FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 60-51
Also starring young France, England and Germany internationals and Real Madrid stars past and present...
60. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Remember: the FFT Top 100 covers a 12-month period. That includes twice as many league games from last term as this season.
With that in mind, Mkhitaryan’s meagre two starts in 2016/17 – Jose Mourinho being oddly reluctant to play the £27m signing – are comfortably outweighed by the playmaker’s phenomenal 2015/16. After all, Mkhitaryan was named Player of the Year by 235 Bundesliga pros surveyed in German magazine Kicker and came third in the official players’ vote. How quickly we forget. How quickly Jose forgets.
The Armenian was reborn under Thomas Tuchel in his final Borussia Dortmund campaign. Mkhitaryan scored or assisted – and this isn’t a typo – 55 goals in 52 games, which is frankly obscene. Operating sometimes behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but more commonly drifting in from the right, Mkhitaryan showed he’s a true raumdeuter, a space investigator, and one who knows where the goal is.
If that’s not enough, he speaks seven languages fluently and his dad was called Hamlet. – HD
59. Raphael Varane
Les Bleus may have reached the final of Euro 2016, but there must be a nagging thought in the minds of Frenchmen everywhere: what if Varane had played against Portugal instead of being ruled out of the tournament through injury? Would the Real Madrid man have been on hand to close down Eder’s shot? Could he have helped the hosts win the competition?
Didier Deschamps is certainly delighted to have his defensive general back, while in the Spanish capital Varane is finally holding down a place in the starting XI. After starting 23 times in La Liga last term he's become an integral part of Zinedine Zidane's table-topping outfit this season, matching Pepe for interceptions and clearances. – AG
58. Joshua Kimmich
It’s been quite the year for Kimmich, who has spent 2016 as a centre-back under Pep Guardiola, a right-back under Joachim Low and a midfield goal-getter under Carlo Ancelotti.
The youngster established himself as a key squad member at Bayern Munich under Guardiola last term, belying his diminutive frame to make the transition from midfield to defence – a positional switch from which Guardiola had previously reaped the benefits when Javier Mascherano dropped into the back four at Barcelona.
Then came a call-up to Germany’s squad for Euro 2016 and a place in the starting line-up to face Northern Ireland in the world champions' third game. Despite playing out of position at right-back, Kimmich flourished to such an extent that he stayed in the side, while he even earned a place in the team of the tournament.
Returning to Bayern for the new season, he was soon restored to his more favoured midfield role under new boss Ancelotti and went on a goal spree – netting eight times in 11 games. At 21 it’s likely that he'll only continue to improve from here. – CF
57. Raheem Sterling
“Keep your head up. I know you’re a good player. You’re a big part of my plans. As long as you work for me, I’ll fight for you.”
Sterling could have sunk without a trace in 2016/17. The winger – still only 21, even with 200 first-team appearances to his name – had endured a transitional first season at Manchester City followed by a difficult Euro 2016, which included dog’s abuse from vocal England fans and a character assassination in the media that was nothing short of disgraceful.
But those words from incoming City boss Pep Guardiola changed everything. As Sterling told FFT: “It was a massive boost. I said to myself that if I come back, work hard and forget what everybody else thinks, I know what I can do.”
Sterling registered five goals and six assists in his first 10 games under Guardiola. October ushered in a fallow period, but it shouldn’t last. All he needs is a Pep talk. – HD
Next: Serie A's goal and assist king