It’s usually a straight and deathly dull battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as to who is named the best player in the world.
Between them, they have received the Ballon d’Or in each of the last five years, further accentuating just how highly the duo are thought of by their peers – and understandably so. In total they scored an astonishing 91 league goals last season, earning WhoScored.com ratings of 8.84 (Messi) and 8.48 (Ronaldo) – the highest in Europe.
The debate, though, rages on as to who can be considered the third best player in world football. Neymar, Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eden Hazard and Sergio Agüero, among others, each have a legitimate case to collect the bronze medal.
That quintet have all excelled for their respective club teams in recent years, so can perhaps claim the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo.
However, one player who is perhaps frequently overlooked is Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich star’s season was cruelly cut short due to injury but, when fit, the Dutchman was on top of his game.
Robben’s WhoScored.com rating (8.47) was the third best in Europe’s top five leagues last season and the best in the Bundesliga. A total of ten WhoScored.com man of the match awards was bettered only by Messi (25) and Ronaldo (17), and it’s reasonable to suggest that figure could easily have challenged the latter had the Flying Dutchman remained fit for the entire campaign.
Herein, however, lies the problem. As good as Robben is, his injury problems have restricted his impact for Bayern.
In the last six Bundesliga seasons, the wide man has never started more than 20 league games. In fact, since signing for the Bavarian giants, Robben has started just 49% of a possible 204 league matches.
It’s a cruel twist of fate for the 31-year-old Dutchman, who once had the potential to become the best player in the world. For him to be so regularly overlooked when listing the current crop of great footballers remains unjust.
A return of 17 league goals was a notable figure given he mustered just 1679 of a possible 3060 minutes of league action in Germany’s top tier last season and it was a figure bettered only by Eintracht Frankfurt frontman Alexander Meier (19). Again, that goal tally would likely have been far greater had injuries not hindered his campaign.
Robben’s greatest strength, though, is his ability on the ball. Dribbling is a statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of the Netherlands international and that comes as no great surprise. Whenever he is mentioned, the first image that springs to mind is the Dutchman running at opposition defenders with speed. While his approach is more predictable than day following night – start from the right wing, cut onto his left foot – it’s still difficult to stop him once he gains a head of steam.
A successful dribble every 17.9 minutes was one of the best returns in Europe’s top five leagues of the 428 players to attempt at least 50 dribbles last season. That figure puts him ahead of Hazard (one every 18.7 minutes), Messi (19.4 minutes) and Neymar (24.7 minutes) – a trio famed for their ability to take on the opposition.
For some players renowned for their dribbling ability, there can often be a lack of end product, the player running into blind alleys before sacrificing possession. For Robben, though, that simply isn’t the case. A key pass every 33.6 minutes was one of the best in the Bundesliga last season, while seven assists alongside his 17 goals was a notable return too. In fact, only Kevin De Bruyne (30) was directly involved in more goals in Germany’s top tier last term than Robben (24).
When discussing the best players in world football, overlooking Robben is harsh. While he has had injury problems by the bucketload, when fully fit he is one of football’s finest, of that there is absolutely no question.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with their new free-to-download iOS and Android app.