Ranking the best footballers every year is a nigh-on impossible task to get 'right' – mainly because there is no way to do so without aggravating at least some impassioned fans who will tell you straight up that Pablo Hernandez is the greatest human being that ever lived and if anyone is above him they can absolutely do one. OK, just Leeds fans then.
But we at FourFourTwo Towers like to stick our necks on the chopping block each year, because frankly, you lot love it. This is the 12th consecutive edition of the #FFT100, and we're still going strong thanks to our trusted band of writers from around the world who help us compile this list. Even they can't agree, though, so we've had to weigh in with some opinions of our own to separate these superstars of 2018.
First up, a note: this list of the best footballers in the world is largely derived from performances over the calendar year, but as ever we feel there should be a nod to overall class as well. After all, does one good – or bad – year define a player as such? We think not. You may disagree.
We'll be revealing our list throughout the week, kicking off with the men at 100-91. Who will reign supreme? You're about to find out...
If you fancy talking about the list with us, come and do so on Twitter (#FFT100) @FourFourTwo
100. Hirving Lozano (PSV)
Feted as a future superstar from the moment he set foot in Europe, Lozano has proven the hype correct. PSV’s top scorer in his debut season, ‘Chucky’ – so nicknamed because he used to jump out from underneath unsuspecting youth-teamers’ beds back in Mexico, like the character in Child’s Play – was central to his new team securing the Eredivisie title.
He started fast in the World Cup with Mexico too, scoring a superb counter-attacking winner to seal a famous win over holders Germany. A record-breaking start to their title defence has vindicated his decision to stay for now, but the 23-year-old’s ability to create as well as score is widely admired. – Andy Brassell
99. Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach)
It would be fair to say that 2018 was Hazard Jr’s best year, and his reward was playing time at the World Cup in Russia. The 25-year-old approaches the prime of his career showing ever-continuing signs of improvement.
The Belgian made a lightning start to this season, with all of his skills on show. His goalscoring output is better than most wingers’, but it’s his interplay and agility in tight attacking spaces which make him so hard to stop and such a pleasure to watch.
It’s no surprise that many around Europe have taken notice of the player who has now fully stepped out of brother Eden’s shadow. – Jonathan Harding
98. Memphis Depay (Lyon)
The 24-year-old started 2018 as an expensive riddle. The £16 million winger was such a defensive liability that he would start Les Gones’ biggest games from the bench, even if his stunning February winner against PSG teased at more than a supersub role.
Now, moved to the centre by coach Bruno Genesio, the Dutchman has been more productive than ever. Depay has laid on more goals and assists combined in 2018 than Neymar or Kylian Mbappe, and his switch has done Ronald Koeman a favour, too – he was a key part of Holland’s surprise qualification for the Nations League final four. – Andy Brassell
97. Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
The second half of 2018 has been frustrating for Jesus. He started just five Premier of Manchester City’s first 17 Premier League games, scoring only three times, and he’s also lost his position as Brazil’s first-choice centre-forward after a disappointing World Cup in which he failed to find the net.
Still, the former Palmeiras man was a key part of a magnificent City team which won the English title with a record 100-point haul last season, netting 13 times in the top flight – including the gorgeous winner at Southampton which lifted them to that three-figure tally – plus another four in Europe. Still only 21, he remains one of the most gifted young strikers on the planet. – Greg Lea
96. Alessio Romagnoli (Milan)
It’s not been a great year to be a) Italian or b) play for Milan, and yet centre-back Romagnoli has managed to rise above the underachievement around him and prove himself as a captain that the Rossoneri can finally be proud of.
Injury has stunted a month of his 2018/19 season, and therefore a seamless succession to Roberto Mancini’s national team too, but there’s little doubt that the stylish 23-year-old will form part of the Azzurri’s first-choice backline for years to come. After their failure to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy are looking towards fresh-faced stars of the future like Romagnoli to make sure such embarrassment doesn’t happen again. If anyone can successfully succeed Chiellini and Bonucci, it’s him. – Joe Brewin
95. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Lukaku turns 26 in May but he’s yet to shake off the inconsistency which has defined his game for several years. On his day the Belgian is unstoppable, combining intelligent movement, ruthless finishing and powerful running, but his first touch and hold-up play vary wildly from unplayable to unwatchable, even in the same game.
It’s hard to argue with his scoring record, however: Lukaku struck 16 goals in 34 Premier League appearances in 2017/18, as well as five in eight Champions League outings. He impressed with a big World Cup too as Belgium reached the semi-finals, and ended the calendar year with 14 goals in 14 matches for his country. Perhaps he’s just at the wrong club. – Greg Lea
94. Ante Rebic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
The 25-year-old Croatian came of age in 2018. Spearheading Niko Kovac’s Eintracht Frankfurt attack at the Commerzbank Arena, Rebic’s brace helped down Bayern Munich 3-1 in the German Cup final.
If a terrific goal against Argentina and some outstanding displays at the 2018 World Cup showed Europe’s biggest clubs that he is quite the dynamic talent, five goals in his first eight Bundesliga games for the Eagles this season proved it definitively.
Manchester United remain interested in Rebic, making Frankfurt’s decision to sign him up until 2022 in August – with a reported buy-out clause to warm off potential suitors – all the more prescient. – Russell Smith
93. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)
In 2017/18, Milinkovic-Savic delivered the breakthrough season his talent has long demanded. The Serbian midfielder seemed to turn in match-winning displays each week, contributing 14 goals and seven assists in all competitions for Simone Inzaghi’s improving Lazio. Every outing raised the 23-year-old’s stock.
The Eagles eventually finished fifth and there was talk of a €100 million move to Real Madrid, Manchester United or Juventus after their heartbreaking final-day defeat to Inter in May cost the club a first Champions League group stage appearance in 11 years. But the Serb remained with Lazio, who continue to benefit from his combination of strength, height and physicality, allied with a wonderful first touch, excellent range of passing and accurate shooting.
Few players possess all those traits, and you should expect to find Milinkovic-Savic much higher on next year’s list. – Adam Digby
92. Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)
The Werner hype may have cooled – no goals from three starts as your country crashes out in the World Cup group stage will do that to you – but the 22-year-old centre-forward still leads the line for RB Leipzig and the German national team. And rightfully so.
