FourFourTwo finally have revealed their top-10 within their annual project ‘100 Best Football Players in the World’
No.10, Edinson Cavani
If there’s one Ligue 1 player who has every right to squint, cock his ear towards the once-baying masses and offer a sardonic: “You were saying?” in their general direction, it’s Edinson Cavani.
Written off as second-rate by some for supposedly missing too many chances, the Uruguay centre-forward has had the last laugh – and it’s been loud, long and vengeful. He was ridiculed for having square feet and an alleged habit of skewing sitters wide of the target, but the 30-year-old hit back by producing a year-long streak of dazzling form to emerge as PSG’s single most important player of the post-Zlatan era (ahead even of Neymar, for now).
Cavani turns 31 in February, yet his power and fitness levels are so impressive that you suspect he can continue performing at this standard for another three or four years. Having had to toil away as a wide attacker over several seasons in order to accommodate Ibrahimovic’s ego and talents, PSG’s No.9 shirt is one he won’t give up easily.
Then there’s the small matter of next summer’s World Cup in Russia. Cavani will be confident of filling his boots against the host nation, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the group stages. Are we looking at a future World Cup Golden Boot winner? Given the shape Cavani’s in, don’t bet against it.
No.9, Sergio Aguero
If 2012 was the year that Sergio Aguero cemented his place in Manchester City history on the back of a single moment, 2017 was the year he made sure he’ll be remembered for his other achievements too.
It’s been no easy task, not least due to the background presence of Gabriel Jesus; seven years Aguero’s junior, yet able to do all of the above with unsettling ease. For the first time since moving to City, Aguero has found himself with a genuine competitor for the centre-forward spot. But the Argentine’s response has been emphatic.
At heart, though, Aguero remains a pure goalscorer, attested to by the fact that his minutes-to-goal ratio at City is shorter than that of Shearer, Suarez, Van Nistelrooy, Henry or Kane – the best, indeed, in Premier League history.
At 29, Aguero is approaching the end of his prime. With 132 goals and a couple of title winners’ medals to his name, he is well-fed on the meat and drink of league achievements.
No.8, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
It is a remarkable feat to outscore Robert Lewandowski in the Bundesliga. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang managed it last season. Quite simply, the Borussia Dortmund striker was the most lethal predator in Germany last term.
Disciplinary issues have made things worse. In November, Aubameyang was suspended by his own club for Dortmund’s game at Stuttgart – a year on from exactly the same thing happening under Thomas Tuchel. According to German media, Aubameyang considers himself “untouchable” – and that’s problematic.
In years gone by, Aubameyang was known for his unselfishness; always ready to provide assists and share the plaudits. Apparently, that’s up for debate now, however, and the striker might be feeling disappointed that the club refused to sell him. Joining Real Madrid had always been his dream – he even promised his grandfather that he would play in the famous white shirt – but a move never materialised. With aspirations unfulfilled, motivation is lower and everyone suffers.
Perhaps, then, it’s just a change of scenery holding Aubameyang back from even more. Clearly, he is a sensational player – and shouldn’t be short of serious offers this time around. Dortmund will be reluctantly listening.
No.7, N’Golo Kante
That N’Golo Kante this year became the first player since Eric Cantona to win successive league titles in England with different clubs is not mere coincidence. He may be a midfield destroyer rather than a fiery playmaker, but much like his countryman two-and-a-half decades earlier, Kante is a player whose mere presence imbues an entire team with drive, cunning and unstinting mental resilience.
Of course, to label Kante as a midfield destroyer is to do grave injustice to a footballer with perhaps the most complete skill set since peak-era Roy Keane. But that isn’t to say his talents as a holding player are anything short of staggering: the Frenchman allies a superhuman lung capacity with a reading of the game that borders on the professorial.
In the tribalist and wildly opinionated world of the Premier League, there are very few things that players, pundits and fans and agree on. It is telling, then, that a consensus was reached this summer when each party decided on the best of the division’s 500 or so players: Kante collected the Players’ Player of the Year, the PFA Premier League Player of the Season and the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year.
It was ample reward for a man who – if he isn’t there already – is galloping tirelessly down the path to footballing greatness.
No.6, Luka Modric
There’s a debate that rages these days at Real Madrid these days – and it’s credit to Luka Modric that it even exists. Just who is the club’s most important player? The Croatian midfielder has done the unthinkable and provided a legitimate answer beyond Cristiano Ronaldo.
