21 Feb 2013

'I don't think so' - Hamann insists 'scary' Arsenal star is not 'world class'. Agree...?

As we've seen many times in the past, the British Press has a habit of grossly overhyping any English player who shows the slightest bit of talent, and the golden boy du jour is currently Arsenal's Jack Wilshere. Steven Gerrard recently added to the hype with his overblown public praise of the 21-year old, but Liverpool legend Dietmar Hamann has dismissed the idea that the midfielder is a world class player.

After watching Bayern Munich dismantle Arsenal in the Champions League, Hamann - who played a massively important role in helping Liverpool lift the trophy in 2005 - tweeted:

"Bayern tore an average Arsenal team apart today. Wilshere world class? I don't think so. People say I'm harsh, but the simple fact is he wouldn't get into Munich's team.

"[Bastien] Schweinsteiger said he [Wilshere] is top class, but what was he meant to say? Schweini showed today who is world class and who isn't"

Gerrard has a long history of starry-eyed hyperbole when it comes to certain players, and his views on Wilshere are typically exaggerated. Earlier this month, he told Reporters:

"He [Wilshere] is a one-off. He's a lot better than your normal Premier League midfielder. I think he's got the potential to become one of the best in the world. He can tick almost every box, and he's going to get better and better. He'll get better than he is now which is a scary thought"

Wilshere has barely played 50 Premier League games for Arsenal in his entire career, and he's apparently on his way to being one of the 'best in the world'?! What happened to actually *proving* your ability over a period of time? What has Wilshere done in the game so far? Zilch.

There's no way Wilshere is even close to world class at this stage. When assessing 'World Class' ability, the only fair way to judge is to apply - where possible - objective criteria. A purely subjective analysis has questionable merit because it is based on emotion, (flawed) individual perception and biased, experiential interpretation. The subjective formula is basically: "I see, therefore he is...World Class".

Subjectively, any player can be anointed 'world class', but it has no meaning unless the label can be persuasively justified with objective facts. Before Wilshere can be considered 'World Class', he'll have to excel at all three levels of football.

The Three Levels of Football

In Europe, there are clearly three levels of top-class professional football:

* DOMESTIC: Top National Leagues.
* EUROPEAN: Elite European Competitions (Champions League, or equivalent)
* WORLD: International Tournaments (Qualifying and finals)

World Class: My Definition

A player cannot be considered World Class unless and until:

* He excels for his team - i.e. has a specific, measurable impact (SMI) - at all three levels of football.

* He dominates games in his position and pushes his team to relative success at all three levels.

Relative Success

Context is everything, and the following should be considered when assessing players:

* The team's relative strength in comparison to other teams in the league/group.
* The team's Optimum Achievement Level (OAL)
* Causation: The player's causal contribution to his team's OAL.

Key questions:

* What is the OAL of this team in a given competition? In other words, considering the overall quality of players available, what is the absolute best this team can realistically expect to achieve?

* To what extend did the player in question help the team to meet its OAL?

* But for the player under consideration, would the team still have achieved its OAL?

Issues to Consider

* SMI at all three levels is required; high achievement in two out of three levels is not good enough.

* I consider International tournament football to be the highest level of football; it is arguably the most mentally demanding, and only the very best can consistently perform under that level of pressure. The hopes of a nation on a player's shoulders, and this is massive pressure. Others consider European tournaments (i.e. the Champions League) to be the apex of the modern game, and I can see the argument for that too. In reality, though, the question is irrelevant - players still need to excel at all three levels to labelled 'World Class'.

* A variety of objective, position-specific criteria should be used when assessing the SMI of players. For example, for attacking players: Goals; assists; conversion rate; key passes; shot-assists; passing accuracy etc. For defenders: goals conceded; blocks; aerial duels won; tackle success rate etc.

* A player's individual SMI is all important. How far did the player contribute to the team achieving its OAL? If you remove the player's SMI from the equation, would the team still achieve its OAL? If so, then that player is probably not world class. Truly world class players are absolutely integral to their team's success, to the extent that, without that player, the team would not achieve its OAL.

In Wilshere's case, he hasn't yet achieved a consistent SMI at any level of football. The best thing Gerrard et al could do for the midfielder is stop overhyping his ability with pressure-inducing hyperbole, and let him quietly get on with developing his game.

Read more: World Class Football Performance: A New Definition (Includes exceptions)

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