FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2015: 90-81
90. Harry Kane
Wind the clock back a little over 12 months and the idea of Kane being included in such a list would seem fanciful. Insane, even. However, with 24 Premier League goals to his name in 2015 – eight since late September, there can be no doubt the London-born striker is more than a one-season wonder.
He started the year with a stunning brace against Chelsea that displayed his power, poise and precision, before writing himself into Spurs folklore by scoring another double against north London rivals Arsenal. An England call-up followed, as did the PFA’s Young Player of the Year award (not to mention an appearance on the cover of FourFourTwo).
After a slow start to 2015/16 – perhaps the result of a summer break shortened by a post-season tour of the far east, the U21 European Championship in the Czech Republic, and Spurs’ pre-season jaunts to the USA and Germany – he is back on the goal trail. And not a moment too soon, with Mauricio Pochettino's ever-improving side pushing for a Champions League spot and England heading to France for the Euros. – JM
PERFORMANCE Harry Kane: Raise your game
89. Javier Pastore
“When I went on trial at Talleres, my dad told me: ‘If they ask you where you play, tell them you play in midfield. Tell them you’re a No.10.’ So I did. And I did well.” Didn’t he just. Some 13 years later, the kid they called El Flaco – ‘The Skinny One’ – is one of South America’s finest in midfield, even if he’s no longer a No.10 (“I’ve learned to start deeper,” he told FFT in the same 2010 interview).
Yet despite being the youngest of Argentina’s 2010 World Cup squad, then becoming a regular at PSG immediately after joining from Palermo, it’s perhaps only now that Pastore is really showing his class. Last season he recorded the second-most assists in Ligue 1; this season, he looks at home in PSG and Argentina’s midfield. Good advice, Papa Pastore. – HD
88. Dimitri Payet
The Premier League’s bumper TV deal has given mid-table sides like West Ham the clout to entice Champions League-grade players like Dimitri Payet, who had previously shone with Saint-Etienne, Lille and, most recently, Marseille. This isn’t the time or place to discuss whether this is a good thing for football, but it certainly is for the east Londoners, who have benefited from the versatile Frenchman’s ability to both hold onto the ball and play quickly on the break, particularly against the Premier League’s established elite.
Frustratingly for West Ham and Payet, who was reportedly on the verge of a return to the French national team thanks to his sensational early-season form, injury has ruled him out until early 2016. The Hammers will be desperate to get him back fit as soon as possible. – JM
87. Marco Verratti
“He plays at a level similar to the midfielders currently at Barcelona. I think he is one of the best players in the world at the moment. He reminds me of myself a bit.” Praise indeed, particularly when the man saying it is Xavi, one of the most admired pass masters of the modern game.
Still only 23 and with just 15 Italy caps to his name, the sky is seemingly the limit for the former Pescara string-puller, who helped PSG seal a domestic Treble last term.
Nobody in Ligue 1 made more passes than Verratti’s 2,861 in 2014/15, while only Lyon’s Nabil Fekir was fouled more often. And with three French titles already in the bag, Verratti’s sights – like his club’s – are fixed on Champions League success, having starred in last season’s away-goals victory over Chelsea before being sorely missed through suspension against Barcelona. – GD
PERFORMANCE Marco Verratti: How to be a deep-lying playmaker
86. William Carvalho
Blame Patrik Carlgren. If it wasn’t for the Swedish U21 goalkeeper saving Carvalho’s penalty we’d be talking about the best player in the current U21 European champions’ team.
Regardless, the tall, imposing defensive midfielder – who is continually linked with big-money moves abroad, not least to Arsenal – was still named the player of the tournament held in the Czech Republic last summer despite failing from the spot right at the end.
Not finding a target is rare for the Angola-born 23-year-old, however. Sporting’s defensive shield’s range of passing is quite exquisite from either foot, and such is his reading of the game that you never seem to see Carvalho sprint – apart from the occasional lope through midfield, his galloping stride opening up as he bypasses opponents en route to servicing forward players.
For top-of-the-table Sporting, the lucky recipients of such service are the likes of Teo Gutierrez, Islam Slimani and Bryan Ruiz. But it is Carvalho who is the centre point of Jorge Jesus’s new-look Lions. And you wouldn’t bet against them, or Carvalho, securing more honours in the near future. – GM
85. Mauro Icardi
The early part of 2014/15 didn't go well for Icardi, who was involved in an ugly spat with Inter supporters following a string of bad results. But the 22-year-old striker would soon endear himself to that same fanbase, ending the campaign with 27 goals in all competitions and sharing the Serie A scoring title with Hellas Verona frontman Luca Toni.
In an age where attacking players are becoming increasingly versatile, the Argentine is something of a throwback, a deadly poacher who offers little to his side’s approach play but frequently proves decisive. Roberto Mancini’s protégé is now regularly captaining the Nerazzurri and appears to thrive under that responsibility; his goals are an important factor in Inter’s title tilt this term. – AD
84. Felipe Anderson
After arriving in Rome in the summer of 2013, Anderson scored just one goal in his first 33 appearances for the Biancocelesti, but the Brazilian hit a rich vein of form last December that saw him suddenly become Serie A’s breakout star. Blending devastating pace with excellent close control, intelligent passing and the ability to shoot with both feet, the former Santos attacking midfielder weighed in with 10 goals and seven assists over the remaining 21 matches of 2014/15.
The 22-year-old has netted another five times already this season, and it appears to be only a matter of time before the Stadio Olimpico side cash in on their prized asset. – AD
83. Blaise Matuidi
There are few more complete midfielders around than Matuidi, whose combination of technical prowess and physical presence makes him a formidable opponent. The France international was an essential part of PSG’s domestic double last term, and has continued to impress this season with his powerful running, tough tackling and ability to link play.
Matuidi’s sheer athleticism is probably his most eye-catching attribute: his ability to cover the ground of two men was evident in PSG’s Champions League triumph over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in March, when the first-half dismissal of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and subsequent redeployment of Edinson Cavani up top saw the 28-year-old successfully man both the left flank and his usual zone in the centre. – GL
82. Claudio Marchisio
Having been the odd man out among Juve’s midfield quartet, 2014/15 marked a return to form for the Turin native as he revealed a whole new side to his game. Asked to fill in when Andrea Pirlo missed the opening two months of the season, Marchisio displayed a previously unseen range of passing while working to protect the defence behind him.
The 29-year-old has always been tactically astute, but his understanding of how to keep the game flowing was so impressive that many believed the Bianconeri were better when Pirlo remained on the bench. “Claudio is already a legend,” Juventus president Andrea Agnelli said this summer, revealing the Italian had signed a contract that ties him to the Old Lady until 2020. – AD
81. Alex Teixeira
The winger could have been forgiven for being a bit miffed and shouting “Wait for me!” when he saw compatriots Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano depart Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer, to complete their respective moves to Bayern Munich and Milan. But their exits elevated Teixeira to the role of chief Brazilian on a Shakhtar conveyor belt that has previously produced the likes of Willian and Fernandinho.
Teixeira has flourished with the greater responsibility, making mincemeat of the Ukrainian league this season with just the 21 goals in 14 matches by the end of November, to follow up the 12 in 10 he scored at the end of last season. Imagine how many he’d score if he was a striker.
Linked with moves to Chelsea, PSG and Juventus, Teixeira has admitted he would love to play in the Premier League, telling Lance!: "All three are big clubs. Wherever I'll end up, I'll be happy. I'm happy to have received this offer from Chelsea, one of Europe's big clubs in the best championship in the world." – CF