FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2017: 60-51
60. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
- Bale made his 100th league appearance for Real Madrid in April's Clasico. He had contributed to 87 goals (54 goals, 33 assists) in those games
Bale can be a devastating weapon for Real Madrid: the only problem is making it onto the pitch. A series of injuries have restricted the Welshman to just 13 league games in 2017, triggering rumours that Madrid might be prepared to sell.
The timing has been unfortunate. The ‘Cardiff Express’ got derailed just as Madrid clicked into gear last season. A symbolic moment came against Barcelona in April, when Zinedine Zidane decided to start him when only half-fit, only to see him hobble off in the first half.
The setbacks have continued this season and, while Bale did return to action in the Spanish Cup recently, fitness issues linger. As Madrid’s strikers keep misfiring, Zidane desperately needs him back at his best.
Highlight: Striking a fine first-time volley at Dortmund in September.
Words: Thore Haugstad
59. Ederson (Manchester City)
- Ederson has conceded only 0.69 goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, the lowest average among goalkeepers who have played at least 450 minutes
2017 was a breakthrough year for Ederson. Little known until the summer of 2016, he quickly became one of the top goalkeeping prospects in the world thanks to a string of great performances for Benfica.
The Brazilian kept 17 clean sheets in the Portuguese Primeira Liga last term (10 of them in 2017), and was promptly snapped up by Manchester City for €40 million, thus becoming the second-most expensive custodian in history.
Pep Guardiola needed a stable and consistent keeper who is good with his feet and able to act as a sweeper when needed. Chilean veteran Claudio Bravo disappointed in 2016/17, but Ederson has proved up to the task so far, cementing his place as one of the Premier League's top shot-stoppers. Aged just 24, the sky is the limit.
Highlight: Saving the crucial penalty from Napoli's Dries Mertens in the Champions League – and staying alive after that Sadio Mane challenge.
Words: Michael Yokhin
58. Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)
- Only Cristiano Ronaldo (6) produced more assists than Dani Carvajal (5) for Real Madrid in the Champions League last season
Real Madrid fans longed for one of their own to make it into the first team in the modern era, and in Carvajal they have the perfect blend of talent and professionalism to fit the local hero mould.
His performances at right-back are consistently impressive, showcasing an ability to balance both defensive and attacking duties adeptly. Spain are also benefiting from Carvajal's development.
Over the past year alone there has been a significant improvement in his attacking contributions, and it's due to this progression that competition from Danilo was easily brushed aside (then forced out to Manchester City over the summer). Carvajal's performance in the Champions League run, particularly in the semi-final and final, confirmed the 25-year-old's status as one of the best full-backs in the world.
Highlight: A fantastic assist in the Champions League final and general all-around man-of-the-match display.
Words: David Cartlidge
57. Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)
- Godin has played more games (320) than any other non-Spanish player in Atletico Madrid's history. He surpassed Luis Amaranto Perea (314 games) on October 28 against Villarreal
The Uruguay international’s golden era was certainly during the first few years of the Diego Simeone regime at Atletico Madrid, but even now the 31-year-old central defender continues to be a key part of the furniture.
Despite Gabi carrying the captain’s armband, Godin leads by example in the back four, with enough height to be a threat in the air and just enough speed to cover in behind his full-backs when they are exposed.
At a time when Atleti have been unable to bring in new faces due to their transfer ban, faith has had to be placed in the old guard to maintain their reputation until an injection of new ideas and creativity can be squeezed in. Godin is the face of Simeone’s Atleti.
Highlight: Surpassing Luis Perea’s foreign player appearance record in La Liga for Atletico.
Words: Simon Harrison
56. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
- Kimmich carved out 10 assists during World Cup qualification, the highest total in the UEFA section of qualifying for Russia 2018
Having spent Euro 2016 showing that Germany had nothing to worry about with post-Lahm life, Kimmich spent the following year getting better and better.
At 22 he already seems invincible, and now consistently plays 90 minutes for club and country. Along with his strong engine, his skill set has grown too: three assists against Mainz on Matchday 4 of 2017/18 were a sign of his quality delivery, but they haven't been an anomaly.
Kimmich is one of the best talents Joachim Low claims he has ever seen in the last decade, and the perfect example of a 2017 footballer - multi-talented, professional and driven. If he keeps going like this, he may well reach Lahm-like heights and become one of the planet's best players (let alone right-backs).
Highlight: His audacious backheel goal in a 5-0 win against Freiburg on Matchday 8 was voted October Goal of the Month, and further proof of just how complete a player he already is.
