The Scotsman - - WEEKEND SPORT - STEPHEN HAL­L­I­DAY stephen. hal­l­i­[email protected] jpi­me­dia. co. uk

Stephen Hal­l­i­day says ever- im­prov­ing Liver­pool player is prob­a­bly the best left- back on the planet right now

“Barcelona left- back Alba was ul­ti­mately out­per­formed by Robert­son in the epic Cham­pi­ons League semi- fi­nal”

Set­ting the pa­ram­e­ters for what con­sti­tutes a world­class foot­baller has never been an ex­act sci­ence.

Some ex­cep­tional in­di­vid­u­als through­out the game’s his­tory, such as Al­fredo Di Ste­fano, Pele, Ge­orge Best, Jo­han Cruyff, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, present unar­guable spec­i­mens of the high­est stan­dards of abil­ity it is pos­si­ble to reach in the great­est sport of them all.

But out­with those ex­am­ples of gen­uinely elite per­form­ers, mak­ing an assess­ment of a player’s world- class cre­den­tials is gen­er­ally far more sub­jec­tive.

Sadly, it’s not a de­bate we have had much cause to en­gage in when talk­ing about Scot­tish foot­ballers over the past 30 years or so. Since Kenny Dal­glish and Graeme Souness hung up their boots, this coun­try has scarcely had any cred­i­ble claim to boast a world- class player.

But it does now. An­drew Robert­son’s con­tri­bu­tion to a stel­lar sea­son for Liver­pool, which may yet con­clude with him be­com­ing both a Premier League and Cham­pi­ons League win­ner, has taken the re­mark­able tra­jec­tory of his ca­reer to a whole new level.

If be­ing the best there is in your own po­si­tion is one of the cre­den­tials for world- class sta­tus, then the 25- year- old Scot­land cap­tain surely mer­its se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion. Is there a bet­ter left- back any­where on planet foot­ball right now?

A straw poll of those afi­ciona­dos who fol­low Europe’s ma­jor leagues with in­tense scru­tiny would see strong cases made for the es­tab­lished La Liga duo of Jordi Alba and Marcelo. But Barcelona left- back Alba was ul­ti­mately out­per­formed by Robert­son in the epic Cham­pi­ons League semi­fi­nal, even al­low­ing for the Scot’s

half- time de­par­ture from the sec­ond leg through in­jury, while Brazil­ian star Marcelo has not matched his pre­vi­ous high stan­dards in a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son for Real Madrid.

An­other Brazil­ian left- back, Alex San­dro of Ju­ven­tus, and Bay­ern Mu­nich’s Aus­trian internatio­nal David Alaba are other ob­vi­ous con­tenders to be re­garded as the premier prac­ti­tioner in a po­si­tion which has be­come so piv­otal to both the at­tack­ing and de­fen­sive prow­ess of top sides in the mod­ern game.

Robert­son, though, com­pares more than favourably with all of his con­tem­po­raries this sea­son. He has been a cru­cial com­po­nent of a vastly- im­proved Liver­pool de­fence which has con­ceded only 22 goals in 37 Premier League games to help them take the ti­tle race with Manch­ester City to the wire this week­end.

While his de­fen­sive dis­ci­pline has un­ques­tion­ably im­proved, Robert­son’s qual­i­ties fur­ther up the pitch re­ally catch the eye. He was the first de­fender in the Premier League to ex­ceed ten as­sists this sea­son and has now pro­vided 13 across all com­pe­ti­tions, an as­ton­ish­ing re­turn for a full- back.

Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, who can be con­sid­ered as a de­cent judge in such mat­ters, be­lieves one pre­req­ui­site for be­ing re­garded as world class is the abil­ity to con­sis­tently “make a dif­fer­ence” in the busi­ness of win­ning foot­ball matches. Robert­son ticks that box at the very least.

The in­vari­ably high qual­ity of his cross­ing, al­lied to that of pre­co­cious Eng­land right- back Trent Alexan­der- Arnold on the other flank, has been ar­guably the most po­tent weapon in Liver­pool’s at­tack­ing ar­moury un­der the ebul­lient man­age­ment of Jur­gen Klopp.

It is per­haps more nat­u­ral for mid­field play­mak­ers, wingers and strik­ers to achieve recog­ni­tion as world- class play­ers. Since the introducti­on of the Bal­lon d’or in 1956, only one goal­keeper, Lev Yashin, and two de­fend­ers, Franz Beck­en­bauer and Fabio Can­navaro, have been ac­claimed as the best player in the world.

Yet no- one would dis­pute that lu­mi­nar­ies such as Paolo Mal­dini, Bix­ente Lizarazu and Roberto Car­los, who all spent most of their ca­reers as left- backs, were world­class play­ers.

Robert­son still has some way to go to be brack­eted with that trio who de­liv­ered sus­tained ex­cel­lence at the high­est level over a num­ber of years. But there is now ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve he has the nec­es­sary men­tal­ity and skill set to be widely ac­cepted as Scot­land’s first world- class foot­baller in more than a gen­er­a­tion.

0 An­drew Robert­son gets the bet­ter of Lionel Messi on Tues­day evening.

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