FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2017: 50-41
50. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
- Only two players have contributed to more goals than Romelu Lukaku (12 - 8 scored, 4 assisted) in the Premier League this season
There was definitely a ‘before and after’ for Lukaku in 2017, as he made plain his intention to leave Everton long before the transfer window actually opened. From a public relations perspective, it wasn’t his finest moment.
A £70m transfer followed, and Manchester United beckoned. Lukaku is a naturally divisive player who will likely be argued over until the end of his career; as such, he not only had to start well at Old Trafford, but also needed to develop as a footballer and become more than just a goalscorer.
That he has done: his work-rate is up, his impact in the build-up is much more apparent than it ever has been, and the 24-year-old's famous appetite for self-improvement is paying dividends. One problem: the goals. At the time of writing Lukaku has managed just two in 14 games for United.
Highlight: Scoring 10 goals in his first nine competitive appearances for Jose Mourinho's side. A brilliant two months which made elite club life look easy.
Words: Seb Stafford-Bloor
49. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
- Eriksen has 146 shot assists in the Premier League since the start of last season, including 48 to Harry Kane alone
In what has certainly been the most consistent year of his career, Eriksen has elevated himself beyond all but a handful of Premier League midfielders and become Mauricio Pochettino’s most valuable creative piece.
As 2017 has progressed, it’s also become more obvious that Tottenham rise and fall with his output: as long as he has attacking life, so do they.
Beyond the glare of the Premier League, he has also produced an outstanding international year. Between June and October, Eriksen scored in six straight games for Denmark (five of which were part of the Russia 2018 qualifying tournament) and that effort culminated in an incendiary hat-trick in Dublin to secure a place in the finals.
Highlights: That November night in Dublin: three splendid goals to take his country to the World Cup.
Words: Seb Stafford-Bloor
48. Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
- Insigne has averaged 32.7 final-third passes per 90 minutes this season, the highest in Serie A
After his outstanding performances over the past few years, there should be no doubt that the Napoli winger is the most talented Italian forward of his generation. Criminally overlooked by former national team boss Gian Piero Ventura, the 26-year-old has been simply unstoppable for his hometown club.
Insigne is small, quick and has a seemingly endless bag of tricks; his play is eerily reminiscent of a young Alessandro Del Piero as he cuts in from the left flank to devastating effect.
Insigne has registered double figures for both goals and assists in each of the last two seasons, has already scored seven times this term and laid on four more for his team-mates. Talk of handing him the No.10 shirt retired in honour of Diego Maradona shows how beloved he is at the Stadio San Paolo.
Highlight: His brilliant long-range strike against Real Madrid that gave Napoli hope of recording a shock win at the Bernabeu.
Words: Adam Digby
47. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
- Neuer got his 100th Bundesliga clean sheet for Bayern Munich against Hamburg on February 25
Bayern's outstanding No.1 has perhaps felt the brunt of his club's malaise more than others. The 31-year-old performed impressively when called upon under Carlo Ancelotti, but the problem for Neuer is that he's spent more time than ever on the treatment table.
The keeper's foot injury kept him out of the tail end of the Bundesliga season and Champions League latter rounds, although the damage was already done against Real Madrid. Even though he was named captain, Neuer's time on the pitch lasted only until September. The German net-minder will likely be out of action until the turn of the New Year: fitness remains his only barrier to greatness and a much higher place on this list.
Highlight: Neuer's importance shouldn't be understated despite his injury: he's now Bayern Munich and Germany's official team captain.
Words: Russell Smith
46. Radamel Falcao (Monaco)
- Falcao has scored in 33 of his 62 Ligue 1 matches, and Monaco have avoided defeat in 32 of those 33 matches (W29, D3)
2017 has been an incredible renaissance year for Falcao. He looked washed up during those two lost, confusing seasons when he floundered around the Premier League at Chelsea and Manchester United, but he’s returned to form in remarkable fashion over the past 12 months.
The Colombia marksman was a key member of the Monaco side that defied the odds to wrestle the Ligue 1 title from PSG’s grip last May and also reached the Champions League semi-finals.
Falcao’s scoring form has been sensational on both sides of the summer recess: he’s netted 24 goals in Ligue 1, adding a further five in the Champions League.
Highlight: The way he barged John Stones off the ball before delivering the most delicate of chipped finishes in Monaco’s last-16 clash against Manchester City last February. It signalled his return to the top table of European football.
Words: James Eastham