Our countdown continues as we make our way to the half way point. Plenty of talking points to be considered.
75. Yannick Carrasco (Belgium) – Atletico Madrid
It’s been a superb 2016 for Yannick with both Atletico and Belgium (just don’t bring up Wales). After a few months of acclimatising to La Liga, he’s broken into the Belgium squad, scoring 17 goals for club and country combined. Operating primarily from the left wing, the 23 year old is going to be one to watch out for years to come.
74. Raphael Varane (France) – Real Madrid
Raphael Varane has finally settled down in both Real Madrid, and the France national team. He’s been getting a consistent string of games now ahead of Pepe, looking to replace the Portuguese in the long term. Sadly, a ruptured thigh forced him out of the Euros, but returned to the lineup to provide some strong performances in qualifiers this year.
73. Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) – Leicester City
Here he is. The creative catalyst behind one of the biggest shocks in the history of modern football. He came 7th in the Ballon D’Or voting this year, but the NetBet isn’t comprised by top journalists from such footballing nations as Antigua, the Dominican Republic, and the US. A lack of summer football followed by a slow start to the 2016/17 season contributed to a lower rating. He’s picked up the pace this month, and will be sure to continue lighting the Champions League on fire.
72. Marquihnos (Brazil) – Paris Saint-Germain
Finally, Marquinhos has gotten his chance as first choice centre back for Paris Saint-Germain. With Thiago Silva waning, and David Luiz now at Chelsea, Marquinhos stepped up in the first half of 2016 with solid defensive performances to ensure another title went Paris’ way back in May. The new season has him off to a rocky start, with many questioning his current ability, but at just 23, he still has plenty of potential left to fulfil.
71. Leroy Sané (Germany) – Schalke/Manchester City
For whatever reason, Sané’s exploits for Schalke have been rather ignored by everyone apart from Pep Guardiola. He was a revelation in the Bundesliga for the first part of the year, securing a £42m move to City in the summer. He only got 11 minutes during the Euros, and has been relegated back to the U21 national team since his move, but with game time increasing under Guardiola, he’s poised to have a breakout year once adjusted to the Premier League.
70. Sadio Mané (Senegal) – Southampton/Liverpool
Even with the tropes of Liverpool poaching all of Southampton’s players, the £35m signing of Mané in the summer caught a few off guard, myself included. He was fantastic at the tail end of last season, and has continued his scintillating form with Liverpool. The African Cup of Nations beckons next month, with Senegal tipped to win, in no small part thanks to this man.
69. Andre Gomes (Portugal) – Valenica/Barcelona
Whilst his form has petered out somewhat at the tailend of the year, Andre Gomes was a key element to both Portugal’s success and Valencia’s survival in 2016. One for the future with regards to Barcelona, he has all the attributes to slot into Iniesta’s role when the time is right.
68. N’Golo Kanté (France) – Leicester City/Chelsea
Where to begin. The diminutive defensive midfielder had a monster season for Leicester City, proving himself to be the key element in their title-winning 2015/16 season. He remained impressive during the Euros for France, and now looks set to win the Premier League once again, only this time with new club Chelsea. He’s settled in seamlessly, and with strength and pace in abundance, Kanté is sure to be a big league player for years to come.
67. José Giménez (Uruguay) – Atletico Madrid
I thought the guy was another late bloomer, but it turns out that at 21, Atletico have unearthed yet another gem from South America. Now a regular for his club and country alongside Diego Godin, Giménez has been in good form for Atletico this season, and was a star turn in their run to the Champions League final last year also. All that for less than €1m. What a steal.
66. Renato Sanches (Portugal) – Benfica/Bayern Munich
What a season Renato Sanches had, the young starlet captivating Europe with fantastic displays for both Benfica, and then being a key player in Portugal’s Euro win in the summer. A move to Bayern Munich followed and he finds himself more on the sidelines as he acclimatises to the Bundesliga. Rest assured, the skill that got him the £30m move to Bayern will return soon enough.
65. Juan Mata (Spain) – Manchester United
I thought he was done for again when Mourinho took the helm at Manchester United. Poor guy can’t seem to escape Jose. He’s been integral to the success of United so far this season, if you can call it that of course, but 5 goals in 20 games isn’t too shabby for a midfielder, even if he did rather cruelly miss out of Spain’s Euro squad.
