What a decade...
Football packs a lot into a decade. In the 2010s we’ve had three different World Cup winners, two European Championship victors, and six clubs coming out on top in the Champions League – not to mention some extraordinary stories across the various domestic leagues.
Many players have achieved hero status in the process, but the following 50 stand out head and shoulders above the rest. These are the men who have provided some of football’s biggest moments over the last 10 years.
50. Wayne Rooney
Team honours: Premier League 2010-11, 2012-13, FA Cup 2016, EFL Cup 2010, 2017, Europa League 2017
Personal highlight: Becoming Manchester United and England’s all-time record goalscorer
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 5th (2011)
It’s odd to think that Rooney can count himself lucky to make the top 50 players from the decade in which we should’ve seen his prime years. However, he still reached double figures in seven Premier League seasons, even as he moved positionally deeper throughout. The standout figure in the final years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s United, in 2011-12 he hit a remarkable 34 goals in all competitions.
49. Toni Kroos
Team honours: Bundesliga 2012-13, 2013-14, DFB Pokal 2013, 2014, La Liga 2016-17, Champions League 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, Club World Cup 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, World Cup 2014
Personal highlight: Scoring a brace in Germany’s 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 9th (2014)
Few players won as relentlessly as Kroos in the 2010s, and even fewer did so with as much elan. Dynamism has become key for midfielders in the post-Andrea Pirlo and Xavi generation, but Kroos has managed to blend that with extraordinary technique and remain relevant at the very highest level.
48. Jamie Vardy
Team honours: Northern Premier League 2010-11, Conference Premier 2011-12, The Championship 2013-14, Premier League 2015-16
Personal highlight: Breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of consecutive Premier League goals
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 8th (2016)
Okay, he’s not as good as some of the players who missed out on this list. But what a story, and one of the key players in *the* defining event of British football in this decade.
Vardy began the 2010s with Stocksbridge Park Steelers and ended it as one of the best strikers in the Premier League, having played in the European Championship and World Cup for his country, and won the league title in 2015-16. Seventy-five goals in his last four full top-flight seasons means he’s in the conversation on merit, too.
47. Sadio Mane
Team honours: Austrian Bundesliga 2013-14, Austrian Cup 2014, Champions League 2019
Personal highlight: Scoring the Premier League’s fastest ever hat-trick, against Aston Villa
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 4th (2019)
Another astronomical riser whose career has gone from strength to strength. Mane has made himself one of the best players in one of the best-ever Premier League sides, scored in the 2018 Champions League Final and won it the following year. He would surely be in the upper reaches of this list if he was a few years older.
46. Kylian Mbappe
Team honours: Ligue 1 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, Coupe de France 2018, World Cup 2018
Personal highlight: A crucial man-of-the-match display in France’s 4-3 victory over Argentina en route to winning the World Cup
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 4th (2018)
The most convincing answer yet to the question of who will succeed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as football’s next great superstar. Mbappe has already achieved a ludicrous amount for someone of his age. His electrifying burst onto the scene during Monaco’s brilliant 2016-17 campaign was stunning to watch, as has been his development for PSG and France since. Likely to top a 2020s list.
45. Vincent Kompany
Team honours: Premier League 2011-12, 2013-14, 2017-18, 2018-19, FA Cup 2011, 2019, EFL Cup 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019
Personal highlight: Scoring a showstopper winner against Leicester in May to retain the Premier League as part of a domestic treble in his last season at the Etihad
Ballon d’Or highest finish: N/A
The defining centre-back of the Premier League in the 2010s, and captain of its most consistent side. Two crucial goals at the back-end of the decade’s two closest title races help his cause, too. His absence has been telling since his departure: Manchester City have struggled defensively without his mountainous frame casting a shadow over opposition strikers.
44. Giorgio Chiellini
Team honours: Serie A 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, Coppa Italia 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
Personal highlight: Winning Juve’s first Scudetto in nine years and going unbeaten in the process
Ballon d’Or highest finish: N/A
In truth, any of Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci could feature in this list. But of the three, Chiellini stands out as a leader and the most consistent performer over the past 10 years. Bonucci probably had a higher peak, but also a lower trough. Chiellini has enjoyed remarkable longevity at the highest level, considering he made his Italy debut in 2004.
