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When Matteo Brighi was the Best in the World

Matteo Brighi FIFA 2003's top rated player

Let’s think about football as of today; right now, who is the best player in the world? The divide on this is probably as close as a Brexit referendum with a near 50/50 split between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s hard to argue with either view as they’ve been the standout players of a generation and very few would challenge the appraisal that they are the best to ever grace a football pitch.

Maybe I’m wrong though, perhaps there is a team of EA developers working on the latest instalment of FIFA who are immortalising Declan Rice as the greatest of all time as we speak.

It sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? Nobody in their right mind would suggest that regardless of the fact he’s a talented player with potential – apart from the fact that in FIFA 2003 that’s precisely what they did. No, not Declan Rice. Step forward Matteo Brighi.

2003 – Who Was Matteo Brighi

The man, or boy, that Brighi was can be summed up quite simply; he was a grounded youngster who kept himself hidden away from the high profile life often associated with such a hot prospect. Juventus signed Brighi, a centre midfielder who could also operate in the holding role, in the summer of 2001 but the Old Lady actually wanted him earlier with Brighi rebuffing their advances, instead choosing to focus on non-football related studies citing he ‘wasn’t ready’. Some would interpret this as a person wise beyond their years with no guarantees of a footballing career whilst others would point to a lack of self-confidence.

To get things clear, this wasn’t a player turning down the next step. It was a player choosing to decline the opportunity to jump clear over an abyss into another world. Brighi was playing for his hometown side Rimini, a city located on the east coast and near on 300 miles from Turin, who played in the fourth tier of Italian football.

When the move did eventually come about Brighi joined up with his new teammates almost apologetically, clearly feeling inferior to the star quality who he was to be surrounded by. Players like Zinedine Zidane and Edgar Davids were seemingly seen as blockages to his progress rather than masters from who to learn his trade. After only making a handful of appearances Brighi joined Bologna on loan.

The move to Bologna thrust the shy Brighi into the spotlight and the national team came calling. Brighi starred at the Under 21 European Championships as Italy reached the last four and his individual displays throughout that campaign earned him a senior call and the Serie A Best Young Player Award.

The FIFA Rating

So, off the back of a dozen appearances for Juventus, a few strong displays in a youth tournament and a season that teased mammoth potential EA Sports ranked Brighi with a score of 97 in FIFA 2003 – effectively branding him the best player in the world at that time.

In the history of the game, only one player has been awarded a higher score – No. 9 aka ‘the Ronaldo’. That’s right, based on 12 months of promise, Brighi was handed a rating superior to anything Messi and the current Ronaldo have ever received.

2019 – Who is Matteo Brighi

16 years on and the word on Brighi’s off-field personality hasn’t really moved. He is still a quiet guy who goes about his business under the radar – the FIFA ranking certainly didn’t go to his head!

On the pitch, Brighi forged a decent career from football but if 2002 was the takeoff, his career landed pretty hard immediately after as Juventus shipped him out to Parma in a permanent deal for a fee of £5m. That would prove the fourth team that he had represented in his short career and the moves never stopped.

Brighi recently reached the end of his contract with Empoli for whom he made 24 appearances in 18 months meaning he’s now a free agent. Assuming the now 38 year old decides to hang up his boots, he will have turned out for 11 clubs with a record that reads 525 appearances – on average less than 50 per team – with 34 goals and 13 assists to his name. His main contributions were made during a spell at Roma where he made over 100 appearances and won the only major piece of silverware of his career, the Coppa Italia in 2007/08.

On the international stage, after his debut in 2002 Brighi had to wait six and a half years for his second call up and then went on to feature in just three more matches giving him a total of four caps and 189 minutes of action.

With all things considered it’s fair to say Brighi has had a pretty forgettable career and, if it wasn’t for that FIFA ranking his name would yield next to no hits on a Google search.

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