Let the countdown begin. We take you through our list of the best football players of 2016. Starting with 100 to 76.
100. Javi Hernandez (Mexico) – Bayer Leverkusen
Remember when Chicarito was really good? Like, really good? He seems to have hit a cliff, but his exploits for Mexico simply cannot be ignored. He started on fire at Leverkusen, but seems to have regressed somewhat over the past 6 months. He’s not been on top form in the Bundesliga yet this season, but he always seem to impress most when derided. Otherwise, transfer rumours back to the Premier League wouldn’t be around.
99. Lorenzo Insigne (Italy) – Napoli
The first part of this list does have a rather Neapolitan flavour to it, I’ll admit. But Lorenzo Insigne is very much deserving of being called one of the best 100 players in the world this year. 9 goals and 11 assists for Napoli in Serie A makes me question why he’s only got 13 caps for Italy at the age of 25, but the left winger has plenty of time to bring that total up.
98. Islam Silmani (Algeria) – Sporting/Leicester City
I must confess, I don’t really follow the Portugese League, so hearing that Leicester was signing a 28-year-old Algerian striker from Sporting for £25m, the first question that came into my head was, “Why?”. Islam’s done a good job of showing me why the price tag was so high, bagging 25 goals in 2016 alone. That’s a serious number for someone I had honestly never heard of before his Leicester move. He’s not been too bad there either.
97. Aymeric Laporte (France) – Athletic Bilbao
I’m still sad that Aymeric has somehow yet to find a way out of Bilbao and into one of the top teams in the world. At 22, he’s one of the youngest on this list, and he’ll have probably been on many more for the past couple of years also. The French/Basque centre back’s experience completely belies his age, and only the sky is the limit for Laporte once he finally leaves Bilbao.
96. Konstantinos Manolas (Greece) – Roma
Greece must have one of the best centre back partnerships in world football with Manolas alongside Sokratis of Borussia Dortmund. Sadly, he’s currently out injured, but has been exceptional for Roma otherwise, cementing himself as a key player for both them and Greece during the year with a series of impressive defensive displays.
95. Dries Mertens (Belgium) – Napoli
Have you not seen the guy lately? He’s got 7 goals in two games for crying out loud. A key component of one of the only teams that can really challenge Juventus in Serie A, and also one of the few loyal ones, Lorenzo is on fire at the moment. Next year could be huge for the Belgian.
94. Toby Alderweireld (Belgium) – Tottenham Hotspur
One day, I’ll be able to both pronounce and spell Toby’s surname in less than four attempts. Until then, copy and paste will be my friend. Since making a surprising move to Tottenham last year, he’s been a revelation for both Spurs and the Belgium national team. He’s brought his international caps up to 65, and can easily stake his claim as one of, if not THE best defender in the Premier League.
93. Mohamed Salah (Egypt) – Roma
Roma got an absolute steal only paying £12m for this guy. Salah was superb last season, and he’s carried on right where he left off with Roma this term. I was surprised to find out that he’s only 24, so whilst the Chelsea experiment didn’t go to plan, I really wouldn’t rule out a move to a much larger club in the near future. He’s only getting better.
92. Arda Turan (Turkey) – Barcelona
Arda Turan is included here because I checked out his statistics and they were far, far better than I recall watching on TV. He’s already got 8 goals and 5 assists this season and yet I’m left wondering, “Where the hell did they all come from?”. Fair play to the guy in a clearly unassuming role at Barcelona, he’s getting the job done.
91. Claudio Marchisio (Italy) – Juventus
The day Claudio Marchisio stops playing will be a very sad one for Juventus fans, given the black and white that runs in his blood. Yes, he’s not made as much of an impact this year as he has in previous, but Claudio is still a staggeringly good player on his day. Injuries have stopped him from holding down a permanent role in the Juventus midfield, but he’s waited 23 years, and he won’t have much longer to wait.
90. Jordan Henderson (England) – Liverpool
He’s supposed to be bad, he’s supposed to be subject to jokes and ridicule, but the Liverpool captain is just a really solid player. Given his role at one of the biggest clubs in the world, it’s really not a stretch to include him on this list. Currently at the peak of his powers, Jurgen Klopp has help enhance Jordan’s rising stock. It’s just a shame his middle name is Brian.
89. Mario Gotze (Germany) – Bayern Munich/Borussia Dortmund
I don’t understand what’s happened to the guy. From scoring THAT goal in the 2014 World Cup to comparative mediocrity just a couple of years later, Mario Gotze’s just gone slowly downhill. He makes this list on merit thanks to a decent start to the season for Dortmund. Hardly everpresent, but solid. Also bear in mind he’s still just 24, and maybe in a better environment, he can perform with freedom once again.
