Choosing the best playmakers in world football used to be a lot easier. The golden age of the classic luxury player is a thing of the past. Players like Deco and Mesut Ozil – pure creatives who rarely tracked back or pressed opponents throughout their careers - are no longer deemed smart additions to a high-functioning lineup.
Modern day No.10s are expected to show a level of discipline when their team is out of possession, and may even be expected to create from unorthodox positions. Therefore, some of the players on this list start games on the wing, or deeper as part of the midfield. The one thing they all have in common, however, is that they do their best work when they pick up the ball between the opponents midfield and defence, and look to take up central positions around the box when their team is on the ball.
They are all primarily providers of goals, as opposed to out-and-out goal scorers. For that reason, neither Lionel Messi or Neymar – easily two of the world's most creative players, but primarily goal scorers – should be considered. Messi and Neymar are chiefly focused on sticking the ball in the back of the net, and just happen to be so supremely gifted that they affect virtually all other areas of the pitch as well.
So, without much further ado, here we count down the top 10 playmakers in world football right now. The players for whom creating a goalscoring chance for a teammate is the very reason for living.
10. Jack Grealish, Aston Villa
Yes, there are higher profile players at bigger clubs, but the stats don’t lie - Jack Grealish is an elite level creator of goal scoring chances. Despite playing for relegation-threatened Aston Villa last season, the Englishman created more chances than any player in the Premier League bar one (more on that player later) and won more fouls (111) than any other player in the division.
Grealish tends to start games on the left-wing but drifts deeper into central positions to get on the ball and help build attacks. He’s reliable in tight spaces and his ability to win free-kicks in dangerous positions is almost a skill in its own right – and something England might want to take advantage of at next summer’s Euros. The 25-year-old already has three goals and three assists in the opening three Premier League games of this season. A playmaker improving with every passing game at the top level.
9. Christian Eriksen, Inter Milan
The former Spurs playmaker has struggled to adapt to life in Italy since joining Inter in January 2020. In 17 Serie A appearances towards the end of last season, the Dane scored just one goal and set up two for his teammates, paltry figures by his artistic standards. Poor performances led to rumours of an early exit in the summer but he remains at the San Siro for now.
It’s accepted that there were mitigating factors to his slow start in Milan. He was adapting to life in a new league, in a new country, and the global pandemic can’t have made the transition any easier. Now more settled, Eriksen will be expected to kick on as the creative hub in Antonio Conte’s 3-4-1-2 system. Any Spurs fan will tell you, and as England found out last Wednesday night, he has the composure as well as the final ball to hurt anybody on his day.
8. Martin Odegaard, Real Madrid
The sensationalism that followed Odegaard’s transfer from Stromsgodset to Real Madrid at the age 15 was used as a stick to beat him with until recently. The Norwegian struggled initially on loan at Heerenveen in the latter part of the 2017/18 season but impressed in his first full season at the Dutch club before returning to the Netherlands for a season with Vitesse Arnhem.
It was on loan again at Real Sociedad last season that Odegaard won his doubters round, however. In 36 appearances for the La Liga side, the pint-size creator scored seven goals, including the second in a 2-0 victory at Atletico Madrid in September 2019, and laid on a further nine. Odegaard was praised for his dribbling, eye for a pass and energy off the ball. He was so good last season, Real have kept the now 21-year-old at the club this campaign, where he’ll compete with Isco for a place in the starting XI. He’s finally beginning to get the plaudits his talents deserve.
7. Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund
It’s not just youngsters Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham Borussia Dortmund fans are getting excited about; Giovanni Reyna can be added to that enviable list of up and coming talents learning their craft at Signal Iduna Park too. The American attacking midfielder is still only 17-years-old and has plenty to learn, but his performances so far this season hint at a potential future Ballon d’Or winner.
Reyna has two goals and four assists in Dortmund’s opening five games of the season. He has been operating just behind Haaland in attack and the pair appear to have already built up an almost telepathic understanding. Reyna has superb vision and movement and is reliable on the ball in tight spaces, making him a perfect No.10 in a Dortmund team that often dominates possession in domestic fixtures. Not quite the finished article yet, but already a phenomenal talent.
6. Papu Gomez, Atalanta
The man who pulls the strings between the lines for Atalanta, arguably the most enjoyable side to watch in Europe. The Serie A club have been punching well above their weight over the past few seasons and it has much to do with the performances of deep lying forward and club captain Papu Gomez.
Equally adept at scoring and creating chances, the Argentinian has scored 58 goals and set-up 69 in 238 appearances for the club. His tally of four goals and two assists already this season are evidence that a player who turns 33 next year shows no signs of slowing down.
