FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2018
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 Les Bleus, 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