Ranked! The top 50 Football League players 2023

10. Ismaila Sarr

Ismaila Sarr of Watford celebrates after scoring their team's second goal during the Sky Bet Championship between Cardiff City and Watford at Cardiff City Stadium on November 02, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales.

Ismaila Sarr of Watford celebrates after scoring against Cardiff City (Image credit: Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

Club: Watford
Position: Forward
Age: 25

While not in ace form, his 15 Championship goal involvements up to March 1 show why teams fear even a below-par Sarr. He might be Chris Wilder’s trump card in the play-off scramble: Senegal’s best World Cup since 2002 was partly down to him turning it on.

DID YOU KNOW? In four Hornets seasons, he’s had 10 managers. 

9. Ilias Chair

QPR's Ilias Chair

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Club: QPR
Age: 25
Position: Midfielder

Chair has had quite the season, with ups, downs and managers aplenty. But amid a rollercoaster 2022/23 that has taken him from the highs of a World Cup semi-final in Qatar, with surprise packages Morocco, to the lows of a winter winless streak that left QPR looking nervously at the wrong end of the Championship standings, Chair has been giving sleepless nights to second-tier defenders left, right and centre.

Yet that’s nothing new. Since Ebere Eze departed Loftus Road for Crystal Palace in the summer of 2020, Chair has stepped up to the plate and become QPR’s creative heartbeat, adding hard work to his flair and ingenuity. He takes a mean free-kick, too: just ask Middlesbrough keeper Zack Steffen, who was caught out by the miniature maestro’s quick thinking and accuracy from a seemingly unthreatening position during QPR’s February defeat at the Riverside Stadium.

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In a campaign that kicked off promisingly for the Super Hoops but tailed off after manager Michael Beale left for Rangers, Chair nevertheless sat clear at the top of the Championship’s rankings for most chances created by the start of March, with 77. He was deservedly called up to Morocco’s 2022 World Cup squad, and the Atlas Lions sensationally became the first African nation to reach the semi-finals, upsetting Belgium, Spain and Portugal en route.

While Chair’s only minutes came in the third-place play-off against Croatia, he has since spoken about the unforgettable experience of being part of such a historic moment. QPR fans will hope it inspires Chair to more highs before the season is out.

8. Amad Diallo

Amad Diallo of Sunderland celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship between Sunderland and Millwall at Stadium of Light on December 3, 2022 in Sunderland, United Kingdom.

Amad Diallo of Sunderland celebrates scoring against Millwall (Image credit: Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images)

Club: Sunderland
Position: Forward
Age: 20

HE TOLD FFT "When I heard about the chance to move to Sunderland, I spoke to Erik ten Hag to ask him if I could come, because I knew I’d have the opportunity to play more games and it would be good for me. I also spoke to [technical director] Darren Fletcher and he agreed that Sunderland would be beneficial for my development. 

"Since I’ve been here, he’s messaged me a lot to see how I’m getting on. He sends his congratulations when I score a goal or put in a good performance. It’s nice to know he’s watching and making sure everything’s OK. 

"It’s important for any player to get minutes on the pitch, especially for young players. Football is about confidence, but you need to play to build up that confidence and I’m pleased that Sunderland are giving me that chance now. I want to get as much as I can out of this loan and keep doing well for Sunderland. 

"That will help me to return to Manchester a better footballer."

7. Joao Pedro

Ismaila Sarr of Watford celebrates with teammate Joao Pedro after scoring their team's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship between Watford and Middlesbrough at Vicarage Road on August 30, 2022 in Watford, England.

Ismaila Sarr of Watford celebrates scoring against Middlesbrough (Image credit: Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

Club: Watford
Position: Forward
Age: 21

HE TOLD FFT "England is a very different country, so adapting to a new place has its challenges. When I left Brazil, I was getting regular football at Fluminense and beginning to make a name for myself – so to arrive here and not play much at first, not knowing how to communicate, having to deal with the cold, being away from friends and family... it was difficult. 

"Leaving your comfort zone is never easy, but it’s allowed me to learn another culture. I now speak English and fully understand it. When you move abroad aged 18, it’s easier to absorb it all than if I had done it at 21 or 22. I’m experienced now, and wearing the captain’s armband this campaign has meant a lot to me.

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"It was actually very funny! [Laughs] I was returning from injury and had played 30 minutes or so in the previous game, so I was expecting to start again on the bench, but the coach said, 'I think you should start today.' I was like, 'No, I’d prefer to play the second half: the match will be more open and I’ll be able to create more chances.' 

