The Faceoff: Who is the greatest soccer player in the world?

"The scariest thing about Messi is that he is still improving."

By Matt Smith | Asst. Sports Editor

Ruthless yet refined, powerful yet poised, FC Barcelona striker Lionel Messi can be compared to no other.

While it may be considered a copout to choose Lionel Messi as the greatest soccer player in the world today, he is the easy pick for a good reason. Messi's consistent production over the past several years places him ahead of all others in the soccer world. As far as I am concerned, there is Messi, and then there is everybody else.

With moves that are difficult to execute even in video games, Messi can regularly be seen tearing through some of the best defenses in the world with astounding ease. His grace on the pitch makes opponents cry tears of humiliation and leads fans to shed tears of joy. Even someone who has never watched a minute of soccer in his life can appreciate the beauty with which Messi plays.

Messi possesses a rare combination of speed, strength, ball skills, vision, passing and finishing ability. For one player to possess a combination of any two of these talents would make him a star, so for one player to possess all of them certainly places him in a league of his own. I can't deny that there are great players in the soccer world today that some ignorant Arsenal fans may argue have a stronger shot or are faster than Messi, but what makes Messi the greatest player is how complete and well-rounded his game is.

At the young age of 23, Messi has already accomplished more than most of the greatest soccer players have achieved in their entire careers. As a result of his standout efforts with his club team Barcelona and national team Argentina in 2009 and 2010, Messi was awarded the World Player of the Year award. This fact alone should leave little doubt that Messi is the greatest footballer in the world not just today, but of his generation. The amount of personal and team accolades Messi has accumulated is greater than most will ever achieve in their careers, let alone by age 23.

To be fair, Messi's success can be attributed in part to his teammates like midfielders Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, but this is an argument for the best player in the world, not the best supporting cast.

What sets Messi even further above other superstars of the game is his ability to remain calm under pressure and play his best in the biggest of games. To any informed spectator, Messi's accomplishments undeniably set him atop the soccer world.

The scariest thing about Messi is that he is still improving. It is hard to imagine what his game will look like in a few more years when he reaches his prime.

"Anyone who follows soccer knows that the game involves more than cranking out goals to achieve a final score."

By Taylor Solano | Staff Writer

For a passionate soccer fan, having to select the best contemporary soccer player in the world is analogous to a musician having to choose his single favorite song: agitating and nearly impossible.

Anyone who follows soccer knows that the game involves a lot more than cranking out goals to achieve a final score. The real talent lies in the ability to create goal-scoring opportunities and to conversely limit these same opportunities for your opponents. Moreover, in the international soccer arena, the ultimate goal is to win the FIFA World Cup, an achievement that supersedes any honors associated with winning club titles. Therefore, Andrés Iniesta deserves the recognition of world's top player for his versatility of play and hefty contributions both to his club, FC Barcelona, and to the Spanish national team.

Iniesta plays an attacking midfield position that allows him ultimate offensive creativity without forfeiting defensive capability. The midfield is often where opportunities are created or stolen. A master of his position, Iniesta maintains one of the highest ball possession rates in the Spanish soccer league, La Liga. Vicente del Bosque, manager of the Spanish national team, told Guardian newspaper that Iniesta "is the complete footballer. He can attack and defend, he creates and scores." This breadth of skill is considerably more impressive than being a mere goal-scoring machine.

This doesn't mean that the ability to score goals isn't important or impressive, but goal scoring must be more than just a flashy tallying effort. Lionel Messi currently tops the La Liga league in goals and is tied with Cristiano Ronaldo at 27 apiece. While Messi performs well for his already stellar club team Barcelona, perhaps a greater test would be to judge his contributions to Argentina, his national team. This past summer, Messi's World Cup efforts fell quite short. How did the leading goal scorer of La Liga fail to net a single goal for Argentina in the sport's most significant tournament?

Iniesta, on the other hand, scored the second goal in Spain's 2-1 win over Chile to advance his team out of group stage play, and then scored the winning goal in the final match versus Netherlands to make Spain the champion of the 2010 World Cup. Talk about some definitive goals. Naturally, Iniesta was voted onto the 2010 World Cup All-Star Team; Messi wasn't even granted that honor.

One could easily rattle off Messi's impressive stats for hours. But if his skills can't translate from club play to national team play, he is lacking the qualifications of world's top player. Having scored seven goals this season for Barcelona, Iniesta has successfully balanced his talent in the club and international arenas. Add this to his ability to champion multiple positions and his acute responsibility to help his team succeed, and you've got yourself the world's best player.