FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2018
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