FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 100-91
Welcome, welcome to the 10th edition of the Top 100! Kick off our rundown of the finest players on the planet with the first batch: including a teenage sensation, vital midfield powerhouses and even a Manchester United player…
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100. Ousmane Dembele
When FFT’s Top 100 list for 2015 was released this time last year, Dembele had appeared in a grand total of three first-team matches since turning professional at Rennes; the fact that the teenager has made the cut this time around is therefore testament to the remarkable progress he’s made in the last 12 months.
A return of 10 goals in 19 Ligue 1 appearances in the first half of 2016 helped Rennes to an 8th-place finish in Ligue 1 and earned the 19-year-old Frenchman a five-year contract with Borussia Dortmund, who reportedly paid €15m to bring the talented forward to Signal Iduna Park. Dembele has featured in 11 of the 12 Bundesliga encounters BVB have contested this season at the time of writing, while he’s also been a regular starter in the Champions League, causing problems for European as well as domestic full-backs with his speed, trickery and direct dribbling. – GL
99. Petr Cech
It was obvious to everyone why Jose Mourinho didn’t want Cech hopping across London to Arsenal in the summer of 2015 – but even he, like Roman Abramovich who’d promised the Czech his move, knew that the Blues’ long-serving goalkeeper of 11 years didn’t deserve to rot on the bench.
Unsurprisingly, the now-34-year-old has proved just why Arsenal fans were so thrilled to sign him after a typically reliable debut campaign in which he kept the most clean sheets of any Premier League goalkeeper (16), saved the third-most shots overall and had a higher save percentage than anyone else (76%) – including from shots within the box (72%). The Gunners may have fallen flat in the title race as soon as late-February, but their shortcomings were hardly Cech’s fault.
His Euro 2016 was disastrous – Czech Republic lost two of their three group games and finished bottom – and Cech promptly retired from international football after the tournament as his country’s all-time caps holder (121). He's still a class act, though – on and off the pitch. – JB
98. Blaise Matuidi
Matuidi may have added another Ligue 1 winner’s medal to his collection with PSG – the fourth of his career – and appeared in all seven of France’s matches at Euro 2016, but the all-action midfielder hasn’t had everything his own way in 2016. The 29-year-old struggled at times during the Euros, with many Bleus supporters calling for him to be dropped from the hosts’ starting line-up, while he’s also been in and out of the PSG team under new boss Unai Emery this season.
Nevertheless, Matuidi remains one of European football’s most complete midfield players, boasting an excellent blend of technical and physical qualities. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the ex-Saint-Etienne star's occasional benching this term is probably a result of Emery’s desire to grant him greater rest periods rather than a reflection of his showings at club level. – GL
97. Hakim Ziyech
For Eredivisie followers, it's baffling that Ziyech hasn't received more attention and praise: the 23-year-old has been the best player in the Dutch top flight for the last two years. On his slim shoulders he carried an underperforming Twente – with the KNVB investigating them for the Doyen controversy and relegation looming – and guided them to safety. Ziyech's goals counted for 35 per cent of Twente’s overall total and he was the reference point around whom the whole team functioned.
Many foreign clubs showed some interest in the summer but none made a definitive move, so when Ziyech was the subject of a late bid from Ajax, he made the move – a step up, even if a small one. Not renowned for his stamina, the Moroccan has adapted commendably to the high-intensity football Peter Bosz prefers, and has established himself as the kind of influential figure he was at Twente, even among better team-mates. Defences tend to play deeper against Ajax than he's used to, but this has posed little problem for Ziyech, whose prolific creativity puts him among the elite in terms of numbers.
The likes of Dortmund and Wolfsburg will be back should he maintain his impressive form, while even bigger teams may begin to turn their heads towards the svelte playmaker. – PR
Next: Banished by Chelsea, brilliant elsewhere