Nothing divides the opinion of football fans like a good debate over who the best players in the world are. With that in mind, El Juego is throwing its hat in the ring right from the outset by ranking The 50 Best Football Players on the Planet today. From the goal assassins to the playmaking sorcerers, from the midfield enforcers to the defensive fortresses, from the flying fullbacks to the acrobatic shot stoppers; they’ve all been viewed, analysed, pondered over, quibbled about and rated for your reading delectation. Each and every player on the list has been profiled, explaining precisely how and why they matter so much in the modern game.
The list is bound to stimulate controversy – it’s in the nature of football than an infinity of subjective viewpoints can be taken on the game. I’ve tried to be as objective as possible, assessing each player without bias and according to his strengths in his allocated position, and to his overall contribution on the pitch. It’s impossible to include every top quality player in modern football, or the best players from every league in the world, but I hope the list is at least reflective of the highest standards currently on display in the beautiful game. Ultimately, whether you can find something to agree with in the rankings or consider them bunkum of the highest order, I hope I can provide you with an enjoyable and informative read. From top to bottom, this is El Juego’s list of The 50 Best Football Players on the Planet today.
A word on the criteria: A huge disapora of opinion is inevitable when discussing the world’s most popular sport. To that end, it may be useful to provide a brief clarification of the criteria used to rank these players. I have attempted to provide a snapshot of who the best players are at this very moment of time. Inevitably, the list will quickly become outdated as new players arrive on the scene, previously celebrated superstars fade from form, and fresh victories are won. For the purposes of this list, recent form counts as the primary consideration. So performances in the 2009/10 season (and the World Cup) count for more than peformances of several seasons back. A secondary consideration is the players’ innate ability, consistency at the top level and overall impact on the world game. But without further ado, onto the list:
50. Thomas Muller (GER / Bayern Munich)
An astonishing rise to prominence for a player who, until last season, had spent most of his time with Bayern Munich’s reserve team. It was Luis Van Gaal who recognised that Muller was one to watch out for, and deployed him as a first team regular in a variety of roles for what was the Bavarian giants’ most successful season for many a year. Muller has demonstrated proficiency as an attacking midfielder and a supporting striker, but is probably best utilised as he was by the German national team during the World Cup – as a wide attacker after the fashion of Hristo Stoichkov. With the speed and timing of his runs, his efficient use of the channels and his clinical finishing, Muller became a World Cup sensation. Easily one of the players of the tournament, Muller had fantastic games against Australia, England and Argentina, and won the Golden Boot with 5 goals. Bear in mind that Muller only had 5 senior national team appearances to his name before the World Cup. Muller is still some way from being the finished article – his touch is occasionally awry and he could stand to add more finesse to his game – but he is already well on his way to becoming one of the most exciting attacking players in world football.
49. Mirko Vucinic (MON / AS Roma)
A huge part of the reason why AS Roma pushed Inter Milan so hard in the Serie A title race last season. Vucinic is fast, incisive, an excellent dribbler of the ball and has a capacity for the spectacular. He has become Roma’s equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, bailing the club out on numerous occasions by netting goals from seemingly out of nowhere. Tends to play through the centre, leading the attack, at least whenever Francesco Totti is injured, but he’s arguably even more effective out on the left as a wide attacker or wing forward. Operating in either role, however, the former Serie A Young Player of the Year has developed into one of the most outstanding offensive players in Italian football. Reportedly a transfer target for both Manchester City and Chelsea in the pre-season, Vucinic has opted to place his faith in another Roman title challenge for now. Quite probably up there with the fastest players on a football pitch right now, you’d hear a lot more about Vucinic if he hailed from Brazil rather than Montenegro.
48. Ever Banega (ARG / Valencia CF)
It’s been a rollercoaster ride of a career for the young Argentinean Number 5 thus far. Drafted directly into the Boca Juniors first team after Fernando Gago’s transfer to Real Madrid, Banega made an immediate sensation with his outstanding all action displays in central midfield. Such was the quality of his performances that Valencia were moved to pay €18 million for Banega’s services after just 28 professional appearances. It was perhaps a step too far for the starlet at the tender age of 19. Banega struggled to get to grips with Spanish football in his first two seasons, amid accusations of a difficult attitude behind the scenes and the fallout from a highly embarrassing video sex scandal. Last season it all finally came together for Banega. He was an inspirational performer for Valencia, combining the best qualities of Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso. Banega is a tireless midfield harrier with excellent ability on the ball, adept at both breaking up opposition attacks and playing defence splitting passes. Could stand to add a bit more discipline to his game, but sure to become a key figure for both club and country in the coming years.
47. Franck Ribery (FRA / Bayern Munich)
It has been an astonishing fall from grace over the last year for a player once touted as a world class superstar and coveted by every major club on the planet. Ribery was involved in an under-age sex scandal away from the pitch, as well as being a ringleader and key culprit in what was probably France’s worst ever performing World Cup team. Reports emerging from camp Les Bleus portray Ribery as a small minded bully who puts personal differences ahead of the team. To make matters worse, Ribery was handily outplayed by Arjen Robben last season, who, on the opposite flank for Bayern Munich, demonstrated what quality wing play is really all about. It’s not a very promising direction for the man long tipped to succeed Zinedine Zidane as the French football talisman par excellence. To be fair to Ribery, he has struggled with injuries of late, and when fit, he has offered flashes of the inspirational form we all know he is capable of. When it comes to pure technical wizardry, there are not many in the modern game who could be considered of the same class. Chances are, Ribery will turn a corner this season and win back the kind of plaudits that were once associated with his name. Because with the kind of talent he has, Ribery really belongs among the top ten players in the world.
