The experts have been consulted, the contenders have been discussed, and the arguments have been had (several times over). Now it's here - FourFourTwo's eighth annual countdown of the world's 100 best football players.
Below are numbers 40-31, including Fergie's biggest mistake, a jinksy winger, and an oversized cricket.
40. Carlos Tevez
Did you know? In 2014, Tevez has had a hand in 25 Serie A goals (17 goals, 8 assists) – more than any other player.
A splendid year for the energetic plunderer. Fully settled in Serie A, he was Juve’s key man as they scooped their prized 30th Scudetto, scoring 19 goals during the campaign, getting voted as ‘MVP’ by the Bianconeri membership, and managing not to rub anyone up the wrong way. Carlos may have decided to mow the lawn rather than watch the World Cup final, but things are looking up on the international front, too: his recent recall into the Argentina set-up ended a three-year exile enforced by former boss Alejandro Sabella. NM
39. Radamel Falcao
Did you know? Falcao scored 9 goals in 13 World Cup 2014 qualifiers, but missed the tournament in Brazil through injury.
They once called him El Tigre on account of his unforgiving reign of terror in Portugal and Spain, but Falcao didn't enjoy his year on the French Riviera. A knee injury in January ruled him out for six months, and therefore the World Cup; upon his return he was soon hot-footing it from Monaco to Manchester United on loan. Upon arriving in Louis van Gaal's remodelled team the striker netted only once in five appearances before suffering another setback, this time with his calf. The 28-year-old’s pedigree is undisputed – 142 goals in 177 games for Porto and Atletico Madrid says so – but the fact he’s started only 11 games this calendar year meant a tumble down this list was inevitable. JB
INTERVIEW Falcao: How to be a penalty-box predator
38. Vincent Kompany
Did you know? Kompany has blocked 16 shots in the Premier League in 2014; 9 more than any other Manchester City player.
Strong yet supple on the pitch and affable, intelligent and plugged into social media off it, Kompany is the very model of the modern footballer, and Manchester City certainly appreciate their leader in kit and in civvies. Although not impeccable – he’s prone to the odd bold decision which, on the occasion it goes wrong, looks like a rush of blood – he’s very much missed in absentio. No wonder: not only is he easily City’s best stopper, he’s also the only Premier League centre-back on this list. GP
INTERVIEW Kompany: How to lead your team
37. Nemanja Matic
Did you know? Matic has been on the losing side just 3 times in the Premier League this year for Chelsea (W21 D6), missing only 2 games.
As full league debuts go, they don’t come much better than the Serbian’s domineering display against Yaya Toure as Chelsea inflicted a rare home defeat on Manchester City last February. He had to wait a while for it, mind. Originally signed from Kosice for £1.5 million in 2009, Matic made just three substitute outings for the Blues before joining Benfica as part of the deal that brought David Luiz to Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho’s willingness to shell out £21m to bring him back speaks volumes for the development of a player the Special One now calls “a giant”, holding the fort while Cesc Fabregas slings the arrows. GD
INTERVIEW Matic: US bombings, my move to Benfica and Jose the joker
36. Paul Pogba
Did you know? Pogba was named Best Young Player at the 2014 World Cup; his goal and assist vs Nigeria helping France to the quarter-finals.
The former Manchester United midfielder – labelled 12 months ago as Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest mistake – continues his rapid ascent towards the top of the game by jumping 28 places up this year’s FFT100. A key component of Juve’s emphatic title triumph, the 21-year-old scored seven goals in 36 league outings as the Old Lady finished 17 points clear of Roma. Appearances in all five of France’s World Cup clashes followed, netting against Nigeria on his way to being named the best young player of the tournament and garnering acclaim from Arsene Wenger: “He has the power, the charisma, the technique – he walks onto the field and all eyes are on him – and he has incredible acceleration and pace.” GD
35. Karim Benzema
Did you know? Benzema scored 8 goals and made 2 assists in his first 10 Champions League games this year.
Benzema was once the boo-boy of the Bernabeu, but nobody's whistling at the Frenchman anymore. The No.9 is currently enjoying his biggest and best year yet at Real Madrid, having played an integral role in the Spanish giants’ Decima-winning campaign and proved the perfect foil for a headline-hogging Cristiano Ronaldo. This season he’s already bettering last term’s goal-every-other-game ratio, particularly in the Champions League where his net-busting twice downed Liverpool. In April, his huge goal in the semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich provided the perfect platform from which to launch that mauling in Munich. JB
INTERVIEW Use your head like Karim Benzema
34. Alexis Sanchez
Did you know? Sanchez has been directly involved in 28 league goals in 2014 (19 goals, 9 assists), 14 more than any other Chilean in Europe's top five divisions.
Effectively forced out of Barcelona to make way for Luis Suarez, Sanchez is very much the main man for Arsenal already, with 13 goals in his first 21 appearances. Niggling injuries held the Chilean back during his first two seasons at the Camp Nou, but he really hit his straps last season with 19 league goals – form he carried into the World Cup, where he scored twice for an impressive Chile, before missing a penalty in the second-round shootout against Brazil. Once an out-an-out right-winger, Sanchez is now adept anywhere across the line – and boy do the Gunners need him to be. LM
FEATURE How Alexis Sanchez made Arsenal weaker
PEFORMANCE What makes Sanchez a great player
33. Sergio Busquets
Did you know? Only Roberto Trashorras (2384) has made more passes than Busquets (2039) in La Liga in 2014.
When Carles Puyol retired in the summer, the long-serving former Barcelona skipper had no hesitation in handing his No.5 shirt to Busquets. In fact, the frizzy-haired stopper requested it. Why? Because Busquets remains a quietly brilliant performer, and one of the first names on any Barça manager’s team sheet. Last season’s average passing accuracy of 92.5% proves why, with the Spain enforcer also averaging more tackles and interceptions than team-mate Xavi. Simply, the 26-year-old is a player you want in your team: few take care of the midfield dog work with such ease. JB
32. James Rodriguez
Did you know? James won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup, netting 6 goals – the most by a Colombian at a single World Cup.
The year 2014 has seen James go from hipster favourite to household name – and one pronounced correctly, too. Rodriguez spent the first half of the year helping to shoulder the burden caused by Radamel Falcao's injury lay-off – for both club and country. Having helped Monaco back into the Champions League for the first time in nine years, Rodriguez headed to Brazil with the aim of making good on Colombia's 'dark horses' tag. Six goals and a run-in with an oversized cricket later, he was the most talked about player in world football. This inevitably led to a big-money move to Real Madrid, where his influence is steadily growing in his debut season. JM
FEATURE James Rodriguez: How the stuttering Colombian made it big?
31. Franck Ribery
Did you know? Ribery has taken on an opponent more frequently than any other Bundesliga player in 2014 so far (every 8.5 minutes on average).
It's off the pitch where Bayern Munich's jinksy winger usually makes the most headlines, and 2014 was no exception. With Ribery omitted from France's 2014 World Cup squad through injury, the subsequent freak-out was telling: where, wondered fans, would the pulsing supply lines in Didier Deschamps' thrusting midfield be established? This concern sprung from yet another impressive season with Bayern Munich where Ribery helped maintain their Bundesliga dominance by scoring in March's title-winning fixture over Hertha Berlin. He even scooped third place in last January's Ballon d'Or, although he believed he should have finished higher in the mysteriously rescheduled vote: "I won everything – Ronaldo won nothing. I earned this award. It's all politics." Having turned 31 and retired from international football, it may be as close as he ever comes. MA