Monday, June 5, 2006

Best Player In The World:
Henry or Ronaldinho?

If it was a beauty pageant,
then it wouldn't be close

Ronaldinho is generally acknowledged as the best footballer in the world currently, but in fact a legitimate case can be made for Thierry Henry. My goal here is not to say definitively that Henry is better than Ronaldinho, just to show that they are pretty damn even, and that reality (they are even and a strong case could even be made that Titi is better) is different then the current general perception (Ronaldinho is clearly/without question/far and away the best player in the world). At the end of the day not many would argue that currently they are the two best players in the world, and they should both be appreciated for what they are rather than worrying about which is 'better', so again my main point is to show that there really isn't much between them. A succulent peach and a succulent strawberry are both great, so what is the point of arguing over which is definitively better when instead we should just appreciate them for what they are.

R10 won in Paris, who will win in Deutschland?

Ronaldinho has definitely become the most recognized, popular, well-known, and marketable player in the world, surpassing David Beckham. However, when you compare statistics Henry's case is extremely compelling. Although they play different positions, with Henry as a striker and Ronaldinho as an attacking midfielder, they are pretty clearly the two most potent offensive forces in world football currently. First some numbers, then some thoughts. Major tip of the cap to Solon, who got me started on this project earlier in the year.

Qualitative: The Numbers (as best I can ascertain them)


56-123. Barcelona, Spain, 2003-06 (1 goal every 2.2 games)
17-55. PSG, France, 2001-03 (1 goal every 3.2 games)
37-110. Gremio, Brasil, 1998-2001 (1 goal every 3.0 games)
27-62. Brasil Nat'l Team, 1999-2006 (1 goal every 2.3 games)
137-350. Total (1 goal every 2.55 games)

214-342. Arsenal, England, 1999-2006 (1 goal every 1.6 games)
3-20. Juventus, Italy, 1998-1999 (1 goal every 6.7 games)
28-141. Monaco, France, 1993-1998 (1 goal every 5.0 games)
33-78. France Nat'l Team, 1997-2006 (1 goal every 2.4 games)
278-581. Total (1 goal every 2.1 games)

As one would expect, Henry the striker scores more goals than Ronaldinho the attacking midfielder.

Assists is not a well kept statistic in soccer (why I don't know, they do a great job of tracking this stat in hockey), so assist figures are much more difficult and sketchy to come by. Soccernet says that Henry has 71 assists in 237 matches (1 in every 3.3 games) while not providing anything prior to this past season for Ronaldinho. For 2005-6, they credit Ronaldinho with 20 assists and Henry with 7. But OPTA shows for the two years prior to that:

2005: Henry 16, Ronaldinho 11
2004: Henry 20, Ronaldinho 20

Note also that in 2003 Henry not only won the EPL golden boot award for most goals with 24, but he smashed the all time EPL assists record that same season with a ridiculous 23, for a striker no less (I still have not found a 2003 assist total for Ronaldinho at PSG, but I cannot imagine that it comes close the TH14's 23).

With Ronaldinho being a creative, attacking midfielder and Henry a striker one would expect Ronaldinho to create many more goals for his teammates, but the numbers available, although sketchy, seem to show that Henry creates at least as many assists as Ronaldinho if not more.

If goals + assists = goals responsible for, then it seems that Henry is responsible for more goals than Ronalhinho, so a raw numbers person would say that if not equal, then Henry is even a bit better than Ronaldinho.

Both have won a World Cup (Brasil 2002; France 1998) as well as the much less prestigous FIFA Confederations CUp with their countries. Henry also won the European Championships with France in 2000.

Ronaldinho won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2004 and 2005; Henry finished 2nd for this award in 2003 and 2004.

Ronaldinho has led Barcelona to back to back La Liga titles as well as this season Champions League title. Henry has led Arsenal to two Premiership titles, three FA Cup titles, a UEFA cup final and a Champions League final. Ronaldinho won the La Liga-Champions League double in 2005, while Henry won the English double in 2002 and was the main main on the Invincibles team in 2004 that won the Premiership unbeaten in 38 games, something that had never been done before.

I think I have demonstrated that by the numbers they are pretty damn close. On to the subjective...