Words: Jonathan Harding
55. Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
- Navas is the only CONCACAF player to start in and win two Champions League finals
Talk persists of a new goalkeeper at Real Madrid, but you always wonder why when watching Navas each week. His performances for the club since joining from Levante have been nothing short of excellent, and in the past year he has shown that he does indeed fit at the Bernabeu.
While chatter is often reserved for Madrid's midfield and array of attacking talent, more credit should be handed to the Costa Rican keeper for his consistency and ability to produce key saves when suddenly called into action. In terms of athleticism, few stoppers are superior, and Navas is cat-like in his reactions.
Real Madrid apparently want a goalkeeper more ‘in fashion’, but in Navas they have one who functions perfectly.
Highlight: A stunning save at the death against Real Betis meant Madrid picked up a vital three points en route to the title back in March.
Words: David Cartlidge
54. Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
- Hamsik has scored 114 goals for Napoli, and is only one behind the club record set by Diego Maradona (115 goals)
There’s a great deal of expectation whenever Hamsik gets the ball in the final third these days. He is, after all, just one goal away from equalling Diego Maradona’s all-time club record of 115 goals for Napoli.
Now enjoying his second decade in Naples, the 30-year-old playmaker isn’t quite as impactful as he once was. While Hamsik always starts, he rarely finishes games these days, but is as crucial as ever to Napoli’s glittering possession play. His control, passing range and penetrative forward runs make him a constant attacking outlet.
History rests heavily on Hamsik’s shoulders. As well as the possibility of breaking Maradona’s record, he could captain Napoli to a first title since 1990. Whatever happens next, his love for the club won’t go away. “I could finish my career here,” he hinted in September.
Highlight: It’s hard to look beyond his emphatic equaliser at home to Juventus in April for pure drama and technique. After playing a one-two with Dries Mertens, he drifted into the opposition penalty area before blasting the ball high beyond Gianluigi Buffon, sending the San Paolo crowd into a frenzy.
Words: Blair Newman
53. Leonardo Bonucci (Milan)
- Juventus conceded only two goals with Leonardo Bonucci on the pitch up to last season's Champions League final (878 minutes played)
Bonucci’s 2017 has been a year of jarring contrasts. The first six months were a roaring success, as he led Juventus to a sixth consecutive Scudetto and a Champions League final. He was the heart of the ‘BBC’, a back three also featuring Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, that many considered the best defensive line in the world.
And then came that move. Having sold the whole of Italian football an outrageous dummy, he ignored purported summer interest from Manchester City to sign for Milan, who’d just finished sixth in Serie A. The switch coincided with a drastic decline in form and, surrounded by inexperienced heads and tactical confusion, Bonucci has been uncharacteristically error-prone.
Highlight: The 30-year-old celebrated his final title success at Juventus by having his medal hung around the neck of his youngest son Matteo, who had been suffering with a serious illness.
Words: Blair Newman
52. Miralem Pjanic (Juventus)
- Miralem Pjanic has 36 assists over the since the start of the 2014/15 season in Serie A, four more than any other player
“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” seemed to be the Bosnian’s mindset in the summer of 2016. Forcing a move to Juventus for a cut-price €32 million was tacit admission that Roma couldn't overhaul the Turin giants, and Pjanic has done all he could to help ensure the Bianconeri have remained Italian football’s dominant force.
For a team that had lost the likes of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo in recent years, he was a perfect fit. Pjanic brought creativity and style to a midfield that was sorely lacking both, weighing in with eight goals and 12 assists in all competitions. His superb delivery from set-pieces was a bonus too, his right foot delivering unerring accuracy throughout the campaign.
Highlight: Being part of a side that lifted both the Serie A and Coppa Italia trophies, Pjanic finally got his hands on some silverware after years of being a runner-up.
Words: Adam Digby
51. Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)
- Only two players have scored more Bundesliga goals than Timo Werner (19) in 2017
Werner is still just 21, but the RB Leipzig hitman is Germany's first choice to lead the line in Russia after a remarkable first 12 months at the Bundesliga's second-placed club.
After joining from Stuttgart ahead of the 2016/17 season, few could have predicted that Werner would hit the net with such blistering regularity. Twelve of Werner's 21 goals across last season came in 2017, and he's already netted a further seven in the Bundesliga in 2017/18. More goals have followed in the Champions League, although Leipzig couldn't progress beyond the group stage.
Given his scoring exploits, it's been unsurprising to see links with a move to Bayern. If the young striker follows up on his 2017 development, there will likely be only one destination after the World Cup.
Highlight: Three goals at the 2017 Confederations Cup for Germany earned him the Golden Boot in Russia.
Words: Russell Smith
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