The term "World Class" seems to be thrown around so much lately it has lost all meaning. With the World Cup only a week away, the term continues to get used incessantly with little regard for meaning and consistency. So I figured with Milan still being run by a pack of fools, we could take the time to channel Socrates to ask and answer a few questions and hopefully come up with a definition to the term everyone is using and no one is willing to define.
For me the term has always been something special, it has always represented a player a cut above the rest, excelling in his position not only domestically or continentally, but globally. To be World Class would it not be prudent for such a player to have performed successfully on the World’s stage? There are many players who excel domestically, take for example Toto Di Natale who scores goals by the boatload in the Serie A; but many can agree he would not be mistaken World Class. He has barely been proven on the continental stage with Udinese in either the CL or Europa Cup, and his few stellar performances for the Azzurri were against subpar competition. What about players like Pippo or Raul who are labeled as proverbial “Kings of the CL” but have never truly made their mark in the International game. Now I can’t sit here and say that Pippo and Raul were not at one point in contention to be World Class players, but it leads nicely into another set of questions and points.
The status of World Class is not branded on your rear like cattle or tattooed on your arm like Materazzi; it is something that needs to be earned and sustained based on performances. Not a single person could argue that a player be deemed World Class on just a single good performance. No one will mistake Marco Borriello for World Class following a three goal outburst in the Serie A or even the Champions League, would they? A player needs more; to be World Class a player must have a sustained level of excellence that shows for Club and Country domestically and internationally. Once a player has reached such a high level a commitment is required to maintain that level of excellence for an extended period, if not, a player on the cusp of World Class will certainly be ready to take up the mantle.
We have discussed some of the individual requirements for a player to be World Class, but shouldn’t that player also contribute to the success of his team? Would a player be considered World Class if he only had a mantle of individual accolades? I personally do not believe so, to be World Class the player would have to be able to raise the level of play around him in order to achieve both individual or team success. A good example of such a feat would be Kaka in 2007 when he elevated his game in the Champions League to near epic levels of excellence (Golden Ball Winning Excellence to be exact) and at times carried his Milan teammates to the trophy. A polar example to Kaka would be Francesco Totti who has a trophy cabinet full of individual domestic accolades but has never truly been able to raise Roma to the level of success enjoyed by his peers. Roma fans will tell you their hero is World Class, but his performances speak for themselves and put him far short of the mark.
Clearly the term success is synonymous with World Class; a success founded both on team and individual accolades. But beyond that success is a commitment to maintain the highest level of play. It would be hard for a player just making his way into the game to be given such a high honor, sure we can talk about potential, but until that player has had a chance to prove himself at these levels he is merely on the cusp. Granted the advent of the Club World Championship has given players like Messi and C Ronaldo the ability to showcase their talents on a International front, while fans still await their breakout performances on the World Cup stage; who knows it could be their year, but at this point the sheer success of players such as Messi and C Ronaldo is defined through their trophy hauls and their individual accolades and cementing World Class status is merely a World Cup away.
In the next post I hope to use these criteria to name my own personal World Class winning eleven (with subs) and also to note some players on the edge of greatness. The players on the edge may be young players waiting for their chance, or players who have exceeded expectations on the Club level and have a chance to shine at the World Cup. In the meantime I ask you to add any factors you find suitable to help further flesh out his “buzz word” in the hopes of finding a true meaning. Finally, I would like to note that the idea of World Class, like much we discuss here, is subjective. My attempt was at a broad definition that could potentially be agreed, but obviously not without faults.