Domestically, Werner is still strong — he had 10 Bundesliga goals by mid-December to kick off the new season, a haul bettered by only one player. Unless Jogi Löw conjures a new solution, the former Stuttgart ace remains Germany’s top striker to fire them towards better times. – Russell Smith
91. Edin Dzeko (Roma)
The big Bosnian has hit the best form of his career in Rome, and last season plundered eight goals in 12 European appearances to fire the Giallorossi to the Champions League semi-finals.
A group stage brace at Chelsea and the early strike which set Roma on their path to a spectacular quarter-final second-leg comeback against Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico stand out. After all, it’s not every day you inspire a 3-0 victory and overturn a 4-1 first-leg defeat against the European behemoths.
The powerful forward may have hit something of a domestic slump this season, with only two Serie A goals thus far, but the Champions League continues to be a profitable hunting ground. Dzeko struck five times in Roma’s group and no defence fancies the 32-year-old’s combination of muscle and technique. – Alasdair Mackenzie
90. Nabil Fekir (Lyon)
Liverpool fans, and maybe even Fekir himself, will remember 2018 as the year his £53 million transfer to Anfield fell through – but there were plenty of other highlights for the Lyon playmaker.
He produced some sparkling performances during the first half of the year, and while he wasn’t part of Didier Deschamps’ preferred XI at the World Cup, he appeared as a starter or substitute in six of France’s seven matches en route to the ultimate triumph.
Fekir has gone a little stale during the autumn months, but you sense he’ll step up his game again when the inevitable move to a bigger club finally occurs. – James Eastham
89. Florian Thauvin (Marseille)
Newcastle fans may rub their eyes in disbelief but, yes, this is that Florian Thauvin and, yes, his place in the FFT100 list is fully deserved.
He scored 22 league goals alone last season, was the only non-PSG player to make the four-man Ligue 1 Player of the Year shortlist, is already into double figures for goals this season, helped Marseille reach the Europa League final and collected a World Cup winners’ medal (albeit appearing on the pitch for only two minutes at the tournament).
At 25, Thauvin has finally added focus and consistency to his considerable natural gifts. What would Rafael Benitez give for his invention and goal threat now? – James Eastham
88. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
France’s attacking players spared their goalkeeper’s blushes in last summer’s World Cup final. Lloris’ major error which let Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic reduce the deficit to 4-2 ultimately had no bearing on the outcome as Les Bleus lifted the trophy, but that wasn’t his only mistake in 2018. The Tottenham captain has been rather erratic in recent months, and his distribution shows no particular signs of improvement.
There have also been plenty of occasions when Lloris has saved his side, though – including at the World Cup, we hasten to add, where he was otherwise excellent. His stunning performance in Spurs’ 1-0 victory over West Ham in October was evidence of his enduring class. – Greg Lea
87. Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
The Italian warhorse may be getting on a bit – he turned 34 in August – and as such isn’t quite the force he once was, but nor has he lost any of the ferocity, abrasiveness or cunning that have defined his glittering career.
Last month, having reversed his decision to retire from international football, the centre-back earned his 100th Azzurri cap, 14 years to the day after his debut. He is one of only five outfield players – along with Andrea Pirlo, Paolo Maldini, Daniele De Rossi and Fabio Cannavaro – to reach a century.
An intelligent and influential leader, not to mention a master of the dark arts, the Juventus captain remains key to his team’s hopes of finally ending their 22-year wait for European glory. – Alasdair Mackenzie
86. Blaise Matuidi (Juventus)
A World Cup winners’ medal was just reward for Matuidi, a player whose phenomenal work-rate and tactical discipline have been key to the successes of his club and country over the last 12 months.
In his first season with Juventus, the Frenchman’s box-to-box dynamism was crucial to Massimiliano Allegri’s side as they conquered a fourth straight domestic league and cup double.
Didier Deschamps then decided to move the 31-year-old out to the left wing as a wide shuttler in Russia – an inspired tactical switch that brought balance to Les Bleus’ midfield and helped provide a platform from which Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann could flourish. Underrated. – Alasdair Mackenzie
85. Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
Perhaps the most underrated, eternally overlooked goalkeeper on the planet – but Navas simply hasn’t played enough football to be higher on the FFT100 this year.
Even his own club don’t value him properly, despite playing a vital role in Real Madrid’s string of success under Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman resisted all attempts from overlord Florentino Perez to push aside the Costa Rican, to the extent that Kepa Arrizabalaga could have been wearing royal white, instead of Chelsea blue, if the Bernabeu powers had their way.
Navas relies heavily on his agility and feline moves across his goalmouth. It’s with those that he makes life difficult for opposition forwards, as his lightning-quick reflexes and reactions are extremely difficult to beat. Appallingly wasted on the Madrid bench. – David Cartlidge
84. Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
After the highs of Pep Guardiola’s reign at the Allianz Arena, 27-year-old Thiago is going through a period of introspection. Bayern’s game doesn’t quite relate to midfielder’s fast-paced combination game defined by staccato passing anymore, and, even when he does settle into the team, injuries have struck.
He missed the start of 2018, played a bit-part role for Spain at the World Cup, then suffered ankle ligament damage just as he looked to be stepping up as a key player for new Bayern boss Niko Kovac in October. He has returned strongly — another feature of Thiago’s career — but his exceptional talent deserves an extended injury-free run to cement his reputation at elite level. – Russell Smith
83. Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea)
This has been a dizzying year for the 24-year-old goalkeeper, who looked set for a move to Real Madrid before renewing his contract at home club Athletic Bilbao towards the end of January.
Seven months later, Chelsea underlined just how highly rated he is by paying the full €80 million release clause to replace the departing Thibaut Courtois at Stamford Bridge. Kepa has retained his poise throughout these career about-turns, is as good as it gets with the ball at his feet and is fancied at home to soon wrestle Spain’s No.1 jersey from David de Gea. – Andy Brassell
82. Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City)
Mendy was more prominent off the field than on it last season, as a knee injury restricted him to just three Premier League appearances in the first half of 2018. The Frenchman collected a World Cup winner’s medal in the summer despite not playing a single minute for LesBleus, and had been enjoying his football again at Manchester City until another knee injury struck in mid-November.
