The results are in and the votes have been counted. It’s time to name 2011′s Top 50 players in the world! With thanks to everyone who voted, it’s been another great collaboration of debate, writing and thought as we put together our second list of the very best. This year’s final list is a very strong portrayal of 2011, with Manchester City beginning to emerge at the forefront of world football, the everlasting foothold that Barcelona have on the club game… and that Gareth Bale is still very high in people’s regard! I feel this year’s list is much more solid than our inaugural feature, mainly thanks to the rather large increase in voting numbers. So let’s get on with it, here is part one of the top 50 players in the world – starting with 50 down as far as 41 …
View the longlist and voting process here.
50 Ezequiel Lavezzi
Napoli & Argentina (►New Entry – 151 points)
Many would associate Napoli’s recent resurgence in the Serie A with Edinson Cavani, the Uruguayan goalscorer who might be appearing further up the Top 50 list, but just as important to the Partenopei’s resurgence back to relevancy in Italian football has been Ezequiel Lavezzi. The Argentinean forward has been a vital component to the goalscoring exploits of his teammate, with his hassling of defences and incisive passing in the final third. Lavezzi’s goalscoring record over the past twelve months hasn’t been standout for a striker, but voters clearly see enough in his footballing ability to warrant a place in the Top 50.
Last season, Napoli finished third – qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since the early 90s. This year, however, Napoli have stumbled slightly as they juggle domestic and European football, but Lavezzi has been a mainstay in the side – playing twenty times. [Kevin Coleman]
49 Thomas Müller
Bayern Munich & Germany (▼19th – 158 points)
Thomas Müller is one of Bundesliga star players. Since his breakthrough in 2009, the 22-year-old German has a Bundesliga title, a domestic cup win, a Champions League final, 25 international caps, as well as a World Cup Golden Boot and a third placed finish at the World Cup to his name.
Even though Müller has only scored two goals in Bundesliga so far, the offensive midfielder is one of Bayern München’s key players. His shier game intelligence plays an important role in the Bundsliga giant’s side, creating momentum with intelligent runs or picking out clever passes to create moments of surprise is one of Müllers main assets.
Usually playing as number 10 behind Mario Gomez, he had to replace Arjen Robben on the right flank for the most of the season, but eleven assists in all competitions prove that Müller knows what’s going on around him. His quick thinking makes him irreplaceable for Bayern and Germany. [Stefan Buczko]
48 Joe Hart
Manchester City & England (►New Entry – 162 points)
Many be will be wondering whether or not Joe Hart warrants a place as one of the top 50 players of the past year. Perhaps there was some national bias on behalf of the English voters, but nonetheless it’s difficult to take any credit away from the 24-year-old. Despite all the millions being spent in Manchester, it’s the former Shrewsbury Town ‘keeper – who cost a meagre £1,500,000 – who is probably the first name on Roberto Mancini’s team list. Last year, Hart amassed a Premier League high of 18 clean sheets. So far this year he’s not had to pick a ball out of the goal nine times, along with making 63 saves in his 21 appearances.
On the international front, Joe Hart has yet to experience a loss as a starter in the English side. He’s very much the number one going into the Euro 2012 campaign, after years of uncertainty and rotation in the position. Although there may be other players who’ve had a 2011 more deserving of a Top 50 place, Hart’s still had an excellent year. Expect his spot to be less debatable in future years. [KC]
Porto & Brazil (►New Entry – 183 points)
Givanildo Vierira de Souza, the man you know as ‘Hulk’, has not had the standard career path. Bouncing around different clubs as a youth player and loaned around Japan before finally settling at Porto. As his nickname suggests, power is one of his many attributes, and allayed to serious pace it has seen him score plenty of goals. He bagged them at a rate of 0.66 per game in Japan (mostly between Consadole Sapporo and Tokyo Verdy) and though that slowed to 0.52 per game once he joined Porto, he has assisted nearly as many, making him about the perfect complete modern forward. Many have tried to tempt Hulk away from Porto in the last eighteen months, and should he eventually leave, the Portuguese side can probably expect a profit on the€20million they have paid for a player who sits comfortably in the Top 50.
Although the striker’s international career has yet to kick-start, Hulk has been phenomenal in the Primeira Liga – scoring 48 goals in the past season and a half, whilst contributing 30 assists. In 2011, Hulk become a European champion as Porto beat league rivals SC Braga in the Europa League final. [Simon Furnivall]
46 Franck Ribery
Bayern Munich & France (►New Entry – 186 points)
Franck Ribery is currently producing some of the best football of his career, this is largely due to the freedom Jupp Heynckes has given him this season. The French winger was held back under Louis Van Gall but with a new manager at the helm, Ribery has been putting his pace and skill to devastating effect in the Bundesliga this season.
Ribery has featured in all 17 Bundesliga games for Bayern this season and has scored a total of ten goals in all competitions. Ribery has also created 77 chances for the team and has a record of eleven assists.