43. Harry Kane
Team honours: N/A
Personal highlight: Winning the World Cup Golden Boot in 2018 as England captain
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 10th (2017, 2018)
Vardy aside, Kane’s rise was probably the most stratospheric on this list. The 26-year-old’s early 2010s were coloured by unsuccessful loans to Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester, but he exits the decade as England captain and a two-time Premier League Golden Boot winner. The 2018 World Cup was obviously a personal, and national, highlight.
42. Diego Costa
Team honours: La Liga 2013-14, Copa del Rey 2013, Europa League 2017-18, Premier League 2014-15, 2016-17, EFL Cup 2015
Personal highlight: Scoring 27 goals in La Liga in 2013-14 as Atletico won their first league title in 18 years
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 11th (2014)
At his pugnacious best there were few harder players to play against than Diego Costa. The Brazil-born Spain international fired Chelsea to Premier League titles under two different managers, and was Atletico’s standout performer during their remarkable 2013-14 season – though he has struggled for goals in his second spell with the Rojiblancos.
41. Javier Mascherano
Team honours: La Liga 2010-11, 2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18, Copa del Rey 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, Champions League 2011, 2015, Club World Cup 2011, 2015
Personal highlight: Being shortlisted for the World Cup Golden Ball in 2014 as Argentina reached the final
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 14th (2015)
Mascherano managed to shine in multiple roles at club and national level, earning most praise for his stellar defensive midfield performances in Brazil in 2014. Now Argentina’s most-capped player, he was a key member of one of the best club sides of his era despite many of his defining performances coming as a centre-back.
40. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Team honours: Coupe de la Ligue 2013, DFB Pokal 2017
Personal highlight: Scoring over 20 league goals in his last four consecutive seasons in Germany and England
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 11th (2016)
One of the most consistent goalscorers of his generation, Aubameyang has scored over 12 league goals in every season since 2010-2011. Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic denied a then 23-year-old Aubameyang from winning the top-flight Golden Boot in France, before he won the prize for the division’s top goalscorer in Germany and England. His goalscoring prowess across multiple European leagues is almost unprecedented.
39. Mohamed Salah
Team honours: Swiss Super League 2012-13, 2013-14, Champions League 2019
Personal highlight: Scoring an incredible 44 goals in all competitions during his first season back in England
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 5th (2019)
Consecutive Premier League Golden Boot wins for a player who isn’t even a conventional striker is testament to Salah’s unique talent. In 2017-18 he was often unstoppable as part of Liverpool’s explosive attack, and he hasn’t been too shabby since either. Would have been much higher if his rise had begun earlier than 2015.
38. Marco Reus
Team honours: DFB Pokal 2017
Personal highlight: Being named German Footballer of the Year in 2012 and 2019
Ballon d’Or highest finish: N/A
Reus’s trophy cabinet does not do his career or talent justice, and it’s only sparse through misfortune. He was incredible in 2014 and 2016, yet missed both years’ major tournaments through injury. Germany won the former, and may well have won the latter if Reus had been fit.
Despite being named Bundesliga Player of the Season three times and finishing second in the league four times, Reus has never won a domestic title. He was also part of a Dortmund side that lost the 2013 Champions League Final to Bayern Munich.
37. Arturo Vidal
Team honours: Serie A 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, Coppa Italia 2015, Bundesliga 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, DFB Pokal 2016, La Liga 2018-19, Copa America 2015, 2016
Personal highlight: Man-of-the-match and shootout scorer in the final of Chile’s 2015 Copa America win
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 14th (2016)
Vidal has excelled in Italy, Germany and Spain, and also been a force at international level for Chile. A versatile, complete player, Vidal was an integral part of one of the great midfields of the 2010s, alongside Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba; together, the trio helped Juventus reach the 2015 Champions League Final.