The 24-year-old is a left-back on paper, but plays so high up the pitch that he’s an auxiliary left-winger. His pace and power make him difficult to stop once he’s in his stride, and there are few better at producing accurate low crosses and cut-backs from the byline – as demonstrated by his five assists from only nine league games this campaign. Expect much more when he returns to fitness in February. – Greg Lea
81. Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
As he approaches his 35th birthday in January, it’s hard to imagine Bayern Munich without Robben. Now in his 10th – and final – season at the club, imagine they must.
Many believed Bavaria to be a short stopover for the Dutch winger rather than a long-term home, but player and club have been great for each other. This year hasn’t been his best – just seven goals from 34 appearances last term and five in his first 15 this – but in winning his seventh Bundesliga he surpassed Johan Cruyff’s 10 domestic league titles. “If you surpass him in terms of titles it's something very special,” Robben said. “I'm really proud of it.”
He might still snare No.12 this season – with his searing pace remarkably still intact, he remains an on-pitch workaholic and a bona fide match-winner. While cutting inside onto his left foot, obviously. – Andy Brassell
80. Dele Alli (Tottenham)
Spurs’ connoisseur of flair has had another year to remember. Fourteen goals and 17 assists across all competitions in 2017/18, a key role in England’s World Cup foray and a series of eye-catching performances against the European heavyweights have all served as reminders as to just how impressive Alli is, and continues to be, at just 22.
Niggling injuries after a draining summer have made for a patchy return to form since the start of the season. His absence, however, has only accentuated how important the tireless playmaker has become in a Spurs team that – at times – can be accused of lacking impetus in the final third.
Alli’s frustration was palpable after Tottenham’s FA Cup exit back in April. “We can't keep doing this. We can't throw it away. We’ve got to improve," he fumed. It’ll be on Spurs to match the young player's lofty ambitions, but a new bumper contract would suggest that he’s happy for now. – Hunter Godson
79. Leroy Sané (Manchester City)
It’s been a year of two halves for Sané. The Manchester City winger was electrifying in 2017/18, scoring 10 goals and providing 15 assists as Pep Guardiola’s men stormed to the title and became the first English top-tier team to break the 100-point barrier.
Sané was named PFA Young Player of the Year in recognition of his contributions at the Etihad, but Germany boss Joachim Löw still saw fit to leave him out of his World Cup squad. After a slow start to 2018/19, the 22-year-old speedster is currently in fine form as he fights off the competition at City, having been directly involved in 13 league goals this term. – Greg Lea
78. Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal)
Lacazette must have feared for his place at Arsenal when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rocked up at the Emirates Stadium in January, but it’s testament to the Frenchman’s quality that he’s forced successive managers into a rethink.
Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery have both deployed Aubameyang in a wide role in order to accommodate Lacazette in his favoured No.9 position. The former Lyon man has responded in the way he knows best, scoring 17 goals in all competitions throughout the calendar year.
His only disappointment in 2018 was missing out on France’s World Cup squad, with Lacazette only named on Didier Deschamps’ standby list. – Greg Lea
77. Milan Skriniar (Inter Milan)
Sergio Ramos and Giorgio Chiellini won’t last too much longer at the summit of world football, but Skriniar has the potential to take their places as one of the planet's leading centre-backs. Inter’s 23-year-old stopper is quickly building a reputation as a solid heir, possessing all of the traits needed to stop the very best strikers.
Harry Kane and Gonzalo Higuain have been marshalled expertly by the Slovakia international already this term, finding him almost impossible to get past on the ground or in the air.
Skriniar has already begun to attract serious interest from Manchester United and Barcelona, but for now seems happy to be playing at San Siro every week. Given his first name, who can blame him? – Adam Digby
76. Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)
The Belgian goalkeeper has quickly established himself at Real Madrid, and while the new post-Zinedine Zidane era is taking time to get up and running, Courtois is one of the few encountering no problems.
The former Chelsea goalkeeper has shown himself to be an immense presence between the posts, commanding his backline well and giving security to a defence that needs all the help it can get.
Keylor Navas did little wrong when he was first choice in Madrid, but it’s evident that Courtois is a far more rounded, secure goalkeeper. They’ll soon forget about David de Gea in Madrid should Courtois continue how he’s started. – David Cartlidge
75. Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
Now the wrong side of 30 and having decided to retire from international duty after the World Cup, Pique’s sole focus is Barcelona. A key influence in the dressing room and an outspoken voice beyond his contributions on the pitch, his constant presence at centre-back has been key while others around him have picked up injury problems.
Pique was often exposed in Russia, though, and his final major international tournament will have been a disappointment. However, his ability on the ball and desire to go hunting for a game-defining goal domestically still mark him out as vital for Ernesto Valverde. – Simon Harrison
74. Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund)
Witsel had disappeared from the radar of many European football followers, having gone from being regarded as one of the continent’s brightest young midfielders to being branded a money-grabber – first after joining Zenit St Petersburg in 2012, and then by moving to Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian four years later.
But his return to the big stage with Borussia Dortmund has been startlingly good: the Belgian has brought poise and organisation to a previously chaotic young side and been a key protagonist in their unlikely Bundesliga challenge.
At just 29 and with less high-intensity miles in the tank than many peers, Witsel could dominate for years to come. – Andy Brassell
73. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham)
Alderweireld looked to be headed for the exit at Tottenham midway through the year, having started just three Premier League games after January 1 following his refusal to sign a new contract. Links with Manchester United abounded throughout the summer, but when the transfer window closed in August the defender was still in north London.
Alderweireld has since reminded Premier League audiences of his immense quality, while his role in Belgium’s third-place finish at the World Cup did his reputation no harm either. The 29-year-old is one of the best centre-backs in Europe and won’t be short of offers if he does leave Spurs in June… or before. – Greg Lea
72. Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
To say Mahrez was upset by his failed move to Manchester City in January would be an understatement, but after initially going AWOL at Leicester he returned to score four more goals for the Foxes in the final few months of 2017/18.
