FourFourTwo's 100 Best Football Players in the World 2017: 100-81
100. Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
2017 was a humdinger for Christian Pulisic. His speed, agility and constant desire to drive forward with the ball at his feet has lifted Borussia Dortmund and bamboozled opponents.
With the departure of Ousmane Dembele ahead of the 2017/18 season, the American was thrust into the role of being Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's supply man. The 19-year-old responded. He has shown maturity in handling more responsibility and has seamlessly become one of the most important players in the team.
Even in the face of a rollercoaster season for BVB, Pulisic is often one of the best players on the pitch. His constant will to win and disbelief that anything is over until he’s beaten two more defenders is impressive. The youngest non-German ever to reach 50 Bundesliga appearances, Pulisic's exposure to first-team football has shown what a difference it can make with the right character. Even without a World Cup, his stock will continue to rise next year.
Highlight: A goal and an assist on opening day against Wolfsburg were just two standout moments from another Pulisic game-winning performance.
Words: Jonathan Harding
99. Adrien Rabiot (PSG)
After years of angling for a move away from PSG, 2017 was the year that Rabiot finally cemented his place in the starting XI. So good has his form been, in fact, that PSG were willing to let Blaise Matuidi join Juventus in the summer – confident in the knowledge that Rabiot was ready-made to step into his compatriot’s left-sided midfield role.
Tall, elegant and deceptively powerful, Rabiot is an old-school schemer; a player capable of defence-splitting passes and forward runs breaking the lines. His defensive work can improve and he needs to add goals to his game – three in 27 Ligue 1 starts isn’t good enough – but he’s a full France international now and has excelled in the Champions League.
At 22 there’s every reason to believe he’ll become an even more complete player over the next two to three seasons.
Highlight: The give-and-go with a classy finish against Toulouse in August that underlined his magnificent potential.
Words: James Eastham
98. Edin Dzeko (Roma)
Before last season, the Bosnian striker looked to be as out of place in the Italian capital as he was in the final days of his stint at Manchester City. His debut campaign with the Giallorossi saw him score just 10 goals in 39 appearances, with performances that were lambasted by the media and Roma supporters alike.
“I would be lying if I told you that I don’t listen or read what people say,” Dzeko admitted recently – but it seems the criticism inspired a complete reversal of fortune.
Scoring almost every time he stepped on the field, the 31-year-old set a new club record for a single season by finding the back of the net 39 times in all competitions and finishing as Serie A’s leading marksman. He already has ten to his name in the current campaign, too – a total which includes a well-taken Champions League brace against Chelsea.
Highlight: Collecting the Capocannoniere award as Italy’s top scorer in 2016/17
Words: Adam Digby
97. Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)
Umtiti’s signing didn’t bring much fanfare in the summer of 2016, but heading into the later stages of 2017, the Frenchman is as big an asset to Barcelona as Gerard Pique or Sergio Busquets. Despite not towering above many players due to his modest height, the 24-year-old is competent in the air, very quick across the ground and excellent in one-on-one battles.
No matter what the question, Umtiti has an answer, with the centre back having the skill and the temperament to be a mainstay for the Blaugrana for the long term. He has matured very quickly since being entrusted with a starting berth at one of the biggest clubs in the world. This is the year that has seen Umtiti step up from promising talent to top-level star.
Highlight: An imperious showing against Valencia in November without the support of Gerard Pique.
Words: Simon Harrison
96. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
The 26-year-old experienced an emotional time in August when Liverpool were drawn against Hoffenheim in the Champions League qualifiers. Facing his former club, where he flourished and felt loved, was not easy for the Brazilian, but he excelled in both legs, scoring and assisting Emre Can at Anfield, as the Reds won twice and secured their place in the group stage.
As Hoffenheim fans know, Firmino is not a player whose role is easy to define, but he usually does his assigned job effectively. Jurgen Klopp usually plays him as a false nine, and the results were fairly decent in 2017, especially in Europe where the striker has six goals to his name this term. He is still not consistent enough to be considered truly world class – but time is on his side.
Highlight: The big show in the big 3-1 win over Arsenal in March, that included a goal and a sublime assist to Sadio Mane.
Words: Michael Yokhin