36. Virgil van Dijk
Team honours: Scottish Premiership 2013-14, 2014-15, Scottish League Cup 2015, Champions League 2019
Personal highlight: Being named PFA Player of the Year in 2019, the first defender to be so in 14 years
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 2nd (2019)
The most celebrated central defender since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, Van Dijk has an aura and ability like no one else at the back. That he was justifiably awarded the PFA Player of the Year gong in a season where a different side won the league with 98 points is telling.
He’s arguably the single most important player in a Champions League winning side, and key to a resurgent Holland too. Like Mane and Salah, he would be very high up if he had reached the elite stage a little earlier.
35. Gonzalo Higuain
Team honours: La Liga 2011-12, Copa del Rey 2011, Coppa Italia 2014, 2017, 2018 Serie A 2016-17, 2017-18, Europa League 2019
Personal highlight: Scoring the most goals in a Serie A season for 87 years, with 36 whilst at Napoli
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 20th (2016)
Unfairly maligned because of an unfortunate habit of missing chances in major finals, Higuain remains one of the best strikers of the last 10 years. Bagging over 20 goals in eight separate seasons is no mean feat, and scoring at a ratio of more than a goal-a-game for Napoli across 35 Serie A games in 2015-16 represents one of the best individual seasons of any player in recent years.
34. Raphael Varane
Team honours: La Liga 2011-12, 2016-17, Copa del Rey 2014, Champions League 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, Club World Cup 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, World Cup 2018
Personal highlight: Becoming just the fourth player ever to win the Champions League and World Cup in the same year
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 7th (2018)
As a four-time Champions League and World Cup winner by the age of 25, Varane has had quite the decade. He was exceptional as France won the 2018 World Cup, and has formed one of the finest centre-back partnerships in world football at club level alongside Spain legend Sergio Ramos. More silverware surely awaits over the next decade.
33. Paul Pogba
Team honours: Serie A 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, Coppa Italia 2015, 2016, EFL Cup 2017, Europa League 2017, World Cup 2018
Personal highlight: Scoring the third goal in France’s World Cup final victory over Croatia
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 14th (2016)
Pogba may divide opinion, but his CV is objectively an excellent one. He remains a talking point because of his absurd talent, and in another era, surrounded by equally talented players, he would’ve doubtlessly excelled at Manchester United - as his stellar performances with the national team in successive major tournaments suggests.
32. Yaya Toure
Team honours: La Liga 2009-10, Premier League 2011-12, 2013-14, 2017-18, FA Cup 2011, EFL Cup 2014, 2016, Africa Cup of Nations 2015
Personal highlight: Captaining Ivory Coast to their first Africa Cup of Nations win since 1992, in 2015
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 12th (2012, 2013, 2015)
Toure’s 2013-14 Premier League season, in which he scored 20 goals from central midfield as City won the title, was one of the best in recent memory.
In his pomp the standout midfielder in the division, it is hard to avoid the feeling that Toure is underappreciated due to stereotypical expectations of what a midfielder of his appearance should be. In terms of the decade as a whole, he has been the best African footballer – which is quite an accolade.
31. Thiago Silva
Team honours: Serie A 2010-11, Ligue 1 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18, 2018-19, Coupe de France 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, Coupe de la Ligue 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, Confederations Cup 2013, Copa America 2019
Personal highlight: Being named in the FIFPro World XI for three seasons in a row
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 21st (2013)
It’s easy to forget how extraordinary a performer Silva was in his Milan days. His centre-back partner was Alessandro Nesta, who made his debut in 1993 for goodness sake. Since then, he has enjoyed a relentless period of success, winning league after league with PSG. He was sorely missed by Brazil when they were pummelled 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals of World Cup 2018.
30. Raheem Sterling
Team honours: Premier League 2017-18, 2018-19, FA Cup 2019, EFL Cup 2016, 2019
Personal highlight: Being awarded FWA Player of the Year for 2018-19
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 12th (2019)
From promising talent at Liverpool to goal-machine at City, Sterling has grown astronomically on and off the pitch in the 2010s. One of the best performers in Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking side, Sterling is now England’s key man too. Another contender to assume the Ballon d’Or throne vacated by Messi and Ronaldo when they retire.
