FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 90-81
Featuring two top U21s and a brilliant Evertonian…
90. Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku divides opinion – to some he’s a fine all-round striker who deserves his upward move away from Everton; to others he’s far from the finished article who should stay grounded for his own good.
But of course he’s not the finished article – the Belgian's still only 23, for crying out loud. That's easily forgotten given that Lukaku started his first-team career as a 16-year-old with Anderlecht and has remained firmly in the public consciousness ever since with high-profile and (mostly successful) stints at Chelsea, West Brom and Everton.
The facts, then: he’s one of only five players to score 50 Premier League goals before his 23rd birthday; plus, he boasts a goals-per-game record virtually in line with Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand and Didier Drogba, and significantly better than the likes of Dwight Yorke, Nicolas Anelka and Kevin Phillips.
Euro 2016 was disappointing by his standards, even after a very quiet end to 2015/16 with Everton, but life is good again under Ronald Koeman in 2016/17: after 10 games of the new campaign he’d already plundered seven goals. “His potential is greater and higher than Everton as a final destination," said his own manager in November. But where from here? – JB
89. Kalidou Koulibaly
After an unimpressive debut season in Naples, the arrival of new manager Maurizio Sarri seemed to spell bad news for Senegal's boisterous centre-back. With Napoli bemoaning their worst defensive record since 1997/98 (a season when they finished bottom), Koulibaly was shelled with criticism.
However, the incoming boss dismissed suggestions he would be looking for defensive reinforcements. Over the next nine months Napoli produced one of their finest seasons in recent memory, with Koulibaly hugely influential in a backline that conceded just 32 goals – their best defending since last winning the league in 1990.
A turbulent summer featuring non-stop transfer talk of a £50m move to the Premier League has unfortunately been followed by a stalled start to the season by both Napoli and Koulibaly, while Sarri admitted during pre-season that his leading defender was still prone to "dumb errors". Far from the finished product, the 25-year-old has signed a new five-year contract, though, and there's no doubting his place in the Partenopei's foreseeable future. – BC
88. Adrien Rabiot
If coming on against Real Madrid in the Champions League last year was Rabiot’s coming-out party, the curly-haired midfielder has since been strutting around and showing everyone why he's so highly rated in 2016.
The young left-footer has excelled first for Laurent Blanc and now under Unai Emery, keeping summer signing Grzegorz Krychowiak out of the side for long periods. Rabiot’s long legs make his an able body in defensive situations, while he reads the game well and spreads play with an excellent passing range.
Despite having Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta as midfield options, it’s Rabiot who's impressed most this season, earning his first full France cap in the process. He has everything you'd want in a modern midfielder, and it won’t be long until he’s the player PSG are building their team around. – AG
87. Filipe Luis
Luis’s partnership down Atleti’s left with the rapidly improving Yannick Carrasco is vital to coach Diego Simeone’s counter-attacking strategy and will go a long way to securing silverware in the club’s last season at the Calderon. – AM
Next: The striker who just needed minutes