FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 100-91
Looking back now, it's incredible to think that the 32-year-old goal machine was picked up on a free by Benfica to little fanfare back in summer 2014. After 31 goals in his debut season, he managed to better that total with 36 strikes in all competitions in the following campaign.
His prolific scoring played a huge role in propelling Benfica to another title, but the silky-skilled Brazilian brings far more than just goals to the table. Astute positional awareness allied to a wonderful touch makes him a strike partner any centre-forward would love to play with, as attested by the abundance of goals netted by compatriot Lima and Greek marksman Kostas Mitroglou while playing alongside him.
Jonas was deservedly named Primeira Liga Player of the Year in 2015/16, with a call-up for Brazil capping a remarkable renaissance for a player who seemed finished when he was released by Valencia two years ago. – TK
92. Juan Mata
"One of the most underrated players in the Premier League," so says Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher of Manchester United's Mata.
The 28-year-old’s Old Trafford future was cast into serious doubt when the boss who booted him out of Stamford Bridge turned up this summer. How times change: the Spaniard is now flourishing as a regular under Jose Mourinho, with his efforts at club level leading to an international recall after missing out on Euro 2016.
Mourinho sold him once, but he’d be foolish to do so again; despite the inconsistencies of post-Ferguson United, Mata continues to contribute when it matters most. He's scored 10 goals in 2016, three coming in just four appearances in their triumphant FA Cup campaign last season, including the equaliser in the final. He's also undoubtedly a big game player: in his 43 appearances against the ‘Big Six’ since 2011 he's scored 13 times and contributed 10 assists.
Falling 18 places in the rankings this year after a difficult 2015/16, Mata's place perhaps belies his individual performances; he was collateral damage of Louis van Gaal’s turgid tactics and United’s disappointing season overall. – H. Drudge
91. Julian Brandt
Fans of the German national team have their fair share of gifted young players to get excited about, but Bayer Leverkusen’s 20-year-old winger is one of the most talented members of the next generation.
The blond, Bremen-born Brandt became the youngest player since Gerd Muller (who else?) to score in six consecutive Bundesliga games when he scored against Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, Cologne, Eintracht Frankfurt, Schalke and Hertha Berlin in March and April, while his performances throughout the year had him nominated for the Golden Boy award won by Renato Sanches.
Brandt is the perfect player for Roger Schmidt’s high-intensity style of play: a strong runner who’s most dangerous when cutting infield from the left flank onto his right foot, the four-time Germany international possesses terrific technique and creativity in abundance. – GL