29. Kevin De Bruyne
Team honours: Belgian Pro League 2010-11, DFB Pokal 2015, Premier League 2017-18, 2018-19, FA Cup 2019, EFL Cup 2016, 2018, 2019
Personal highlight: Recording 16 assists for Man City in the 2017-18 Premier League, the most of any player in the division
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 9th (2018)
De Bruyne has undergone several iterations since his days as a nippy winger starring for Genk and Werder Bremen. His sublime technique marks him out as one of the most watchable players in world football, and the best creator in the Premier League by some distance.
His fine stints for Bremen and Wolfsburg prove he’s no flat-track bully, either, while his development must still give Jose Mourinho sleepless nights after he sold him to Wolfsburg in 2014 during his second spell in charge at Chelsea.
28. N’Golo Kante
Team honours: Premier League 2015-16, 2016-17, FA Cup 2018, Europa League 2019, World Cup 2018
Personal highlight: Becoming the first player to win consecutive Premier League titles with different clubs
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 8th (2017)
The engine-room of Leicester’s unbelievable title win, Kante has established himself as one of the finest midfielders of his generation. Recognised by teammates, fans and writers alike for his unparalleled influence, it’s no coincidence how well his sides have performed after his introduction. He has successfully developed his game in the last few seasons too.
27. David Silva
Team honours: Premier League 2011-12, 2013-14, 2017-18, 2018-19, FA Cup 2011, 2019, EFL Cup 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019, World Cup 2010, European Championship 2012,
Personal highlight: Opening the scoring in the final of Euro 2012, and getting in the Team of the Tournament afterwards
Ballon d’Or highest finish: N/A
Rated by many City fans as their best ever player, Silva’s wizardry will be a loss to the Premier League when he departs at the end of the season. In his nine years at City he has won four Premier League titles, as well as the World Cup and European Championships at international level.
Remarkably, Silva even ranks as Spain’s fourth-highest goalscorer with 35 in 125 appearances, despite his fame as a great supplier rather than scorer.
Team honours: La Liga 2011-12, 2016-17, Copa del Rey 2011, 2014, Champions League 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, Club World Cup 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, Confederations Cup 2013
Personal highlight: Scoring in the Champions League final as Real Madrid won La Decima
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 16th (2017)
The best left-back of his era, and a player who embodies the changing role of the full-back in recent years. An excellent technical player and attacking asset, Marcelo was ever present as Real Madrid won the Champions League in three consecutive seasons between 2016 and 2018.
Apart from Jordi Alba, no-one has come close to the Brazilian for left-back supremacy at the very top of European club football.
25. Radamel Falcao
Team honours: Primeira Liga 2010-11, Taca de Portugal 2010, 2011, Europa League 2011, 2012, Copa del Rey 2013, Ligue 1 2016-17
Personal highlight: Bagging 17 goals in a single Europa League tournament, a record
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 5th (2012)
Injuries and a disappointing spell in England have clouded some fans’ perception of Falcao. For four consecutive seasons (2009-10 to 2012-13) he hit well over 30 goals in all competitions.
His record in the Europa League was also outrageously good. Falcao’s renaissance at Monaco was a joy to watch, and 70 goals in all competitions between 2016 and 2019 was an incredible return for a player of his age and injury record.
24. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Team honours: La Liga 2009-10, Serie A 2010-11, Ligue 1 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, Coupe de France 2015, 2016, Coupe de la Ligue 2014, 2015, 2016, EFL Cup 2017, Europa League 2017
Personal highlight: Scoring an extraordinary 38 goals in 31 league games in 2015-16
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 4th (2013)
Because of his skill and personality, you sometimes forget how consistent a goalscorer Ibrahimovic actually is. At the time of writing, since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Swede has scored 316 goals in club competitions, and 41 for his national team too.