The Algerian got his wish in the summer when City paid £60m for his services, and he’s exceeded expectations at the Etihad Stadium so far. Many expected Mahrez to be nothing more than a backup to Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané, but he’s started 13 games and scored six goals in all competitions, adding another dash of guile and creativity to Pep Guardiola’s side. – Greg Lea
71. Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid)
There aren’t many roles on the field that Saul couldn’t play, and definitely not one he wouldn’t. His ability to slot into any position and perform in it is highly admirable, making him one of Diego Simeone’s most trusted men at Atletico Madrid.
At times it does feel like Saul sacrifices too much of himself, however, and is clearly at his best when in his preferred midfield role given freedom to roam box to box.
Strong technically, with excellent fitness levels and a committed character, Saul has become notorious for his ability to step up in the big games. Simeone’s kind of player. – David Cartlidge
70. Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)
There are some who see Aspas as little more than a poorly taken corner at Liverpool. Put simply, they’re all missing out because this is one of La Liga’s best all-round forwards.
The Galician could easily play for a top-four side in Spain, but instead chooses to raise the level of boyhood club Celta – and the league is all the better for it. Winner of back-to-back Zarra trophies for the highest-scoring Spaniard in La Liga, the 31-year-old is on course to make it a third in succession, hitting double figures by matchday 14 despite Celta’s wild inconsistency.
And what goals they are: from distance, in the air, from free-kicks or from close-range. Aspas has it all. – Lee Roden
69. Gonzalo Higuain (Milan)
Despite Higuain’s insistence that he was forced out of Juventus in the summer to make way for Cristiano Ronaldo, not to mention the Argentine’s impressive meltdown last month which earned him a red card against his former club, the striker is exactly what Milan have been missing.
The Rossoneri struggled without a reliable goalscorer last season and that is exactly what the 30-year-old has proven to be at his third major Italian club, with seven goals to his name in all competitions so far.
Higuain scored 55 goals in two seasons in Turin, including 23 last term as they secured the domestic double. Milan are unlikely to turn down the option of making his loan move permanent next summer given his remarkable consistency. – Alasdair Mackenzie
68. Ciro Immobile (Lazio)
There’s a good reason Immobile is called ‘King Ciro’ on the blue side of Rome. Last season was the most prolific of the 28-year-old’s career as he became one of Europe’s top marksmen, finishing as joint-top scorer in Serie A (29) and the Europa League (eight).
The broader numbers are staggering: 41 goals in 47 appearances last season, 10 league goals already this term and a total of 78 in 107 games for Lazio since his arrival following unspectacular spells at Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Torino.
Immobile is more than a mere poacher, though. He helps construct his team’s attacks and provides frequent assists for his attacking colleagues, none more so than Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. A genuine all-rounder. – Alasdair Mackenzie
67. Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)
“Andrew Robertson was born in Glasgow,” wrote Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport after the left-back’s lung-busting display against Roma in the first leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final. “And this explains everything.”
Robertson was one of the surprises of 2017/18, arriving at Anfield from Hull to little fanfare before going on to establish himself as one of Jurgen Klopp’s most important assets.
His bursts forward in possession add dynamism and thrust to the Liverpool attack, while his terrific delivery from out wide has resulted in nine assists for the Merseysiders this calendar year. “I’m still tired just looking at Robertson,” said a bemused Jose Mourinho after December’s 3-1 defeat at Anfield. – Greg Lea
66. Joao Cancelo (Juventus)
Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival in Turin didn’t exactly want for celebration, but he wasn’t the only Portuguese international Juventus signed last summer – one who is proving to be almost as important as his megastar compatriot.
Joao Cancelo – who spent last season on loan at Inter from Valencia – has rapidly improved the defensive side of his game but retained the ever-present attacking verve which unlocks even the most resolute opponents through a stunning combination of speed and skill from full-back.
The 24-year-old is no reckless marauder, though, and diligently tracks his man before joining the forwards at the perfect moment in Dani Alves-esque fashion. He’s become the perfect all-round full-back Juventus needed. – Adam Digby
65. Koke (Atletico Madrid)
It’s hard to know what to write about a man so Colchonero he not only bleeds red and white, but feels no less Atleti than the strawberry tree-climbing bear on the club badge.
“For me,” Koke once told FFT, “this is Madrid’s true club. I’ve been a Colchonero my whole life. My idol was Juninho, the former Middlesbrough playmaker. He was the sort of player I wanted to be.”
And he is, only better. He turns 27 in January and averages 50 games a season, chipping in with the odd goal. Mainly, though, he guarantees possession and can play anywhere in Diego Simeone’s narrow midfield four. True, he had a poor World Cup and has become the fall guy for Spain’s troubles, but it’s a sign of Koke’s determination that he has forced himself back into Luis Enrique’s squad. The sort of player every team dreams of having. – Andrew Murray
64. Isco (Real Madrid)
It’s been a difficult year for Isco, who has struggled to prove himself as a key man for two coaches at Real Madrid, but he did at least provide some positives during Spain's disappointing World Cup in Russia.
Isco offers a link from midfield to attack but also a direct threat in and around the penalty area, and when on song his intelligence, movement and technical ability make him a tough opponent to stifle.
A player of his ability should be playing more football, however. Such is life in Madrid that Isco has only started five La Liga matches this season, and his short-term future at the Bernabeu is unclear. – Simon Harrison
63. Angel Di Maria (PSG)
Kylian Mbappe and Neymar dominate the headlines at PSG – and that’s exactly how Di Maria likes it. The Argentina international lets his football do the talking and Thomas Tuchel is the latest PSG manager to realise just how valuable the 30-year-old is.
Dynamic, energetic, occasionally frustrating but consistently effective, Di Maria has spent the past 12 months tormenting Ligue 1 opponents and keeping PSG’s fearsome frontmen well serviced.
He also lit up the World Cup with a 30-yard screamer of his own in Argentina’s 4-3 last-16 defeat against his adopted homeland, making his mark in spectacular fashion in one of the tournament’s most thrilling encounters. – James Eastham
62. Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan)
A meme was doing the rounds on social media recently. It contained two images, one of a ferocious T-Rex and one of timid Toy Story character Rex. The caption said ‘Croatia Perisic and Inter Perisic’.
