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Goal 50 Best players in the world

Journalists from across Goal’s 37 editions voted in the 10th annual award for the world’s 50 best footballers

 

50. Thomas Lemar

After a promising first season at Monaco, following his arrival from Caen in the summer of 2015, Thomas Lemar has established himself as one of the most exciting wingers in the world over the past 12 months.

The France international netted nine times during his club’s shock Ligue 1 title triumph, with his fine form prompting Arsenal to make a €100 million bid for his services on deadline day. That Monaco turned the offer down illustrates just how highly they value the Goal 50 newcomer.

49. Bas Dost

One of the signings of last season, Bas Dost netted a staggering 34 goals in just 31 games for Sporting CP to finish as top scorer in the Primeira Liga, after joining from Wolfsburg for just €11m in the summer of 2016.

As a result, the Netherlands international, who is now being linked with a January move to Everton, has been justly rewarded with a first-ever appearance in the Goal 50.

48. Naby Keita

One of the rapidly rising stars of world football, Goal 50 newcomer Naby Keita played a pivotal role in RB Leipzig sensationally finishing second in the German Bundesliga, with the all-action midfielder racking up eight goals and seven assists.

Indeed, so desperate were Liverpool to get their hands on the 22-year-old Guinea international that they ultimately agreed to pay a hefty premium on top of a €70m buy-out clause just to sign him next year!

47. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may have ultimately fallen out of favour with manager Antonio Conte, resulting in a return to Atletico Madrid, but the fiery striker’s contribution to Chelsea’s 2016-17 Premier League title triumph cannot be overlooked.

The Spain international led the Blues attack in brutally effective fashion, scoring 20 times in the league total, and fully deserves what is his third appearance in the Goal 50.

46. David de Gea

As arguably the most consistently brilliant goalkeeper of the past five years, David de Gea is sometimes under-valued, his excellence almost taken for granted at this stage.

However, this is a third Goal 50 selection in a row for the Manchester United No.1, who kept 14 clean sheets in the Premier League last season and conceded just 29 times in 35 games.

 

45. Mario Mandzukic

It should not be forgotten that Juventus struggled during the first half of the 2016-17 season. It was only after a switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation in January – which pushed Mario Mandzukic onto the left wing – that the Italian champions took flight.

The Croatia international proved himself to be the ultimate team player, equally brilliant in attack and defence as Juve won a domestic double, while he also scored in both the semis and final of the Champions League.

44. Cesar Azpilicueta

Whether deployed at right-back or centre-half, Cesar Azpilicueta has always been one of Chelsea’s most reliable performers and he was impeccable during last season’s Premier League success, arguably the standout defender in the English top flight.

The 28-year-old is even showcasing his attacking prowess this term, having formed an excellent understanding with new signing and fellow Spain international Alvaro Morata, and has been rightly rewarded with a Goal 50 debut.

43. Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho has been a revelation since joining Liverpool from Inter in 2013 but he has gone to another level over the past 12 months, as underlined by Barcelona’s repeated – but ultimately futile – attempts to sign him during the summer.

The attacking midfielder helped Liverpool secure a return to the Champions League with a career-best haul of 13 league goals last season, becoming the highest-scoring Brazilian in Premier League history in the process.

42. Benjamin Mendy

Benjamin Mendy’s rapid development into one of the best left-backs in the world is exemplified by the fact that a year after he joined Monaco from Marseille for €13m, Manchester City paid €57.5m to take him to the Etihad.

The France international suffered what is likely to prove a season-ending injury when he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in September but even by then he had already done enough to justify his inclusion in the Goal 50 for the first time, with 11 assists in all competitions last season for Ligue 1 winners Monaco.

41. Fabinho

Once a promising right-back but now an even better defensive midfielder, Fabinho played a pivotal part in Monaco’s Ligue 1 triumph, as well as their run to the semi-finals of the Champions League.

A tall, dynamic yet composed player, the 24-year-old Brazilian has long been linked with Manchester United but there is now talk of PSG and Juventus making a move for the Goal 50 debutant in January.

40. Gonzalo Higuain

There was huge controversy – and anger – when Juventus shelled out a record €90m to sign Gonzalo Higuain from bitter rivals Napoli but the Argentine has taken little time to start paying back the hefty price-tag.

He scored 32 goals in all competitions for Juve as they won the double, striking five times in the Champions League as the Italians fell at the final hurdle. This included a crucial double in the 2-0 semi-final first leg win at Monaco.

39. Alex Sandro

Alex Sandro makes his first-ever appearance in the Goal 50 following a season in which he developed into arguably the second best left-back on the planet after Real Madrid’s Marcelo.

