We know it as “The Beautiful Game”; We acclaim the footballing artists who offer us an escape from our mundane lives and jobs. With their magical skills, they dazzle and leave audiences of millions in awe.
Of the many beautiful aspects of the game, the dribble might just be the most singular of traits — one that only the truly gifted possess. People of yesteryear worshiped the likes of Maradona and Garrincha for what they could do with the ball.
Today, however, we live in an era of skill videos, YouTube highlight reels and flash players. The class on the other side of the spectrum (the defenders) would rather die than let some skinny kid just waltz past them. Because of this, they’ll often go to extreme measures to let a dribbler know they’re there — namely, hard and persistent fouling.
In the early goings of the 2016-17 season, these are the players who’ve payed the heftiest tolls for their dribbling antics.
#1: Amine Harit | Nantes
Dribbling is a young man’s game, and, at only 19 years of age, Amine Harit embodies this youthful exuberance. He’ll be doing it for a long time to come.
Odds are that you don’t keep up with Nantes, a side that is only a point away from France’s Ligue 1 relegation zone. Nevertheless, you will not regret taking a few minutes from your day to watch this kid play.
Harit is an interesting case, to put it lightly. When we talk about dribblers, our minds quickly wander towards wingers, strikers and attacking midfielders.
This young Frenchman, however, plays in Nantes’ central midfield. Players who provide a link between defense and attack are usually the most skilled passers on the team. Harit, on the other hand, uses his dribbles instead of his passing to initiate attacking moves from deep.
According to Whoscored.com, he averages 3.5 dribbles per game so far this season. But that is not the most interesting stat regarding the youngster: Harit leads the European continent in fouls received per game at 5.3.
The only player in Europe even close to that average is the next guy on our list. A man who, unlike Harit, is already a notorious figure in the soccer world when it comes to being fouled.
#2: Neymar | Barcelona
Is anyone actually surprised to see this name here? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
When the name Neymar comes up in most circles, the first three discussion points are usually dribbling, goals and his propensity to occasionally, how should we say, exaggerate contact.
In terms of diving, Neymar has taken huge steps forward since he started gaining worldwide fame with Santos. Sure, we get to see him simulate contact once in a while, but who can blame the guy for trying to avoid tackles like these:
At 5.2 fouls suffered per game, Neymar is just behind Harit in the stat category that no sane player ever wants to see himself in.
At the same time, he is also ranked in the dribbling top five, averaging 4 dribbles per game.
Above him in the dribbling standings, but still nowhere near his average of fouls suffered, we have four Premier League players. Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha (4.5 dribbles, 2 fouled); Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (4.4 dribbles, 3.3 fouled); Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son (4.3 dribbles, 1.8 fouled) and Sunderland’s Adnan Januzaj (4.2 dribbles, 1.7 fouled).
Remember when I mentioned that dribbling is a young man's game? Well, here is some food for thought: the only player over 25 years of age in the top 10 is Ibrahima Traore, 28, from Borussia Monchengladbach.
Finally, we can’t finish an article about dribbling without paying our respects to one of the few men to ever perfect it. So, here are some Ronaldinho skills that will lighten up your day: