FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2015: 50-41
50. Xabi Alonso
Now in his 35th year, it doesn’t feel like much more can be said about Xabi Alonso. Perhaps the conjecture should be mainly reserved to reiterate what a ludicrous decision Real Madrid made when allowing the Spaniard to leave the Santiago Bernabeu for a paltry €10 million transfer fee two summers ago.
Since winning the Champions League with los Blancos and packing his bags for Munich, the ever-reliable Spaniard has proved a mainstay of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Bayern midfield, acting as the prolific passing metronome via which the Bavarians’ brightest sparks cause chaos. He was even deployed as a makeshift centre-back by Guardiola in August’s 3-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen. “What Alonso did was simply mad,” declared his bemused boss post-match. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? – JB
49. Raheem Sterling
It’s fitting that Sterling’s greatest asset is speed, because his career is in fast-forward. Our list’s second-youngest player is turning 21 but already he has made himself crucial in two different clubs’ title bids, been England’s most important player at a World Cup and won more caps than Peter Reid, Frank Lampard Sr, Alex Stepney, Steve Bruce, Charlie George, Neil Ruddock and Fatty Foulke managed between them.
In fact, if ever there’s been a player at risk of burnout, it’s Sterling. He has played 100 matches since March last year. Managers cannot and will not rest a forward whose dribbling, work-rate, pace and delivery make him such a constant threat. With Sterling now developing composure in front of goal, the final piece in his personal footballing jigsaw, there’s nothing stopping him but fatigue. – HD
48. Leonardo Bonucci
Having enjoyed incredible success since joining Juventus back in 2010, Bonucci continues to improve, with last season arguably his best for the Bianconeri yet. Smoothly making the transition from his role as the ball-player in the centre of the club’s three-man defence into a traditional back four, he has emerged as a real leader for the Italian champions. Solid in the tackle and a fine passer, he also weighed in with key goals in big matches against Lazio, Milan and Roma that were crucial in securing Juve’s first league and cup double in two decades. Like many key figures for the Old Lady, he was handed a contract extension over the summer, tying him to the Turin giants for another five years. – AD
47. Mario Gotze
If scoring a winner in the World Cup final and claiming four Bundesliga titles by the age of 23 is underperforming, then there are plenty of underperforming players in this world.
Intriguingly though, many in Germany regard Gotze as someone who has not yet truly delivered on his full potential, someone who remains very good rather than great.
Tipped to become Bayern’s best player when he was captured from Dortmund in 2013, Gotze hasn’t always been a regular starter with Bayern. His sheer ability still earns him a respectable position in the FFT100 – and a place in the heart of Pep Guardiola, who recently gushed ‘I love Mario Gotze’.
The attacking midfielder isn’t a contender for our top 10, as some thought he would be by 2015, but it’s not impossible he could still get there one day. – CF
46. Marco Reus
For Reus, like many of Borussia Dortmund’s best players, 2015 hasn’t been overly kind. It followed something of an injury-ravaged first half of last season, during which the North Rhine-Westphalia club sunk in the Bundesliga before recovering to finish seventh. Dortmund are back riding high this time out, but things have changed somewhat for the 26-year-old at his boyhood club.
Gone is the manager under whom he enjoyed so much success, for starters. Then until recently, the forward was being overshadowed by the attacking exploits of his team-mates and seeing his place in the side questioned by some outsiders. But to doubt Reus would be foolish.
The German continues to make his country’s best XI, has enjoyed a new lease of life alongside his club team-mates, and still netted regularly in all competitions. Under Thomas Tuchel he’ll be hoping to rediscover the kind of form that terrorised Bundesliga backlines consistently for three seasons. – JB
45. Thiago Silva
PSG’s Ligue 1 triumph in 2014/15 was Silva’s fourth league title in his last five seasons. The former Milan man continues to impress at Parc des Princes, bringing speed and strength to one of Europe’s tightest defensive units. He’s struggled at international level, though, having been dropped by Dunga – who seems to consider him too emotionally fragile for his macho methods – after conceding a pivotal penalty in Brazil’s Copa America quarter-final with Paraguay. But Silva remains a classy operator in the heart of the backline.
Leading PSG into the semi-finals of the Champions League is the next thing on the agenda for the man who was made captain by Carlo Ancelotti after only his 14th appearance for the French giants in 2012. – GL
44. Diego Costa
Among the top 10 just a year ago, the Spain international plummets 37 places after a stellar start to life in England was curtailed by injury and indiscipline. The former Atletico Madrid talisman hit 20 goals en route to a league and cup double, but Diego’s combustible hamstrings, combined with his combustible character, have seen him spend plenty of time on the sidelines while assuming the mantle of Premier League pantomime villain. “Do I feel like I have taken [Luis Suarez’s] place? That is crystal clear,” he said. “If I keep getting banned for three games, it’s going to be hard to maintain my level.” Notching against Norwich ended a run of 603 minutes without a goal; Costa’s four strikes in 17 outings reflecting Chelsea’s collective struggles after the champions recorded their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign. – GD
43. Angel Di Maria
It goes without saying that Di Maria’s one-season stay at Manchester United didn’t go according to plan, but it perhaps doesn’t that the Argentine is still among the game’s most gifted technicians. Things have certainly looked up since his move to Paris, but despite scoring four times in his first nine Ligue 1 matches, the suggestion lingers that Di Maria needs to add more goals to his game.
The man himself is having none of it. “'I love scoring and I get great satisfaction when I set up one of my team-mates to score,” Di Maria said in November. “Assisting a goal and scoring one is the same thing.” These are definitely the words of a man who notched three league goals and 10 assists last term – JM
42. Gianluigi Buffon
It’s now more than 20 years since Gigi Buffon made his Serie A debut, as a 17-year-old with just five years’ experience in gloves but enough assurance to fall asleep on the bus ride to his debut.
He kept a clean sheet, obviously, the first of many in close on 800 club games and north of 150 Italy caps. (He has produced more shutouts in Serie A and for Italy than any other man.)
But although the FFT100 is partly based on permanent class, it also acknowledges temporary form and the Juventus captain isn’t on this list for longevity and past achievement.
Just under a year ago he was named Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year, for the ninth time in 16 seasons. Juve won the title again, as they do, and reached the Champions League final: nobody kept more clean sheets in last year’s competition than Buffon’s six, while he also made the most saves (39) and came fourth in UEFA’s Best Player in Europe. That 100-billion lire (€52m) fee Juve paid in 2001 looks like a bargain. – GP
41. Carlos Tevez
The Argentine’s return home to Boca this summer may have come as a surprise, but it probably shouldn’t have - he had spoken openly of his desire to go back to La Bombonera since his Manchester United days.
You can’t question his timing, either. Within months of his emotional homecoming, Carlitos had won both the Argentine league title and the Copa Argentina. That double came hot on the heels of the league and cup he won with Juventus in May. Not bad for 12 months’ work, really. At the age of 31, Tevez is still more than capable of bothering top-level defences - 29 goals in his last season in Italy are testament to that. You may think it’s a shame he’s no longer in an ‘elite’ European league, but Tevez is unlikely to care. – JM