What €125m gets
Antoine Griezmann has told Atletico Madrid of his intention to leave this summer, and Barcelona are all set to take advantage by triggering the Frenchman's €125m release clause.
Griezmann will head to the Camp Nou off the back of his sixth straight 15+ goal season in La Liga, and a year on from World Cup triumph with France in Russia.
In this slideshow, we pick out the 25 best forwards in the world today. Please note, this list only features wide men or second strikers, so centre-forwards such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane and Luis Suarez aren’t eligible for selection.
25. Nicolas Pepe (Lille)
The breakout star of France's 2018/19 is unlikely to be at Lille for too much longer. Pepe was the leading light for Ligue 1's runners-up last term, rattling home 22 goals – more than anyone bar Kylian Mbappe – and providing 11 assists in 38 appearances.
Manchester United, Arsenal and Real Madrid have all been linked with a move for the Ivory Coast international, who at 23 still has plenty of time on his side for further improvement. A quick, direct dribbler, Pepe is also an intelligent mover who routinely takes up dangerous positions around the opposition box.
24. Memphis Depay (Lyon)
Cast aside by Manchester United after little more than a year on the club’s books, Depay has rebuilt his reputation at Lyon in the last three seasons. The Dutchman didn't come close to matching his 2016/17 haul of 22 goals in competitions – he bagged 12 in total last term – but he remains a potent force on his day.
There are still question marks over his attitude at times, but when he’s fit and focused Depay can give even the most assured of full-backs a torrid time. With his combination of physical and technical gifts, it surely won’t be long before the winger is back in one of Europe’s top four leagues.
23. Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
They may have suffered a particularly dramatic form of heartbreak in the Champions League semi-finals, but Ajax were still the story of the last European season despite that last-gasp defeat by Tottenham. Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong garnered much of the attention, but Ziyech is another who elevated his status in 2018/19.
The Moroccan playmaker scored 19 goals and provided 16 assists in 40 Eredivisie and Champions League outings. Most dangerous when cutting onto his left foot from the right, Ziyech is the type of player who can instantly change a game with a moment of magic.
22. Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
A local lad who has been on the club’s books since 2006, Insigne could have played his final match for Napoli. Carlo Ancelotti has insisted he will not stand in the Italian’s way if he wants to leave this summer, with several clubs around Europe monitoring the situation closely.
The pint-sized wide man struck 14 goals in all competition last term, which is the same figure he managed under Maurizio Sarri in 2017/18. A speedy and tricky dribbler, Insigne also has an eye for a pass – no Napoli player made more key passes per game than the 27-year-old (2.3) last season.
21. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Like many of his Manchester United team-mates, Rashford had an up-and-down campaign last time out. He only started five Premier League games before Christmas as Jose Mourinho routinely restricted him to substitute appearances, before taking centre stage with nine goals in 19 matches as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made him the team’s focal point.
His form faded as the season entered its final stretch, and there have been calls for him to kick on next term. There’s no doubting Rashford’s ability, though, and the 21-year-old undoubtedly has the ability to dominate defences in 2019/20.
20. Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)
It’s fair to say that Asensio didn't set the Santiago Bernabeu alight last season, although the same can be said for the majority of his team-mates. Just one La Liga goal in 30 appearances was a poor return for a player of his talent, but the Spaniard showed the previous campaign why he deserves to be considered among the leading forwards on the planet.
Capable of playing on either flank, the former Las Palmas man is dynamic in transition and adept at exploiting pockets of space in the final third. If Madrid do decide to sell him this summer, he won’t be short of suitors.
19. Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
Throughout his four-year Manchester United career, Martial has always left supporters wanting more. A world-class talent on his day, the Frenchman has yet to master the art of consistency and not developed to the extent that many predicted when he swapped Monaco’s Stade Louis II for Old Trafford in 2015.
Yet for all the frustrations, Martial possesses bags of talent which he may be able to better fulfil away from Manchester. He's able to thrive down the middle or out wide, and is an ice-cold finisher who’s reached double figures in three of his four seasons with United.
18. Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)
Dembele isn’t the first footballer to spend his spare time playing video games, but not many of his peers have been reprimanded for doing so excessively. Reports in Spain claimed that the winger missed a training session last season due to his late-night gaming antics, while he has also been criticised for his attitude more generally.