64. Christian Eriksen (Denmark) – Tottenham Hotspur
The next incarnation of the Great Dane. 5 goals in 16 Premier League games this season, a star for both club and country, Christian Eriksen has proven his worth over the past year, with eye-catching goals and consistent brilliance, he’s been arguably the main man for Tottenham over the past year. Well, arguably anyway. The only blemish would be failing to qualify for the Euros, but you can hardly blame one man alone for that.
63. Willian (Brazil) – Chelsea
I’d have put him in the top 30 if his injuries hadn’t limited his game time this season. He’s only this month managed to find his way to full fitness, and as was evident for the tail end of last season, playing with total freedom, and continuing his great play under Antonio Conte. Now he’s recovered from injury, keeping up the great form should be the priority.
62. Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina) – Manchester City
I’m sorry. Can’t really justify this one this high up the list. He’s been a solid defender, one of those under-the-radar types, whose mistakes get more attention than his better work. Think of him as a more reliable John Stones.
61. Nemanja Matic (Serbia) – Chelsea
Okay, this one I can justify. Alongside Kante in the Chelsea lineup, Matic has been spectacular. The second half of last season was vastly improved, and he kept his form after getting rest thanks to Serbia not qualifying for the Euros. He’s likely to win the league this year.
60. David Silva (Spain) – Manchester City
He’s finally hit 30. Has he slowed down at all? Not an iota. Still providing goals and assists in abundance for Manchester City and Spain, David Silva isn’t going anywhere yet, adapting to yet another set of managers in Guardiola and Lopetegui, and retaining such good levels of creativity.
59. Radja Nainggolan (Belgium) – Roma
Try saying this guy’s name three times quickly. He was arguably their most important player last season, as well as for Belgium during the Euros, scoring a memorable goal in the tournament. He’s not as dominant this season for Roma with Kevin Strootman’s return, but is still a tireless player.
58. Aaron Ramsey (Wales) – Arsenal
If Aaron Ramsey wasn’t made of glass, he’d be one of the best players in the world. Kept Arsenal in the title hunt, and the only reason Wales really got knocked out in the semi-finals of the Euros was because this man was suspended for the game. A rare mix of flair and finesse, Ramsey just needs to overcome his injury proneness to become a major star in the game.
57. Jordi Alba (Spain) – Barcelona
The bit about Marcelo yesterday? Yeah, just read that again.
56. Douglas Costa (Brazil) – Bayern Munch
I was stunned last season at just how effective the Brazilian winger was for Bayern. He absolutely flourished under Pep, and seemed destined to repeat his brilliance this year. Ancelotti’s tactics have somewhat neutered his venomous pace and direct play, but as he’s adjusted, he’s slowly begun returning to form. He’ll be dangerous again soon.
55. Lucas (Brazil) – Paris Saint-Germain
Like Douglas Costa, Lucas had a great end to last season, and hasn’t been as effective so far this time. Like Douglas Costa, he’s a winger for a major European team plucked for a high fee from an obscure club. Lucas is still a couple of years Costa’s junior though, so hey, maybe he’ll pick up the pace again soon.
54. Phillipe Coutinho (Brazil) – Liverpool
Edge of the box. Shot. Goal. It’s the frequency with which he does it though that makes Coutinho one of the Premier League’s most recognised players. Well, that, and his incredibly consistent creative spark he provides too, but that’s just a footnote, surely?
53. Thibaut Courtois (Belgium) – Chelsea
Ah! Another goalkeeper! And a fine one at that. Courtois didn’t honestly have his finest hour this year. He’s slipped out of the “best goalkeeper in the world” discussion that he enjoyed in his Atletico Madrid days with a string of just OK performances for Chelsea and Belgium last season. He’s been a wall this term, though. Back to his best, without a doubt.
52. James Rodriguez (Colombia) – Real Madrid
Get that visa sorted, get out of Madrid, and get yourself some game time already James. Easily the most talented player on this section of our list, he’s criminally low thanks to simply being relegated to a bench warmer at Real Madrid. He simply doesn’t fit the system, and would be far better suited to a move elsewhere in Europe. Rumoured to be going to Chelsea, James will find himself many a suitor when he does go.
51. Jan Oblak (Slovenia) – Atletico Madrid
Atletico fans must’ve been distraught when Courtois didn’t make another loan move there a couple of years back. They’re not distraught anymore, that’s for sure. Jan Oblak has been one of the best shot stoppers in the world, a fine final line of defence for Los Rojoblancos, acquiring several medals in the process. A shame that most of them were runners-up ones, but such is life.
Words by Jack Mace