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 70-61, including Roma's 'Future Captain', a World Cup wing wonder, and the defender every top Premier League team is after.
70. Andrea Pirlo
Did you know? Pirlo (250) completed 55 more passes than any other Italian player at the World Cup.
Described earlier this year by one newspaper as “old, slow and not the player he was – because he’s even better”. You might add that Pirlo registers few assists, even fewer goals and didn’t have a great World Cup. He did, however, pull the strings as only he can as Juventus stormed to a third straight Serie A title, not to mention releasing an excellent autobiography and starring in a hilarious TV ad. Few footballers do cool and classy like the Italian playmaker, and despite tumbling down this year's FFT100 there’s life in the old dog yet, as stunning free-kicks against Empoli and Olympiakos recently prove. So important to Italy that he’s delayed his international retirement too. LM
Did you know? Pedro scored 15 La Liga goals in 2013/14 and assisted 8 more, making it his most prolific campaign in both categories.
It’s not easy earning recognition at a club where the limelight is hogged by certain individuals, but there’s a lot to be said for Pedro going into his sixth season as an important first-team component at Barcelona. Now working under his fourth manager at the Camp Nou, the 27-year-old is more of a peripheral figure these days behind the likes of Neymar and Luis Suarez, but only Cesc Fabregas featured in more games for Barcelona last season and Pedro continues to be trusted by Luis Enrique. Goals have been thin on the ground this calendar year but the Spain man is still a valuable squad member appreciated by his bosses in Catalonia. JB
68. Ezequiel Garay
Did you know? Garay made 71 clearances at the 2014 World Cup, the most by a player at the tournament since Des Walker in Italia '90.
It's been a hectic 12 months for the Argentina centre-half. Having won the Primeira Liga, Taca de Portugal and Taca da Liga, Garay helped Benfica to their second consecutive Europa League final, where they were defeated by Sevilla on penalties. It was during Brazil 2014 that Garay really caught the eye, however: the 28-year-old nailed down a first-team spot after Argentina's group stage win over Bosnia-Herzegovina before scoring a spot-kick in the victorious semi-final shootout against Holland. This impressive form earned him a €15m move to AVB's significantly chillier Zenit St Petersburg in the summer. MA
67. Juan Cuadrado
Did you know? Cuadrado has attempted more dribbles in 2014 than any other Serie A player (182).
Touted as Dani Alves’s successor at Barcelona, the jet-heeled 26-year-old wasn't expected to be staying at Fiorentina too much longer – until he penned a new deal to 2019 in October. Nobody provided more World Cup assists than his four as Colombia reached the quarter-finals, following his fruitful Fiorentina involvement last season (43 games; 15 goals, 11 assists). Not bad for a converted right-back, eh? With that, Cuadrado offers defensive discipline that may well see him restored to his old position by a future suitor. Coupled with his proven attacking verve, you wouldn’t begrudge them doing so. JB
66. Daniele De Rossi
Did you know? Only Miralem Pjanic (1842) has completed more passes than De Rossi in Serie A this calendar year (1717).
As nicknames go, De Rossi’s nomenclature of ‘Future Captain’ is both telling and a bit rubbish. Roma fans call their defensive midfielder ‘Captain Futoro’ in reference to the fact that when current captain Francesco Totti finally gives it all up, De Rossi is the man they expect and demand takes over. It’s easy to see why. A born leader, De Rossi mixes ability, intelligence, a wild-man beard and rugged muscularity to impressive effect. Labelled “one of the world's five strongest midfielders” by Marcello Lippi, De Rossi has just joined the 100 club for his country – compensating in part for a disappointing World Cup. The fact he’s also just been named as the highest earner in Italian football illustrates his importance in Serie A, even if he does only earn a ‘paltry’ £100,000 a week. NH
65. Daley Blind
Did you know? The Dutchman was the only defender to provide 3 assists at the 2014 World Cup. No other defender managed more than 2.
Blind was Ajax’s undoubted gem as they sealed their 33rd Eredivisie title back in May. Having been converted effectively from a left-back to a holding midfielder by Frank de Boer, his energy and discipline in the position also won him the Dutch Footballer of the Year gong. He then showed a global audience what he could do in Brazil, thriving as part of Louis van Gaal’s fluid young side as they reached the World Cup semis. Poor results, system switches and injury may have marred the start of his United career as he followed Van Gaal to Old Trafford, but he looks a canny long-term signing. NM
64. Edinson Cavani
Did you know? Cavani scored in 5 consecutive games for PSG in October/November 2014, his best run at the club (all comps).
A fat drop of 50 places would suggest a player whose powers are irreversibly on the wane, but there’s a mitigating factor where Cavani is concerned. Over the last year, so as to accommodate the luxurious ego that is I Am Zlatan in the centre of PSG’s attack, Cavani has frequently been shoved out wide, his powers resultantly blunted. Last season the Uruguayan fizzled out as the season wore on, scoring 16 goals before Christmas but only six more thereafter. Long-time suitor Arsene Wenger wasn’t fooled. “I think he plays a bit with the handbrake on,” he opined, referring to a talent wasted out wide. Eleven goals in 19 since the start of this season hints at a player re-energised and heading back in the right direction. NH
INTERVIEW Cavani: How to start your season with a bang
63. Keylor Navas
Did you know? Navas made more saves than any other La Liga goalkeeper in 2013/14 (160).
2014 was a breakout year for Navas, whose outstanding performances for club and country earned him a Euromillions move to Real Madrid. A heroic last line of defence for a Costa Rica team that reached a first-ever World Cup quarter-final with the tournament’s best defensive record, Navas was a Levante reserve less than two years ago. The 27-year-old established himself as their undisputed No.1 in 2013/14 and performed so well he was named La Liga goalkeeper of the season. But it was at the World Cup where Navas became a true international star, keeping three clean sheets in five games and saving 91% of the 23 accurate shots he faced, earning that move to the Bernabeu. JF
62. Francesco Totti
Did you know? Totti became the oldest Champions League goalscorer when he netted at the Etihad against Manchester City in September.
Proof that experience is everything, the autumn of Totti's prestigious career has long benefited from his international retirement. It's been eight years since he hung up the Azzurri colours; in September, three days after his 38th birthday, Totti scored the equaliser against Manchester City in the Champions League group stages. His 300th career goal made him the oldest scorer in the competition. A recent willingness to adapt to those advancing years has paid dividends. At the beginning of last season Roma coach Rudi Garcia opted to deploy Totti as a false nine, positioned deeper to spring Roma's wingers. Totti responded by scoring eight goals and creating 10 as his side finished runners-up in Serie A. MA
61. Mats Hummels
Did you know? Hummels made more interceptions than any other German player at the World Cup (11).
The Borussia Dortmund defender rises seven places in FFT’s rankings after playing a key role in Germany’s fourth World Cup triumph, heading home the only goal in Die Nationalmannschaft’s quarter-final win against France. Repeatedly tipped to become a part of Louis van Gaal’s new-look Manchester United squad in the summer, Hummels decided instead to sign a new contract with BVB, tying him to the Signal Iduna Park outfit until 2017. Might he be regretting it after Jurgen Klopp’s injury-ravaged side started the new season with seven defeats from 10 Bundesliga games? Probably not. “It’s nice to hear big clubs are interested,” he told Bundesliga Magazin. “I take it as a compliment but it doesn’t influence me in any way, otherwise. We earn enough here in Dortmund.” GD