That is a fantastic record for anyone, but unfathomable for a player who was 28 at the start of the decade. His failure to win the Champions League and perceived disappointment at Barcelona probably holds him back from a higher spot.
23. David de Gea
Team honours: Europa League 2010, 2017, Premier League 2012-13, FA Cup 2016, EFL Cup 2017
Personal highlight: Becoming the first player to be voted Manchester United’s Player of the Season on four occasions
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 20th (2017)
A five-time PFA Team of the Year player, De Gea is almost certainly the best Premier League goalkeeper of the 2010s. Consistently excellent even as Manchester United regularly faltered, he developed from a weak and slender potential liability into an incredible shot-stopper and unerringly reliable presence.
22. Sergio Aguero
Team honours: Europa League 2010, Premier League 2011-12, 2013-14, 2017-18, 2018-19, FA Cup 2019, EFL Cup 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019
Personal highlight: Smashing Manchester City’s all-time top goalscorer record
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 13th (2015)
No player has consistently scored in the Premier League for as long or as prolifically as Aguero in the 2010s. He’s notched over 20 league goals in six of his eight seasons in England, and one against QPR was particularly memorable.
Such is the regularity of his goals that you almost become desensitised to him scoring, and it is worth remembering how complete a player Aguero was before his transition to more of an out-and-out finisher in recent years.
21. Thomas Muller
Team honours: Bundesliga 2009-10, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, DFB Pokal 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2019, Champions League 2013, Club World Cup 2013, World Cup 2014
Personal highlight: Picking up the Golden Boot and Best Young Player gongs at the 2010 World Cup
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 5th (2014)
A slightly premature decline shouldn’t obscure a stellar career. From his explosion in the 2010 World Cup to his goalscoring feats four years later, via a mountain of success with Bayern in between, Muller was a deadly finisher for years.
Positionally intelligent and blessed with fine anticipation, he maximised his ability to its full extent. He will go down as one of his generation’s greats, despite not having as much natural ability as some who didn’t make the top 50.
20. Xabi Alonso
Team honours: La Liga 2011-12, Copa del Rey 2011, 2014, Champions League 2014, Bundesliga 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, DFB Pokal 2016, World Cup 2010, European Championship 2012
Personal highlight: Scoring twice in a 2-0 win on his 100th appearance for Spain against France in the quarter-final of Euro 2012
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 10th (2010)
A key figure in Spain’s wins of 2010 and 2012, Real Madrid’s La Decima triumph and Guardiola’s Bayern, Alonso was one of the most elegant players of the decade, but was an astute defensive presence too. It’s no surprise he was so integral to so many successful sides, and was emblematic of the dominant footballing philosophy in the first half of the 2010s.
19. Alexis Sanchez
Team honours: La Liga 2012-13, Copa del Rey 2012, Club World Cup 2011, FA Cup 2015, 2017, Copa America 2015, 2016
Personal highlight: Receiving the Golden Ball as Chile won the Copa America Centenario
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 10th (2015)
Chile’s most-capped player and top goalscorer might be a spent force, but the brightest stars burn the quickest. Sanchez’s Arsenal felt like a one-man team, as he fired home 80 goals in three-and-a-half years.
He shone in his youth at Udinese, scored regularly for Barça and drove Chile to incredible consecutive Copa America titles. Few players have combined ability and energy more effectively.
18. Robert Lewandowski
Team honours: Ekstraklasa 2009-10, Bundesliga 2010-11, 2011-12, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, DFB Pokal 2012, 2016, 2019,
Personal highlight: Scoring five goals in under nine minutes against Wolfsburg in 2015, the fastest five-goal haul since records began
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 4th (2015)
Possibly the most consistent striker of his generation, Lewandowski has bagged at least 25 goals in all competitions for the last eight full seasons in a row, and is a four-time Bundesliga top scorer.
With a penchant for a big haul in a single game, he has broken countless records for Bayern and Poland. The absence of a Champions League victory and major international tournament performance restricts the Pole from an even higher finish.
