The Soccer World According to AP: Messi 9th, Barça Unranked

The Pretentious Global Soccer Rankings is a Worthless Gimmickry

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Perhaps Associated Press believes that adding the word "global" to a laughable, meaningless play with numbers-the futile attempt to rank the world's best soccer players and clubs on a weekly basis by 20 or so self-titled experts-gives credence to the funny enterprise AP started in the fall of 2012: the Associated Press Global Soccer Rankings. Somebody somewhere in the AP hierarchy thought that the venerable institution would hit the jackpot by importing to the sport's most popular game what had worked in college football (American football, that is) for many decades. You can judge the results for yourselves.

In its lead for the February 13, 2013 story on the weekly rankings, we're told, "Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo emerged from the shadow of Lionel Messi to top this week's Associated Press Global Soccer Rankings."

False. Every soccer fan, even the most ardent Real Madrid supporter, knows that CR7 is forever entrenched in the silver medal position. He is, week in and week out, great, but never the greatest. We know who is, by popular acclaim and with the silverware to prove, the world's best player--Lionel Messi, who has won the last four FIFA Ballon d'Or trophies, awarded every season by the sport's governing body to the best player in the world.

But if Ronaldo emerged from Messi's shadow, as AP believes this week, you'd expect to find the Barcelona star in second place. Nope, he's fourth. What are you smoking? - you feel tempted to ask AP's panel. But then you see in parenthesis, after Messi's name, the number nine, which means that the previous week, on February 5, 2013, the greatest player in football history was, according to the AP diktat, the 9th best player in the world. Who were better than Messi? Mario Balotelli (AC Milan); Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle); Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich); Wayne Rooney (Manchester United); Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur); Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain); Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund), and Jackson Martinez (FC Porto). Really? Really.

Before you decide if you should laugh or you should cry, you feel somewhat reassured that this week FC Barcelona is back at the top of the rankings for club teams. "I threatened to drop Barcelona from the top spot if they didn't come through this week, and they responded with a 6-1 win, so I didn't hesitate to make them No. 1 again this week," comments one of the experts, Tom Timmermann from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a worldwide authority in international soccer.

But hold on, there's no number in parenthesis after Barça, which tells us that the Catalans didn't make the top 10 the previous week. Who made it? Newcastle, Granada and PSV Eindhoven, among others. It got even better this week, as Southampton is listed as the 8th best team in the world. The Saints are 15th in the English Premier League, in a fierce battle to avoid relegation.

AP's gimmickry has nothing to do with real rankings. People everywhere know how good a player is and teams are ranked according to their performances for an entire season in national leagues, continental competition and the FIFA Club World Cup. If golf used the same "how-the-wind-blows" system, Tiger Woods could be ranked second in the world one week and 137th the next.

Unfortunately, AP's little folly is taken seriously, and this lunacy is being promoted by all US media, from Sports Illustrated and ESPN (both should now better) to the Missoulian. Real soccer fans laugh. Or cry.

Vladimir Moraru played soccer for 15 years and has watched it for 60. He hasn't seen a player like Messi and a team like FC Barcelona.

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