This is often a matter of debate. For me most often in the question, “Do Arsenal have any World Class players left?”
To be honest, answering that is unlikely to take long. I can string it out by answering this question first, though:
How do we define World Class?
Feel free to skip ahead. I’ll never know.
Let’s start at the bottom: most of us normal plebs would be Sunday-league class at best. If we were good enough to play at a higher level then we might be non-league class. ‘Non-league’ in English parlance means the level of football below the Premier League and the three Football League divisions, and is therefore better than Sunday-league. The top level of non-league these days is the Blue Square Bet Premier Division, also known as Conference National level. I don’t know how far below that you would continue to call ‘non-league’, but you’ve then got two more parallel Blue Square divisions (north and south), then three parallel divisions of Evo-Stik sponsored north and south plus the Ryman (Isthmian) league, and each of those has two parallel divisions below it of Evo-Stik and Rymans-sponsored football. I’d say that any player good enough to play regularly at any of those levels would be ‘non-league class’, though I’m sure there is some variation in standard. Many players at the top end are full professionals (and may have played in higher leagues), while those lower down certainly aren’t.
Then moving up again you’ve got the Football League, these days split into ‘The Championship’, ‘League One’ and ‘League Two’. Is England the only country daft enough to call the third tier of football ‘League One’? Probably. There’s not a lot of difference in the standard between the top of non-league and the bottom of League Two, but I’m sure it’s clear to aficionados which players are of a standard to be comfortable in each of the Football League divisions, which are struggling and which can go higher. I think most fans are clear on who is a Championship-level player and who will make it in the top rank of domestic competition, the Premier League.
If you’re good enough to play in the Premier League, then you are Premier League class. I think we all agree on that, though we may not agree on who is good enough. But in the Premier League there are teams of different class with different ambitions. Many of Arsenal’s players in recent years have been good enough to play in the Premier League, but sadly not good enough for a club like Arsenal. But leaving that aside, if a player can play regularly in the Premier League, then he is Premier League class.
Next level up is international class. Now this is perhaps tricky, as you could be international class for San Marino or for Brazil, which are different. But we English, we usually take international class to mean good enough to play for England, or a similar-level country – and let’s not overlook that England are third in the Fifa rankings at present, which says more about how they work out the rankings than it does about England. No matter. The top-level Premier League players are all international class because they can play for a ‘big’ country at international level.
Which brings us onto World Class. So if to be in any of the other classes, you need to be good enough to play for a team at that level, then surely World Class means that in a hypothetical galactic league you would be in with at least a good chance of getting into the World squad. That makes you top 30-40 (at most) in the world. (If you’re not using this definition, then why is your definition for World Class different to the definition for every other level in football?) So you probably need to be among the best three or four players in your position at any time to be World Class.
Remember Dennis? Thierry? Seaman? Vieira? They’d be in there. World Class. Even Cashley, who has got better since he left us. Van Persie? On top form, yes. For a while. But who have we got left?
Goalkeepers: nope, no one there.
Defenders: Sagna? On the brink, maybe. Others? Probably not. Not even Per and his many German caps.
Midfield: Rosicky looked as though he might be at one time – specifically the time just before he joined Arsenal. Wilshere? It’s early days, but if he hadn’t been out for a year, who knows? We’d probably have been fighting Barca and Real off all summer. Give him a bit longer. Arshavin? The nearly man. Cazorla? Bit part for Spain, though they are the world’s best, so he may be close to World Class. I hope so. The rest: no. Definitely not.
Strikers: As I write, we have eight strikers at Arsenal. I think I can safely assume that four of those aren’t in this discussion: Park, Gervinho, Bendtner and Chamakh. That leaves the English duo of Walcott (not yet World Class; probably never) and Oxlade-Chamberlain (not yet World Class; possibly one day), and the two other new boys. Giroud is 26 next month and has still to prove himself in a top league and at international level, so that’s another ‘not yet, if ever’.
Finally Podolski. Over 100 caps for Germany, along with the 40-odd goals sounds pretty good. But on the other hand he went to Bayern for a couple of years, didn’t do a lot and then went back to Koln. That doesn’t sound World Class to me.
So there you have it. One or two possibles, one or two not yets, and the rest making up the numbers. Thierry and Dennis in the same team . . . I hope we realised how lucky we were.
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