"We discussed it and agreed it was best that I started – what I didn’t know was that he’d planned to make me captain that day! When I saw the armband I said, 'No, not me – take it to Tom Cleverley.' [Laughs] It was a great gesture."

6. Nathan Tella

Nathan Tella of Burnley celebrates after scoring the winning goal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between Burnley and Ipswich Town at Turf Moor on February 07, 2023 in Burnley, England.

Nathan Tella of Burnley in action in the FA Cup (Image credit: Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images)

Club: Burnley
Position: Forward
Age: 23

Southampton’s call to loan out Tella aged even worse than their appointment of Nathan Jones. Burnley may pass Tella’s parent club on their way up, thanks to the former gymnastics prodigy’s effervescent displays in attack.

HIGHLIGHT A first-ever hat-trick, at Preston, including an exquisite strike with his weaker left foot

5. Josh Brownhill

Josh Brownhill of Burnley during the Sky Bet Championship between Burnley and Blackburn Rovers at Turf Moor on November 13, 2022 in Burnley, England.

Josh Brownhill of Burnley in action against Blackburn Rovers (Image credit: James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images)

Club: Burnley
Position: Midfielder
Age: 27

After two goals in 78 top-flight appearances for Burnley, Brownhill got four in his first six following relegation. A No.8 in shirt and role, he accepted a new licence to attack from midfield; then the forwards hit form and he moved back to set them up instead.

DID YOU KNOW? He leads the league for goal-creating actions.

4. Oliver Norwood

Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United during the Sky Bet Championship between Sheffield United and Hull City at Bramall Lane on January 20, 2023 in Sheffield, England.

Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United in action against Hull City (Image credit: James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images)

Club: Sheffield United
Position: Midfielder
Age: 31

The consistent conduit through which United’s easy-on-the-eye play has passed since 2018, and a gifted technician and dead-ball specialist who’s also won more tackles than any other player in the division, Norwood does it all.

DID YOU KNOW? He played youth cricket for the same team, Burnley, as England’s legendary Test bowler Jimmy Anderson.

3. Iliman Ndiaye

Iliman Ndiaye of Sheffield United celebrates after scoring their side's third goal during the Sky Bet Championship between Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers at Bramall Lane on August 20, 2022 in Sheffield, England.

Iliman Ndiaye of Sheffield United celebrates after scoring against Blackburn Rovers (Image credit: George Wood/Getty Images)

Club: Sheffield United
Age: 23

Iliman Ndiaye’s rise from YouTube footballer to World Cup star has been rapid, but it’s no surprise to anyone who has seen the Sheffield United forward in full flow.

The Senegal international was playing in non-league three years ago and made his maiden start for the Blades only at the start of last season, yet he’s now universally recognised as one of the second tier’s top talents.

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Things didn’t look so promising after unsuccessful trials with Chelsea and Southampton left the former Boreham Wood youth-teamer hoping to get noticed by turning out for YouTubers Rising Ballers. The plan paid off, and since joining Sheffield United in the summer of 2019, Ndiaye’s determination has come to the fore – not to mention his ever-increasing ability, from his excellent weight of pass to his finishing in congested central areas.

After a loan spell at seventh-tier Hyde United, Ndiaye made his Blades debut in the Premier League at the end of the 2020/21 campaign. Relegation opened a window of opportunity for the youngster and he bewitched defences on his way to registering seven goals in 35 Championship appearances last term, using the fancy moves he learned from training with his choreographer father.

Iliman Ndiaye of Senegal poses during the official FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 portrait session on November 17, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Iliman Ndiaye of Senegal poses ahead of the World Cup (Image credit: Ryan Pierse - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Ndiaye has kicked on again this term, averaging a goal contribution every other game – including five assists, each of them vital, in four league matches straight after the World Cup – and netting several times in Sheffield United’s attempt to return to the Premier League. He also starred for Senegal in Qatar, coming off the bench to assist the third goal in a 3-1 win over the hosts, in only his third international cap at any level. That earned him a starting berth in the Lions of Teranga’s final two encounters of the tournament, against Ecuador and England.

Those performances haven’t gone unnoticed, and after reportedly being a target for Everton in January, Ndiaye is sure to have more Premier League suitors vying for his signature this summer, even if Sheffield United go up first. 

2. Chuba Akpom

Chuba Akpom celebrates after scoring the second Boro goal during the Sky Bet Championship between Middlesbrough and Sheffield United at Riverside Stadium on August 14, 2022 in Middlesbrough, England.

