In part two of this year’s Top 50 Players in the World feature, as voted by you: three Barcelona players come all at once, there are two Real Madrid strikers and there’s also a certain Welsh winger…
View the longlist and voting process here.
Part 1 (50-41): 50 Ezequiel Lavezzi, 49 Thomas Muller, 48 Joe Hart, 47 Hulk, 46 Franck Ribery, 45 Juan Mata, 44 Phillip Lahm, 43 Roberto Soldado, 42 Arjen Robben, 41 Mats Hummels
40 Gonzalo Higuain
Real Madrid & Argentina (▼27th – 257 points)
The Real Madrid forward is a real modern day fox in the box and a product of the famed River Plate youth system. The French born Higuain joined Madrid in 2007 from River Plate at the age of 19 and has since scored 83 league goals in just 144 games.
His movement off the ball coupled with a deadly low shot have made his one of the world’s most feared strikers.
Although the striker is not a regular starter for his club, the 24 year old is still the third top scorer in La Liga in the 2011-12 campaign, with 14 goals so far this season, all from just 8 starts.
Despite being eligible for both France and Argentina, Higuain chose the birth country of his Father and has since scored 12 goals in 22 games playing as one third of an impressive forward line that also includes Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi. [Trevor Keane]
39 Alexis Sanchez
Barcelona & Chile (►New Entry – 287 points)
A big-money move to Barcelona was richly deserved for the Chilean, who scored ten goals for Udinese in 2011 – including four in one game away to Palermo despite only playing 52 minutes.
His partnership with Antonio Di Natale catapulted the Friuli to fourth place, qualifying for the Champions League, and attracted the interest of the Catalan giants who sealed his signature for a fee that could rise to £33m.
Alexis only managed one goal in four Copa America games, as Chile were surprisingly knocked out in the quarter-final stages by Venezuela. Despite playing throughout the summer, Sanchez was involved in Barca’s first competitive game against Real Madrid and scored on his La Liga debut versus Villarreal.
He was then a surprise selection against Madrid again in the league, but proved his worth by latching onto a Xavi through ball and clinically drilling across Iker Casillas to draw Guardiola’s men level. That was the Chilean’s final, and most important, contribution of 2011, but the signs are positive that 2012 could be even more impressive for South America’s trickiest winger. [Chris Quinn]
Manchester United & Portugal (►New Entry – 294 points)
2011 saw the Portuguese wizard finally come alive and unearth his devastating talent as the Manchester United man refused to drop form, adding a plethora of goals and assists to his record on the way to another Premier League medal. Instrumental on the counter-attack, Nani has displayed similar traits to that of national and former club team-mate Ronaldo, with an astute combination of power and agility allowing the gifted winger to humiliate opponents with his feet and bench club legend Ryan Giggs in the process.
Indespensible for both club and country now, Nani’s transfer from Portugal has proved a whole lot better than team-mate Anderson’s. The future of Manchester United; SAF would be wise to hold onto this one, and pray the lure of Real Madrid doesn’t come calling at Old Trafford once again. [David Chalmers]
37 Karim Benzema
Real Madrid & France (►New Entry – 307 points)
In the summer of 2010, Karim Benzema must have been wondering where it had all gone wrong. The man who spearheaded Lyon’s decimation of Ligue 1 and charge through the Champions League had seen his star wane in a difficult year at Real Madrid, culminating in Raymond Domenech leaving him out of France’s World Cup squad, though that may have been a blessing in disguise given the farce that was to follow. The arrival of José Mourinho at the Santiago Bernabéu has reignited his career, however, and 43 goals in 75 games since tell a story of a man back at his best. With the likes of Di María, Özil and Ronaldo creating chances for him, it’s not difficult to see why, and with that confidence instilled, and now that he’s been welcomed back into the fold by Laurent Blanc, don’t bet against Karim leading a French renaissance. [Simon Furnivall]
36 Victor Valdes
Barcelona & Spain (►New Entry – 310 points)
Perhaps one of the most underrated members of the Barcelona side, Victor Valdes continued his fine form in 2011 and cemented his place as Iker Casillas’ closest contender to the Spanish number one jersey – alongside Liverpool’s Pepe Reina.
In the main, gone are the days of those questioning Valdes’ place in the Barcelona side. The 30-year-old is very much the solid base of the World and European champions. His ability to play the ball out from the back and start an attack is exemplary although it did put him into some high-profile bother in December 2011 when his poor kick-out ended in Real Madrid taking an early lead in el Clasico.