Bayern are currently three points clear at the top of the league and cruised through the group stages of the Champions league, however this could not have been achieved without their prized asset Ribery. Playing some of the best football of his career and enjoying every minute of it, Franck Ribery is showing everyone why he is one of the best footballers in the world. [Louis John McCaffrey]
45 Juan Mata
Chelsea & Spain (►New Entry – 187 points)
Leaving the team that gave you your chance to become a star is never an easy decision, but it was one Juan Manuel Mata was faced with in 2011.
After scoring 43 goals in 179 appearances for Valencia, where he moved from Real Madrid’s B team, Mata was linked with a string of European clubs. He eventually chose to move to Chelsea in a deal worth a reported £23.5m – and he hasn’t looked back since.
The Spaniard started the year by bagging for Valencia in his first two appearances and ended the season with nine goals, and 12 assists, as he captained Valencia to Champions League qualification by finishing third. He continued his good form as soon as he landed in London, scoring from the bench on his debut against Norwich.
Mata has been heralded as the missing link for the West London club, providing the spark and flair that Chelsea have missed for seasons. Whether he is cutting in from the left or right wing or playing ghosting between the lines of midfield and defence, Mata has become integral to Andre Villas-Boas’ style of play; notching seven assists and four goals already. [Chris Quinn]
44 Phillip Lahm
Bayern Munich & Germany (▼26th – 193 points)
As captain of Bayern Munich and Germany, Philip Lahm may have a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but from his relaxed yet determined demeanour you can hardly tell. He’s the right footed left back who is, undoubtedly, the best player in the world in his position.
In June, Lahm will lead Germany out at Euro 2012. The Germans are one of the favourites to win the completion, which is partly down to him being omnipresent in a defence that conceded just seven goals in ten games during the qualification.
At club level, Lahm, or ‘The Magic Dwarf’ as he’s sometimes known, has been a stalwart for Bayern Munich this season. He’s played all 17 league matches and currently has three assists to his name. Bayern are current Bundesliga leaders by way of a 3-point advantage over Dortmund and they topped a tough Champions League group with little fuss.
So whether he is tearing up and down the flank or tearing into Michael Ballack, Philip Lahm is always consistent, reliable and a great leader. [Chris Gallagher]
43 Roberto Soldado
Valencia & Spain (►New Entry – 203 points)
Former Real Madrid striker Soldado has come on leaps and bounds over the past year – so much so that Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque now sees a place in the national squad for the Valencia man. Brought in to replace David Villa, he has done just so. A goal from the half-way line in a loan spell at Osasuna brought his name to attention but his form at Getafe and the sequential transfer to Valencia has brought out the best of a player that Madrid clearly saw potential in. 25 goals in 31 games in the 2010/11 season have been followed up with a current tally of 18 in 24; it is only a matter of time now before he adds to his two caps for his country.
A move abroad would test whether he truly merits being one of the world’s best strikers, but La Liga has truly been mastered. [David Chalmers]
42 Arjen Robben
Bayern Munich & Holland (▼11th – 227 points)
“Absolute world class… if healthy” – That’s what most people say when asked about Arjen Robben. And it’s true, Robben missed almost 50% of the competitive matches since he joined Bayern in 2009 yet, at least statistically, scores or assists one goal in every match.
This season hasn’t been any different for the Dutch winger with the brilliant left foot. He missed most of the first half of the season due to an inflammation of the pubic bone, the “worst injury of [his] career because recovery is so unpredictable” according to Robben himself. Watch him shine now that he has regained his pace that, combined with his outstanding ball control, is so deadly for opponents. Because Arjen Robben still is one of the world’s best wingers. If he stays healthy. [Toby Red]
41 Mats Hummels
Borussia Dortmund & Germany (►New Entry – 255 points)
Linked recently with European giants Juventus, Manchester United and Liverpool, Hummels is a defender in high demand. The Borussia Dortmund centre-back has been a stalwart in defence and was pivotal in die Borussen’s surprise Bundesliga championship win last season. Along with other young talent such as Mario Gotze, defensive partner Neven Subotic and Shinji Kagawa the Yellow-Blacks powered their way through the season to their 7th title, defeating FC Bayern Munich home and away in the process. The 23-year-old possesses a commanding figure for BVB, and at six foot three he is a constant aerial threat to the opposition. He already has 12 caps for his national team Germany and is widely tipped to become the first defenders name on the team sheet. He has everything you would want from a centre-back and at 23 years of age, Hummels could go on to become one of the greatest defenders in the world. [Alan Clark]
The Top 50 is in association with the Art of Pelé.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or Pelé as he is known across the world, is considered to be the greatest footballer the world has ever seen – the youngest player ever to win a World Cup (three in total); scorer of 1,283 professional goals – 12 of them in World Cup final tournaments; and “Athlete of the Century”, awarded by the International Olympic Committee in 1999.
In celebration of his achievements Pelé has created a colourful series of artwork that capture the many special moments throughout his truly legendary career. Each piece interprets the significance of defining moments in his life, translating them into vibrant and colourful images. The Art of Pelé brings his story to life – on canvas. Find out more by visiting www.artofpele.com.
Return tomorrow to see part two of the Top 50, counting down from 40 to 31.