Chuba Akpom celebrates after scoring for Middlesbrough against Sheffield United (Image credit: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Club: Middlesbrough
Position: Forward
Age: 27

It seems scarcely believable that Akpom was poised for the Middlesbrough exit last summer. But after the Teessiders failed to land all of Chris Wilder’s transfer targets, the frontman grasped his chance and is now a mainstay in Michael Carrick’s starting XI.

This campaign has been his most prolific by a distance. Having never previously hit double figures during a league season, Akpom reached that landmark on Boxing Day. 

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He has been deadly since the über-attacking Carrick replaced Wilder at the Riverside in October, scoring 18 goals in the former Manchester United midfielder’s first 20 games in the dugout, as Boro turned third-from-bottom into third. It has moved the former England U21 international well clear in the race for the Championship Golden Boot, and he isn’t even playing as an out-and-out striker.

Akpom, 27, finally seems to be delivering on the promise he showed as a teenager at Arsenal. He made a handful of appearances for the Gunners’ first team but spent most of his time out on loan, failing to set the world alight in any of his five short spells at Brentford, Coventry, Nottingham Forest, Hull and Brighton.

Chuba Akpom of Middlesbrough celebrates after victory in the Sky Bet Championship match between Hull City and Middlesbrough at MKM Stadium on November 01, 2022 in Hull, England.

Chuba Akpom of Middlesbrough celebrates scoring against Hull City (Image credit: George Wood/Getty Images)

Prior to this campaign, Akpom’s best work came abroad, first at Belgium’s Sint-Truiden and then in Greece, where he was part of an historic PAOK side. In his debut season, the Londoner helped PAOK to win the double, scoring the only goal of the 2019 Greek Cup Final a week after they’d clinched their first top-flight title in 34 years – unbeaten.

Despite that success, a return to England in 2020 with Middlesbrough seemed to be heading southwards when Akpom went back to PAOK on loan last term, before being touted for a transfer. Given his heroics since, it’s unlikely Boro will be allowing Akpom to leave again any time soon.

1. Viktor Gyokeres

Viktor Gyokeres of Coventry City celebrates after scoring the team's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Coventry City and Millwall at The Coventry Building Society Arena on February 14, 2023 in Coventry, England

Viktor Gyokeres of Coventry City celebrates after scoring against Millwall (Image credit: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Club: Coventry City

There’s no better feeling than being loved. Just ask Viktor Gyokeres.

The Coventry striker has transformed from misfiring loanee to one of the Championship’s hottest properties over 18 goal-laden months in the Midlands, and he puts all of his recent success down to feeling the warm embrace he has received there.

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Being voted FourFourTwo’s best player in the Football League seemed a long way off for Gyokeres as recently as 2020/21 when, having been unable to set Germany’s second tier on fire with St Pauli, he then scored just three goals in a combined 30 Championship loan appearances for Swansea and Coventry. 

Although that paltry return didn’t convince his parent club, Brighton, that Gyokeres warranted a chance in the Premier League, Sky Blues boss Mark Robins saw enough in the Sweden international’s performances to sanction a £1 million transfer in July 2021. 

Viktor Gyokeres of Coventry City celebrates after scoring the team's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship between Wigan Athletic and Coventry City at DW Stadium on March 14, 2023 in Wigan, England.

Viktor Gyokeres of Coventry City celebrates after netting against Wigan Athletic (Image credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Gyokeres has repaid that faith and then some. Since becoming a permanent member of Coventry’s squad, he has developed into their talisman, plundering 18 times in all competitions last season and almost topping that total before spring this term as City launched a remarkable play-off assault – remarkable in that they’d had to wait until October for their first win, having played five of their first six league games away from the Coventry Building Society Arena due to the state of its pitch, which had hosted the rugby sevens at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. 

Gyokeres’ output is lethal but varied. Once a winger, now converted into a line-leading centre-forward, he is vibrant, skilful and able to create chances for himself. 

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He has scored every kind of goal this term, from countless touch-and-hit finishes to a solo dribble from inside his own half against Wigan, or the poacher’s deflection in beating his marker to the front post for his 15th league strike of the season, against Sunderland in February.

Now those headline-grabbing displays are rumoured to have many more clubs than just Coventry willing to show Gyokeres the love…

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Huw was on the FourFourTwo staff from 2009 to 2015, ultimately as the magazine's Managing Editor, before becoming a freelancer and moving to Wales. As a writer, editor and tragic statto, he still contributes regularly to FFT in print and online, though as a match-going #WalesAway fan, he left a small chunk of his brain on one of many bus journeys across France in 2016.