Right now, Angel Di Maria is the best soccer player on the planet

Shahan Ahmed
Special to Yahoo Sports
Right now, Angel Di Maria is the best soccer player on the planet
Right now, Angel Di Maria is the best soccer player on the planet

Not Lionel Messi. Not Cristiano Ronaldo.

Angel Di Maria is currently the best player in the world.

For good reason, Ronaldo and Messi sit atop the list of the top footballers in the world, but Di Maria is the workhorse that allowed both players to excel when the spotlight shone brightest.

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At the World Cup in Brazil, Di Maria teamed up with Messi to propel Argentina into the knockout rounds. Di Maria scored the winner over Switzerland in the round of 16. Then he had the crucial touch to set up Argentina's match winner against Belgium in the quarterfinals. Shortly after the goal, Di Maria went down injured and his World Cup ended prematurely. Subsequently, Argentina's attack altogether failed.

Statistically speaking, Di Maria had more shots and shots on goal than Messi in Brazil. And despite playing nearly 300 fewer minutes than Messi, Di Maria managed only one fewer solo run into the penalty area than the Barcelona great. For Argentina's attack, Di Maria was as important – if not more important – than the little magician who constantly stole headlines and eventually won the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player.

With Messi and without Di Maria, Argentina went scoreless for the final 297 minutes of the World Cup.

"Messi didn't play today but we had Di Maria. He's not among the top 15 players in the world; he's in the top 3," Lucas Biglia, a fellow Argentine international, was quoted as saying after Argentina demolished world champion Germany 4-2 in a rematch of the World Cup final on Wednesday.

In Dusseldorf, Messi was absent and Argentina scored four times with Di Maria heavily involved in all four goals. He provided a hat trick of assists before running behind the German defense and finishing with a masterful flick for Argentina's final goal. After such a performance, one cannot help but wonder how Argentina would have fared if Messi, not Di Maria, had gone down with an injury in the World Cup quarterfinals.

At the moment, referring to the midfielder from Rosario as "top 3" undersells his form, quality and ability.

As for Ronaldo, who was recently tagged as the best player in Europe by UEFA, he would likely not have celebrated La Decima if Di Maria was not on the pitch in Lisbon.

Struggling through injury, Ronaldo was limited in his performance when the Champions League final arrived. Sure, Gareth Bale scored the match winner, but Di Maria made the solo run and set up the goal that changed the complexion of that final. Without a doubt, the best player in the Champions League final was Di Maria, and his standout performance at the highest level and biggest stage of club football earned him UEFA Man of the Match honors.

If Di Maria had not been present, conceivably, Ronaldo would not have won the Champions League with Real Madrid, and the honor of best player in Europe would have likely found its way to someone else. Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer were the other finalists with Ronaldo.

Di Maria's domination of the Germans on home soil Wednesday reinforced that he is not merely a top quality player. Considering the conclusion of the European season and his performance at the World Cup, he is the best player in the world, and yes, that includes Ronaldo and Messi.

At Manchester United, the 26-year-old, who was once sold for 35 balls, finally has the opportunity to escape the tall shadows he helped create. Costing nearly $100 million, Di Maria's ability to rescue United should allow him to finally be the star and cast his own shadows.

Shahan Ahmed has covered the 2014 World Cup, 2013 Confederations Cup, English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Germany Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga for Yahoo! Sports. Follow Shahan on Twitter: @ShahanLA.

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