So we’ve made it to the final 25. No doubt that not everyone will agree who is in the top 25.
25. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon) – Borussia Dortmund
Man can’t stop scoring at the moment, had a brief spell on the bench under Tuchel at the start of this season, but has found his feet again recently, and looks set to light up his home African Cup of Nations tournament. Transfer rumours are aplenty with Lothar Mattheus recently valuing the star at €150m.
24. David Alaba (Austria) – Bayern Munich
Voted Austria’s best footballer for the sixth year in a row. Does that really come as much of a surprise though? The best full back in the world by some distance (and actually the highest defender on this list), David Alaba has slowed down in the second half of the year, but last season, was simply untouchable under Guardiola, showing streaks of versatility and talent.
23. Raheem Sterling (England) – Manchester City
His year can be summed up with three noises in sequence. Eurgh, ew, and PHWOAR. Since Guardiola has come in, Sterling’s stock has increased dramatically, providing potent attacking displays from the wing, most recently a stunning solo effort against Arsenal at the Etihad.
22. Paulo Dybala (Argentina) – Juventus
He’s been christened “Square R2” by Paul Pogba, such is his ability to score insane curling shots. But I’m a FIFA player, so that’s why he doesn’t come higher on the list. That, and while he’s a fantastic young and dynamic forward, he’s not quite of the calibre of the elite just yet.
21. Luka Modric (Croatia) – Real Madrid
Comes behind Ivan this year because his impact for Madrid hasn’t been as crucial to his team’s success as Rakitic was for Barcelona or Croatia. That said, he scored a beauty against Turkey in the Euros, and continues to be ever-present for club and country.
20. Ivan Rakitic (Croatia) – Barcelona
Ivan’s been one of the more consistent performers this year. Great performance at Barcelona, and a nice performance at the Euros alongside Luka Modric, unfortunately not enough to reach the final, sunk by eventual winners Portugal.
19. Mesut Ozil (Germany) – Arsenal
What to say about Mesut, simply genius on the ball. At Arsenal he is allowed just to attack and attack and attack! He’s done that with great style. Providing plenty of assists as always, he’s added a repertoire of goals for club as well, including the Puskas-nominated effort against Ludogrets.
18. Alexis Sanchez (Chile) – Arsenal
It says a lot when Arsene Wegner does everything within his power to prevent a player from going to an international tournament. Not even when Ozil left for the Euros was an eyelid bat. It’s easy to see why. This guy florishes on the wing and now also as a central forward, managing to rack up even more goals. This season half only shows how much potential is in this guy.
17. Karim Benzema (France) – Real Madrid
A regular name in the top 100, although a bit of a injury prone half year, he did shine in the 2nd half of last season. France needed him during the Euros, easily the country’s best striker now.
16. Sergio Aguero (Argentina) – Manchester City
He’s alright, I guess. I don’t know to be honest, the man has top five talent, but also top five injury-proneness and discipline issues. Has already missed 7 games this year due to suspension, however, you know this guy is good for at least 20 plus goals a season without fail. Even if he does miss half the season.
15. Toni Kroos (Germany) – Real Madrid
Where Luka wasn’t key, Toni filled in the chuck, turned the gears and opened the door through many a defence with his splitting passes…terrible analogy, so let’s just say he can pass and shoot quite well. And he rarely misses a game for Real Madrid or Germany, that alone should be testament to his ability.
14. Sergio Busquets (Spain) – Barcelona
Yep. 14th. That high. I’d argue Sergio Busquets is the second most underrated player in the world. Yes, his diving antics are shambolic to say the least, but on his day, no man can pass Sergio. No man. Expect him to fill in the centre back role a la Mascherano in years to come, but appreciate the gift that are his feet for now.
13. Koke (Spain) – Atletico Madrid
From the second most underrated to the most underrated player in the world. Running like he snorted his namesake before matches, Koke has been the engine for a highly successful Atletico side for a few years now, and I feel 2016 was his breakout year with Spain call-ups and a Champions League final proving testament to his Spaniard’s ability.
12. Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium) – Manchester City
KdB has got 50 assists now since leaving Chelsea in 2014. Bloody hell.
11. Eden Hazard (Belgium) – Chelsea
There are two definitions to the word exponential. One you can find on your favourite search engine, the other is the improvement that Eden Hazard has been on this year. He was awful at the start of the year, I won’t deny that for a second, but under Antonio Conte, he’s been the best player in the world so far this season, and I genuinely believe that. The rest of 2016 keeps him this low, but next year, I expect nothing but the best from the best Hazard brother.
