FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2017
Here we go, then: kicking off this year's FFT100 with a Roman goal machine, a smattering of French starlets and the Premier League's Mr Reliable
100. Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Pulisic scored seven goals and produced six assists during World Cup qualification, averaging 1.21 goal contributions per 90 minutes
2017 was a humdinger for Christian Pulisic. His speed, agility and constant desire to drive forward with the ball at his feet has lifted Borussia Dortmund and bamboozled opponents.
The American was thrust into the role of being Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's supply man after Ousmane Dembele left for Barcelona ahead of the 2017/18 season – and the 19-year-old responded. He has shown maturity in handling more responsibility and seamlessly become one of Dortmund's most important players.
Even in the face of a rollercoaster season with BVB, Pulisic is often one of the best players on the pitch. His constant will to win and disbelief that anything is over until he’s beaten two more defenders is impressive. Pulisic is the youngest non-German ever to reach 50 Bundesliga appearances, and his exposure to first-team football has shown what a difference that can make with the right character. Even without a World Cup, his stock will continue to rise next year.
Highlight: A goal and an assist on the opening day against Wolfsburg were just two standout moments from another Pulisic game-winning performance.
99. Adrien Rabiot (PSG)
Adrien Rabiot has averaged 80 passes per 90 minutes, the third-highest average in Ligue 1. He's completed 93% of his passes, the sixth-highest passing accuracy in the league
After years of angling for a move away from PSG, 2017 was the year that Rabiot finally cemented his place in the starting XI. So good has his form been, in fact, that PSG were willing to let Blaise Matuidi join Juventus in the summer – confident in the knowledge that Rabiot was ready-made to step into his compatriot’s left-sided midfield role.
Tall, elegant and deceptively powerful, Rabiot is an old-school schemer; a player capable of defence-splitting passes and forward runs breaking the lines. His defensive work can improve and he needs to add goals to his game – three in 27 Ligue 1 starts last season isn’t good enough – but he’s a full France international now and has excelled in the Champions League.
At 22, there’s every reason to believe he’ll become an even more complete player over the next two to three seasons.
Highlight: The give-and-go with a classy finish against Toulouse in August that underlined his magnificent potential.
98. Edin Dzeko (Roma)
Edin Dzeko managed a career-high 29 league goals in 2016/17, capturing the Serie A Capocannoniere en route
Before last season, the Bosnian striker looked to be as out of place in the Italian capital as he was in the final days of his spell at Manchester City. In his debut campaign with the Giallorossi he scored just 10 goals in 39 appearances, and his performances were lambasted by the media and Roma supporters alike.
“I would be lying if I told you that I don’t listen to or read what people say,” Dzeko admitted recently – but it seems the criticism inspired a complete reversal of fortune.
Now the 31-year-old scores almost every time he's on the field, and set a new club record for goals in a single season by netting 39 times in all competitions and finishing as Serie A’s leading marksman in 2016/17. He already has 11 to his name in the current campaign, too – a total which includes a well-taken Champions League brace against Chelsea.
Highlight: Collecting the Capocannoniere award as Italy’s top scorer in 2016/17.
97. Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)
Samuel Umtiti has completed 94.1% of his passes this season, the highest passing accuracy in La Liga
Umtiti’s signing didn’t bring much fanfare in the summer of 2016, but heading into the later stages of 2017, the Frenchman was as big an asset to Barcelona as Gerard Pique or Sergio Busquets. That was, until an untimely injury ruled him out for eight weeks. Despite not towering above many players thanks to his modest height, the 24-year-old has proved himself highly competent in the air, quick across the ground and excellent in one-on-one battles.
Umtiti has had the answers to any questions asked of him so far, and his skill and temperament should ensure he becomes a long-term mainstay for the Blaugrana. He has matured very quickly since being entrusted with a starting berth at one of the biggest clubs in the world, in the year that he stepped up from promising talent to top-level star.
Highlight: An imperious showing against Valencia in November without the support of Gerard Pique.
96. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Roberto Firmino contributed to nine of Liverpool's 23 goals in the Champions League group stage (6 goals, 3 assists)
The 26-year-old experienced an emotional August when Liverpool were drawn against Hoffenheim in the Champions League qualifiers. Facing his former club, where he flourished and felt loved, was not easy for the Brazilian – but he excelled in both legs, scoring and assisting Emre Can at Anfield as the Reds won twice and secured their place in the group stage.
As Hoffenheim fans know, Firmino is not a player whose role is easy to define, but he usually does his assigned job effectively and unselfishly. Jurgen Klopp generally plays him as a false nine and the results were decent in 2017, especially in Europe where the striker has seven goals to his name this term. He is still not consistent enough to be considered truly world class – but time is on his side.