The Qualitative
People are awed by Ronnie's tricks and flicks, but although not quite on Ronnie's level Henry is no slouch when it comes to audacious circuis shit. But tricks and flicks go to Ronaldinho, while pure insane pace/speed go to Henry. As amazing as some of Ronaldinho's tricks, flicks, and Magic Johnson like no look passes are, Henry's ability to blow by defenders may be even more amazing. He often, from a standstill, kicks the ball past a defender and then runs around the guy to retrieve it. It is hard to explain but amazing to witness.

Personally I think that what tilts the general perception way in the favor of Roanldinho is their respective manners on the pitch. Henry can be a bit moody on the pitch; sometimes he gets frustrated when things don't go his way and acts in a sulking manner. Ronaldinho on the other hand plays every match like an 8 year old boy, and no matter the situation he is always smiling and looks like he is having more fun than anyone else. I think that this really translates to soccer fans, both hard core and especially casual, that in this era of millionaire athletes that are sometime resented by society in a way, he plays not like the typical professional footballer but like a kid playing at the park with his buddies. I think that this really resonates with people and, along with the tricks and flicks that catch people's eyes and imagination, has led to him becoming the most popular, well-known, and widely regarded as best player in the world.

Again, I am not out to prove that TH14 is clearly better than R10, only to show that they are both about equal in reality and to point out that the big difference between them is a subjective one of style and perception.

Now feel free to tell me what a moron I am.


Solon said...

The only thing that is the least bit moronic about your analysis is the claim that Ronaldhino is in Henry's class.

I am overstating, of course--but something not mentioned in your article is that R10 gets his assists by setting up the likes of Eto'o--arguably the best pure finisher in the world, Guily, and Larsson.

TH14's assists in recent years have come as the product of setting up (1) Bergkamp, clearly on the downside of his career; (2) RVP and/or Adebayor, neither of which is anywhere close to the finished article; (3) Kanu/Wiltord, both of which were fine but probably not as good as the three Barca strikers listed above (although certainly none of them could have pulled off Kanu's hat trick at Stamford Bridge--which, by the way, should warrant a post) and (4) Reyes/Ljundberg, both of whom are supremely talented but not overly prolific (admittedly, though, Ljundberg has purple patches that are as good as anything Eto'o does--although they are few and far between). In fact, I think the majority of Henry's assists at AFC have been to Robert Pires.

Certainly setting up the best pure finisher in the world will inflate your assist stats considerably more than setting up a poaching midfielder.

R10 is a great player, but he's second best. And, the fact that he won World Footballer of the year in 2004--a year when Arsenal went undefeated (only the second time that had happened in over 100 years in major European football) and Henry scored 39 goals, while at the same time Barcelona was crashing out of the UEFA cup to Celtic (!) in the round of 16--was, quite simply, preposterous.

Kanu said...

Wow - I set you up perfectly Solon. Like Ed Norton setting up Matt Damon at that Policemen poker game in Rounders, except that a)we are not in dire need of 15K in 24 hours b)being devious wasn't really my goal to begin with c)if you were anyhere near as much of a shitbird at ENJ in that movie I would have kicked you in the nuts, moved on, and left you to deal with your own debt about 45 minutes prior to this scene in the movie.

moin said...

Yeah, the vote that year was not a shining moment in uh... whatever voting body it was that votes on that (National managers?). I always felt the Euro Player of the Year award is usually a better/fairer judge of who had a better year. That said, those awards are a pretty bad judge of who is better and all. Not to mention that award was for something those 2 guys did 2 years ago.

One knock against Henry is that he has, thus far, underperformed in the WC and the Euros. Counter that perception with the image of Ronaldinho's great WC2002 campaign and you see where a majority of that perception comes from.

Oh, and ducking Ronaldinho for playing with Eto'o is like punishing Pele for playing on the 1970 Brazilian squad.

Kanu said...


I feel like this knock on Henry for allegedly not performing in big matches is a giant load of rubbish. Who was the leading scorer for France at World Cup 98? Thierry Henry(yes, it was only 3 goals, and he was joint scorer with Zizou, but still). He also scored the goal against Ireland this spring that won that match 1-0 and basically qualified them for the world cup. And who drew that penalty at Euro2004 against Engerland to give Zizou a brace in 60 seconds and France a 2-1 win? Zizou was so moved that he barfed right before netting the winner. He'll never do for France what he does for Arsenal until ZZ leaves once and for all because at Arsenal everything goes through him but for France everything goes through Zizou, and Henry just isn't used in a way that maximizes his strengths (allegedly he has never scored a goal for France off a pass from ZZ - which is pretty wild to think about).