While obviously intended as an amusing exaggeration, it did strike a chord. In the last year at Inter, Perisic has alternated between invincible and invisible, but his haul of 11 goals and 11 assists last season helped the Nerazzurri return to the Champions League for the first time in seven years.
For Croatia, the 29-year-old was crucial in their surprise run to the final, scoring three goals – including one in the final – and putting in some standout displays... not least in the semi-final against England. – Alasdair Mackenzie
61. Niklas Süle (Bayern Munich)
Bundesliga followers have observed Süle’s impressive development for some time. Few, however, would have predicted his position as a mainstay for Germany and Bayern Munich so quickly.
It would be hard to dispute that the 22-year-old is the best central defender at Bayern, and has held a level of consistency while more experienced campaigners have struggled around him.
Süle was given just the final game of the World Cup group stage, but perhaps in hindsight, coach Joachim Löw should have pushed him into the firing line a little quicker. 2019 should be much brighter for him. – Russell Smith
60. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Plagued by injuries for much of his Real Madrid career, Bale is the quintessential riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure and that overhead kick in the Champions League final, the Welshman is yet to assume CR7’s throne at the Bernabeu. For all the doubts – and there are plenty in Spain – you can’t doubt Bale’s ability, a pure modern footballer who boasts outstanding physical and technical attributes.
That combination will always make him a problem for opponents, and as Real Madrid enter a new post-Zidane era, Bale will never have a better opportunity write his own Blanco legacy. Here’s to a much better 2019. – David Cartlidge
EXCLUSIVE Bale: I should have won the Puskas Award
59. Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid)
Has there been a better low-profile player than Hernandez over the past 12 months? Not content with helping Atletico Madrid clinch the Europa League in May against Marseille – the city where he was born – he then kept the more widely-feted Benjamin Mendy out of France’s World Cup-winning side and ended up as most observers' pick as the tournament’s best left-back.
Defensively diligent and more dynamic in possession that many give him credit for, the 22-year-old has taken significant strides towards being a worthy successor to France greats Manuel Amoros and Bixente Lizarazu in his position. – James Eastham
58. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
Kroos has never been a playmaker to be flustered, but he hardly covered himself in glory last summer for a hapless German side that crashed out in the World Cup group stage.
There was a phenomenal game-saving rocket against Sweden which looked to have tipped the scales in Die Mannschaft’s favour, but otherwise Kroos was as guilty as everyone else around him in his country’s botched trophy defence.
At least he still sets the standard for his club. Kroos isn’t as deadly from set-pieces as in previous campaigns, and is generally outshone by Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, but still helps to ensure that Los Blancos boast a classy engine room capable of going toe-to-toe with the world’s best. He turns 29 in early January and, though his style lends itself to elite-level performance for many years to come, must arrest Madrid’s alarming decline in the second half of 2018/19. – Simon Harrison
57. Jorginho (Chelsea)
Maurizio Sarri was restricted to just a single permanent outfield signing in his first transfer window as Chelsea manager, but there’s probably no one he would have wanted more than Jorginho. OK, apart from Lionel Messi.
The Italian metronome was the man who made things tick for Sarri at Napoli, starting 33 Serie A games in 2017/18 as the Partenopei pushed Juventus all the way in the title race.
It hasn’t taken long for Jorginho to become the Premier League’s most prolific passer – managing 180 of them in a goalless draw at West Ham in September – following his £43m transfer. A deep-lying playmaker who sets the tempo of his team’s attacks, the former Verona man rarely gives possession away. – Greg Lea
56. Mario Mandzukic (Juventus)
It’s been quite a year for Mandzukic. The striker has won a league-and-cup double with Juventus, scored in a World Cup final for Croatia and secured his place in a new attacking trident alongside Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He’s got off to a flyer this season too, equalling his (admittedly paltry) tally from last term with five goals by mid-November. Goals don’t tell the whole story with Mandzukic, though, and never have; there’s a reason he’s stayed at the top in Germany, Spain and Italy without ever breaking the 20-goal barrier.
The 32-year-old’s phenomenal work rate, tactical flexibility and professionalism make him a coach’s dream. Massimiliano Allegri has recognised his tactical importance too, with the Croatian’s selfless link-up play helping those around him flourish. A near-psychotic will to win helps, too. – Alasdair Mackenzie
55. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
One of the most technically sound players in the Bundesliga, if not Europe, Kimmich’s biggest problem is that head coaches don’t know where to play him.
Last season, at right-back, he managed double figures in assists for the first time in his career, reminding everyone just how devastatingly good he is at whipping the ball into the box. In the same position at the World Cup in Russia, however, the 23-year-old’s positioning was all over the place.
Since then, his play has suffered from collective crises at Bayern Munich and with Germany. His talent is undeniable, but the next year will decide just how good he will be. And in which position, with Niko Kovac increasingly reverting Kimmich to the midfield role afford him by Pep Guardiola. – Jonathan Harding
54. Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Fernandinho continues to get better with age, and although the plaudits invariably go elsewhere at the Etihad, he is as important to Manchester City’s cause as any of his team-mates.
The Brazilian made 34 appearances as Pep Guardiola’s centurions won the Premier League title in style, and he’s been ever-present so far this season despite turning 33 in May.
A tremendous reader of the game who expertly breaks up play and halts opposition counters in front of the back four, the former Shakhtar Donetsk man is also an excellent passer who helps construct City’s attacks from deep. In short, he can do everything. – Greg Lea
53. Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
The memory of Napoli’s homegrown hero scoring a late Champions League winner at the San Paolo might make Liverpool fans shudder, but the Reds – despite eventually going through at the Partonopei’s expense – were far from the only team to suffer at the 27-year-old’s feet.
A month later, he sent a penalty past Gianluigi Buffon during a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain to become the first Italian to score in five consecutive home games in the competition.
Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to move the Italy international from the wing to a central striker role in his 4-4-2 promises to be rewarded with Insigne’s most prolific season yet. He already has seven league goals to his name – just one fewer than he managed all of last season. – Alasdair Mackenzie
52. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
Manchester City have barely missed Kevin De Bruyne in the opening months of 2018/19, which is largely due to Bernardo’s brilliant form.
