Guardian Top 100: What does it tell us?

IT WAS almost inevitable that Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi, in his World Cup crowning, would be ranked as the world’s top player once more. The Guardian top 100, which has grown in credibility year-by-year, has named the Argentinian skipper at number one for the fifth time in the past decade, leaving behind his old rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, who is languishing below mid-table at number 51 in his new AL-Nassr shirt.

While there can be little dispute over the position of Messi in the modern game’s pantheon, what is clear is football’s top names are long in the tooth and still dominating their profession. A grand total of 13 of the top 20 are over 30 years of age, and overall, 32% are in this age bracket across the 100. Only 3% are under 20. Is there something a little worrying about this statistic, one wonders?

Astonishingly, there are more Moroccans in the 100 than Spanish, Italian or Dutch players, a reflection of the performance of the Africans in the World Cup. Brazil (14) provides the highest number of nationals, with France (12) and Argentina (11) not far behind. England (9) and Germany (8) are next in line.

Unsurprisingly, the Premier is the top league, contributing 44% of the overall total. In 2021, the figure was 42%, so the English league continues to grow its influence in securing the top players. The big five leagues dominate, providing 94% of the total. 

As in 2021, Manchester City have more players represented than any other club – their 12 matching their total for the previous year. Their highest placing is Erling Haaland in fourth, while resurgent Kevin De Bruyne is in sixth. The rest of the Etihad dozen are way behind. Liverpool are the next best represented Premier side, with Mo Salah (down seven places on 2021) the highest in tenth. 

Real Madrid have 11 players, including the born-again Karim Benzema in third place, a remarkable achievement, and veteran Luka Modric in fifth position. Real have become a club for Indian Summers with these two players among the oldest in the listings. 

The top 100 also gives an insight into the rise and fall of certain clubs; Chelsea, for example, have just five players included, a 50% drop on 2021, while Barcelona have five, which admittedly is more than last year but still shows how they have fallen from their past highs. With Barca likely to win La Liga in 2022-23, next season’s list should see more from the Catalans. Juventus have just two players in the 100, while Paris Saint-Germain, with four, have seen their number halve and more. Arsenal, by contrast, have trebled their representation to three and if they continue their pursuit of the Premier title, will surely have more plaudits in the 2023 rankings.

The Guardian top 100 this year shows us that football is at a transition stage as the most celebrated players move towards the end of their careers. Ronaldo has already stepped off the podium as he enjoys the first laps of honour as he winds down, others will undoubtedly follow in the next couple of years. We have witnessed something of a golden era of star footballers and the next generation has to have space to come through. With such a high proportion of top players in the big five leagues, the strength of the other European leagues will diminish further unless there is some way to implement financial democracy across the continent.

The Premier League’s presence in the 100 went up slightly, but interestingly, there were 11 clubs compared to nine in 2021. This may indicate more clubs have the resources to scoop-up the top talent, or simply that the elite bracket is easing up a little. Whatever the reason, the polarisation of European football is reflected in the Guardian’s list.

Football Media Review: David Beckham under fire

DAVID BECKHAM has become one of the faces of Qatar 2022 – the TV cameras home in on him, he’s been at the centre of a number of controversies and the reaction to his role with the Qataris has not been well received. As a man who courts publicity wherever he goes, Beckham must have expected that his presence would attract attention, that his lucrative arrangements would be the target of criticism in this most unwanted of World Cups.

Some newspapers, such as the Daily Mirror, have suggested Beckham may have damaged his reputation beyond repair. Certainly, with a charity CV that includes UNICEF, Aids relief and sports development for children, Beckham’s eagerness to received vast sums of money from Qatar is contradictory to say the least. Social media, inevitably, has had its say: “Money means more to you than women’s safety…. It’s called greed. How much money do you need?”.

The artist Cold War Steve has created a piece of work that includes Beckham, in Peaky Blinders livery, rolling a wheelbarrow full of money along with other possible beneficiaries of the World Cup. The figures being mentioned vary, topping out at £ 150 million in the form of £ 15 million per year for 10 years.

Beckham’s arrangements are in stark contrast to his wife’s former Spice Girls colleague, Mel C, who has turned down the offer to sing at the World Cup as she would not be comfortable taking the money. The Daily Record wondered if this might create a rift between the Beckhams and the most savvy member of the band.

The Independent asks if “it is finally curtains for football’s golden boy….the man who could hitherto do no wrong?” The paper describes Beckham’s general demeanour as “sugary sweet but also achingly bland”.

The Athletic points out that Beckham has said very little about the key issues around Qatar, but prefers to offer the hope that “the World Cup will be a platform for progress and tolerance.” Such a soundbite is typical of this age of anodyne statements and any belief that appropriate due diligence has been done by meeting the country’s leaders is pure naivety. Nicholas McGeehan of human rights group Fair Square said he would ask Beckham, “where are you getting your information from. It is from the Qataris, it is far from independent. Ask Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.”

Beckham’s past position as a gay icon has been all but destroyed given Qatar’s complete intolerance of homosexuality. Peter Tatchell, the campaigner for gay rights, has urged Beckham to think again about the company he keeps.

But it could get worse for the former England captain. The Financial Times reported that Beckham is happy to talk to anyone who might be interested in buying Manchester United, his old club, with the aim of “lending credibility” to a bid. The Guardian, noting Beckham’s very neat facial hair, commented: “Let’s hope our manscaped figurehead finds a ship to lash himself to in a very short order, allowing him to once again set sail on lucrative tides.”

Rio Ferdinand, speaking to the Manchester Evening News, said Beckham did not have the cash to take over United but, “he would come with a consortium. He comes with people who do have deep pockets who have the ability to and go and execute on a deal like that.”

Meanwhile, the editor of Attitude magazine, which featured Beckham on its cover, has spoken out about the stunt performed by comedian Joe Lycett in which he promised to shred £ 10,000 if Beckham didn’t withdraw from Qatar. “The fall of David Beckham’s star has been fast and heavy. It’s a reminder that being an advocate for not just LGBTQ+ rights, but women’s rights, immigrant worker’s rights and any human rights should not be lip service. It’s not a trend to boost a person’s profile. Human rights are not a fashion statement to be made to generate coverage in the style pages of tomorrow’s magazines. They are not a new haircut to stir up media attention. They are real issues that affect the livelihood of billions of vulnerable people around the country.”

Sources: Daily Mirror, Independent, Daily Record, Manchester Evening News, Financial Times, The Guardian, Daily Mail, The Athletic, Attitude.