FourFourTwo's Best 100 Football Players in the World 2014: 90-81
Below are numbers 90-81, including a busy Premier League keeper, Juve's latest defensive rock, and two Spaniards called Dave.
90. Ciro Immobile
Did you know? The striker was Serie A's top scorer in 2013/14, netting 22 goals at a rate of 1 every 118 minutes.
Immobile’s reputation is based on two ludicrously prolific years: 2011/12's strike-crazy loan at Serie B Pescara, and last season's 22 goals for Torino, which won him the Serie A Capocannoniere and helped the Bulls finish seventh. Having secured both a big-money move to Borussia Dortmund (as Robert Lewandowski’s replacement: ooh, tough gig) and a place in the Azzurri team as a result, it will be fascinating to see whether this old-fashioned line-leader can produce similar stunning form on a bigger stage… or disappear without trace from the 2015 FFT100. NM
89. Samir Nasri
Did you know? Nasri created 92 chances in the Premier League in 2013/14 as Manchester City lifted the trophy; a joint-league-high along with Eden Hazard.
The French playmaker is hardly Mr Popular, but his performances for Manchester City in the second half of 2013/14 were an integral factor in the Etihad Stadium side's Premier League success – he provided seven goals and seven assists as City marched to the title. There were also signs he'd curbed his more confrontational side. "The way he has grown up is his influence on the group and the team," said City coach Patrick Vieria. "He's a positive lad, and taking more responsibility on his shoulders." This wasn't enough to convince France coach Didier Deschamps to take him to the World Cup, mind, a fact which led the disgruntled Nasri to pack in international football altogether. He should, therefore, have a point to prove this season. He might want to get a move on. JM
88. Hugo Lloris
Did you know? Lloris was one of 2 France players not to miss a minute at the 2014 World Cup (Karim Benzema the other).
Since our last list, Tottenham have twice changed managers and rarely shown the kind of attacking panache that saw the North Londoners revered around Europe back when Lloris moved to the Premier League in 2012. The one constant has been the Frenchman, who continues to maintain a typically Gallic air of understated calm despite the chaos that surrounds him. Lloris has done an admirable job of stemming the tide when Spurs' collection of absent-minded defenders have a brain-fart, and although he seems relatively settled at White Hart Lane, he must surely feel he's a little better than all this. Could 2015 be the year one of the world's elite stoppers moves to one of the world's elite clubs? JM
87. Martin Caceres
Did you know? Juventus have won 89.5% of their Serie A games in 2014 with Caceres present, compared to 76.9% with him absent.
A new addition to the 2014 edition, the versatile Uruguayan joins four of his defensive stablemates at Juventus in the FFT100 after helping the Old Lady seal a third successive Serie A title, the permachamps embarking on the league’s longest unbeaten run (22 games) on their way to racking up 102 points. The Bianconeri conceded just 23 league goals all season, while Caceres won 37 of his 43 tackles, before featuring in all four of Uruguay’s World Cup matches – in a variety of roles – as la Celeste reached the last 16. GD
86. Aaron Ramsey
Did you know? Ramsey (10 goals, 8 assists) scored or assisted a Premier League goal every 1.3 games for Arsenal in 2013/14.
Would Arsenal have challenged for the Premier League title had Ramsey not missed three months of last season with a thigh injury? Quite possibly. He was on fire in the Champions League too, having finally rediscovered his zip after that career-threatening leg break in 2010. Arsene Wenger describes him as the “complete midfielder”, and it's Ramsey's much-improved ability in front of goal that has really caught the eye, never more important than the instinctive finish that won the FA Cup final in extra time. Not 24 until Boxing Day, the Welshman is very capable of joining compatriot Gareth Bale in the ‘world class’ bracket. LM
85. Raphael Varane
Did you know? Varane had the best passing accuracy of any French player at the World Cup – 93.9% (30+ passes).
Having Sergio Ramos and Pepe for competition isn’t ideal for a promising youngster, but a patient Varane knows he is very much the future of Real Madrid’s backline. At just 21 the Frenchman is already a Champions League winner – preferred over his more experienced Portuguese team-mate in the final against Atletico Madrid – and a regular for his country, having taken in a valuable World Cup where he started four of les Blues’ five games. Jose Mourinho, who handed Varane his debut at the Bernabeu in 2011, called him “the best young central defender in the world” in March. His upward trajectory hasn’t wavered since then. JB
84. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Did you know? Mkhitaryan has completed 162 dribbles in the Bundesliga so far in 2014, 50 more than any other Dortmund player.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the Armenian Footballer of the Year for 2011, 2012 and 2013, Mkhitaryan advanced his claim for a fourth straight award with an impressive opening season at Borussia Dortmund following his £25m move last year. Ultimately, his debut campaign was tinged with disappointment – hence his 18-place drop this year – as Dortmund finished second to Bayern Munich in both the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal. However, the man quickly dubbed ‘Micki’ established himself as a fans’ favourite with a number of notable goals in his first season, including his first Champions League strike for the Germans in a 2-1 away win at Arsenal. MA
83. Cesar Azpilicueta
Did you know? When the Spaniard has appeared for Chelsea this season (all comps), the Blues have achieved a 85% win rate, compared to just 57% without the full-back.
He may be borderline unpronounceable, but the man his Chelsea team-mates call Dave has adapted brilliantly to the Premier League since his 2012 switch from Marseille. Like his predecessor Ashley Cole, he’s seriously quick and always looking to get forward – whether at left-back (where he’s mainly operated for his club) or right (where Spain favour him). That adaptability is an extra bonus for his managers, for whom the question is not whether but where to pick this smart, tireless player. Mourinho reckons that “11 Azpilicuetas would probably win the Champions League”. Praise doesn’t come much higher. NM
82. David de Gea
Did you know? De Gea played more minutes than any other Manchester United player in 2014 (2610).
One of the few beneficiaries of Manchester United’s hopeless implosion over the last 18 months, De Gea has had plenty of opportunities to showcase the gifts United saw in him in the first place; playing behind Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling is both a blessing and curse. Always a spectacular shot-stopper, the Spaniard has got a grip on the physical nature of English football, despite still being so thin he has to run around in the shower to get wet. United’s best goalkeeper since Peter Schmeichel? Quite probably, yes. And as a result, Real Madrid-bound in the not-too-distant future? Quite probably, yes. NH
81. Blaise Matuidi
Did you know? The all-action midfielder completed more passes than any other French player during the World Cup 2014 (208).
Another memorable 12 months for PSG’s midfield lung-buster, who once again was a buccaneering presence as his club retained Ligue 1 and added the French League Cup to their trophy haul. The left-footer also made an impact at his first World Cup, scoring in the 5-2 defeat of Switzerland. His athletic gifts mean he can get in opposition faces and deliver fiery tackles for a full 90 minutes, but this is also a highly intelligent tactical operator who has worked hard to improve his passing and attacking game. NM