In part three of the Top 50 Players in the World, we enter the top half of the list and see a highly rated young Belgian making his first appearance in a Top 50 list, some more strong Spanish influence, a Croatian midfielder plying his trade in London and one of the brightest sparks of German football.
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
Part 2 (40-31): 40 Gonzalo Higuain, 39 Alexis Sanchez, 38 Nani, 37 Karim Benzema, 36 Victor Valdes, 35 Gareth Bale, 34 Sergio Busquets, 33 Manuel Neuer, 32 Falcao, 31 Antonio Di Natale
30 David Villa
Barcelona & Spain (▼6th – 450 points)
The year 2011 was cruelly curtailed for Barcelona striker David Villa in a FIFA World Club Cup match against Al-Sadd in which he was taken out of the action with a broken leg and ruled out for the remainder of the campaign.
Prior to his unfortunate injury, rumours started to circle about Villa’s future at Barcelona with reports of a falling out with coach Pep Guardiola and star player Lionel Messi. Villa’s form hadn’t been great either. With increased competition in the attacking areas this season coming from Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas, Villa was forced to sit on the bench for more games than he would of liked – starting eight of 15 La Liga matches.
The undoubted highlight in the year would have been the Champions League final against Manchester United at Wembley when the 30-year-old curled in a sensational effort from outside the box to confirm a 3-1 success. [Matthew Wood]
29 Eden Hazard
Lille & Belgium (►New Entry – 468 points)
Lille romped to the 2010/11 Ligue 1 title largely thanks to a certain Belgian. That Belgian is Eden Hazard, just as elegant as the country’s exported chocolate, and he has broken onto the world stage to make this year’s Top 50. Hazard has pace to burn, and incredible dribbling ability – and at 21 he can only improve on his current arsenal and that, for many, is a frightening thought. Linked to Europe’s top clubs, Lille have a task on their hands if they want to keep hold of their prize asset – Chelsea could reportedly see him arrive before the end of the January transfer window according to reports. Moving to a better league could see Hazard prove his talents are up there with the likes of David Silva and Alexis Sanchez, before taking on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Just you watch him shoot up this list next year. [David Chalmers]
28 Angel Di Maria
Real Madrid & Argentina (▲48th – 470 points)
When you hear some players described as a ‘one in two man’ the mind immediately turns to goals, but in Ángel’s case, they are assists. The 23 year old Argentinian has proven himself the king of the final ball since his move to Real Madrid, providing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín with the chances they need to make José Mourinho’s side such prolific scorers. While his time at Benfica, whom he joined from his hometown club, Rosario Central, in 2007, may have been noted more for the time he spent rolling around on the floor, but since his move to Spain he has silenced all doubters. With all the pace and trickery you could want, Ángel is well worth his place in the Top 50. [Simon Furnivall]
27 Iker Casillas
Real Madrid & Spain (▼13th – 504 points)
You know you’ve made it when you’re a reference. Whenever an argument focusing on the best goalkeeper in the world is presented, Iker Casillas name is either presented or used as a point of comparison. And still only 30 years old, Iker, remarkably, has a solid decade left in his career.
Despite his age, Casillas has already made 600 appearances for Real Madrid. But beyond numbers, Iker has picked up where Raúl left off, for his club and his country. He leads by example, and is commonly referred to as a Saint throughout Spain for his, well, divine performances in South Africa. His reflexes, his consistency, and his textbook-esque positioning are sublime, but those characteristics only capture a portion of what has made Iker one of the greatest ever goalkeepers. He’s Señor Clutch and somehow manages to get the most out of his teammates despite some calamitous personalities in the dressing room.
The most aggravating, or perhaps overshadowing, thing to happen to Casillas since the World Cup has been the unrequited dominance of FC Barcelona. Though Iker was able to hoist the Copa del Rey, Victor Valdés exceeded Casillas’ success in 2011. Real Madrid may win La Liga in 2012, which will change La Liga’s environment to a degree, but until then Madrid will remain second best. And second best will never be good enough for San Iker. [Eric Beard]
26 Luka Modric
Tottenham & Croatia (▲40th – 512 points)
Spurs were unable to repeat their performance of the previous season and qualify for the Champions League, but it was not for the want of trying on Luka Modric’s behalf.
The Croat schemer ended the season with the highest pass success rate at the club and he was voted player of the year by the White Hart Lane faithful. An impressive season meant links to other clubs were inevitable. Whilst Barcelona and Manchester United were reported to be watching, there was no doubt who the main team interested in Modric was. Chelsea. Reported bids of £22m and £27m were both rejected by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who declared Modric was not available at any price.