The Portuguese was a peripheral figure last season – although he still made 35 Premier League appearances and chipped in with six goals and four assists – but has arguably been City’s standout performer in the first half of the current campaign.
Though regularly used on the right at Monaco, Bernardo has always looked most comfortable in a central role, excelling with his exemplary touch, intelligence and creativity to such an extent there’s been no need to talk about Kevin. – Greg Lea
51. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
Yes, he’s arguably still the best player in his position, but there have been signs that Busquets’ prodigious powers are on the wane in 2018. Poor at the World Cup – admittedly, he’s not alone among Spaniards there – the midfield anchor also started the current La Liga campaign slowly.
There are, however, signs of an Indian summer for Busquets, thanks to Barça new boy Arthur. A carbon copy of Xavi, the Brazilian’s metronomic passing should allow ‘Busi’ to focus on the dark arts at which he still excels. Throw in the highly rated Carles Alena to give the 30-year-old an occasional breather and 2019 could well be a year of resurgence for Busquets. – Andrew Murray
50. Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
History may well look back on Pogba’s 2018 as the crowning moment of his career, with his heavy involvement in France’s World Cup triumph and a goal in the final against Croatia.
Today, the nuance is much clearer, and much of his last 12 months has been blighted by his uneasy relationship with Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
Pogba has every right to be put out that a club which brought him back as a world record signing has never sought to build the team around him, and he has proved at international level just how potent – and selfless - he can be in the right environment. – Andy Brassell
49. Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Hitherto a rampaging right-back whose game was defined by constant surges down the flank, Walker has proven in 2018 that he’s far from one-dimensional. The former Tottenham man played a key role in Manchester City’s Premier League success, curbing his attacking instincts and moving infield while Raheem Sterling provided the width higher upfield.
The trend continued at the World Cup, where Gareth Southgate deployed Walker as a right-sided centre-back in his three-man defence. The 28-year-old is still very capable of a buccaneering burst thanks to his astonishing pace, but this was the year in which he became a more rounded footballer – and won over his few remaining doubters in the process. – Greg Lea
48. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)
It’s been another year of growth and improvement for Vertonghen. Calm and elegant in possession, the imposing stopper has continued to offer a dependable option out of defence that Spurs look to when facing deep-lying teams – one that Belgium utilised to great effect during their run to the World Cup semi-finals.
In 2018, Vertonghen has been one of the few consistencies in an ever-changing Tottenham backline. With his right-hand man Toby Alderweireld picking up a relatively serious injury back in November, Vertonghen was tasked with helping bring through a raw talent in Davinson Sanchez.
In just 12 months the two have forged a formidable partnership – the heart of the third-meanest Premier League defence in 2017/18 – and it’s largely thanks to the tutelage of Spurs’ composed centre-half. Vertonghen was long considered Alderweireld’s little brother in footballing terms, but this was the year that reputation shifted for good. – Hunter Godson
47. Thomas Meunier (PSG)
Slowly but surely, Meunier has emerged as one of the world’s best full-backs over the last 12 months. An effective performer for Belgium at the World Cup, he has benefited from the injury that sidelined Dani Alves for much of the year to pin down a place in PSG’s starting line-up and post impressively consistent displays throughout 2018.
Rebutting the theory that smaller players are better suited to the full-back position, 6ft 3in Meunier is an arresting sight manoeuvring his considerable frame up and down the flank. This was the year that the ex-Club Brugge player joined the global elite. – James Eastham
46. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
Spurs’ most technically proficient player has continued to cement his status as the creative spark for both club and country, and one of the most valuable players in the Premier League.
It’s when the Dane isn’t on the pitch that you really start to understand his worth. Tottenham fans will testify that their side’s play often becomes stodgy without the 26-year-old, and that they lack urgency in the final third.
The accusation that continues to be levelled at Eriksen is that he has a penchant for drifting in and out of games far too frequently. In reality, with the talent he possesses, he could – and perhaps should – be further up this list. – Hunter Godson
45. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
After repeatedly failing to push through his dream move to Real Madrid, former Borussia Dortmund striker Aubameyang settled for Arsenal in January. The Gabonese hit the ground running with a debut strike against Everton, before netting another nine league goals between March and the end of the campaign.
He’s begun this season with a bang, too, scoring 12 times in all competitions despite often starting out wide as Unai Emery has aimed to accommodate both the Gabon international and Alexandre Lacazette.
Quick, elusive and a natural finisher – one who scored from 10 consecutive shots on target in the Premier League, the first player to do so for a decade – Aubameyang has proved an excellent acquisition for the Gunners. – Greg Lea
44. Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Chelsea, it’s fair to say, have had their fair share of ups and downs in recent seasons, but throughout the turbulence there’s been one guarantee: the form of Azpilicueta. While team-mates around him have gone through peaks and troughs, the Spaniard has remained a model of consistency – and that was the case again in 2018.
Used as a centre-half in Antonio Conte’s back three, the Spaniard helped Chelsea secure their eighth FA Cup in May. He’s since returned to right-back under Maurizio Sarri, and although he doesn’t offer quite the same attacking dynamism as many of his peers, there are few better defensive full-backs in Europe. – Greg Lea
43. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
He has his critics, especially those in Liverpool, but it’s difficult to completely write Sergio Ramos off just yet. The Spanish war horse is the biggest presence in the dressing room for both club and country – although whether you can consider that a good thing is open for debate.
Ramos is always assured and confident in his decision-making, and has made a habit of popping up in the right places at the right times throughout his illustrious career, but 2018 has been far from his best year for club and country. Spain’s dismal World Cup showing came either side of Real Madrid’s underachievement in La Liga, though the 32-year-old can lay claim to yet another Champions League trophy. – David Cartlidge
42. Alisson (Liverpool)
If Jurgen Klopp didn’t already have a new goalkeeper at the top of his wish list before the Champions League final, Loris Karius’s disastrous performance against Real Madrid would have convinced him to reorder his priorities.
Thank the lord for Alisson, then, who has proven an excellent choice so far in keeping 10 Premier League clean sheets and assisting the Reds’ build-up play with his ball-playing abilities – even if his dawdling in possession did infamously gift a goal to Leicester in September.