Dembele is just 22 years old, however, and he still managed to contribute 14 goals to the Barcelona cause in 2018/19. Quick, tricky and genuinely two-footed, the former Borussia Dortmund attacker could be a world-beater if he puts his mind to it.
17. Serge Gnabry (Bayern Munich)
Remember when Gnabry couldn’t get a game for Tony Pulis’ West Brom? That probably says about manager than it does player, but many Arsenal supporters probably didn’t expect the German to become a key player for Bayern Munich three years after he left the Emirates Stadium for Werder Bremen.
Despite starting only 21 Bundesliga games last term, Gnabry scored 10 goals and also found the net five times in six showings for Germany. Versatile enough to play anywhere across the forward line, the ex-Gunner is quick, clever and technically excellent.
16. Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)
Barcelona’s Champions League collapse against Liverpool in May was a painful moment for Luis Suarez, who was jeered by the home fans on his return to Anfield. Coutinho didn’t receive any such treatment, but it would be interesting to know whether he now regrets pushing so hard for a move to the Camp Nou.
Signed in January 2018 as an intended replacement for Andres Iniesta, the Brazilian was instead used in the front three for much of last season. He’s definitely struggled, but Coutinho’s invention, skill and fierce long shot mean he’s still among the best in the world.
15. Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Mertens might not be quite as popular at the Stadio San Paolo as Diego Maradona, but he recently broke the Argentine’s club-record haul of 81 Serie A goals for Napoli. The Belgian made the net bulge on 16 occasions last term, as well as setting up 11 strikes for his team-mates.
A winger by trade, Mertens has played right across the attacking line since moving to Italy in 2013. Out of contract in summer 2020, he could still seek pastures new before the start of 2019/20.
14. Nabil Fekir (Lyon)
Fekir came close to joining Liverpool in summer 2018, only to see a complication with his medical scupper the deal. The Lyon captain could have spent the season sulking, but instead he set about securing another top-three finish for his boyhood club.
That Lyon qualified for the Champions League is in large part thanks to the 25-year-old, who scored nine goals and set up another seven to go along with three goals and two assists in Europe's premier competition. Liverpool seemed to have turned their attention elsewhere, but Arsenal are now said to be keeping tabs on Fekir.
13. Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Sancho took a risk when he left Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017, but it’s paid off so magnificently that he’s become an inspiration figure for a host of young English players unhappy with their lack of game time.
The London-born winger was sensational in his first professional season as a regular starter, scoring 12 goals and supplying 14 assists to help Lucien Favre’s side challenge for the Bundesliga title. Hes also worked his way into the international picture, winning four caps for England.
12. Leroy Sane (Manchester City)
A deserved recipient of the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2017/18, Sane’s progress was checked a little last term. A surprise omission from Germany’s World Cup squad last summer, the winger is no longer a guaranteed starter at the Etihad Stadium, having been left out of Pep Guardiola’s Premier League XI in 17 matches in 2018/19.
Nevertheless, Sane still delivered 10 goals in the top flight – the same number as last term – and six more in other competitions, as well as 10 league assists and four in Europe. No wonder Bayern Munich are so interested in bringing him back to Germany.
11. Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
With the notable exception of Gonzalo Higuain, no Juventus player was harmed by Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival as much as Dybala. The Argentina international found himself on the bench for many of the Bianconeri’s biggest games last term, fuelling rumours that he will move on this summer.
Whoever acquires the ex-Palermo forward will be landing a wonderfully inventive talent with a proven ability to both create and convert chances; five Champions League goals in 519 minutes in 2018/19 is evidence of that.
10. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Bale's days at Real Madrid are numbered, with Zinedine Zidane having left him out of his matchday squad for his team's final two La Liga encounters last season. The Welshman has scored 102 goals and won six trophies since arriving from Tottenham in 2013, but he's probably played his final game for the club.
However, Bale remains a top-class player on his day - something he will no doubt remind us all of if he seals a move away from the Spanish capital this summer. A speedy and powerful runner, the ex-Spurs man also possesses one of the most devastating left feet in the game.
9. Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
How fantastic it is to see a fit and firing Reus again. The German endured a torrid 2017/18 as he fought his way back from yet another injury – this time a cruciate ligament rupture – but arguably showed the best form of his career for BVB last term. It’s no coincidence that his return has coincided with a sustained title tilt.
Only two players in the Bundesliga scored more than Reus’ 17, while he netted in all three of Dortmund's DFB-Pokal matches and generally sparkled for Lucien Favre's side.
8. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Sterling enjoyed the best season of his career in 2018/19, scoring 23 goals and setting up another 14 for Pep Guardiola’s fearsome Manchester City. The 24-year-old doesn’t always look like the most natural finisher, but his end product continues to suggest otherwise – demonstrated not only by his club form but also a hat-trick for England against the Czech Republic.
Sterling offers a great deal more besides goals, though; the winger’s intelligent movement is one of his standout attributes. His off-the-ball running was a key feature of England’s attacking play at the World Cup, where he didn’t score but still contributed plenty to the cause. A deserved recipient of the FWA Footballer of the Year award.
7. Sadio Mané (Liverpool)
Mané was the least celebrated member of Liverpool’s front three in 2017/18, despite scoring 20 times in all competitions to help Jurgen Klopp’s side secure a top-four finish and a place in the Champions League final.
The Senegal international has taken centre stage last term, though; he notched 22 goals in the Premier League alone - no one managed more - and was the Reds’ chief attacking threat since the turn of the year. Quick, clever and capable of excelling anywhere across the forward line, Mané is now one of the world's top forwards.
6. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
There haven't been many more spectacular debut seasons than Salah’s in 2017/18. Acquired from Roma the previous summer, the Egypt international plundered 44 goals in all competitions as Liverpool finished in the top four of the Premier League and reached the Champions League final, in which an early injury to their star man severely damaged their chances of victory.
Salah has always been blessed with the speed of a sprinter, but he’s now far more effective in the final third. Much like Arjen Robben in his heyday, defenders know that the former Chelsea man wants to cut onto his left foot and shoot… but stopping him is a different matter entirely. He wasn't quite as spectacular in 2018/19, but no other player in the Premier League scored more goals.
5. Neymar (PSG)
Neymar’s stock has fallen in recent years, with his move to PSG failing to see him become the world's best. If anything he's gone backwards during his two-season stay at the Parc des Princes, which is probably why he's so desperate to return to Barcelona this summer.
However, even the 27-year-old’s fiercest critic would struggle to argue that he doesn’t belong in the very highest bracket of talent. A phenomenally gifted dribbler who can give even the most experienced of full-backs twisted blood, Neymar is a devastating attacker with the numbers to back it up: the Brazilian has scored 51 goals in his 58 games for the French giants.
4. Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
Griezmann’s decision to commit his future to Atletico Madrid last summer felt like a significant moment for the Spanish club, who managed to retain the services of one of their talisman and leading light. Less than 12 months on, though, and the Frenchman has announced that he intends to seek pastures new ahead of next season, with Barcelona posed to complete a deal to bring him to the Camp Nou.
Griezmann will be extremely difficult for Diego Simeone to replace. The World Cup winner is a wonderful footballer who can create and convert chances, but he’s also smart, streetwise and willing to work hard for his team – attributes which made him the perfect fit for this Atleti side. He often carried the Colchoneros at times last season: with 21 goals, he finished at least 15 ahead of any of his team-mates.
3. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
Hazard made no secret of his desire to join Real Madrid throughout last season, and his dream became reality last month. The former Lille forward has been among the Premier League’s top performers for several years now, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that Chelsea would not have finished in the top four or won the Europa League without the brilliant Belgian.
Nobody had a hand in more Premier League goals than Hazard last season (scored 16, assisted 15) – meaning he was only one of three players who reached double figures for both. There are few better one-versus-one dribblers in the world.
2. Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
It’s easy to forget that Mbappe is still just 20 years old. The French forward was a key part of his country’s triumph in Russia last summer, with his devastating performance against Argentina in the last 16 one of the standout moments of the entire World Cup.
He followed that up with the best club season of his career to date, scoring 39 goals in 43 appearances for PSG in 2018/19. Frighteningly fast, immensely skilful and a cool, composed figure in front of goal, the sky’s the limit for France’s boy wonder.
1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Who else? Arguably the world’s best passer, dribbler, creator and finisher, the tag of ‘forward’ feels insufficient for a player of Messi’s unparalleled genius. The Argentine is the most complete footballer around, able to score, assist and control the tempo of a game – and usually doing all three within the space of 90 minutes.
The Champions League has eluded him since 2015 and his list of international honours remains empty. Yet that doesn’t diminish Messi's standing – he’s still won Europe’s foremost competition three times, after all – or negate his strong claim to be the greatest player of all time.