FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 70-61
Part four of our countdown of the world's top players
Featuring six Bundesliga stars and Chelsea's No.1...
Words: Huw Davies, Tom Kundert, Alex Hess, Greg Lea, Priya Ramesh, Adam Digby, Ben Clark, Andrew Gibney
70. Marco Reus
Reus owes somebody in Warsaw a very big cake. The German forward’s career is forever stalling becasue of injury: at 27, when he should be in his prime, Reus is battling to make up for lost time; lost Champions League finals; lost World Cups and European Championships.
So, what he really needed after a six-month layoff was an obliging opponent. And Legia Warsaw were very obliging in November – no more so than goalkeeper and deserving cake recipient Radoslaw Cierzniak, who helped Reus to net a hat-trick in his first game since May as Borussia Dortmund won 8-4 (yes, 8-4).
Reus and his BVB chum Mario Götze are in the same boat and paddling furiously against the tide, albeit for different reasons: Reus, starting again after signs last season he could return to his best, and Götze, starting again having been cowed by his time on Bayern Munich’s bench. Will one or both make this list next year? They may need to help each other along the way. – HD
69. Renato Sanches
Rarely can an 18-year-old have enjoyed such an impactful start to his senior career. Making his Benfica debut in November 2015, Sanches revitalised a struggling side to such an extent that he was never out of the team again.
His boundless energy and strength stood out as his force-of-nature style of play catalysed his team. It enabled Benfica to sensationally overturn an eight-point deficit and snatch the Portuguese title from bitter Lisbon rivals Sporting, in addition to him starring in a commendable Champions League run.
A big-money move to Bayern Munich was completed before the season was up, but Sanches wasn't done yet. He only made the Euro 2016 squad because Bernardo Silva was injured days before the announcement, but six weeks later he was wildly celebrating Portugal’s first-ever trophy having played a significant role in its conquest, so much so that he was named the Young Player of the Tournament. All before turning 19. – TK
68. Radja Nainggolan
Turning down a mega-money move in your peak years isn’t always the done thing in football, but Nainggolan’s decision to shun the advances of Chelsea this summer is testament to the steady progress he’d made over two-and-a-half years at the heart of Roma’s midfield.
The Belgian may have caught the eye with those two fearsome strikes at the Euros – his goal against Wales was a particularly bloodthirsty treat – but those highlight-reel moments bely an MO that expounds the dirty work.
Nainggolan has built his reputation on his capacity to cover ground like a roadrunner and an appetite for a full-blooded tackle (24 bookings over the last two seasons is some haul). In an era where Vine-friendly moments of tekkers can be a cheap shortcut to eminence, his no-frills attritional style is a welcome throwback. And those Chelsea rumours just won’t go away. – AH
67. Franck Ribery
Now 33 years old and into his 10th season as a Bayern Munich player, Ribery has enjoyed something of a renaissance in 2016: 12 of his 13 Bundesliga appearances last term came after the turn of the year, while the fact that he’s been included in Carlo Ancelotti’s XI five times in the German top flight since August means he’s on course to make more league starts this season than he did in the 2014/15 and 2015/16 campaigns combined.
Granted, the Frenchman’s best days are behind him and he’ll do well to keep the likes of Arjen Robben, Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman out of the team in crunch matches to come, but those who had written Ribery off have been made to reconsider their position. The ex-Marseille winger is still full of energy and remains difficult to stop when he’s in full flow, something the Hertha Berlin defence can attest to after Ribery turned them inside out before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Rune Jarstein in September. – GL
Next: Forget Maradona
66. Arjen Robben
A career blighted by injuries and corresponding ‘what if’s, Robben’s 2016 wasn't much different to the narrative of recent years: unplayable when fit, yet unfit for long periods.
When Robben made his return to PSV with Bayern in October, he departed to a standing ovation and reminded everyone in his homeland that we’ve yet to see a Dutch footballer as skilled since his emergence. Even at 32, the winger’s every stride hinging on hamstrings that have seen much wear and tear, Robben has the ability to be the best player in a Bayern side that is hardly lacking in quality.
