While strikers will always grab the headlines, few football fans would disagree that that no.10s are the most revered players in a team.
The world's great lock-pickers are a rare and mythical breed, capable of seeing angles and shafts of light we mortals can only dream of. When these guys play well, the whole team seems to dance to their tune, like an orchestra in thrall to their conductor.
It is with this romantic kernel implanted that we review the greatest playmakers on the planet.
10. Nabil Fekir (Betis)
A lot was expected of Nabil Fekir’s career, with links to Liverpool and Arsenal at one stage. A left-turn to Real Betis wasn’t quite what we predicted – but he’s been excellent value in La Liga every season since leaving Lyon.
The World Cup winner has created 11 big chances – the most in the Spanish top division, with everything about Betis pivoting around his talents.
9. Hakan Calhanoglu (Inter)
One of the more controversial summer signings, there were Milan fans who hoped that even though Hakan Calnahoglu wasn’t going far, his influence at the San Siro would dry up.
Not only have Inter been stunningly good this season under Simone Inzaghi – better than under Conte, some would say – Calnahoglu has arguably been better than Christian Eriksen was in Italian football. Only Domenico Berardi has more assists this season and only teammate Nicolo Barella has created more big chances this campaign.
8. Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao)
With 2.8 key passes per match, Iker Muniain has lived up to his former tag this season of being the Spanish Messi. The Athletic star may play as a wideman but has been the focal point of creativity in Marcelino’s 4-4-2. A throwback of a playmaker in many respects but one of the most potent in Europe this season.
7. Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Considering how close Bernardo Silva came to leaving Manchester City in the summer, the Portuguese is enjoying one of the Premier League’s finest comebacks for years this season.
Now used most often as a central midfielder, Bernardo is tasked with dropping deep to assist Rodri in build-up and getting forward to help create. His tireless engine, mesmeric dribbling skills and eye for a pass are a lethal combination for the Citizens: it feels like he was built in a laboratory by Pep Guardiola and has been the champions’ outstanding midfielder this season.
6. Lionel Messi (PSG)
Lionel Messi’s goalscoring has come into sharp focus this season – but his creation numbers have still been impressive. 2.6 key passes per 90 minutes have kept him in the upper reaches of Ligue 1’s creators, while a hat-trick of assists against Saint-Etienne caught the eye towards the end of 2021.
The Flea is still the most bewitching footballer in the world on his day and with such an all-star cast around him, is it any wonder that he finds it easy to feed others, even when he doesn’t ripple the net himself?
5. Dimitri Payet (Marseille)
No stranger to Premier League fans - following Payet’s dazzling spell in England with West Ham – the Frenchman has been back on home soil and tearing it up for Marseille since 2018. No player in Europe’s top five leagues comes close to his 3.7 key passes per game. The 34-year-old has created the most Ligue 1 chances (15) this season and has the most assists (9). Marseille are currently second in the French top flight. They’d be a lot further down the table without Payet’s magic.
4. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
It’s been a difficult season so far for the Manchester City talisman, who topped this list when we last compiled it. A broken eye socket and an ankle ligament injury caused havoc last summer, and tempered his gametime at the start of this campaign. He is only now recapturing his best form. Despite this, only two players in the Premier League have provided more key passes per game this term and, on his day, there isn’t a player in Europe who comes close to the Belgian in terms of vision and passing range. Premier League fans need to cherish the 30-year-old at his best while they still can. He's becoming fragile...
3. Bruno Fernandes
A sensational all-rounder, Fernandes ranks first in the Premier League for key passes per game (3) this season, third in terms of big chances created (12) and is in the top five for assists and top 10 for goals. He’s a jack of all trades, and United would be lost without his multilayered skillset.
2. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
The only defender on this list but it’s hard to argue with his inclusion. Trent is the undisputed playmaker of Jurgen Klopp’s relentless Liverpool side. The Englishman has more assists (10) and has created more chances (13) than any other Premier League player this term, while ranking second for key passes per game (2.9). No other right back has ever had this much influence over a top side. He’s an anomaly.
1. Thomas Müller (Bayern)
Say all you want about other playmakers' technique and vision but – in true German fashion – Thomas Mueller completely bosses the field in terms of numbers. The, erm, slightly awkward Bayern forward has more assists (16) than anyone in Europe’s top five leagues, has created the most big chances (17) and ranks second on the entire continent for key passes per game (3.2). He’s an absolute stats machine and Bayern and Germany remain as reliant on the 32-year-old as ever. Sure, he’s not the most elegant player, but he’s unrivalled at creating scoring chances for team-mates and that's why he's the best.
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. Over his time on the brand, he has interviewed the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Jack Wilshere, written pieces ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career, and has been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals, working for FFT.
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