FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 100-91
96. Joao Mario
Equally effective in the centre or on the right, the ever-elegant Mario blossomed into the magnificent footballer Sporting’s coaches always believed he would become in 2016. Combining intelligence, faultless technique and a tireless work-rate, Mario was the driving force behind Sporting’s strongest tilt at the Portuguese title for 15 years – the Lisbon club broke its points record, only to be pipped at the post by Benfica.
Mario’s frustration at missing out on silverware at club level was offset by playing a major role in his country’s historic Euro 2016 triumph. The midfielder featured in each of Portugal’s seven matches, saving his best until last with a superb display in the final as the Seleção stunned the hosts at the Stade de France.
A lucrative move to Inter followed, where the 23-year-old has stood out as one of the few bright spots in the Italian club's turbulent start to the season. – TK
95. Mohamed Salah
Know this, chuckling Chelsea fans and parochial English cynics: in 2016, Salah has scored or assisted 27 goals in 34 Serie A games for Roma. As a winger in a traditionally defensive league, that’s some ratio.
Many Brits know Salah only for unexpectedly rocking up at Stamford Bridge aged 21, having scored in Basel’s two Champions League wins over Chelsea. Foreshadowing his signing of Juan Cuadrado – whose arrival, incidentally, saw Salah loaned to Fiorentina in exchange – Jose Mourinho then had immediate buyer’s remorse and decided to pretend Salah didn’t exist.
Even when we lauded Salah at No.100 last year, it was more in hope than expectation. However, he’s only improved since, adding a consistent goal threat to his direct dribbling game. He’s also shooting for Russia 2018: two early wins, Salah scoring in each, have put Egypt in a great position to reach only their second post-war World Cup ahead of serial attendees Ghana. – H. Davies
94. Ever Banega
His transfer might not have generated as many headlines as moves involving Paul Pogba, Gonzalo Higuain or Mats Hummels, but Banega had as strong a claim as anyone to be recognised as the summer’s finest signing when the window closed at the end of August.
After starring in Sevilla’s third consecutive Europa League success – the Argentine ran rings around Liverpool in the final – Inter secured the string-puller’s signature without paying a penny when his contract at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan expired. He’s had a mixed start to his career at San Siro, though, starring on some occasions but struggling on others, and was dropped by new boss Stefano Pioli for November’s derby draw with Milan.
As a wonderfully creative player who’s capable of dictating his team’s tempo and feeding attacking team-mates in dangerous positions, it surely won’t be long before Banega is bossing Serie A midfields. – GL
Next: Age is just a number