Highlight: A big show in March's big 3-1 win over Arsenal that included a goal and a sublime assist to Sadio Mane.
95. Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)
Asensio scored on his debuts in La Liga, the Champions League, Copa del Rey, Spanish Supercopa and UEFA Super Cup
In October, Asensio scored an absolute cracker, lashing home a tricky Isco cross against Eibar. The technique was superb – and yet it’s been the worst goal Asensio has scored for Real Madrid all season.
With quick feet and a spectacularly powerful shot, the 21-year-old has become the new showman at the Santiago Bernabeu; a kind of anti-Ruud van Nistelrooy, with goals that are infrequent but worth waiting for.
His highlight reel features two thunderbolts against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup, a brace from outside the box against Valencia, and a 30-yard screamer against Las Palmas. And that’s only since summer. Throw in a solo run against Bayern Munich and a goal in the Champions League final, and you’re looking at the breakthrough year of a future Ballon d’Or candidate.
Highlight: Perhaps the Las Palmas rocket, or the dipping shot at home to Barça, launched from a virtual standstill.
94. Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich)
Javi Martinez scored his first Champions League goal in October, in his 38th appearance in the competition – a match-winner at Celtic Park
One of the most focused footballers around, Martinez has battled through injuries and positional switches to come back stronger. From ligament damage to shoulder injuries, the 29-year-old's career at Bayern Munich has been more black and blue than red, but that's what makes him so popular.
Whether he plays at centre-back or as a holding midfielder, the Spaniard is a reliable head with fine concentration, an eye for a telling pass and strength in the air. Along with Arturo Vidal, he’s become a key warrior for the Bavarians.
His performance away to Celtic in the Champions League best encapsulates his game; Martinez bravely took a knock to the face to win a header but, covered in blood, was the one left smiling having scored what proved to be the winner.
Highlight: While most of the game against RB Leipzig on Matchday 10 was played against 10 men, Martinez's performance was still bewitching. He controlled the tempo and delivered a wonderful assist to end the contest.
93. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
Raphael Varane became the 17th non-Spanish player to make 200 appearances for Real Madrid against Girona on October 29
There was a point in Raphael Varane's Real Madrid career when it seemed like he might never truly break through. Now, however, the Frenchman looks like a key part of the present and future. He has taken every opportunity thrown at him well and found the continuity that was previously lacking.
Zinedine Zidane is a clear fan of his countryman, and it has shown since Pepe's departure that this faith isn't misplaced. Varane is strong and powerful in his defensive actions, and assertive when it comes to stomping out danger. He is also agile and elegant, however, showing himself to be assured on the ball and smart with his passing. At last, Varane looks very much like a Real Madrid player.
Highlight: An imperious performance in the Supercopa when Varane shut out danger – and did a number on Luis Suarez.
92. Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
Valencia has made more Premier League appearances than any other South American player, having moved ahead of Nolberto Solano (302)
If anyone had told the Ecuadorian that he’d end up as one of the best defenders in the Premier League when he joined Manchester United from Wigan in 2009, he would probably have laughed. Fans certainly would have done.
Originally a winger, the 32-year-old has completely reinvented himself as a truly classy right-back. Under Jose Mourinho, Valencia has become absolutely integral and is always in the lineup when fit – he hasn't missed a single minute in the league this season. Reliable, dedicated, disciplined in the extreme yet full of attacking flair, he’s been one of the Red Devils' top performers in 2017.
There was disappointment too, as Ecuador collapsed in the World Cup qualifiers and didn’t make it to Russia. But with Wayne Rooney leaving United in the summer, Valencia became the second-longest-serving player in the club’s squad after Michael Carrick, and his short-term future looks bright.
Highlight: His opening goal in the 3-1 win at Arsenal in December which helped earn United a valuable three points and keep the pressure on rivals Manchester City.
91. Thomas Lemar (Monaco)
Thomas Lemar has provided at least one assist to 11 different players in Ligue 1 since he joined Monaco
This was the year that Lemar became one of the most sought-after young footballers in Europe.
He was a star performer for the Monaco side that proved one of Europe’s most exciting teams during the first half of the year, shining in their unexpected run to the Champions League semi-finals and ending the 2016/17 Ligue 1 campaign with nine goals and 10 assists.
Injuries have blighted his progress since August, but there have been flashes of brilliance from a player who can operate out wide or as a No.10. Arsenal bid €90 million for him last August, and there’s little doubt that this will be his last season on the French Riviera as bigger clubs continue to circle.
Highlight: The almost impossibly clean left-foot volley that earned him a goal on international duty for France against Holland in August.
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