17. Dani Alves
Team honours: La Liga 2009-10, 2010-11, 2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16, Copa del Rey 2012, 2015, 2016, Champions League 2011, 2015, Club World Cup 2011, 2015, Serie A 2016-17, Coppa Italia 2017, Ligue 1 2017-18, 2018-19, Coupe de France 2018, Coupe de la Ligue 2018, Copa America 2019, Confederations Cup 2013
Personal highlight: Lifting the 2019 Copa America as captain and tournament MVP on home soil, the 40th title of his career, aged 36
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 19th (2011)
Alves has won more trophies than just about anyone else in football, and with good reason. The Brazilian is arguably the greatest right-back of all time.
A modern full-back with all the trimmings, Alves’s assist record at Barca would be the envy of many an elite midfielder. Wherever he has gone he has flourished, and he’s still going strong now at the age of 36.
16. Antoine Griezmann
Team honours: Segunda Division 2010, Europa League 2018, World Cup 2018
Personal highlight: Winning the Golden Boot at a home European Championship
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 3rd (2016, 2018)
Scoring more than 20 goals in all competitions in his last six full seasons would make Griezmann an excellent goalscorer, but the Frenchman has been so much more than that. A truly all-round player who has played all across the front line in his career, Griezmann has turned up on the big occasion repeatedly, especially for France. Twice named the third-best player in the world.
15. Robin van Persie
Team honours: Premier League 2012-13, KNVB Cup 2018
Personal highlight: Picking up the PFA Player of the Year and Golden Boot awards after his 30 Premier League goals for Arsenal in 2011-12
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 7th (2013)
In his last year at Arsenal and first for Manchester United, Van Persie was nigh-on unstoppable. It genuinely felt like his side went into a game 1-0 up. The Dutchman was deservedly named PFA Player of the Year in the former, and won the Golden Boot in both.
Van Persie enjoyed an impressive 2014 World Cup too, and even scored regularly for Fenerbahce and Feyenoord well into his 30s. He wasn’t at the top for as long as others, but was as good as almost anyone at his peak.
14. Franck Ribery
Team honours: Bundesliga 2009-10, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, DFB Pokal 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2019, Champions League 2013, Club World Cup 2013
Personal highlight: Being recognised as the Best Player in Europe in Bayern’s Champions League-winning year of 2013
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 3rd (2013)
As one half of one of the all-time great attacking duos, Ribery’s career at the top has been long and illustrious. A key man in several versions of Bayern’s great modern sides, he beat Messi and Ronaldo to the Best Player in Europe gong in 2013 – the same year Bayern won the Champions League. A superb dribbler and creator, Ribery has won more Bundesliga titles than anyone else in history.
13. Eden Hazard
Team honours: Ligue 1 2010-11, Coupe de France 2010-11, Premier League 2014-15, 2016-17, FA Cup 2018, EFL Cup 2015, Europa League 2013, 2019
Personal highlight: Being selected for the PFA Team of the Year for four seasons out of five between 2012-13 and 2016-17
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 8th (2015, 2018)
There are few finer sights in football than Hazard running with the ball at his feet. His exquisite close control, low centre of gravity and refusal to lose possession make him a captivating player to watch.
Add in a wealth of skill, and a good finish to boot, and you’re some way to describing one of the finest Premier League players ever. Completely central to Chelsea’s league wins in 2014-15 and 2016-17, the Belgian truly earned his £100 million move to Real Madrid in 2019.
12. Gerard Pique
Team honours: La Liga 2009-10, 2010-11, 2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18, 2018-19, Copa del Rey 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, Champions League 2011, 2015, Club World Cup 2011, 2015, World Cup 2010, European Championship 2012
Personal highlight: Conceding just three goals across two major international tournament wins in 2010 and 2012
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 21st (2012)
Arguably the two defining sides of the 2010s are Guardiola’s Barça and Del Bosque’s Spain, and Pique was the beating heart of both defence. Tall yet graceful, physical yet elegant, the Catalan has been a thoroughly reliable presence. He didn't stand out as much as some of his more attacking team-mates, but was crucial in all of their successes.