10. Robert Lewandowski (Poland) – Bayern Munich
More of the same from ol’ Lewa. The Bayern striker keeps scoring. I still have the video of him scoring 5 in 9 minutes against Wolfsburg in 2015, and while he hasn’t been able to replicate that this year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he scored that many in a game again in 2017. In 9 minutes though, nah.
9. Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina) – Napoli/Juventus
I feel a bit sorry for Napoli. Aside from the massive fee they received for Gonzalo, they’ve lost the best pure finisher in the game today. Yes, he was a tad overweight coming into the start of his Juve career, but it seemed to take him about 4 nanoseconds to acclimatise himself to his new surrounding, freely scoring game after game after game. Just replicate that form for Argentina already, man.
8. Thomas Muller (Germany) – Bayern Munich
The man that gives me hope of making it pro yet. Not because he’s bad, far from it! He’s just the most unorthodox and awkward-looking goalscorer since Peter Crouch last hit 20 in a season. He looks like he’s doing everything wrong, when in all truth he’s the best in the world in his deep-lying, late-charging winger role. Stick back, come in late, bosh, goal. And then the worst celebration ever. Just screaming. What a man.
7. Paul Pogba (France) – Manchester United/Juventus
#POGBACK. #GOODPLAYER. #88M. #HASHTAG. All terrible marketing aside, Paul Pogba had an outstanding year for Juventus, underperformed for France and was still one of their best players, and has had a trademark slow start to a new season. It always happens, he’s always done it, and people get shocked when he suddenly starts playing fantastic. Come on now, he’s got Zlatan in the team, he’s fine.
6. Antoine Griezmann (France) – Atletico Madrid
The best player outside of the best clubs. If you need a man to break the duopoly of Real and Barca, Griezmann is going to be the best bet for years to come…unless he moves to one of them of course, but then he’d be slaughtered. The French basque, one of two on the list (See Laporte at 97) has been in fine form this year. Hasn’t put a foot wrong apart from a couple of scuffs in the final of the Euros and Champions League. Small blemishes on an otherwise perfect year.
5. Gareth Bale (Wales) – Real Madrid
He carried Wales to a European semi-final. I don’t feel like I need to justify this one.
Okay, fine. Gareth Bale’s breakout year for Madrid was definitely this one. The fans have gone from choruses of boos in late 2015 to choruses of praise this year. His early peaks are now just his consistent game, and it feels so odd to say that one of the best players in the world is from Wales…but hey, they were way ahead of England in the Euros, so it shouldn’t be too surprising.
4. Luis Suarez (Uruguay) – Barcelona
He’s stopped biting people, but is sure taking chunks out of defender’s clean sheet bonuses…
I’m so sorry.
3. Lionel Messi (Argentina) – Barcelona
Right, here’s a contentious one. Before I get crucified, let me preface this by saying that Messi is my favourite player. Period. Full stop. Finito. The man’s on a level of personal love only Shunsuke Nakamura can climb up to. But why 3rd? Well, he got 59 goals in 61 games. He’s dipped below the magic goal a game, and without any major trophies to boost his profile…well, I can’t really put him any higher. A class above in all other respects, but he wasn’t the best this year.
2. Neymar (Brazil) – Barcelona
Imagine the scenario. Two years ago, you’re carrying your national team through a home World Cup, when you get injured and watch your side get demolished 7-1 in the next game. 2016 rolls around, and the home crowd wants just one thing. And all the pressure is on your shoulders to deliver that. 70,000 people are chanting your name game after game after game, and it all boils down to a single strike of the ball at the end of a penalty shootout.
This isn’t carrying a team with no expectation to a spirited semi-final defeat. This is carrying one of the global forces in football to the only sporting achievement that country cares about that year. Neymar did that for Brazil in the Olympics this year.
That, and he was really good for Barca, guy’s got 14 assists and 6 goals this season already!
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portgual) – Real Madrid
Come on, this one’s obvious. The winger/assistant manager is easily the best player for 2016, winning EVERYTHING. Literally everything that was on offer to be won, was won by Ronaldo. He even got a hat-trick in the Club World Cup final. Yes, he went off injured in the Euros final, but he carried his team there, and watched as the great meme himself Eder got a wondergoal. What wasn’t shown, however, was the pre-tournament Nike marketing campaign that involved switching bodies.
I’m no conspiracy theorist…but come on.
Words by Jack Mace