His attacking bursts forward were a crucial part of Juventus’ play as they narrowly missed out on a historic treble and, such is his quality, Juventus had to reject a €70m summer offer from Chelsea for his services.

38. Marco Asensio

There is a reason why the prospect of offloading Gareth Bale does not perturb Real Madrid fans and the reason is Marco Asensio, who is making the first of no doubt many Goal 50 picks.

The 21-year-old is one of the most exciting players to emerge in Spain in years and, after contributing 10 goals to the Blancos cause last season, he kicked off the current campaign in sensational fashion with two thumping strikes in the Supercopa success over Barcelona.

37. Dele Alli

Dele Alli was a certainty to retain his PFA Young Player of the Year Award, after following up his breakout season in 2015-16 with an even more impressive campaign in which he netted 18 times in the Premier League.

In fact, the only surprise was that he wasn’t in contention for the senior prize, given how pivotal the 21-year-old attacking midfielder’s performances were to Tottenham finishing as runners-up in the Premier League.

36. Manuel Neuer

Manuel Neuer has endured plenty of frustration over the past year, after being hit with a succession of injury setbacks, but, when fit, he again proved himself the greatest exponent of the sweeper-keeper role in the game today.

The Germany international was again instrumental for Bayern Munich, whom he helped win the Bundesliga again, and thus makes the Goal 50 for the fifth year in a row – a remarkable achievement for a goalkeeper in the forward-obsessed modern era.

35. Christian Eriksen

One of the most under-appreciated footballers in the game today, Christian Eriksen has been recognised with a first ever appearance in the Goal 50.

As well as being the midfield mastermind behind Tottenham’s second-place finish in the Premier League – 15 assists and eight goals – the Denmark international also secured his country a World Cup play-off place by scoring in six consecutive group games.

34. Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku always maintained that he was good enough to play for one of the game’s elite – and he has now proven that emphatically in 2017.

After ending his final season at Everton with 25 goals, the Belgium wasted little time justifying his £75m transfer fee to Manchester United by bagging seven goals in his first seven Premier League appearances for the Premier League outfit.

33. Dani Carvajal

Dani Carvajal is by no means the biggest name at Real Madrid but his importance to the European champions’ starting line-up should not be overlooked.

As well as being defensively excellent, the Spain international contributed 12 assists in all competitions last season, including five in just nine Champions League outings, and it was no surprise to see the 25-year-old’s Blancos contract extended until 2022.

32. Sadio Mane

There were even some Liverpool fans who doubted the wisdom of the club’s decision to pay Southampton €41m for Sadio Mane in the summer of 2016 but the sceptics quickly became believers, with the Senegal international almost immediately becoming one of Jurgen Klopp’s most important players.

The lightning-quick winger scored 13 times in his first season at Anfield, including the winner in a Merseyside derby, to earn the Reds an overdue return to the Champions League and himself a second successive appearance in the Goal 50.

31. Paul Pogba

Living up to a €105m price tag was always going to prove impossible for Paul Pogba but the Manchester United midfielder nonetheless enjoyed a successful return to Old Trafford from Juventus.

The France midfielder racked up nine goals and six assists in all competitions last season, helping United claim both the League Cup and Europa League, with the 24-year-old netting in the final of the latter against Ajax in Solna.

30. Radamel Falcao

Radamel Falcao’s career at the highest level appeared over after disastrous loan spells at Manchester United and Chelsea, but he has rediscovered his very best form since returning to Monaco last year.

The Colombian hit 21 goals in just 29 outings during the principality club’s remarkable Ligue 1 triumph, securing a fourth Goal 50 appearance in the process – but a first since 2013.

29. Bernardo Silva

A wonderful throwback to an era in which players relied on technique rather than physique, Bernardo Silva was the man who orchestrated Monaco’s shock Ligue 1 success, with nine assists (not to mention eight goals).

The 23-year-old’s silky skills caught the attention of football purists everywhere so it was no surprise that Pep Guardiola persuaded Manchester City to spend €50m on the Portuguese playmaker during the summer.

28. David Luiz

Chelsea’s decision to re-sign David Luiz for £34m last year raised eyebrows among many English football fans, who had come to regard the ball-playing centre-half as a defensive liability.

However, Blues boss Antonio Conte knew exactly what he was doing and put the Brazilian in the middle of a back three that brought the very best out of Luiz, who proved a key factor in the west London club’s title win.

27. Alexis Sanchez

It’s easy to understand why Arsenal fought so hard for so long to resist Manchester City’s interest in Alexis Sanchez, who carried the Gunners’ attacking threat for almost all of last season.

