Those who didn't quite make the top 50: starring a goalkeeper idolised in North London, the world's best answer to Hakan Calhanoglu and two Manchester City stoppers...
60. Petr Cech
In the hierarchy of exciting signings, a thirtysomething goalkeeper rarely gets fans foaming with anticipation. But Petr Cech is a rarity. A universally admired Premier League stalwart – he’s been around for 12 of its 24 seasons – he was plainly too good to gather splinters watching Thibaut Courtois in Chelsea’s first team. Jose Mourinho, who knows a good player when he sees one, didn’t want to lose him.
Arsene Wenger, whose eye for defenders and goalkeepers isn’t quite as perceptive as his nose for a twinkly attacking midfielder, was prepared to pay an eight-figure fee (and a six-figure weekly wage) for the 33-year-old he had tried to sign in 2004 and 2013.
It’s too early to say whether Cech is worth the cheque. Certainly Arsenal have looked more assured (and their new goalkeeper is averaging around 3.5 saves per game, in the top five of regular Premier League goalkeepers), while Chelsea are notably struggling. But if attack wins games and defence wins titles, Wenger may have made his shrewdest signing in several seasons. – GP
59. Thiago Alcantara
Injuries have always been Thiago’s problem. “I’m at the point now where I’ve spent a long time out of the team,” the Bayern Munich midfielder told FFT, “but I feel 100 per cent fit to have my best season.”
He wasn’t wrong. The 2015 Thiago is an impressive beast. Returning from knee ligament damage in April, the Spain international has re-established himself at the heart of Pep Guardiola’s midfield, purring to the fore in November’s 5-1 demolition of Arsenal. A certainty to go to Euro 2016 next summer, the son of World Cup winner Mazinho is a constant option to recycle the ball for Bayern and is the long-term heir to Xavi and Andres Iniesta at international level. Which is quite something, when you think about it. – AM
58. Santi Cazorla
Arsenal’s late season rally to clinch Champions League football is now so regular, you might as well set your watch by it. Though Alexis Sanchez took the most plaudits, Santi Cazorla’s deep-lying orchestration was the Gunners’ true driving force. Put simply, when the diminutive Spaniard plays, so do Arsenal.
Now playing centrally, instead of being accommodated on the wing, the former Villarreal playmaker scored three goals and made nine assists from January 2015 to the end of last season and, though not as prolific this term, his influence is constant. In the absence of a genuine holding midfielder, Arsene Wenger must insert legs alongside Cazorla to do his running for him. Let Santi do what he does best. Pass. – AM
PERFORMANCE Santi Cazorla: Two-footed assassin
57. Jordi Alba
By 21st century standards, 2014 was Barcelona’s annus horribilis, bringing no trophies, a transfer embargo and the sad, untimely death of former coach Tito Vilanova. Throw in injuries and a full part in Spain’s World Cup capitulation and it wasn’t a great year for their left-back either. But ‘el moto (‘the motorbike’) was up to full speed in 2015, roaring into our list off the back of playing a key role in Barça’s treble.
As befits a former winger, Alba loves to get forward, averaging a shot on goal more than once every other game last term. If he can bring his international scoring rate – six goals in 40 games – to domestic football and stay out of the referee’s notebook, the only way is up. – LM
PERFORMANCE Jordi Alba: Be a full-throttle full-back
56. Vincent Kompany
There’s a rapidly growing school of thought among social media ‘experts’ that Vincent Kompany is ‘finished’. The Belgian may not have the pace he did at 21, and may occasionally find himself getting caught out upfield, but there’s absolutely no doubt that Manchester City’s defence looks a near-shambles without his leadership and organisational skills. The defender started 2015/16 like a man who knew both he and his team needed to do better this time around. Two goals in two 3-0 victories - against West Brom and Chelsea - only served to illustrate his renewed appetite. The problem for both Kompany and City is that the centre-back appears to be spending more and more time in the treatment room. – JM
PERFORMANCE Vincent Kompany: Lead your team
55. Edinson Cavani
At first glance, 2015 wasn’t a vintage year for Cavani. He missed key chances in the Champions League both last season and this, either side of getting more red cards than goals at the Copa America.
But while any striker is defined by his big-game displays, Cavani is harshly judged on those moments alone. In fact, he entered this list’s 12-month period during a six-match scoring run (Edinson Cavardy, if you will) and later, the final wheezy gasps of 2014/15 brought 12 goals in eight games.
All this, while being shunted out onto the wing to accommodate Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In the 13 matches the Swede has missed since last year’s list, Cavani has scored 12 times. Once he grabs important opportunities again, people will wonder why they ever doubted him. – HD
PERFORMANCE Edinson Cavani: Start your season with a bang
54. Miralem Pjanic
With 39-year-old Francesco Totti finally beginning to wind down his Roma career (Il Capitano has started just twice in Serie A this term), Pjanic has assumed the creative mantle at Stadio Olimpico as the capital club look to win the Scudetto for the first time since 2001.
A mainstay of Rudi Garcia’s side, the Bosnia-Herzegovina international brings invention, vision and a fine range of passing to Roma’s midfield. He's also developed a reputation as a free-kick specialist, with four set-pieces dispatched this season alone. Linked with both Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent months, Pjanic – still only 25 – has the ability to take his game up another notch in the next couple of years. – GL
53. Franck Ribery
Having quit international football after injury denied him a France swansong at Brazil 2014, Ribery was supposed to begin his Indian summer last season. Instead, 2014/15 was bookended by yet more time on the sidelines, with ankle trouble that curtailed his campaign in March still ongoing.
When he was fit, Ribery showed glimpses of his 2012/13 form, when as well as picking up a treble with Bayern he was behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or voting.
Eight goals and seven assists in 21 games shouldn’t be sniffed at, but at 32, the boy from Boulogne – a brilliant, two-footed winger at his best – will continue to fall down the FFT100 unless he can stay fit. – LM
It’s a sign of Koke’s talent, and worth to Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone’s team, that he constantly plays out of position yet still finds himself halfway up our list. Whether deployed on the right or left of the Atleti midfield, the Madrid-born 23-year-old excels as Simeone’s conduit-in-chief, even if there were no trophies last year. “I naturally drift inside as a third central midfielder, anyway,” Koke told FFT a year ago.
“I may not be quick, but I can control and pass in very little time, which means I’m quick in thought. I think that comes from years of studying Xavi and Andres Iniesta. You couldn’t wish for better role models than those two.” First choice for Spain, this could be the season Koke comes of age. – AM
PERFORMANCE Koke: How to be a midfield maestro
51. Nicolas Otamendi
Manchester City finally got it right. Every summer since 2008, when Sheikh Mansour bought the club, they’ve purchased at least one first-team centre-back – and only Vincent Kompany, signed in that first year, could be called a long-term success (even then, Tal Ben Haim came before him). Otamendi, though, has his predecessors and peers’ best attributes rolled into one, and at 27 offers both experience and a future.
City’s sixth Argentine slotted neatly into their starting XI after impressing in his first Manchester derby. It’s his Valencia performances that put him on this list, however. In his single year at the Mestalla, Otamendi scored six league goals, including a winner against Real Madrid, made La Liga’s team of the year and helped Valencia return to the Champions League on the back of a dozen clean sheets. – HD
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