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 50-41, including the highest ranked Englishman, Bayern's new pass-master, and the one that got away from Man City.
50. Arda Turan
Did you know? Turan has created 35 goalscoring chances for his Atletico Madrid team-mates in 2014; 7 more than he provided in 2013.
Comparisons with Lionel Messi may be overplaying things a little, but to be mentioned in the same breath as his fellow 27-year-old says plenty about Turan’s ability. The two-footed Turk, possessed of one of football’s finest beards, does most of his best work ghosting in from the left flank, whether it be pinpoint crosses, slide-rule passes or penetrating dribbles. A key man in Atletico’s unlikely title win, Arda was absent from the Champions League final; his pelvic problem barely received a mention thanks to the injury that forced Diego Costa off early, but Real Madrid will be glad the former was missing – he had scored a fine winner against them earlier that season. LM
49. Wayne Rooney
Did you know? Rooney became the 9th player to rack up 100 international caps for England when he captained the Three Lions against Slovenia in November.
In some ways, 2014 is a landmark year for Rooney: the former boy wonder was appointed captain of both Manchester United and England. But he measures his career by achievement, and England’s dismal World Cup failure followed United’s worst season in a generation. Perhaps that’s why, after something of a mid-twenties lull by his own standards, he’s suddenly a man in a hurry again: aware he turns 30 next year, he seems increasingly eager to chase trophies and records, even if it means filling in as a midfielder domestically. Inexorably closing in on Sir Bobby Charlton’s goals records for club and country (at time of publication he’s 30 behind Bobby in red), Rooney itches to etch himself into history through triumph rather than hyperbole. GP
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48. Mesut Özil
Did you know? Only Santi Cazorla (64) created more chances in the Premier League for Arsenal in 2014 than Ozil (45).
Ozil clings onto a place in the top 50 after an indifferent first season for the Gunners ended with World Cup glory. The German playmaker was 16th in FFT’s list a year ago after exploding onto the Premier League scene. But while one of Europe’s leading assisters over the past five years has seen his pass-completion percentage increase at the Emirates, his quiet and considered approach to the beautiful game has worked against him when stuck out wide; after many an Arsenal setback, he has been accused of lethargy. Out until early 2015 with a knee injury, the 26-year-old is keen to prove the doubters wrong: “Arsene Wenger knows what he wants and I know he can bring me a step forward; he trusts me and I trust him, completely.” GD
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Did you know? Koke provided 13 assists in Atletico Madrid's La Liga winning 2013/14 campaign; only Angel Di Maria (17) crafted more in the Spanish top flight.
Seen by many as the heir apparent to Xavi’s throne, Koke played a fundamental role in helping Atletico Madrid win the Spanish league title for the first time since 1996. With 13 assists, the 22-year-old was La Liga’s joint-second most creative player behind Angel Di Maria, while the Spain international also popped up with seven goals in all competitions including crucial winners at Malaga, Athletic Bilbao and against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final. “He’s a lad with a huge future, who gives us many options in our play and is a great example for the kids in our youth teams,” beams Diego Simeone. His manager is obviously delighted. JF
46. David Alaba
Did you know? Alaba has gone 89 Bundesliga games without a booking, last seeing yellow in August 2011.
To describe Alaba as the most exciting left-back in the world right now is accurate but misleading. He is the best left-back in the world right now, even nursing a knee injury that will keep him sidelined until the New Year, but the 22-year-old is much, much more than that. “He is extremely important for us because of his flexibility,” is how his boss Pep Guardiola describes him. That flexibility, allied to legs like pistons and lungs the size of barrage balloons, make the Austrian a key component in Guardiola’s high-pressure, high-tempo, high-achieving approach. Only a humbling defeat in the Champions League semi-final took the gloss off another dominant season for Bayern, and another immense year for Alaba. NH
45. Robin van Persie
Did you know? The Dutchman had 12 shots on target at the 2014 World Cup; only Karim Benzema (15) had more.
When Van Persie looks back on his 2014, it’ll be hard to feel anything other than frustration. On an individual level it hasn’t been bad – a steady stream of goals for Manchester United when fit, and a four-goal World Cup as Netherlands skipper – but ultimately neither club nor country got what they wanted… including from Van Persie. Injuries meant he featured in only 10 of United’s final 19 league games last season, and missed the Champions League exit to Bayern Munich after bagging a hat-trick against Olympiacos in the last 16. In Brazil, after netting three times in his first four games – including that header against Spain – the striker couldn’t stop a semi-final defeat to Argentina. Are his powers on the wane? JB
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44. Branislav Ivanovic
Did you know? The Serb started the 14/15 campaign strongly, netting 2 goals and directing 4 shots on target in the first 11 matchdays, both joint-highs for Premier League defenders.
Yet another impeccable year in a blue shirt for one of the first names on Jose’s teamsheet. Superbly versatile, Ivanovic moulds beautifully into whatever formation tickles his gaffer’s fancy – and also chips in with big goals. A relentless physical presence at the back or raiding the opposition box (Raheem Sterling once likened him to a tank), he looks well-positioned to pocket a hatful of medals over the next few seasons – and the Serbia captain could well be the man to fill the biggest of blue boots when the legs of Chelsea’s “Captain, Leader, Legend” do finally pack up. NM
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43. Xabi Alonso
Did you know? Alonso had 216 touches in Bayern Munich's game against FC Koln in September, the most ever recorded by Opta in a Bundesliga game.
Although footballers are peripatetic boots for hire, it can't be easy for a thirtysomething to uproot his family to a new country and culture, especially if he's the kind of chap who might dare attend the birth of his first child even if it irks the gaffer. At least Xabi Alonso has had no trouble settling in on German pitches, where he is Pep Guardiola's director of operations, using his two-footedness to rapidly switch play from flank to flank. Now 33 but having retired from Spain duty on that wet fart of a World Cup, Twitter's eighth-most followed footballer can concentrate his energy on stretching Bundesliga backlines for a while yet. GP
42. Javier Mascherano
Did you know? Mascherano has made 65 interceptions for Barcelona in La Liga in 2014; 20 more than any of his team-mates.
Having spent the last few years primarily as an auxiliary centre-back, Mascherano seems to be relishing the opportunity to once again play regularly in midfield. That's where he's always played for Argentina, with whom he enjoyed a superb World Cup – if you overlook the soul-crushing defeat in the final against Germany, and the torn anus in the semi-final win over the Netherlands. His role in his nation's run to Rio was perhaps even more crucial than that of Lionel Messi, with the midfield destroyer doing his utmost to enable his more artistic compatriots to flourish. New Barcelona boss Luis Enrique certainly sees the benefit of placing the former Liverpool scrapper in the middle of the park, where he has continued to impress with his fully-committed, all-action displays this season. JM
41. Jerome Boateng
Did you know? In 2014, Bayern have conceded on average 0.5 league goals per game when Jerome Boateng is in the side, compared with 1.0 goals per game when he is absent.
Being man of the match (if unofficially) in a triumphant World Cup final isn’t a bad achievement to whack on the CV. That it came after helping Bayern Munich to a domestic double capped a terrific two months for the former Manchester City stopper, who also grabbed a late (and rare) goal against his old club in this season’s Champions League opener. The 26-year-old has improved under the fastidious tutelage of Pep Guardiola, who noticed a talented but unpolished performer upon his arrival. He’s adaptable too, as three games at right-back for Germany in Brazil demonstrated. JB