Milan, United and Barcelona are still in contention.  I can’t wait!

Ronaldo and Messi will have to do some more work off the field to match Kaká’s efforts of 2007.  The Brazilian worked as an “Ambassador Against Hunger” for the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) and donates regularly to charity.  Kaká is also a man of faith.  When playing he is known to wear a shirt under his Club jersey which reads “I Belong to Jesus”.  Actions outside of football are also important when weighing-up who has contributed most back to the game.

Remember these three names, Kaká, Ronaldo and Messi.  One of them will be this year’s “Player of the Year” on a number of fronts.  The odds are slightly against Kaká and Messi with their Club sides dipping in form.  My money is on Ronaldo to clean up the awards in 2008.  What a player and what a marvellous time to be watching football.  The game is getting more and more beautiful as the years roll on.

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