11. Edinson Cavani
Team honours: Coppa Italia 2012, Ligue 1 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18, 2018-19, Coupe de France 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, Coupe de la Ligue 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
Personal highlight: Receiving the Capocannoniere for his 29 Serie A goals with Napoli in 2012-13, their first player to do so since Diego Maradona
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 11th (2017)
Since his move to Napoli in 2010, Cavani has scored over 300 goals in club competitions. He has delivered in multiple countries and on the international stage, and remains an icon in southern Italy despite leaving six years ago.
Cavani’s movement is as excellent as that of any out-and-out forward, and his work ethic similarly impressive – he has shone for PSG since being afforded more responsibility and shows no signs of slowing down at 32.
10. Luka Modric
Team honours: La Liga 2016-17, Copa del Rey 2014, Champions League 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, Club World Cup 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018
Personal highlight: Receiving the World Cup Golden Ball in 2018 after inspiring Croatia to an unlikely runner-up spot
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 1st (2018)
It would inevitably take a special player to break the Ballon d’Or streak Messi and Ronaldo began in 2007, but Modric was that man in 2018. One of the best midfielders of his era, Modric adapted seamlessly into a deep-lying playmaker role after starting out as a more conventional attacking midfielder.
He has been dictating games and passing teams to death ever since. Croatia’s run to the World Cup final and Modric’s recognition for that against-the-odds achievement was a fitting culmination for a fine career.
9. Sergio Ramos
Team honours: La Liga 2011-12, 2016-17, Copa del Rey 2011, 2014, Champions League 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, Club World Cup 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, World Cup 2010, European Championship 2012
Personal highlight: Scoring in consecutive Madrid Champions League final wins, both against Atletico. Man-of-the-match in both games
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 6th (2017)
Love him or hate him, Ramos is a winner. For club and country, he has dragged teams over the line, often through nefarious means. A skilful, committed defender with an exceptional goalscoring record, his partnership with Pique for Spain will surely be considered an all-time great. Real would not have got close to their four recent Champions League wins without his vital influence.
8. Manuel Neuer
Team honours: DFB Pokal 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2019, Bundesliga 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, Champions League 2013, Club World Cup 2013, World Cup 2014
Personal highlight: Winning the Golden Glove alongside the 2014 World Cup with Germany
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 3rd (2014)
Players who do things truly differently are rare, but Neuer was definitely one of them. His aggressive closing down from goal, confidence in possession and massive frame – coupled with incredible agility – made the German a compelling watch for years.
The most celebrated goalkeeper of his generation, and rightly so: Neuer was a crucial part of Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern and Joachim Low’s Germany as they won the game’s biggest gongs.
7. Gareth Bale
Team honours: La Liga 2016-17, Copa del Rey 2014, Champions League 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, Club World Cup 2014, 2017, 2018
Personal highlight: Scoring a spectacular overhead kick in the 2018 Champions League Final against Liverpool
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 6th (2016)
Despite recent distractions, what Bale has achieved in football is extraordinary. He had one of the best ever Premier League seasons at Spurs, dragged Wales to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, and has won everything at Real Madrid – scoring in several finals en route.
Combining electric pace and a venomous long shot, Bale’s contributions on the biggest stage have been huge for every team he's represented.
6. Andres Iniesta
Team honours: La Liga 2009-10, 2010-11, 2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18, Copa del Rey 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, Champions League 2011, 2015, Club World Cup 2011, 2015, World Cup 2010, European Championship 2012
Personal highlight: Scoring a 116th-minute winner against the Netherlands to win Spain their first World Cup in 2010
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 2nd (2010)
Alongside Xavi, Iniesta formed possibly the greatest creative midfield ever seen. He had superhuman balance, the ability to pick out an unforeseeable pass perfectly and peerless technique. He hoovered up trophies with club and country, and was key to every one – named man of the match in consecutive major international tournament finals, plus the 2015 Champions League Final.