5. Kai Havertz, Chelsea
Surely the future number one on this list. Kai Havertz is so highly rated in Germany, some have tipped him to become a greater player than Michael Ballack – high praise indeed. Havertz’s performances for Bayer Leverkusen in recent seasons have been worthy of the hype. Aged 19, Havertz scored 17 league goals for his boyhood club in the 2018/19 season, almost single-handedly dragging them to Champions League qualification. While his performances dropped a little last season, he still starred as Leverkusen reached the DFB-Pokal final, before he earned an £80m switch to Chelsea in the summer.
The Germany international will take time to settle in English football, but his hat-trick against Barnsley in the Carabao Cup in September reminded everybody what a deadly player he can be on his day.
Tall, elegant, technically gifted, great in the air, composed in front of goal and a sublime passer, Kai Havertz has all the ingredients to become a Premier League legend in west London.
4. Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United
The catalyst for Manchester United’s late run to Champions League qualification last season, Bruno Fernandes’ impact at Old Trafford has been likened to that of Eric Cantona’s in the early '90s. While FFT thinks that might have been a little overboard for now, there is no doubt he’s been a world-class addition to a stuttering Red Devils side.
Fernandes has the swagger, self-confidence and eye for goal that has been lacking from United’s midfield in far too long. He’s also taken a lot of the pressure off the shoulders of Paul Pogba, who should benefit from a spell out of the limelight, and has added a level leadership to a promising yet callow squad.
Fernandes’ final pass might not be quite as incisive as some of the others on this list, but his goalscoring record speaks for itself. What’s more, the man has ice in his veins from the penalty spot (Newcastle notwithstanding) – a very useful attribute to have for a Manchester United player.
3. James Rodriguez, Everton
James Rodriguez’s early form at Everton shouldn’t surprise anybody. While things might not ultimately have worked out for him at Real Madrid, his best performances for the Spanish giants came under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti – now his gaffer once more at Everton.
Unlike many on this list, Rodriguez really is the archetypal No.10; a mooching, technically gifted creator who rarely breaks sweat while dismantling the opposition. The Colombian combines effortless passing with a deadly eye for goal and a proclivity for dropping deep from his right forward role to combine with the midfield. This means Everton are able to overload the centre of the pitch when in possession before launching attacks via their star man’s left foot.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are the players who are already benefiting most from his spectacular passing range. The Toffees strikers are the perfect blend of pace, power and determination, giving Rodriguez plenty to work with when he gets on the ball in dangerous positions.
2. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
Unlike Rodriguez, Kevin De Bruyne’s a playmaker who advances from deeper positions to create scoring chances for his teammates. The Belgian is often deployed as a deeper-lying playmaker by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, charged with combining with his fellow midfielders and dictating the tempo of games.
His unrivalled passing range means he can launch an attack in the blink of an eye, and from practically anywhere on the pitch. Indeed, it’s hard to think of another player in Premier League history better at delivering a final pass, or fatal whip down the corridor of uncertainty with more consistency than Kevin De Bruyne.
De Bruyne’s stats are frankly ridiculous. Since signing for Manchester City in 2016, no player has bagged more assists than his 67. Last season, he equalled Thierry Henry’s 17-year-old assists record for a single domestic season, laying on 20 goals for his teammates. City might not have won the title, but De Bruyne created 136 scoring chances for teammates, 35 more than the Premier League’s next most creative player (Jack Grealish, 91). In short, he’s a genuine phenomenon, and the Premier League is lucky to have him.
1. Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich
Twelve months ago, the idea that Thomas Muller would be considered the best playmakers in Europe would have been farfetched. This time last year, the German had been marginalised by both his national team and Bayern Munich, his boyhood club.
Muller was seen as past his prime, unable to pick up those little pockets of space and damage teams in the way he used to. Following a poor collective performance at the 2018 World Cup, Jogi Löw turfed Muller out of the Germany team. Next, he was slowly frozen out by Niko Kovac at Bayern. Things looked bleak for a player once considered among the most intelligent operators in world football.
But then everything changed. Results were suffering at Bayern when the club made the decision in November 2019 to replace Kovac with Hansi Flick, whio immediately restored Muller to the first team. It would prove a stroke of genius, as the 31-year-old enjoyed arguably the best campaign of his career. Muller would record 26 assists in 50 appearances for the serial Bundesliga winners last campaign – including 21 in the league – alongside 14 goals in all competitions.
His movement, workrate and unselfishness in front of goal were key as Bayern romped to the treble, while striker Robert Lewandowski broke records and praised Muller’s skillset as a massive reason for his success in front of goal.
He might not be the silkiest player on this list; the best passer or the easiest on the eye, but a No.10s job is to help his team score goals, and nobody on the planet has done that better than Thomas Muller over the past 12 months.
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