46. Edin Dzeko (BOS / VfL Wolfsburg)
Something of a late bloomer, Dzeko never really registered on the world football radar until he started banging in the goals for VfL Wolfsburg in their remarkable 2008/09 Bundesliga winning season. Although Wolfsburg came up short in the title race in 2009/10, Dzeko was very nearly as prolific in front of goal, suggesting that he’s rather more than a one season wonder. Dzeko actually played as a midfielder in his early, undistinguished career in the Bosnian domestic league. He was converted to a striker at Czech club FK Teplice, showing the first indication of developing into a finisher of some renown. Dzeko’s momentum built slowly but surely from there, to the point where he is now considered the top striker in the Bundesliga. A host of high profile football clubs have reportedly been on his trail – most notably AC Milan – but Wolfsburg have managed to retain the services of their star attraction for now. Plays with an almost languidly assured style, but possesses a deceptive turn of pace and his height makes him dangerous in the air. Likes to drop a little deeper than strike partner Grafite – who has been very nearly as impressive – and with whom he has an excellent understanding. Together, the duo recall the goal scoring feats Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole in their Manchester United primes.
45. David Silva (SPA / Manchester City)
Follows on in the tradition of sumptuously skilled, if somewhat fragile Canary Islands football players, of which Juan Carlos Valeron was the most prominent example. For all his wealth of talent, Silva remains something of a football nearly man, long touted as a major superstar, but not quite there just yet. There is some doubt whether the switch to Manchester City at the start of the season was really the best move for the player. There’s a lot of competition for places in the City first team right now, and some feel that the Premier League is maybe not the best showcase for Silva’s unique and individualistic talents. None of which makes him any less of a player. Silva has a delicate touch and outstanding close control, and he knows how to thread through a beautifully balanced pass. In fact, one wonders why he isn’t utilised as a Number 10 playmaker, rather than, is often the case, being shunted out to the flanks. Silva has nonetheless been one of the more impressive players for Valencia over the last four seasons, in what has often been a troubled time for the club. A regular starter for Spain in the victorious Euro 2008 campaign, Silva, rather curiously, was only used only sparingly during the World Cup.
44. Jesus Navas (SPA / Sevilla FC)
Another Spanish player who would stroll into pretty much any international starting line-up right now, it’s just that Spain have such a wonderful range of attacking options to choose from. You don’t get many players in the Navas mould these days, that’s to say classic style wingers who just drop their shoulders and run directly at opposition defenders, scaring the life out of them in the process. Navas has good control of the ball, but his greatest attribute is his devastating turn of pace. We haven’t seen too many flank runners with this kind of speed since the early career of Ryan Giggs. And while Navas isn’t especially prolific in front of goal, his crossing and delivery are excellent. With the departure of Daniel Alves, he has become Sevilla FC’s top assist man. The only thing holding Navas back from international superstardom is his fragile mental state. He suffers from chronic homesickness, which results in debilitating anxiety attacks. Navas did play an exciting cameo role during Spain’s World Cup triumph in South Africa, suggesting that he’s beginning to turn the corner in this regard.
43. Antonio Di Natale (ITA / Udinese Calcio)
There are several strikers with a much higher profile in Serie A, but none have been as quietly effective as the little Neapolitan dynamo in recent times. Di Natale has continued his late career vintage level of performance by finishing out last season as Serie A’s top goal scorer. Playing for Udinese, one of the top flight’s poorest performing teams overall at that. Actually, since Di Natale switched from his traditional wing forward position to take up a more central striking role three seasons ago, he has consistently been one of Italy’s most prolific marksmen. Di Natale has yet to slow down a step – his pacey, incisive dribbling ability is as intact as ever – but the player has added more positional cunning to his game, as well as superior finishing acumen. Sadly, Di Natale was not given much of a chance to showcase his excellent form on the international stage, and was used mostly as a bit part player in the World Cup. Marcello Lippi preferred the lacklustre Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino to lead the line, although Di Natale did start in the final game against Slovakia and notched a goal. A much underrated player who only seems to get better with age.
42. Steven Gerrard (ENG / Liverpool FC)
Has followed up a career best season with a career worst one. Gerrard’s inconsistency is not always highlighted by the English football media, but it can be something of a liability; he’s been as culpable as any other player in Liverpool’s underwhelming level of performance over the last year. When on song, Gerrard is a force of inspiration, driving his team onwards with his hard running, all action displays and netting crucial winners with his explosive long range shooting. The trouble is, we just haven’t seen that side of Gerrard all that much recently. There are occasions when his determination to deliver the killer long pass and his fruitless speculative shooting simply serve to cede possession to the opposition. A terrific athlete and – on occasion – a superlative match winner, but Gerrard will have to drastically lift his game this season to regain his status as the Premier League’s Captain Marvel.
41. Kaka (BRA / Real Madrid)
Is Kaka a shot player? The question of his apparently waning ability was first raised a couple of years ago, and the doubting has only become more fretful after a disappointing debut season with Real Madrid. 9 goals and 8 assists in a first season’s work might be an adequate return for most attacking midfielders, but Madrid could perhaps feel entitled to expect rather more from a €70 million signing who not so long ago was widely regarded to be the best player in the world. The biggest concern over Kaka is that his once defining characteristic – his explosive burst of pace on the ball – has apparently deserted him after years of niggling injury problems. Perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom. Kaka is still an excellent passer of the ball, he still applies himself to games with effort and intelligence, and he can finish off chances from short or long range. He is still an integral figure in the Brazilian national team, and if Madrid lose patience with him, there will be no shortage of suitors for his services. But whether Kaka can get back to the same kind of level that characterised his best 3 or 4 seasons with Milan is another question. Once your pace starts to go, it doesn’t come back. Still an effective player, but Kaka will need to reinvent his style if he wants to reclaim a place among the world elite.
* Rankings continued in next post up…