The experts have been consulted, the contenders have been discussed, and the arguments have been had (several times over). Now it's here - FourFourTwo's eighth annual countdown of the world's 100 best football players.
Below are numbers 80-71, including an Anfield hero, Atletico's newest superstar, and an Arsenal flop.
Words: Matt Allen, Joe Brewin, Gregg Davies, Huw Davies, Jonathan Fadugba, Nick Harper, Louis Massarella, James Maw, Nick Moore and Gary Parkinson.
Forget his recent moment of international buffoonery for the Ivory Coast (bearing down on the Sierra Leone goal, he comically blasted a ball at a 45-degree angle): Gervinho has spent much of the last year proving exactly why Arsene Wenger blew £10m on his contract. Sadly for Arsenal he now plays for Roma, where his contribution has proved vital. Utilised on the wing for much of last season, Gervinho scored or assisted 19 goals in 33 appearances as Rudi Garcia's side finished second in Serie A; he also scored twice at the World Cup, and struck three times in his first three Champions League games this season. Clearly, there's more to this lad than a silly haircut and comedic timing. MA
That Arsenal were finally able to end their eight-year trophy drought was largely thanks to the brilliance of their diminutive Spaniard in midfield. With the Gunners 2-0 down to Hull after 16 minutes, it was Cazorla’s brilliant free-kick that proved the catalyst for a rousing comeback at Wembley and finally gave suffering Gooners something to cheer. There are still question marks over whether the Spain international can assert his authority in Arsenal’s biggest games, and he perhaps doesn’t record as many assists as he’d like, but Cazorla remains one of Arsene Wenger’s most gifted and reliable performers, and a firm fan favourite at the Emirates. JB
INTERVIEW Cazorla loves the Tube, but flunks Cockney rhyming slang test
PERFORMANCEBe a two-footed assasin
The Spaniard's January move to Manchester United certainly raised eyebrows. Mata was Chelsea's player of the year for 2011/12 and 2012/13, but Jose Mourinho – supposedly looking for more defensive discipline from his attacking players – opted to bench him, then cash in. After a slow start to life as a Red Devil, Mata found form towards the end of last season, scoring six goals in his last six appearances as United ended a disastrous season on a positive note. Yet it wasn't long before Mata found himself benched again. Does new United boss Louis van Gaal also see Mata as too much of a luxury? If so, another move could be on the cards sooner rather than later. JM
On reflection, perhaps No.24 on last year’s list was overly generous, but let’s call that Dante’s Peak and revise things a little here. He may well have been a key component of Bayern Munich’s domestic and European dominance in 2013, but the whole argument unravelled in 90 harrowing summer minutes for Brazil against Germany. Admittedly, every man in a yellow shirt was culpable in the calamitous 7-1 defeat, but the bubble-haired Brazilian was made to look more hopeless than even David Luiz, and that’s never easy. He remains one of the best defenders Philipp Lahm has ever played alongside, and he remains active for Bayern Munich, so the talent is there – but No.77 seems a more appropriate position. NH
The year began slowly for Isco, with Carlo Ancelotti naming the playmaker in his starting line-up for just three of 2014's first 16 matches. Things changed when, having finally been given the nod by the gaffer, Isco played superbly in a 3-0 Champions League quarter-final win over Dortmund, the midfielder scoring the second as los Blancos took a big step towards La Decima. Since then, he's generally found a place in the starting XI – although, frustratingly for him, not for the big one in Lisbon – with reports in the autumn even suggesting he may keep Gareth Bale out of the side. JM
According to France manager Didier Deschamps, he’s “very clinical, scores a lot of goals and creates a lot of goals” – so where the hell has Griezmann been hiding all these years? Across the southern border in San Sebastian, since you ask, after being picked up by Real Sociedad as a teenager. But after going unnoticed by France’s younger age-group teams and then picking up a lengthy ban for an off-field misdemeanour when he finally did get a call-up, the youngster didn’t make his senior debut until this year, impressing enough to make France’s World Cup squad, earn himself a big-money move to Atletico Madrid and make the FFT100. A rapid rise from a pacy player. LM
Were it not for injuries, who knows how high Martinez would be on this list? But bad luck means the Spaniard hasn’t played since rupturing a cruciate ligament in the German Supercup final against Borussia Dortmund in August – this after missing almost two months with a groin problem at the same stage of last season. When he’s available, though, Martinez is an essential element of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern machine, comfortable in numerous positions, most notably at central defence as part of his Catalan boss’s three-man back-line. The 26-year-old has also featured in his more natural defensive midfield position, and even further forward too – as he did in last November’s win in Dortmund, before switching to centre-back once Mario Gotze had entered the fray. A calming, dependable presence… when he's fit. JB
A new entry on the strength of a phenomenal annum in which his goals helped push Liverpool to within a captain’s slip of the Premier League title and his close-range half-volley provided England’s only moment of cheer in Brazil, Sturridge has had the year of his career. The last 12 months have made both Manchester City and Chelsea look slightly foolish for discarding England’s first-choice striker, although there are still question marks over the 25-year-old and his true worth. This season, with Luis Suarez gone and Sturridge now the alpha male up front, we should learn more about his credentials. The fact that he’s so far played only three league games in an injury-hit season has made his club’s need for him even more acute. But it also means we’re still waiting to see if he’ll be heading north or south on this list in 2015. NH
PERFORMANCESturridge: run rings around the opposition
A smooth operator in Roma’s midfield, the 24-year-old recently took his tally of Serie A appearances beyond the 100 mark after joining from Lyon in 2011. Fifteen goals and 19 assists have followed for the Bosnia-Herzegovina international, who took part in his first World Cup in 2014 but failed to reach the last 16. Rumblings of a return to France with PSG surfaced in January – as well as talk of a transfer to Barcelona or Manchester United – but in May he signed a contract extension until 2018. “I had the opportunity to leave, but I feel so good here that I ask myself, why should I leave Roma?” he told ultimouomo.com. “I love this team, I love this city, I want to win here.” GD
After nearly eight years in Madrid, Marcelo finally got his hands on a Champions League winners' medal, but that aside it wasn’t a vintage year for the Brazilian. Though he played a decisive role in Real Madrid’s 10th European Cup, coming off the bench to change the balance of the final with his energy and score his side’s third goal, Marcelo was part of the Brazil World Cup team that imploded on home soil. Not only did he score the tournament’s very first goal – unfortunately in his own net – the 26-year-old was a notoriously abject part of the team that lost 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final. He hasn’t been called up since. JF
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