88. Alex Sandro (Brazil) – Juventus
Finally, he’s been given a chance! Alex Sandro was barely given a chance in 2015, more left back in the changing room than on the pitch. However, interchanging between left-sided roles for Juventus, he’s rediscovered some scintillating form that’s carried over to this season. Ever-present now for Juventus, a return to the Brazil squad after a 5 YEAR exile has to be on the horizon.
87. Fernandinho (Brazil) – Manchester City
Attempted stranglings aside, the adaptability of the Brazilian holding midfielder has been something to savour under Pep’s regime. He’s a rock at the back, yet scored in the League Cup final at the turn of the year. He’s unassuming, underrated, and a lot better than he really gets credit for. I almost feel bad having him this low on the list, but City and Brazil have done nothing of note in 2016.
86. Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal) – Napoli
Kali-who? It’s okay, you can admit you’ve never heard of the Senegalese international. Truth be told, he only managed to break into the national side late in 2015, and since then, his stock has risen dramatically. An absolute rock in the heart of the Napoli defence, Koulibaly is still only 25 years old, giving him maybe another 10 years of cominance at the back. A former French youth international, they’ll likely regret letting the man slip under the radar, given he’s been ever present for Napoli this year.
85. Ander Herrera (Spain) – Manchester United
Herrera has been transformed from a free-flowing attacker into an exceptionally solid central midfielder under Jose Mourinho. One of the few to avoid mass rotation within the United squad, Ander’s come into his own so far this season, contributing 5 assists, and gaining some high match ratings. It’s a shame he wasn’t afforded much of an opportunity last season, otherwise he’d likely be much higher on the list.
84. Wayne Rooney (England) – Manchester United
At his peak, Rooney was one of the best in the world. It’s safe to say that he’s nowhere near the peak he was once at. Now 31, Wayne maybe hasn’t regressed too badly since reverting to an attacking midfield or secondary striker role. He’s more of a supporting element to United, but remains capable of special moments, and actually has 9 assists already this season. Maybe he’s not so bad after all.
83. Andres Iniesta (Spain) – Barcelona
Guys, I have some bad news. Barcelona’s midfield is no longer the best in the world. I know it’s hard to take, but with a lack of a good enough replacement for Xavi, Barcelona have looked a little more…lacklustre in the middle of the park this year, and this season especially. Andres still has the ability to change a game, but nowhere near the frequency as the early 2010s.
82. Blaise Matuidi (France) – Paris Saint Germain
Watch 90 minutes of Blaise Matuidi, and tell me he’s not deserving of a place on this list. Just watch him.
81. Dimitri Payet (France) – West Ham United
The reason Payet comes so low on this list at 81 is because, well, he’s been practically anonymous for West Ham since the move to London Stadium. One of the stars of the Premier League in 2015/16, he faded slightly as the Euros progressed, and a lack of rest time may have blunted his sharpness somewhat. He’s now being reported as a transfer target for the likes of Arsenal and Marseille, and only time will tell if he can recapture last season’s form.
80. Marcelo (Brazil) – Real Madrid
Marcelo’s just done the same thing as he normally does. Bomb forward, put in a few crosses, track back and get the odd tackle in. Let’s be honest, he’s very good at what he does.
79. Grzegorz Krychowiak (Poland) – Sevilla/Paris Saint Germain
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Who on earth is this guy?” Well, ‘this guy’ happens to have been a key to Sevilla’s back to back Europa League successes, as well as one of Poland’s few bright lights during Euro 2016. Greg’s move back to Ligue 1 can hardly be a surprise given his previous work with Unai Emery, and while the first half of 2016 may have been better than the second half, there’s still plenty of time for the 26-year-old to improve on what was a stellar end to last season.
78. David Luiz (Brazil) – Paris Saint Germain/Chelsea
He’s back. After yet another league title in France (we’ll gloss over Brazil’s summer), Chelsea made the rather questionable decision to sign Luiz for around £29m. Journalists and fans alike derided the decision, but he’s fit in absolutely perfectly to Antonio Conte’s 3-man defence, and looks to actually be one of the most inspiring signings of the summer. Only time will tell if he can win back to back to back titles.
77. Shkodran Mustafi (Germany) – Valencia/Arsenal
Mustafi’s done well to avoid the dumpster fire that is 2016’s Valencia team. Many might question his inclusion on this list, but his composure for both Germany in the Euros, and a fantastic start to his Arsenal career since transferring for £30m in the summer should be applauded, especially at just 24 years old. Not sure what Everton were thinking letting him go a few years back.
76. Pepe (Portugal) – Real Madrid
Well I’ll be, the man famous for his own “Hall of Shame” antics does have a calm side to him after all. From being called a dick in the Champions League final to helping lead his country to European Championship glory, Pepe’s had another year of nothing but winning, wrapped up with the Club World Championship trophy earlier this month. If he is reaching his final years, he’s certainly doing it in some style.
Words by Jack Mace