The first half of 2018 didn’t go badly for the Brazilian either: Alisson helped Roma reach the Champions League semi-finals, before keeping goal for his country at the World Cup. – Greg Lea
41. Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)
Despite plenty of injury problems over the last 12 months, Carvajal is surely the most well-rounded right-back in world football.
Full-backs were vital in attack under Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid lifted another Champions League, and Carvajal’s marauding runs down the right allowed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to profit from regular service.
Robust in defence but tireless with his offerings further up the flank, Carvajal gets the balance just right for what’s expected from modern wing-backs. – Simon Harrison
40. Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)
It’s been a stellar year for Umtiti, in which he has reinforced his status as one of the world’s premier centre-backs. ‘Big Sam’ earned his nickname through power and strength rather than his relatively modest stature (or any penchant for pints of wine), and his personality and consistency were key in Barcelona’s double win and France’s World Cup glory.
His worth as a mainstay for both teams was underlined further during his two-month injury lay-off in autumn. By his last game out, a 4-3 home defeat to Betis in mid-November, Barça’s was the 15th best defence in La Liga, while France failed to make the Nations League final four. – Andy Brassell
39. James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
In many ways it doesn’t feel like James has played 50 games for Bayern Munich, and that’s telling. The Colombian has proven himself a match-winner and an excellent playmaker at a club in need of some creative spark beyond Thiago.
Late last season and early this season, the 27-year-old so often found the pass that others couldn’t – even in a side full of stars like Bayern – but a knee injury looks to have halted his progress. Before that it was calf knack which ruined his World Cup – James sat out Colombia’s opener, returned with a man-of-the-match display against Poland, then came off after half an hour against Senegal.
His club future remains unclear, but given his ability, Bayern would be remiss not to make him a part of theirs. – Jonathan Harding
38. Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)
Rakitic takes far less of the limelight in comparison to compatriot Luka Modric, but the Ballon d’Or winner’s compatriot has enjoyed an understated, exceptional year.
The Croatian schemer has become a vital on-field presence for Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona, both in terms of what he can do on the ball and also how he acts as midfield general off it, and helped his country to a monumental World Cup final appearance in Russia.
The 30-year-old scored two key penalties in shootouts along the way, and against Argentina in the group stage, continuing to show his leadership skills and cool head on the biggest of stages. Modric couldn’t have done it without him. – Simon Harrison
37. Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Another player to have flourished under Maurizio Sarri’s tutelage in Naples, the towering Senegal international has been one of the rocks that Napoli’s recent success has been built on.
Nicknamed K2, the centre-back’s imposing frame makes him a difficult obstacle for forwards to find a way around, and his mixture of aerial prowess and technical proficiency has made him one of Serie A’s most consistently impressive defenders in recent years.
He’s no slouch either: bombing runs forward are another trademark trait and Koulibaly provides a real threat in the air, his superb header in April’s win over Juventus being the most famous example. – Alasdair Mackenzie
36. Casemiro (Real Madrid)
Once seen as wild, rash and unpredictable, Casemiro is now considered one of the best in the world in his position. In screening the Real Madrid defence, he’s an energetic, tenacious presence who provides excellent cover for Los Blancos’ backline.
His seemingly endless energy levels allow him to cover a lot of ground, and during Zinedine Zidane’s spell at the club – featuring a third straight Champions League title in May – the Brazilian made sure that the foundations were there for Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to build upon.
The 26-year-old also packs a venomous strike and springs forward when he can too, such is the versatility in his game. – David Cartlidge
35. Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Mertens probably owes Maurizio Sarri a drink or two. It was the now-Chelsea boss who first thought of turning the Belgian from a talented-but-frustrating winger into a central striker.
That switch, which yielded a 28-goal Serie A haul in 2016/17 and a Ballon d’Or nomination, still bears fruit for Napoli today. Quick off the mark and a devastating finisher, the 5ft 5in frontman has proved that you don’t need imposing physicality to thrive through the middle.
This season, Carlo Ancelotti’s regular rotation policy and 4-4-2 system has breathed fresh life into Mertens’ performances, after the 31-year-old ended last term with just one goal in 11 league games. Now, the Belgian is back challenging at the top of the Serie A scoring charts. – Alasdair Mackenzie
34. Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid)
Gimenez is still just 23, and 2018 has been a year of huge progression for the centre-back. He formed a formidable partnership for Uruguay at the World Cup alongside club team-mate Diego Godin, and even scored the winner in his country’s opener against Egypt.
The youngster is Diego Simeone’s kind of centre-back; one who offers fine aerial ability, a good reading of the game and the total commitment required to put his body on the line for the cause.
Gimenez has taken up the slack at Atleti during Godin’s slow start to the season, and will be a vital player for Los Colchoneros when his respected mentor is long gone. – Simon Harrison
33. Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
Juventus’s superstar-in-the-making has spent the last year continuing to fulfil the enormous potential he showed as a fresh-faced teenager at Palermo. The player who heads into 2019 is a more rounded and mature version than the one of a year ago.
Last season was the Argentine’s most prolific yet – he netted 22 times as the Old Lady won a fourth consecutive league and cup double, and scored another four in other competitions despite missing six weeks of the campaign through injury.
Massimiliano Allegri wasn’t afraid to drop ‘La Joya’ – the Jewel - during the early weeks of 2018/19 as he sought to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo, but Dybala responded in the best way possible with a series of standout performances – including a Champions League hat-trick against Young Boys. – Alasdair Mackenzie
32. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
Best player in the world? Maybe not, but Varane finishes 2018 among the world’s three best central defenders.
A Champions League winner with Real Madrid in May, he marshalled France’s World Cup-winning back four to victory in imperious fashion, finding time along the way to post a career-defining performance in Les Bleus’ 1-0 semi-final victory over Belgium.
There are signs that Varane’s notoriously fragile physique may finally be adjusting to the rigours of top-level football, meaning he can play more games. He’s suffered a torrid start to the current season with Real Madrid, but frighteningly for strikers across the globe, aged 25 his peak years still lie ahead. – James Eastham
31. Sadio Mané (Liverpool)
The Senegalese appears to be so good that he doesn’t even know it himself. At least that’s the view of Jurgen Klopp, who saw Mané hit double figures in the league and Champions League last season.