Modric has well and truly established himself as a midfielder among the elite, and for many leads them all. It’s justified when you consider just how good the former Spurs man has been in 2017 too, his control and dominance in midfield having gently guided Real Madrid to a phenomenal pair of La Liga and Champions League titles.
“Tranquility. That’s what he gives the team when he’s playing well. He makes the rest play,” Zidane enthused this season. Modric, that soothing, intelligent presence – but also fearless – is now the complete midfielder; the standard-bearer in his position.
His primary role is taking the ball from defence, filtering it through midfield and into attack. Without this funnel that he provides, Madrid simply wouldn’t function properly. And yet, despite the pressure that his role brings, he carries out his duties with little fuss and extreme class.
It’s incredible to think some doubted his ability to step up at Real Madrid once upon a time.
No.5, Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne is the best passer in world football. The Belgian maestro always has been superb as far as his passing range is concerned.
Some players are outrageously gifted technically, some are very clever, but the combination of those qualities is much rarer. It makes De Bruyne a one-of-a-kind artist, and his importance to City is colossal.
But even that doesn’t do him justice. The Belgian can score as well, add decent defensive qualities, tactical discipline and stunning awareness, and what you have is a perfect midfielder. That is how Guardiola rates the Belgian, who at the age of 26 can become even better.
We’re probably witnessing the development of a player who will be considered one of the greatest in history when he retires.
No.4, Robert Lewandowski
The Pole is just 29, and this is his eighth season in Germany, but he’s already the second-highest foreign scorer in Bundesliga history and No.11 in the all-time rankings. As ar as his scoring ratio is concerned, only the legendary, incomparable Gerd Muller beats Lewandowski in the top 50 Bundesliga scorers of all time. The Pole averages 0.68 goals per game, even taking into account his very first season on the Borussia Dortmund bench in 2010/11.
In his homeland, 2017 was an important year for Lewandowski. He overtook the legendary Grzegorz Lato and Wlodzimierz Lubanski for goals, and is now the top scorer in Polish history with 51 goals in 91 caps.
Could he be on his way to immortality in 2018? The best out-and-out striker in the world, his goals helped Poland earn a seeding spot for Russia 2018, and a huge World Cup could lead him to the very top of this list next year.
So, was he worth the outlay? It’s too early to say for sure whether the €222 million PSG forked out for the one-man brand and all-round footballing genius will turn out to be money well spent. Yet during his first four months in the French capital, Neymar has set about repaying the massive investment in him impressively.
Thanks in no small part to Neymar, PSG have breezed through the 2017/18 group stages in magnificent style. Right now, Manchester City are the only team on the continent that can claim to play the game as bewitchingly.
With a World Cup in sight, the stage is set for 2018 to be even more rewarding for a player looking readier than ever to break the Ronaldo-Messi duopoly.
No.2, Cristiano Ronaldo
There have been two Cristiano Ronaldos this year. One has been the majestic Champions League version, bombarding rivals with towering headers and first-time shots, firing Real Madrid to their second straight European title. Then there’s the league version, who has squandered sitters and hit row Z to let Barcelona race clear.
Given that titles are handed out in May and June, there can be no doubt that Ronaldo has had a fine year overall. Ronaldo turned into superman when the Champions League knockout stages then came around, lashing five past Bayern Munich, three past Atletico Madrid and two past Juventus in the final.
As the Portuguese nears his 33rd birthday, Madrid will back him to keep scoring, having handed him a contract until 2021. And if there is one athlete with the willpower to defy his own ageing process, it’s him. What says the most about the standards he has set is perhaps that, even in a year where he has struggled at times, he has still picked up his fifth Ballon d’Or.
No.1, Lionel Messi
Nobody in Europe’s big five leagues has scored more goals in 2017. Nobody in La Liga has managed more assists, chances created, dribbles or key passes. Since summer he has almost single-handedly dragged a Barça side in crisis to the La Liga summit, and his country to the World Cup. He is the best player in the world…
Just when Barça seemed to lag behind, Lionel Messi dragged them back in front.The old ‘MSN’ forward trio had gone, they declared. What Barça now relied on was ‘MMM’: Messi, Messi, Messi.
Messi also had time to send Argentina to the World Cup, salvaging a qualifying campaign beset by chaos and ineptitude by sealing the deal with a typically stunning hat-trick in Ecuador.
At 30, he shows no signs of slowing down. That is not only good news for his club and country, but for all of us who so enjoy seeing him play.
Fair enough? What is your top?