The speculation seemed to have an effect on Modric who refused to play against Manchester United – claiming ‘his head was not in the right place’. It didn’t take too long for Modric to be back at his imperious best and his goal against Liverpool dragged his season back on track. His balance, agility and ability to go past a player has made him a favourite in London, but his stunning passing range makes him one of the world’s best. [Chris Quinn]
25 Wesley Sneijder
Inter Milan & Holland (▼3rd – 541 points)
24 Yaya Toure
Manchester City & Ivory Coast (►New Entry – 562 points)
Box-to-box midfielders are often described as workhorses or engines, but if Yaya Touré were an engine, he would fit nicely in Ayrton Senna’s car. Though Manchester City are developing as a club and have yet to come anywhere near the status of the legendary F1 driver, Yaya Touré has already given Roberto Mancini what he needs to glide into the top of the Premier League table. Of course, Yaya Touré has been accompanied in the midfield by David Silva, the brilliant architect of Man City’s attack, Gareth Barry, and James Milner. But that being said, Yaya Touré’s tremendous work rate, composure on the ball, and sheer power to outmuscle opponents has made him arguably the most complete midfielder in the Premier League.
Second only to Didier Drogba’s deity-like status in the Ivory Coast, Touré has become a hero to so many in his homeland, and indeed Africa as a whole. Moving from Barcelona initially seemed like a move solely motivated by money, but Touré and City’s performances have proved otherwise. Beating out his former Barcelona teammate Seydou Keita, Touré was awarded the 2011 African Footballer of the Year award. On an individual level, Yaya Touré is entering the pinnacle of his career and the Citizens of Manchester City cannot wait to see the 28-year-old take their club to new heights. [Eric Beard]
23 Mario Gomez
Bayern Munich & Germany (►New Entry – 563 points)
The towering German striker has caused quite a frenzy around the Bundesliga and beyond in the latter part of 2011. His goals in the first half of the season have propelled Bayern Munich to the top of the Bundesliga at Christmas and to the latter stages of the Champions League as group winners.
Gomez started his career at VFB Stuttgart. His goals helped them to the 2007 Bundesliga title and he was voted as the German footballer of the year for his contribution to that success. He continued to impress which prompted Bayern Munich to buy him for a Bundesliga record of €35million. A poor first season almost led to him being loaned out to Liverpool. That never materialised and he eventually settled down, becoming the top scorer in the Bundesliga with 28 goals in 2010/11.
With the European Championships looming around the corner, you sense that it is vital for Gomez to stay fit if Germany are to end their 16-year wait for a major tournament. In years gone by, Miroslav Klose has provided the goals for the Germans, and it is up to Big Mario to carry this on. He also captained his national side for the first time in 2011 against the Ukraine, it was the first game at the new Olympic Stadium in Kiev, where the Euro 2012 final will be held this summer. [Robert O’ Reardon]
22 Mario Gotze
Borussia Dortmud & Germany (►New Entry – 588 points)
The German international is one of the hottest prospects in world football at the moment. He joined the Borrusia Dortmund academy at the age of eight and rose through the ranks and made his first team debut at the age of 17 against FC Mainz.
2011 was a special year for Gotze and his club. He was an instrumental part of Dortmund as they went on and claimed their first Bundesliga title in nine years. During that campaign he claimed six goals and 15 assists. This inspired form has led to many of Europe’s top clubs scouting him and there have been rumoured bids from Arsenal and Manchester United.
He also scored his first goal for Germany in a 3-2 win against Brazil in August. If 2011 is anything to go by, 2012 promises to be a great year for Gotze with the upcoming Euro 2012 finals in the summer. [ROR]
21 Xabi Alonso
Real Madrid & Spain (▲23rd – 589 points)
From having Gareth Barry touted as his replacement to being an integral part of one of the few sides able to challenge Barcelona’s dominance, the rise and rise of Xabi Alonso has been something quite special to watch. His passing ability is, without question, among the best in the world, the long, raking diagonal pass a feature of his play and despite having just turned thirty he shows no signs of slowing down. From captaining Real Sociedad to his integral part in Liverpool’s Champions League and FA Cup wins – not to mention their 2009 assault on the league title – and now trying to chase down Barca, he has never been far from the big stage, and when you add European Championship and World Cup medals to his haul, has won not far off everything there is to win. The sort of player for which a £30M fee begins to look like a bargain. [Simon Furnivall]
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 four of the Top 50, counting down from 20 to 11.