However, Valdes’ fine performances have been confirmed by being awarded the La Liga goalkeeper of the season for 2010-11 and being part of the Barcelona side who managed to prevent any opposing league side from scoring at the Nou Camp in the 2011 side of the current campaign. [Matthew Wood]
35 Gareth Bale
Tottenham & Wales (▼21st – 341 points)
This time last year the Gareth Bale bandwagon was at its high strongest. The Inter Milan performance in the Champions League was still fresh in people’s minds, while a rumoured £40million move to the same club was being mooted for the summer. That didn’t happen, by the way.
Anyway, 2011 was still a pretty good year for the Welshman. This season, he’s already equaled his goal tally from last season and although the hype machine hasn’t been switched to maximum, he’s been having arguably a better season than the one just past. The 22-year-old truly strikes fear into defending opposition players in the Premier League, and has been integral to Spurs’ best start to a campaign in decades. Tottenham are still keeping tabs with the top two Manchester sides, and the prospect of qualifying for the Champions League for the second time in three seasons is very much a reality.
34 Sergio Busquets
Barcelona & Spain (▼30th – 395 points)
A product of the same famed La Masia youth system that has produced Lionel Messi, Xavi, Gerard Pigue and Cesc Fabregas, 23-year-old Busquets has emerged as one of the best defensive midfielders in the game since he made his Barcelona debut in 2008.
Blending a good football brain with accurate passing and tough tackling the stylish defensive midfielder’s ability to sit in behind his more illustrious and attack minded midfield partners, Xavi & Andres Iniesta, and break up play has become an important feature for club and country.
His emergence has also meant that Argentina captain Javier Mascherano, regarded by many as one of the world’s best defensive midfielders, has often had to settle for a place on the bench. Despite his young age, the rather theatrical Busquets has already won everything the game has to offer; including La Liga, Champions League and World Cup winner’s medals. [TK]
33 Manuel Neuer
Bayern Munich & Germany (►New Entry – 396 points)
2011 was a big year in the development of German No. 1 Manuel Neuer; he tasted silverware in the DFB Pokal with Schalke before relocating to Munich where he was pilloried for an over-zealous celebration some years before. A solid start however has eased the tension, he has conceded only ten Bundesliga goals as Bayern sit atop the Bundesliga and the Bavarians qualified with ease from a tough Champions League group.
Neuer’s 2011 should set him up well for the next 12 months were he will be expected to win the Bundesliga and at least make the Champions League final. The European Championship in the summer could potentially see him step out the long shadow of German legend Oliver Kahn… [Allan Edgar]
Atletico Madrid & Colombia (►New Entry – 408 points)
It’s safe to say that 2011 was an amazing season for Colombian striker Radamel Falcao. Not content with earning a big-money move to Spain and winning a European title and a domestic double, Falcao broke the record for the most goals scored in a single European competition as his 17 goals helped Porto lift the Europa League trophy.
As Porto won the league by a mammoth 21 points, Falcao was second only to his team mate Hulk in the goalscoring charts, finishing the season with 16 domestic goals.
However, it was on the European scene where he really shone. He scored his first Porto hat-trick in a game against Rapid Wien and later followed that up by bagging four in the first leg of the semi-final against Villarreal.
He later scored twice in the Copa America, but Colombia went out to Peru in the quarter-final stage.
His performances earned him a new deal with Porto, but just a month later he was transferred to Spanish giants Atletico Madrid for a club record believed to be in the region of €40 million. He ended 2011 with 12 goals for his new club. [Chris Quinn]
31 Antonio Di Natale
Udinese & Italy (►New Entry – 449 points)
Antonio Di Natale may not receive the same international recognition amongst fans and pundits such as stars like Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney. The Udinese forward has always been well respected in his homeland, however his form in recent years has been nothing short of astounding. Di Natale finished last season with 28 goals in 36 Serie A appearances and he has continued this form throughout the 2011/12 season (he is currently the top scorer in the league with 13 goals in 17 games). 3 times Ballon d’Or winner Michel Platini is the last player in Serie A to win the Capocannoniere title in 3 consecutive seasons and only a very brave man would bet against Toto equaling that record this year.
Despite his goalscoring exploits, Di Natale did not make Fifa’s Ballon d’Or 23 man short list. This is perhaps a result of the diminutive striker playing for a provincial side in Italy that failed to qualify for the Champions league therefore missing out on the bigger stage. Di Natale’s recent recall to the Italian national side for the February friendly v USA will give the 34 year old a chance to stake a claim in the Azzurri squad for Euro 2012 and who knows if he can reproduce his club form at that level, Toto may finally receive the plaudits he deserves. [Angelo Fiorini]
The Top 50 is in association with the Art of Pele.
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 on Monday to see part three of the Top 50, counting down from 30 to 21.