Despite playing in a side that only managed to finish fifth in the Premier League, the Chile international was outstanding, earning a nomination for PFA Player of the Year thanks to 24 goals and 11 assists, before then turning in a man of the match-winning display in the FA Cup final win over Chelsea.

26. Casemiro

The likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos may get all the plaudits for Real Madrid’s midfield mastery but Casemiro provides the platform on which his side’s domination is so often based.

As well as providing an excellent screen for the Blancos back four, the Brazilian also betrayed a useful habit for scoring important goals last term, most notably the strike which put Zinedine Zidane’s men back on track in their Champions League final win over Juventus.

25. Dries Mertens

Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri has pointed out that the only disappointing thing about Dries Mertens’ remarkable transformation into a No.9 is that nobody realised sooner that the Belgian winger had the makings of a world-class centre-forward.

Mertens has been a revelation since being moved into the middle in October 2016 due to an injury to Arkadiusz Milik, scoring 26 times in the 29 Serie A appearances that followed his positional change for a grand total of 28 goals from 35 games by the season’s end.

24. Ousmane Dembele

Ousmane Dembele’s rise to superstardom can only be described as meteoric, with the Frenchman having secured a €105m move to Barcelona (with a potential €40m in add-ons) just a year after joining Borussia Dortmund for only €15m.

The fee may have been absurd but the 20-year-old winger was undeniably sensational in his debut season at Signal Iduna Park, racking up six goals and 13 assists to claim the Bundesliga Rookie of the Year award, as well as turning in a man of the match-winning display in BVB’s DFB-Pokal final win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

23. Antoine Griezmann

A third consecutive appearance in the Goal 50 for Antoine Griezmann, who continues to make light of the heavy burden of carrying Atletico Madrid’s attacking threat almost all on his own.

The 26-year-old Manchester United target, who opted to stay at the Vicente Calderon after learning of Atleti’s transfer ban, racked up 26 goals in all competitions last season, while the fleet-footed forward also struck four times in France’s successful qualification campaign for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

22. Edinson Cavani

Edinson Cavani enjoyed the most prolific season of his career after finally being given centre stage at Paris Saint-Germain following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure for Manchester United.

The Uruguay international, who had been shunted out to the wing to accommodate the Swedish striker, hit a whopping 49 goals in just 50 games in all competitions last season, including eight in the Champions League, and also helped his country qualify for Russia 2018.

21. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to defy the ravages of time, with the Swedish striker racking up a ninth Goal 50 appearance – only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have made more – thanks to a fantastic first season with Manchester United.

Indeed, even though his campaign was cruelly ended by injury, the 36-year-old had already done enough – 28 goals, including the winner in the League Cup final – to convince Jose Mourinho to offer him a second year at Old Trafford when it became clear that the evergreen Ibrahimovic would make a rapid return from knee ligament damage.

20. Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez may have failed to hit the heights of 2016, when he finished second in what was his sixth appearance in the past seven editions of the Goal 50, but the Barcelona and Uruguay ace still scored freely for club and country last season.

The 30-year-old bagged 37 goals in all competitions for the Blaugrana alone, while he also netted twice as the Celeste clinched their place in the 2018 World Cup with a 4-2 win over Bolivia.

19. Robert Lewandowski

Bayern Munich may have suffered a collective dip in form during the past year but Robert Lewandowski was completely unaffected, with the Pole rightfully recognised for another excellent year with a sixth Goal 50 selection.

The forward struck 30 times in just 33 appearances during the Bavarians’ Bundesliga title-winning campaign before pipping Cristiano Ronaldo in the race to finish top scorer in the European section of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, with 16 goals.

18. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

One of the absurdities of a summer transfer market in which millions were splashed on average players was that not one of Europe’s elite swooped for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who makes a second consecutive appearance in the top 20 of the Goal 50.

The Borussia Dortmund striker pulled off the impressive feat of outscoring Lewandowski to finish top of the scoring charts in the Bundesliga, with 31 goals in just 32 games, before then bagging the winner in the DFB-Pokal final win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

17. Harry Kane

Once dismissed as a one-season wonder, Tottenham Hotspur hotshot Harry Kane has now proven himself one of the best strikers in the world after scoring more than 20 goals in the Premier League for the third consecutive year.

Last season was the striker’s best yet, with the England international netting 29 times in just 30 games, and with Kane having maintained his fine form this term, there is now talk of Real Madrid making a move for the 24-year-old.

16. Thiago Alcantara

Carlo Ancelotti may have made a lot of errors during his time in charge of Bayern Munich but his decision to move Thiago Alcantara further forward paid off spectacularly.

