FourFourTwo's Top 100 Players in the World 2013: 50-41
As ever, it has been a far from easy task. But the results are in, and we've nailed down the final list.
Will Iker Casillas lose his place in our list like he lost his place in the Real Madrid first team? Will England's 'golden generation' continue to drift? Has the Bundesliga become our most represented league? Can Franck Ribery break the duopoly of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi?
They've both had sensational years but who of Messi or Ronaldo is topping the tree this year? As both battle it out for January's grand FIFA prize we've ranked the duo ourselves based on their 2013 showings. The top three of our list has exactly matched the top three in the Ballon d'Or for the last two seasons, so you should see this as something of a prelude to January's big do in Zurich.
In the new magazine - out on Wednesday - we've interviewed several of the world's best players, including the No.1. But who's the greatest?
There's only one way to find out…
50. THIBAUT COURTOIS
Courtois ha tenuto la porta inviolata per 21 gare, meglio di qualsiasi altro portiere in Liga nell'ultimo anno (Opta).
Blessed with an agile frame and lightning reflexes, the 21-year-old Belgian continues to impress on loan at Atletico Madrid. Winner of last season’s Zamora award for the Liga keeper to concede the fewest goals, soon the time must come for Jose Mourinho to replace the ageing Petr Cech with the sprightly youngster.
Champions League football and a starring World Cup turn may encourage the Special One to do just that next year.
49. XABI ALONSO
Tra il novembre 2012 e l'ottobre 2013, Xabi Alonso è il giocatore del Real Madrid che ha provato più passaggi (62,6) nella Liga (Opta).
Does anybody not like Xabi Alonso? Beloved by the Basques and loved by Liverpool fans, Alonso could have taken his pick of English or Spanish sides to move to when his Real Madrid contract expires next summer - if he hadn't simply signed an extension at the Bernabeu.
At 32 he's now reaching the veteran stage but he will continue to be an object lesson in ball distribution - part of the reason el Real re-employed him being to teach the younger players how to pass.
Oscar è stato il secondo miglior assistman dell'ultima Confederations Cup (2). Meglio di lui solo Gargano (3) (Opta).
Ousting double player of the year Juan Mata as the fulcrum of Chelsea’s attacking midfield trident is testament to how well the Samba starlet has adjusted to west London life since his arrival from Internacional.
The 22-year-old announced himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful by scoring what would be voted the Blues’ goal of the season against Juventus icon Gianluigi Buffon in the Champions League.
47. GIANLUIGI BUFFON
Nella scorsa stagione, Buffon ha concesso solo 24 reti su 33 partite: nessun portiere ha fatto meglio (Opta).
Buffon shot back up our rankings last year after leading Juventus to the Scudetto and Italy to the European Championship final.
But he’s slowing down, and while he still commands an area like no other – Juventus conceded only 24 league goals last term – he’s even prone to the odd mistake, a new experience for him. ‘Gigi’, 35 years old, remains Serie A’s best keeper – but for how long?
46. ASHLEY COLE
Il Chelsea ha vinto il 60% delle partite con Ashley Cole in campo, senza di lui si ferma al 37,5 % (Opta).
By his standards 2013 has been a quiet year for Cole, but now, for arguably the first time in his career, he faces a credible threat to his place at both domestic and international level.
Leighton Baines’ stock continues to rise with England coach Roy Hodgson, while Cesar Azpilicueta has been given first-team minutes in Cole’s stead by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. It’s probably just as well he doesn’t seem one to rest on his laurels.
45. SANTI CAZORLA
Santi Cazorla è il miglior assistman dell'ultima Premier League: 10 (Opta).
It was a fine 2012/13 for the magic little Spaniard - he settled into life at Arsenal perfectly. Signed from Malaga in August 2012, Cazorla’s mesmeric performances earned him Arsenal's Player of the Season award in his first campaign.
The two-footed conjuror played more minutes than any other squad member, including all 38 league games, scoring 13 goals and laying on 14 for his team-mates.
EXCLUSIVE Santi Cazorla interview in the new FourFourTwo
44. DAVID ALABA
Alaba è stato il capocannoniere dell'Austria nelle qualificazioni ai Mondiali: sei gol in otto partite (Opta).
First-choice left-back in a team that won the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League all in one season, Alaba is already on his way to becoming one of the best fullbacks in the world. And he’s only 21.
The fact that he plays in midfield for Austria only further sums up Alaba’s versatility. A class act who’ll only get better.
43. ANGEL DI MARIA
Nel corso delle qualificazioni ai Mondiali, solo Messi ha creato più occasioni di Di Maria per l'Argentina (28 a 22) (Opta).
It says a lot about Di Maria that Carlo Ancelotti let Mesut Özil leave Madrid instead of the Argentine.
Given a direct choice, Ancelotti stuck with Di Maria “for the team’s balance” and “group dynamics” – fancy talk, but justified by the winger’s performances before and since: he’s had a hand in six goals in three Champions League starts this season. Now for the World Cup.
42. DANI ALVES
Negli ultimi 12 mesi, nessun giocatore ha fornito più assist (6), o creato più occasioni da gol (48) di Dani Alves (Opta).
Odd for Alves not to move. No.42 last year, No.42 this, the Brazilian has spent the last decade rampaging up the right flank from his alleged position of full-back. That position has changed immensely since it was first named in the old 2-3-5 formation: now it requires immense agility, energy, speed, intelligence and ability, and as a result is possibly the hardest position on the pitch.
It's perhaps why, with one exception we'll come to much later, Alves is its highest exemplar in this year's list.
41. ANTONIO DI NATALE
Antonio Di Natale ha contribuito alla conquista di 26 punti per l'Udinese nell'ultima Serie A, più di qualsiasi altro giocatore nei principali campionati europei (Opta).
What, you may ask, is a mediocre team’s 36-year-old striker doing in our top 50? The answer: Di Natale took that average team into Europe once again, scoring 23 league goals, including an official FIFA Goal of the Year contender.
Even in humble surroundings he’s still putting them away this season, in Serie A and the Europa League, and his name is Tony Christmas. What more could you want?