FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 40-31
Featuring Leicester's wing wizard and three members of the Goalkeepers' Union...
40. Dimitri Payet
On a quiet New Year’s Eve, in the 48 hours between taking on Leicester and Manchester United, Payet can reflect on an extraordinary 2016. He started the year injured and unwanted by France, despite his stellar form. “A squad has taken shape and I’m not in it,” he shrugged to FFT in February. “You have to accept it.”
Do you? Payet didn’t let up, scoring classy free-kicks, creating the second-most chances in the Premier League, netting nine goals and assisting 12 to become West Ham’s first top-flight PFA Team of the Year representative since 1978.
France did call. And on June 10, having set up Euro 2016’s first goal, Payet hit a stunning late strike to win the hosts’ opener against Romania. One man-of-the-match award followed another, and he was rightly included in the team of the tournament.
Even in West Ham’s dreadful 2016/17, Payet shines. That he had to apologise for an inch-perfect rabona assist against Watford because Troy Deeney said he was “trying to mug us off” is embarrassing for English football. Class means never having to say you’re sorry. – H. Davies
39. Giorgio Chiellini
Juventus's “BBC” defence continues to define them, with Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Chiellini seemingly setting new records every season to ensure Gigi Buffon is the most underworked member of the team.
Chiellini’s robust style and refusal to compromise in any challenge has meant the ageing defender (though is he really only 32?) suffers from an increasing array of injuries, but when fit he remains one of the very best man-markers in the game. As he showed at Euro 2016, he's also capable of weighing in with vital goals and is essential in allowing Max Allegri’s Bianconeri to alternate between three- and four-man backlines. – AD
38. Jan Oblak
The first brick in the wall that is Atletico Madrid’s defence – and one that rarely crumbles. Oblak has confirmed his status as one of the world’s best goalkeepers in the last 12 months, notching clean sheet after clean sheet.
In fact, his 18 goals conceded last season was a La Liga low, beating a record which has stood since 1993/94. Such feats are sometimes played down, and the formidable defence in front of Oblak is cited as the key factor. The Slovenian, however, brrings his own class to the backline, and has surpassed David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois considerably in terms of what each individual brought to this Atleti team.
Oblak is the complete package: he commands his penalty area and is strong when dealing with both high and low balls, while he's also blessed with phenomenal agility. It’s incredible that he is this good for a goalkeeper at just 23. – DC
37. Riyad Mahrez
If his first Premier League season was a toe-dip into the unknown, Mahrez’s second was more like a running bomb that emptied the pool.
The Algerian wasn’t even a guaranteed pick in Leicester’s year of great escapism thanks to a string of frustratingly inconsistent displays that the Foxes simply couldn’t afford. But then it all happened. Nigel Pearson was gone, Claudio Ranieri was in, and Mahrez immediately rediscovered the form that excited fans so much after his January 2014 move from Le Havre.
He scored twice on the opening day against Sunderland and then followed that up with two more in consecutive games against West Ham and Tottenham, the latter a smashing late leveller. The brilliance didn’t diminish from there; towards Christmas there was a hat-trick at Swansea, a brace at Everton and a trademark strike that helped bring Jose Mourinho’s second Chelsea stint to an end.
February’s goal at Manchester City confirmed what everyone hadn’t yet dared to admit: that Leicester really were capable of something special. Mahrez, a valid PFA Player of the Year, was at the vanguard. – JB
Next: The oldest member of the FFT100