The injury-plagued defensive midfielder enjoyed the best season of his career to date after being pushed into a trequartista role, as underlined by the fact that he made more passes in the opposition half than any other player in the Bundesliga last term (1,393) and that a staggering 87.3 per cent of them (a league high) were successful.

15. Leonardo Bonucci

Leonardo Bonucci may have made a less than impressive start to his AC Milan career but the defender was at his majestic best during a stellar 2016-17 campaign for former club Juventus.

As well as serving as a deep-lying playmaker thanks to his pin-point passing, the Italy international also popped up with five goals, including the crucial second in the Coppa Italia final win over Lazio, while he was once again the key performer in a backline that shut out Barcelona on the Bianconeri’s run to the Champions League final.

14. Dani Alves

Barcelona made arguably the biggest transfer mistake in their history allowing Dani Alves – who is making his sixth appearance in the Goal 50 – to leave on a free last summer and join Juventus.

The Brazilian right-back played a pivotal role in the Bianconeri’s domestic double, netting the opening goal in the Coppa Italia final win, as well as all-but-deciding the Champions League semi-final clash with Monaco in the Old Lady’s favour with one goal and three assists across the two legs.

13. Isco

The mercurial and silky-skilled Isco was so good for Real Madrid during the second half of last season that even if Gareth Bale had been fully fit for the Champions League final, the Welshman would never have started.

Offered a regular run of games because of the winger’s persistent injury problems, Isco excelled, scoring crucial goals in the Liga title run-in, most notably against Sporting Gijon, and the Champions League semi-final against Atletico, while the way he recently humiliated Italy midfielder Marco Verratti underlined that he will be Spain’s key man at the World Cup next year.

12. Eden Hazard

After being revived by Chelsea caretaker boss Guus Hiddink at the tail end of a trying 2015-16 campaign, Eden Hazard was restored to his scintillating best under new boss Antonio Conte last season, inspiring the Blues to Premier League glory.

The brilliant Belgium winger enjoyed the most prolific league season of his time in England to date, netting 16 times and accumulating five assists to earn a well-deserved fifth appearance in the Goal 50, and his second-highest finish, after coming home fifth in 2015.

11. Marcelo

If anyone personifies the importance of full-backs in the modern game, it is Marcelo, who proved integral to Real Madrid’s league and Champions League double last season.

The Brazilian created 10 goals in La Liga alone, including four for Cristiano Ronaldo, thus underlining the pair’s almost telepathic understanding, while he also netted a crucial winner against Valencia during the title run-in.

10. Toni Kroos

Still only 27, Toni Kroos continues to prove one of the greatest bargains in the history of the game, a midfield metronome of rare quality honed under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich and who was signed by Real Madrid at a cost of just €25m.

Last season, the 2014 World Cup winner became the first German to win the Champions League three times, after once again teaming up with Luka Modric and Casemiro to fantastic effect to see off Juventus in the tournament decider.

Kroos was just as influential in Madrid’s Liga success, racking up 12 assists, as well as netting vital goals during the business end of the season, against Sevilla and Celta Vigo.

9. Paulo Dybala

Long described as the heir to Lionel Messi for Argentina, Paulo Dybala truly burst onto the world scene when he outshone his compatriot during Juventus’ 3-0 dismantling of Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final matches.

Dybala scored two stunning goals and ran Barca’s defence ragged with his skill, subtlety and magic wand of a left foot as Juve put their opponents to the sword in Turin.

A potential future winner of the Goal 50, ‘La Joya’ forged a lethal partnership with Gonzalo Higuain as the Bianconeri won the Scudetto and Coppa Italia and was a key figure as they narrowly missed out on a treble after losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

8. N’Golo Kante

There is no greater testament to N’Golo Kante’s talent and influence than the fact that he has been in England for two years and has yet to end a season without a Premier League winner’s medal around his neck.

Indeed, Chelsea could not believe their luck that Leicester requested just £32m for the foundation on which their historic title success was built and Kante quickly proved a steal with a string of destructive performances that allowed Eden Hazard and Co. to express themselves without having to worry about any defensive work.

It was only right that the 26-year-old one-man midfield completed a clean sweep of individual accolades at the end of the season by being named Player of the Year by the PFA, FWA and Premier League.

7. Kylian Mbappe

It had been obvious since Kylian Mbappe replaced Thierry Henry as Monaco’s youngest ever player (December 2015) and youngest ever goalscorer (February 2016) that he was a special talent.