Yes, it’s possible that if he wasn't as fragile, he could have established himself as a threat to the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly. But for him to be as prolific and influential as he is when fit and firing – for club and country – shows the mark of a man who should go down in history as one of the very best footballers of this generation. – PR
65. Julian Weigl
When watching him in action, it can be difficult to believe that Weigl is still only 21. Borussia Dortmund’s midfield metronome plays with a maturity and intelligence that belies his tender years, with the former 1860 Munich man having established himself as one of his side’s most valuable components in the last 12 months.
A fine passer of the ball, Weigl is the player who sets the tempo for Dortmund in his deep-lying role in the engine room. He’s also a key contributor in the defensive phase of the game, regularly winning possession back for BVB with tackles and interceptions that invariably come about as a result of his astute positional play.
Weigl’s reward for a superb debut year at Signal Iduna Park was a place in Germany’s Euro 2016 squad, and while he was an unused substitute in each of the world champions’ six encounters in France, there’s little doubt that he’ll be a national team regular for years to come. – GL
64. Marek Hamsik
Where once there was Diego Maradona in Naples, there's now Hamsik. The Slovakian midfielder may not be capable of the same magical feats as the iconic Argentine, but his loyalty and consistency are quickly ensuring him a similar place in the hearts of Napoli supporters.
The southern Italian club have seen Edinson Cavani and Gonzalo Higuain leave the Stadio San Paolo in recent years, but their mohawked captain remains – and they love him for it. Yet this isn't blind faith: Hamsik is routinely a match-winner for Maurizio Sarri’s men, as his 2015/16 tally of eight goals and 11 assists highlights.
Meanwhile, Slovakia's Euro 2016 may have ended in the last 16 but Hamsik was their best player, and proved it with a stonking winner against Russia. – AD
Next: Class act for a decade
63. Thibaut Courtois
Following Chelsea’s shambolic title defence and Belgium’s defeat by Wales in the Euros, Courtois' stock arguably hit an all-time low in 2016. With the goalkeeper constantly flirting with Real Madrid throughout the summer like two lovers encouraging each other to make the first move, his standing with the Chelsea faithful fell too.
The Blues' slow start this term forced Antonio Conte's switch to a back three, though, which led to six consecutive clean sheets from the start of October to the end of November. Courtois, as a result, spent more time twiddling his thumbs than saving shots. "At half-time [against Everton] I did some extra warming up," the keeper admitted following Chelsea's 5-0 rout.
Question marks remain about his command of the penalty box, but his shot-stopping and cat-like reflexes means he's still one of the best in his position. – BC
62. Thiago Silva
The Brazilian was disappointed not to be involved in this year's Rio Olympics, but that was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Thiago Silva. Well, that and David Luiz leaving PSG for Chelsea.
With the league done and dusted by the time New Year rolled around, the ex-Milan centre-back pushed on and demonstrated his skills as a deep-lying playmaker at the start of 2016. He's been in fine form so far this season too, proving he's still one of the best defenders in Europe, while new Brazil boss Tite has restored him to the Seleção squad.
A partnership with Marquinhos looks much stronger than the Thiago Silva-David Luiz equivalent, and the former is now able to concentrate fully on his own defending. – AG
61. Xabi Alonso
The effortless manner in which Alonso plays the game means it’s not at all surprising that he remains one of world’s foremost central midfielders at the age of 35. Now in his third campaign at Bayern Munich, the former Real Madrid and Liverpool lynchpin hasn’t lost any of his magnificent passing ability, nor the intelligence to find space and evade opposition markers.
The man himself perfectly summarised his role – which is virtually unchanged since his early days at Real Sociedad – in June. “When we win the ball, my job is to get it from the defence to the attackers in the best possible way, [so they can] go one-on-one or have a good position to make the last pass,” he told Sports Illustrated. “You won’t see me like Luka Modric, dribbling through guys. That’s hard for me. The pass – that’s more natural for me.” – GL
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FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016
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