The top goalscorers at each World Cup go down in the record books. Their legacies are secured, even if their country does not end the tournament as victors.
Davor Suker in 1998, Ronaldo in 2002 and, of course, Gary Lineker in 1986 are remembered for their exploits, thanks in part to the award they received.
Creators do not receive the same accolades as finishers. There is no Golden Boot for the best passer, but the increased respect for assists has at least seen some acknowledgement of playmakers.
Not only playmakers get assists, as they’re a flawed measurement for footballers, but at least it’s something.
It’s easy to argue that anyone could finish with the most assists. Which, yes, they could, in the same way David De Gea could be top scorer.
That’s the trouble with assisting; you always rely on someone else to do something even if you put the ball on a plate, hand them their cutlery and offer any condiments they could desire.
Assists are challenging to predict. The usual suspects still appear at the top of the betting market, however. In part, this is because the best players are expected to create more, but also that they have the bonus on playing in good teams.
Good teams should play more matches at the World Cup, and you have better players to finish off any chances you create.
Unsurprisingly featured on that list is a reigning world champion. Mesut Ozil is the target of swathes of criticism and abuse – much of it unwarranted – despite his undoubted talent.
The German international is out at 16/1 to finish the tournament with the most assists.
Ozil finished the Premier League season with eight assists, the same amount as Pascal Gross. He started just 24 times, though, and his expected assist numbers (per understat) suggested he was a little unlucky.
Only Philippe Coutinho and Kevin De Bruyne had better expected assists per 90 in the Premier League this season than Ozil (0.38) whilst only Lionel Messi, Douglas Costa and Dimitri Payet registered higher than Ozil in that category across the top five leagues ignoring the ludicrously dominant PSG and Bayern.
Germany, despite going on their worst run in 30 years during the warm-up matches, are considered one of the tournament favourites. They are just 11/10 to make the semi-finals.
Hardly surprising given their success in Brazil four years ago, perhaps, but it only makes the 16/1 on Ozil look even better. The combination of Ozil’s eye for a pass, ability to execute and the speed around him makes assists inevitable.
Marco Reus, Timo Werner and Thomas Muller are all willing runners behind the opposition’s defence. Few are better than Ozil at the timing and weight of pass required to find those darting movements.
One of the primary criticisms hurled at Ozil has been his vanishing acts in ‘big’ matches. It’s overplayed but has been a feature of his career. He’s not the man anyone expects to see dominate a semi-final or a final, he’s a leader of a supporting cast.
Ozil won’t win Player of the Tournament or be a frontrunner for the Ballon d’Or, but assists are his game, and few are better at creating chances for teammates than the former Real Madrid man.
There’s opportunity in Germany’s group for Ozil to notch a few assists before the pressure really hits. Sometimes it’s forgotten just how good he is. One of the most prolific creators in the world is a fantastic pre-tournament bet at 16/1.
Aside from Ozil, there’s another player based in north London that looks a great price. Dele Alli is integral to England’s hopes in Russia and sits at 33/1.
Alli vacated his shadow striker role this season, which enabled him to show off more of his creative prowess, notching 10 league assists along the way. The Alli-to-Kane combination could make that price seem a bargain.
Picking in this market depends a lot on the success of the team. France, for instance, have a favourable group, and could score plenty in the first three matches.
Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba are both at shorter odds than Ozil as a result and are definitely worth considering for anyone expecting Didier Deschamps’ side to rack up a couple of cricket scores in the first phase.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*