Just how special, though, only became evident this year, as the fearless, jet-propelled teenager inspired Monaco to their first Ligue 1 title triumph in 17 years, with 15 goals and 11 assists, as well as netting six goals in his first six appearances of the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Louis Saha says the new Paris Saint-Germain striker is better than Henry at 18, while Ludovic Giuly insists he’s more mature than Messi at the same age. But perhaps Andrea Barzagli put it best when he pointed out that comparisons are irrelevant, enthusing, « I’ve never seen anyone like Mbappe before! »

6. Neymar

A second consecutive sixth-placed finish in the Goal 50 and a seventh appearance in a row for Neymar, who this year became the world’s most expensive player when Paris Saint-Germain met the €222m buy-out clause in his Barcelona contract.

The fee is, of course, ludicrous but it is easy to understand why the Qatari-owned club were willing to go all out to sign the Brazil international, given he orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history with his heroics for Barca in last season’s Champions League last-16 win over PSG.

Furthermore, after forming one of the best attacking triumvirates the game has ever seen at Camp Nou, he now looks set to do likewise at PSG, having immediately established a prolific partnership with Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani at the Parc des Princes.

5. Sergio Ramos

Few defenders in history have ever been as influential at both ends of the pitch as Sergio Ramos, who finished a season in which he netted a career-high 10 goals in all competitions by becoming the first player to lead Real Madrid to a Liga and European Cup double since Juan Alonso in 1958.

As well as securing a crucial Clasico draw for Real Madrid at Barcelona during their 40-match unbeaten run, the Spain international also bagged important goals against Real Betis in La Liga, and Napoli in the Champions League.

At 31, Ramos arguably playing as well as ever, a claim supported by the fact that fifth place represents his best-ever finish in the Goal 50, which he is now gracing for a seventh time – a record for a defender.   

4. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi again misses out on a top-three finish in the Goal 50 but this was another sensational year for the diminutive No.10, at least from an individual perspective.

Nobody has scored more goals in 2017 than the Barcelona and Argentina forward, who also produced two of the greatest solo performances of the year after inspiring his club to a stunning victory over Real Madrid with two goals at the Santiago Bernabeu, and single-handedly qualifying his country for the 2018 World Cup with a hat-trick against Ecuador in Quito.

A difficult season at Camp Nou only yielded one team trophy, the Copa del Rey, but Messi finished as not only the top scorer in that particular tournament (five), he also headed up the Primera Division charts, with his 37 goals (in just 34 games!) winning him the Golden Shoe.

3. Luka Modric

Andriy Shevchenko recently described Luka Modric as « one of the greatest midfielders ever » and it’s difficult to disagree with the AC Milan legend’s appraisal.

Signed by Real Madrid in 2012 for what now looks like a paltry €30m, the Croatia international has developed into one of the finest playmakers of the modern era, a player so important to the Blancos that they are simply not the same team without the 32-year-old in the starting line-up.

Modric’s influence was thrillingly exemplified in the Champions League final, a game which he took complete control of after the interval, turning a 1-1 half-time scoreline into a 4-1 rout by the time the full-time whistle blew.

A podium place in the Goal 50 is, therefore, just reward for a player who seems to be operating on a different intellectual plane to almost everyone else on the pitch.

2. Gianluigi Buffon

Gianluigi Buffon earned his highest-ever finish in the history of the Goal 50 following arguably the best club season of his legendary career in 2016-17.

The Bianconeri captain was his side’s standout performer as the Bianconeri won yet another domestic double and a sixth straight Scudetto.

Despite turning 39 in January, the Italy record cap-holder defied the ravages of time to lead Juve to a second Champions League final in three years.

He let in just three goals on Juve’s road to Cardiff and went an incredible 600 minutes without conceding during the competition, a remarkable run that took in one of the most memorable games of his entire career when he saved a penalty from Alexandre Lacazette during a 1-0 win at Lyon.

Sadly for Buffon, he failed to win the one major honour that has eluded him in his career as Juventus lost to Madrid in the final – but he can console himself with second place in the Goal 50.   

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

A pure goalscoring machine, Cristiano Ronaldo has claimed top spot in the Goal 50 for the second consecutive year, making it a record five triumphs in total for the Portuguese superstar.

The 32-year-old netted 25 times in 29 appearances during Real’s La Liga-winning campaign – their first since 2012 – but, as ever, it was on the club game’s grandest stage where he really underlined his class.

The former Manchester United winger scored back-to-back hat-tricks in the Champions League knockout stage, against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, before then winning the trophy for Madrid with two goals in the final against Juventus.

That means that next year Real will be going for a third consecutive European Cup triumph while Ronaldo will be going for a third consecutive Goal 50 triumph – would you really back against either?

Goal.com

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