"As a player I think I'm close to being as complete as I can be," said Nani. "Now I can say I'm one of the top players in the world.
Fair enough, Nani. You certainly have been playing well lately. But the timing, Luis? You probably could have picked a better time to be braggadocios, considering you're two days removed from becoming one of the most controversial players in the English soccer world.
In case, like me, you've been out of it for the last week, here's what happened this weekend. In the second half of this clip, you see Nani taking an apparent dead ball, set-up for Spurs' keeper Heurelho Gomes, and putting it into Tottenham's goal:
What you don't see is how that play came about. Nani committed what was thought to be a hand ball in the Spurs area, one so obvious everybody on the pitch was preparing for the restart. The only problem: referee Mark Clattenburg never blew his whistle. The assistant referee's flag was still down. The play was still live, and although Gomes had set-up the ball as if a foul had been called, Nani noticed the ball was not dead.
Over the last two days, the English footballing world has been consumed by the blame game. Was it Clattenburg's fault for not calling the foul? Gomes's for not playing to the whistle? Nani's for being inherently evil? The world's for producing this trio? This paragraph's for it's clichéd structure? I'm sure we'll get there before the debate is done.
In the interim, as is the EPL media's want, some want to lump Nani in with Luis Suárez and, of course, Diego Maradona. England's now in their 25th year of looking for the repercussions of Maradona's evils, and when Nani chose to play to the whistle (normally espoused as a prime football virtue), he volunteered himself as the next exemplar. Lucky for him, this was only a league match. People will forget quickly, though that doesn't make Nani's self-serving bombast something other than ill-timed.
Contrasted against Nani's blind insensitivity is the truth. The guy has been remarkably good this year, and his place in the world's game deserves some discussion. There are few players who, even on the biggest stages, would demand an opposing coach plan for him, but there is no match imaginable were the opposition can afford to overlook Nani.
Still, these I'm one of the best statements are always a bit naive. Most of the players who utter them do so to because they feel they're being overlooked, nevermind there's often a reason why others are failing to notice. While their skills are remarkable and their recent accomplishments noteworthy, "amongst the best in the world" is an incredibly high bar. Most people who claim a place in the category seem to have never stop and consider how many truly remarkable talents there are in the soccer world.
Nor do they bother defining their terms. For example, what does Nani mean by "one of the top?" Does he think he's one of the 20, 30 best players in the world. That seems like a large number. I've always inferred that, when a player uses that language, he's implicitly saying "When you talk about the best players in the world, you have to talk about me." Nani's been great but is anybody confusing him with Messi, Villa, Ronaldo, Xavi, et al? And what about non-attacking players? If you were making a list of the world's best players, would Nani can't rank above Ashley Cole or a healthy Gianluigi Buffon. Looking beyond the players who dominate highlights and put up numbers, it's hard to see Nani breaking into the "top."
However, when you consider players who play a similar position (wide attackers), Nani has a stronger claim to being "one of the top." A healthy Arjen Robben would be the standard, if you decide Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't fit in this group. After that, you're talking about who? Florent Malouda, Franck Ribery. Gareth Bale? Milos Krasic? Possibly a continuously emerging Angel Di Maria.
Nani deserves to be in that group, but he's not one of the world's "top" players. He certainly would be well-advised not to make such a claim one day after many in England made him public enemy number um.