The Libero - Villa has outgunned a star-studded cast
Published: 07 Jul 2010 - 07:53:03
It is a barely deniable fact that the position of striker is the most glamorous in the game. Put simply, goals win games, and without them there's no point playing.
Bearing that in mind, it is hardly surprising that forwards have the highest profile of all - or that they are the most famous, the most idolised, the most marketable and therefore the best paid players in football.
Everyone wants to score goals; when most budding young footballers take their first formative steps into the game on the playground concrete, their position of choice is usually goal-hanger. Where, after all, is the glory in playing goalkeeper or right-back?
- Fabregas fit / Schweinster: We are underdogs / Torres sweating on semi place
Strikers are the players who punters pay good money to come and see. And because of that, every World Cup needs an exceptional individual performance from a forward player to make it a successful and memorable tournament.
Ferenc Puskas lit up 1954, as did Just Fontaine four years later. Gerd Mueller and Pele shone in 1970, while Diego Maradona in '86 and Brazilian Ronaldo in 2002 put in performances to treasure forever. Indeed, pretty much every World Cup has boasted a player who dazzled bright enough to etch those four weeks on the memory of anyone lucky enough to have been watching.
This, of course, is not lost on FIFA, who sold the current edition on the basis that they had six of the best players of a generation to bank on. This sextet of global superstars, instantly recognisable in pretty much every corner of the world, were supposed to set South Africa alight and make it the best tournament yet witnessed.
Their failure to do so has been nothing short of spectacular. With the possible exception of Lionel Messi, the rest of that enviable cast of reliable seat-fillers - Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo - have put in performances that wouldn't have been able to light up a Sunday league game, let alone the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet.
Torres has been injured, miserable and sluggish. Rooney was hampered by a combination of crippling stage fright and sky-high expectations. Drogba's preparations for the tournament were derailed by a broken arm and Kaka's perma-smile was wiped off his face by a red card, no goals and an early Brazilian exit.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, only really hit the headlines once his involvement in the tournament was over - and not for what he did with the Jabulani balls, but rather what he made with his own.
But, while this tournament will be remembered as the one at which the establishment stars failed to turn up, the host nation has fortunately been bailed out by the performances of several lesser lights.
Step forward Señor David Villa, ably assisted by Miroslav Klose and Diego Forlan, none of whom featured in the marketing men's pre-tournament patter but who have put their more celebrated rivals to shame.
The feats of all three have propelled their respective countries to the semi-finals, but it has been Villa in particular who has stood out as without doubt the best striker of the tournament.
Indeed, the new Barcelona man can easily lay claim to the unofficial title of best striker in the world on current form. His five goals from as many games - with another 90 minutes, maybe more to come - have marked him out as favourite for the Golden Boot, an award which would nicely complement the one he won when Spain were crowned European champions two years ago.
Should he repeat that feat, the statistics will say it all - at least nine goals scored at his last two major tournaments and maybe two trophies won along the way. Torres, Rooney, Drogba, Kaka and Ronaldo may be FIFA's poster boys but they simply cannot hold a light to that kind of record at international level.
And if Villa can build on his burgeoning understanding with the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta at club level, the scary thing is that he could become even more prolific on the international scene.
Of course, it's all ifs and buts at the moment - how many times have we seen players fade after a couple of good tournaments and a big-money move? But for the moment, one thing is for sure - Villa has already done enough to make an indelible mark on South Africa and ensure his name will forever be associated with the 2010 World Cup.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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