FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2018
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