5. Arjen Robben
Team honours: Bundesliga 2009-10, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, DFB Pokal 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2019, Champions League 2013,
Personal highlight: Scoring a last-minute winner against Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League Final
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 4th (2014)
For a man who allegedly had one trick, he wasn’t half bad. For years Robben taunted defenders and scored bundles of goals, many of them after cutting in from the right and unleashing a shot with his left foot.
But even more impressive was his appetite for the biggest occasion. Robben shone in the latter stages of the 2010 World Cup, practically dragged the Dutch to third place in 2014, and scored frequently in Champions League semi-finals – not to mention the winner in 2013's final.
Team honours: Campeonato Paulista 2010, 2011, 2012, Copa do Brasil 2010, Copa Libertadores 2011, La Liga 2014-15, 2015-16, Copa del Rey 2015, 2016, 2017, Champions League 2015, Club World Cup 2015, Ligue 1 2017-18, 2018-19, Coupe de France 2018, Coupe de la Ligue 2018, Confederations Cup 2013, Olympics 2016
Personal highlight: Inspiring the most ludicrous Champions League comeback of all time, as Barça beat PSG in 2017
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 3rd (2015, 2017)
Forget all the nonsense, and try and remember how good a footballer Neymar actually is. This is a man who will be Brazil’s record goalscorer, who (at the time of writing) has scored 162 goals in 253 games in European club football, and who is blessed with as much natural talent as anyone of his generation.
Neymar was one-third of what could be world football's greatest ever front three, won everything at Barça, has scored for fun at PSG, and starred for Brazil at a home World Cup. He remains the world’s most expensive player by about £80 million.
3. Luis Suarez
Team honours: Eredivisie 2010-11, KNVB Cup 2010, EFL Cup 2012, La Liga 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18, 2018-19, Copa del Rey 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, Champions League 2015, Club World Cup 2015, Copa America 2011
Personal highlight: Picking up the PFA Player of the Year and European Golden Shoe awards as he struck 31 times in 33 league games for Liverpool in 2013-14
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 4th (2016)
Another third of that unparalleled ‘MSN’ attack. Messi and Ronaldo have failed to win the European Golden Shoe just twice since 2009, and Suarez won it both times. His 2013-14 season with Liverpool was quite possibly the best of any individual in the Premier League era, and in 2015-16 he scored 59 goals in all competitions.
He is Uruguay’s record goalscorer, and was player of the tournament when they won the Copa America in 2011. As combative as he is clinical, as technical as he is tenacious, he has been the standout striker of the 2010s.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Team honours: La Liga 2011-12, 2016-17, Copa del Rey 2011, 2014, Champions League 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, Club World Cup 2014, 2016, 2017, Serie A 2018-19, European Championship 2016, Nations League 2019
Personal highlight: Finishing top scorer in the Champions League for six seasons in a row, now the record goalscorer in the competition
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 1st (2013, 2014, 2016, 2017)
Four Ballon d’Or wins, four Champions League wins, a European Championship, two La Ligas and Serie A. Oh, and over 400 goals. Fair to say it’s been a productive decade for Cristiano. As a winger or a striker he has delivered incessantly, breaking 50 goals in a season a staggering six times.
In terms of ruthless winning, there is nobody comparable. As the top scorer in Champions League history, with over double the goals of fourth place, Ronaldo has made Europe’s elite competition his own. His incredible fitness and mentality mean he’s still at the pinnacle of football aged 34– where he has remained for the entire decade.
1. Lionel Messi
Team honours: La Liga 2009-10, 2010-11, 2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18, 2018-19, Copa del Rey 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, Champions League 2011, 2015, Club World Cup 2011, 2015
Personal highlight: Scoring 73 goals in all competitions in 2012-13, the most ever by a player in a single season in European football history
Ballon d’Or highest finish: 1st (2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019)
What can you say? The greatest player to have played the game? Probably. The standout player of the 2010s? Definitely. At the time of writing, Messi has scored 537 club goals since the start of the 2009-10 season.
He combines the dribbling of Neymar, creativity of Iniesta and goalscoring of Ronaldo – except he does all three even better. He has won everything, been awarded everything and this time will be forever associated with him. The greatest.
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