Operating in the shadow of Mohamed Salah, the 26-year-old has kept up his game as one of the best overall forwards around, with a mix of goals, quick combinations and sheer hard work.
Liverpool recently extended his contract to 2023, suggesting that if Mané isn’t aware of his talent, his coach very much is. – Thore Haugstad
30. Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
Given the injuries that Reus has suffered in recent years, it’s remarkable that in 2018 he returned to the best form of his career. Having played little football due to injury last season, Reus was one of very few bright sparks for Germany at an otherwise forgettable World Cup.
Spurred on by new team-mates and Lucien Favre, a coach who unearthed his brilliance at Borussia Monchengladbach back in 2012, the 29-year-old wide man is reborn.
He is a captain who leads by example – taking the teenager Jadon Sancho under his wing, for one – and has had a direct hand in 15 Bundesliga goals (10 scored by him, five assisted) already this season. He has been the best German player in 2018. – Jonathan Harding
29. Ederson (Manchester City)
In terms of the impact made in a player’s debut season, Ederson deserves to go down as one of the most influential signings in Premier League history. Manchester City were largely underwhelming as they finished third in 2017/18, when the error-prone Claudio Bravo was seemingly unable to keep out any opposition efforts on target.
The Jaws lookalike has proved a much more reliable shot-stopper, but it’s his composure in possession and passing ability – both long and short – which stand out most of all.
The former Benfica custodian isn’t the first goalkeeper to play a part in starting attacks, but he’s probably the best at in the world today. “I could play in midfield,” he told FFT earlier in the year. And who are we to argue? – Greg Lea
28. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
If Jurgen Klopp could be one player, you’d suspect he’d be Firmino: teeth gritted, sleeves rolled up, fighting until the whistle.
While Mohamed Salah has scored most of Liverpool’s goals, the Brazilian striker has facilitated them, linking up play and harrying defenders to set the tone for the Reds’ counter-pressing. Firmino also chipped in with 15 league goals of his own last season, adding to the 14 assists he managed at home and abroad.
Though less prolific since the World Cup, where he warmed the bench, Firmino remains to Klopp what Jorginho is to Maurizio Sarri and David Silva to Pep Guardiola: an embodiment of the team’s style and attitude. – Thore Haugstad
27. Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)
It's been a year of two halves for Godin. He was imperious in Atletico Madrid’s Europa League win where he shut out Arsenal at the Metropolitano, then gave Marseille absolutely nothing in the Lyon final.
He followed that with an even more impressive World Cup. The veteran was arguably centre-back of the tournament in Russia, transferring his club partnership with Jose Gimenez to the international stage, but the hangover since has been long and painful.
This season, mistakes have crept into Godin’s game that suggest age may finally be taking its toll on the veteran warrior. If this is approaching the end, what a run. – Lee Roden
26. Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)
The year could hardly have begun better for Coutinho, who sealed a £142m move to Barcelona in January. The 26-year-old playmaker has since won a Spanish league and cup double, wooing the Camp Nou with dazzling goals from long range.
Though Brazil lost to Belgium in the quarter-finals at the World Cup, Coutinho also shone in Russia, netting two goals – including an absolute stunner against Switzerland – and creating another two.
Having been struck down by a thigh injury in early November, Coutinho is back in the Barça team and will hope for an even more productive year in 2019. – Thore Haugstad
25. Marcelo (Real Madrid)
A leading example of a wing-back in the modern game – there isn’t an attacking full-back out there who can offer Marcelo’s offensive capabilities and technical quality.
After scoring an important away goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final first leg, then providing an assist in the second, the Brazil international went on to pick out two assists in the final against Liverpool.
The defensive side of his game is far from perfect, but his technique, eye for a pass and left foot are exceptional tools for an exciting defender who has a huge influence in the final third. – Simon Harrison
24. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Sterling is closing in on 300 career appearances at club level, which is why it’s difficult to forget he’s still only 23. He was unfairly maligned before the start of 2018, but the Manchester City forward has enjoyed a brilliant year and is now rightly considered among Europe’s best in his position.
Sterling scored in his first game of the calendar year against Watford and has barely looked back since: in 38 club appearances in 2018, he’s found the net 16 times and provided 17 assists. Goals proved harder to come by at the World Cup, but Sterling struck twice in England’s memorable Nations League victory over Spain in October. – Greg Lea
23. Edinson Cavani (PSG)
Now 31, Cavani remains one of the best centre-forwards on the planet. He’s unstoppable at the top of his game, and is a tremendous sight for fans who love their strikers to get into the box.
A formidable force in Uruguay’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals (well, eventually) – who can forget his stunning crossfield one-two with Luis Suarez and headed finish in their last-16 win over Portugal? – he was also the 28-goal Ligue 1 top scorer as PSG romped to another league title.
Cavani’s stock may have dropped a couple of notches since Thomas Tuchel arrived in the French capital, but don’t bet against him taking a starring role when the prizes are up for grabs in spring. – James Eastham
22. Jordi Alba (Barcelona)
Ask Lionel Messi which player he links up with best these days at Barcelona, and it’s pretty certain his reply will be Alba. The tenacious full-back has matured well and become a key part of Barcelona’s setup, with his rapid, piercing runs down the left opening up crucial avenues for the attackers beyond him.
Defensively he’s improved over the years too, and now looks more assured with the experience he’s gained. He was dropped by country recently – thanks to a fall-out with Luis Enrique stemming from his time at Barcelona – but it didn’t take long before the Roja boss had a rethink and brought Alba back into the fold. Spain will be all the better for it. – David Cartlidge
21. Miralem Pjanic (Juventus)
The man steering the wheel at Juventus, Pjanic is the creative mastermind at the heart of a side that has its sights locked on European domination.
The Bosnian playmaker sits at the base of the Old Lady’s midfield trident, directing team-mates, intercepting passes and dictating the tempo. His composed performance against Manchester United on Champions League duty at Old Trafford was a fine example of a midfielder at the peak of his powers.
Pjanic is also a free-kick expert, although his dead-ball opportunities have become more limited following the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. Sigh... – Alasdair Mackenzie
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