For Arsenal he has scored brilliant goals in huge games against ManUtd, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Spurs. In the CL look no further than the hat trick in Rome, 5-1 at the San Siro, this spring at the Bernebeu and again against Juventus.

moin said...

I completely agree with you in that I think the notion that Henry underperforms on the big stage is rubbish. There are criticism that he shouldn't be a capitain because he "disappears" in some matches. But as an attacking player, that's bound to happen sometimes.

What I won't hide for a second is that he has, without a doubt, disappointed in the WC and Euros. True he was the leading scorer on his team in France98 with Zizou, but keep in mind that Zizou scored 2 in the Final, Thuram scored 2 in the semis (crazy goals both, by the way, vastly underrated), and that Henry scored his 3 in matches against South Africa and Saudi Arabia and was a none factor past the group stages. That PK that he won against England in Euro2004 was helped by a great through ball from Gerrard, you can't really credit Henry for doing much there except standing in a rather bad tactical spot and having great luck.

That said, I agree with you in that Henry IS absolutely a big game player. For France, he has been handicapped by bad managerial tactics and limited playing time (in France98). But even if it's not entirely (or mostly) his fault, his performances in the 2 biggest tournaments in the world has left something to be desired. Especially from someone regarded as maybe the best player in the world.

Brain said...

I know I have no dog in this fight, though here I jump in. Henry is clearly Bob Coosy, John Stockton or Larry Bird. R10 clearly Dr. J, Pistol Pete or Magic Johnson. Both are great players, one is flashy one not so much. The older I get the more I like the fundamentally sound player. Henry's speed and precision is what I like about him. R10's tricks are mind blowing, but the 1 game I saw with him in it he turns the ball over doing that crap way too much.

I'm just a simpleton...let my voice be heard.

Solon said...

For the record, the National Managers and the National Team Captains are the ones who vote on the World Player of the Year award. I believe the Continental players of the year award are voted on by journalists.


I'm not slagging Ronaldhino, I'm just pointing out that his assist numbers are inflated by playing with the likes of Eto'o--full credit to him, that's who is on his team and he's setting him up, but have him switch places with Henry and he won't be setting up as many goals. If Henry played with Eto'o, his assist numbers would be astronomical (although he might pout and not set him up if he were scoring too many).

Didn't Henry have a good Euro 2000? He scored against Denmark, the Czechs, and in the semi against Portugal. That semifinal goal was huge, Portugal was kicking everyone's ass and looked like they might take the whole thing; Henry levelled the match in the 2nd half, giving Abel Xavier a chance to become a household name in extra time.

moin said...

Yes, Henry was very good in Euro2000, but unfortunately, his dismal performance (to go along with those of his country-mates) in WC2002 and a medicore performance in Euro2004 has really overshadowed anything Henry did in 2000. And like I said from the beginning, I think this talk about Henry coming up short in big games is rubbish. Where was Ronaldinho in the CL Final? Or the Final against Germany? People are just being unfairly critical of Henry, if you ask me. That said, I guess I'm always the guy that goes: "if only...."

Oh, if you switch Ronaldinho and Henry, both teams would play very differently. Hard to say what would or would not happen with their "numbers". I would think Henry would play where Giuly plays now, but then the Barca midfield would lack a creative force to supply the attack. By the same token, Arsenal would be severely wanting in the areas of attack to finish off the genius of Ronaldinho's efforts. So... *shrugs* Apples and oranges if you ask me.

Solon said...

To be honest, Ronaldhino would score a lot more goals than he does if he switched spots with Henry and played in the current Arsenal side--a whole hell of a lot more. I'd guess Ronaldhino's goal numbers would go up at Arsenal while his assists go down, and Henry would do the converse.

I actually think Deco makes the Barcelona team go as much as Ronaldhino does--part of me thinks that they'd still be the best team in Europe without him (particularly if Messi continues to develop), but I suppose it's all pretty irrelevant because the situation is what it is.

Unknown said...

Henry was the best player from 2003 -2006 even pavel nevded said henry deserved the ballon dor over him fifa robbed Henry multiple times