FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2015: 20-11
20. David Alaba
“David Alaba is our god. He has already played almost all 10 positions.” If ever a player was made in Pep Guardiola’s image, then Alaba is it. The Austrian is far more than a useful utility man; more an all-encompassing swiss army knife of a footballer with a supreme brain to fulfil his manager’s high standards in almost any role. After breaking through as a marauding left-back, Alaba now more frequently stars for Bayern at centre-back and is often, alongside Philipp Lahm, the player Guardiola shuffles around most to satisfy the team’s in-game needs.
And that’s not even the best bit. Nor is that for his country he plays in central midfield; the country he often captains and helped to dominate their Euro 2016 qualifying group unbeaten. The best bit, then, after all of this? He’s still only 23. – JB
19. Eden Hazard
A seven-place rise on last year’s standings surely would have been more had he and his side not made such terrible starts to 2015/16; a far cry from six months ago when Hazard was almost single-handedly dragging the Londoners to title glory with winners against Manchester United and Crystal Palace.
As well as scoring 14 league goals in 2014/15, no player in Europe’s top five divisions completed more dribbles than Hazard (179) and nobody created more chances from open play (99), leading many, FFT included, to wonder whether the 24-year-old could take his game into a stratosphere occupied only by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But even the man himself now admits that his powers have diminished. “You can be untouchable when you are playing well, but that has not been the case this season.” – GD
18. Diego Godin
Still the best out-and-out defender on our list – who knows what Philipp Lahm’s best position is anymore? – Diego Godin is the perfect modern centre-back.
Tall and good in the air, the Uruguayan is quick enough not to be exposed by fleet-of-foot opposition forwards and reads the game like few others in an era of few top-class defenders. Without Godin, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone’s defence-first system, which has conceded just six goals in the opening 13 games of the season, would fall apart.
Still only 29 and firmly at his peak, Godin can be the ballast to keep upstarts Atleti in La Liga’s title picture for seasons to come. To think, Spain’s top flight used to be a two-horse race. – AM
17. Kevin De Bruyne
Jose Mourinho might well regret only talking to De Bruyne twice during the Belgian’s time at Chelsea. De Bruyne himself – FFT100’s highest new entrant this year – is probably thanking the Portuguese for giving him the cold shoulder. For since he left Stamford Bridge to join Wolfsburg under a cloud in January 2014, things have gone rather well for the 24-year-old forward who took the Bundesliga by storm last season and has continued to shine since joining Manchester City for a club-record £55 million in the summer (some £37m less than Chelsea snaffled for him).
De Bruyne has demonstrated a genuine ability to play across the entire frontline over the last 18 months, having driven Wolfsburg to second place in Germany’s top flight last season with a staggering 20 assists and 10 goals of his own. Life in England is proving similarly fruitful as City’s most well-rounded attacker. – JB
16. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
It’s been another stellar year for Ibrahimovic, who became PSG’s all-time record goalscorer in October after netting a brace against the club’s arch rivals Marseille at the Parc des Princes. Twenty-one goals and 12 assists in Ligue 1 and the Champions League so far this year is a phenomenal return for the striker, who has shown no signs of slowing down as he approaches the end of a wonderful career.
Ibrahimovic, who recently celebrated being named Swedish Footballer of the Year for an incredible 10th time, also helped his country to qualify for next summer’s European Championship by scoring 10 times in qualifying in 2015 alone, including a fine double in the second leg of the Swedes’ all-important play-off with Denmark. – GL
PERFORMANCE Zlatan Ibrahimovic: How to play as a targetman
15. Andres Iniesta
Over to you, Juan Roman Riquelme. “Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi score a lot of goals,” the former Barcelona playmaker recently said, “but Andres Iniesta is still the best.”
“Iniesta teaches you how to play with the ball. He does everything you could want to see from the stands. He’s the only player that teaches you in every game, no matter whether he plays with Barcelona or Spain. When he doesn’t play the team isn’t the same.”
One of the finest technicians of his generation, Riquelme is some superfan to have. Now Barça captain, Iniesta represents the link between La Masia’s heyday and the new generation of bought-in stars like Luis Suarez and Neymar.
He moves down only because a lack of Liga assists (after all, he won the treble last term) and a slow start to last season because 2015-16 has seen El Caballero Pálido – the Pale Knight – at his best. – AM
PERFORMANCE Andres Iniesta: How to boss the midfield
14. Paul Pogba
Watching Paul Pogba stride across the pitch as if he owns it, breaking up opposition attacks with ease before pinging 80-yard passes to specific blades of grass, it’s hard to believe he’s only 22. The Frenchman is indispensable for his club – so much so, the legendary Andrea Pirlo was sent on his merry way. The latest wearer of Juve’s famous No.10 shirt is, fittingly, a creator. But he’s also a destroyer.
Pogba has an eye for the spectacular but another for midfield’s dirty work, as adept at tackling with his long legs as he is at curving a ball around corners. Alex Ferguson insists Pogba wouldn’t stay, the then-teenager’s ambition matched by ambitious demands, but not doing everything in their power to keep him remains one of Manchester United’s biggest mistakes. The world is at his feet. – HD
13. Philipp Lahm
Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Douglas Costa have grabbed most of the headlines after Bayern Munich’s typically dominant start to the season, but Lahm continues to be one of the first names on Pep Guardiola’s team-sheet.
After being used in midfield during the former Barcelona boss’s first campaign at the helm, the German has spent much of 2015 at right-back, where he’s again shown why he’s one of the – surely the – best around in his natural position. A captain who leads by example, Lahm is often underappreciated for his technical gifts, which include the rather useful ability of rarely giving the ball away. “The most intelligent footballer I’ve ever coached,” once said Guardiola of the Bayern stalwart. High praise indeed. – GL
PERFORMANCE Shield the ball like Philipp Lahm
12. Ivan Rakitic
Scoring in the Champions League final capped a dream debut season for the Croatian, who adapted to his new surroundings as seamlessly as someone who can speak six languages might expect to: Rakitic posted a 91% pass success rate over 32 La Liga games and set up seven goals en route to the Treble. Replace Xavi? No problem. “I wanted to enjoy playing with Xavi, but not only that: to enjoy spending time with him; to be with him on the pitch and in the dressing room in all those great moments,” he told FFT. “To work with him was amazing.”
The Catalans, even without Lionel Messi, have carried on where they left off, humiliating Real Madrid with Rakitic completing 44/46 passes and denied a goal by Raphael Varane’s block. “I don’t like to say I enjoy my ‘job’. It’s the thing that I like to do. I’m here and I like to be here.” – GD
11. Alexis Sanchez
A Duracell bunny of a footballer, there are times when Alexis Sanchez defies physics. He just never stops moving, a sort of overly energetic player incapable of even momentary stasis. Yes, the Chilean has a tendency towards the individualistic, but his ability to create something from nothing is priceless.
Still averaging a goal every other game 18 months into his Arsenal career, Sanchez’s talent was too great to waste away on the Barcelona bench and it’s a joy to see him play regular football, scoring a cracker in the FA Cup final. He’s excelled for Chile, too, his slightly scuffed Panenka winning last summer’s Copa America in style, his country’s first major talent.
Arsene Wenger’s biggest problem will be giving Sanchez the rest he’ll need over Christmas, but until then, sit back and watch one of the world’s most thrilling attackers at his raw best. – AM
PERFORMANCE Performance Lab: Alexis Sanchez