Top 50 Players in the World 2012: Part 1 – 50-41

by Back Page Football

It’s that time of year again! We’ve tallied the votes and taken opinions on board so now it’s time to reveal the Top 50 Players in the World for 2012!

View the longlist and voting process here.

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2012 was a big year for many teams, with Manchester City claiming the Premier League title for the first time, Juventus conquering all before them in Serie A, Borussia Dortmund becoming everyone’s favourite ‘hipster’ team, and a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona remaining top of the tree in Spain.

Speaking of the Spaniards, they once again shone on the international stage to win their second successive European Championships seeing off, amongst others, our own Ireland along the way.

This list will hopefully provide a good reflection on the year that was and the players who stood out, and we begin by counting down from 50 to 41…

Enjoy!

50JoaoMoutinho50 Joao Moutinho ( New Entry)

FC Porto and Portugal

Joao Moutinho suffers from being Joao Moutinho. For his national team he is often overlooked due to a certain Mr. Ronaldo. For F.C Porto, whom he joined from Sporting CP in 2010, galaticos such as Falcao, Hulk and even manager Andres Villas Boas have drawn the plaudits.

But an inspection of both teams’ respective achievements will reveal how important to both Moutinho is.

A metronomic passer one could squint and easily mistake him for Xavi of Spain. During Euro 2012, where Portugal made the semis, his pass completion rate was an impressive 82.2. %. His influence as a midfield playmaker made him an integral part of Porto’s treble winning team often starting moves in his own half that lead to goals.

He also has a terrific engine, his stamina allowing him to operate box-to-box harrying opponents and making himself available to his teammates. His work rate is such that he is seen as a respected senior member for both club and country despite being only 26.

One thing that is perhaps missing from Mourtinho’s game is goals. Having only mustered 6 goals in over 100 games in the previous two seasons it’s a fair criticism, however that can be attributed in part to being deployed as a deep lying playmaker.

While Joao’s full value is undermined by the fact he plays in one of Europe’s ‘lesser’ big leagues it is only a matter of time before this changes.

Chelsea scouts see him as the ideal replacement for an ageing Frank Lampard and Villas Boas is also keen to link back up at White Hart Lane. Wherever he does move to expect him to be soon considered one of the finest, most complete midfielders in world football very soon.

Charles Pulling

49Huntelaar49 Klaas Jan Huntelaar ( New Entry)

Schalke and Holland

29 year old Dutch international striker, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, comes in at number 49 of ‘The Top 50 Players’ poll results.

Huntelaar has proved himself to be one of the most consistent goalscorers in European football in recent years, leading the line in a FC Schalke side which finished 3rd in the Bundesliga last season, their leading marksman scoring 29 leagues goals in the process and a phenomenal 49 goals in all competitions.

Although Schalke have somewhat struggled domestically this season, currently sitting in 9th, Huntelaar has still been instrumental in seeing the German side top their Champions League group, above long time admirers, Arsenal, with Huntelaar scoring 4 goals in their 6 group games.

Unfortunately for Huntelaar, in terms of international football, he often has to play second fiddle to who some consider to be one of the best strikers in the world in Robin Van Persie. That said, Huntelaar has still notched up 59 international caps to date, scoring 34 goals, which is impressive by anyone standards at that level.

Uncertainty surrounded the future of Huntelaar over the summer, with the aforementioned Arsenal being heavily linked with a move, but reports suggested that his wage demands of over £100K per week is said to have put them off.

Who knows what the long term future holds for Huntelaar, especially with Schalke likely to miss out on Champions League football for next season, but one thing is for certain – Klaas-Jan Huntelaar deserves his place in the top 50.

Keith Rogers

48DavidLuiz48 David Luiz ( New Entry)

Chelsea and Brazil

2012 was a very good year for the afro sporting Brazilian, no matter how you look at it. An FA Cup and Champions League winner, the latter of which he netted an absolute juggernaut of a penalty in the shootout win over Bayern Munich to deliver European glory to the Blues.

Now a regular starter for Chelsea, under first Andre Villas-Boas and subsequently Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez, David Luiz may have the odd lapse in concentration, but he makes up for his mental frailty with his imperious physical presence and ability to drive the ball out of defence for both club and country.

His continental approach to the game has been welcomed in the Premier League, with football purists admitting he is one of many to have arrived in England sporting a similar ability. His attributes have seen calls for him to be moved into midfield, which were inevitably answered by Benitez; perhaps one of the only welcomed decisions by Blues fans.

Luiz shone in the Club World Cup in the position and many have tipped the 25-year-old to redevelop himself in the position in the foreseeable future. Still relatively young, time is on the defenders’ side for him to improve the mental aspect of his game and playing alongside the likes of John Terry, Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic will only aid him.

Unfortunate to have only recently returned from knee and calf problems, 2013 could provide a stepping stone for the former Benfica ace as he looks to really establish himself in the Chelsea starting XI.

He recently captained O Selecao during the recent international friendly defeat to England, it again exampled his continuous psychological improvements, with many tipping him to lead Brazil in the absence of compatriot and Paris St. Germain defender Thiago Silva.

Ben McAleer

47MarioGomez47 Mario Gomez ( 23rd)

Bayern Munich and Germany

As Bayern Munich players sat dejected on the turf inside the Allianz Arena at the end of last season’s Champions League final it was hard not to feel sorry for them.

Jupp Heynckes’ side had been outstanding for long spells during 2011/12 but ended an arduous campaign as very much second best, both in Europe (where they lost to Chelsea in the final) and at home (Borussia Dortmund claiming a German league and cup double.)

Nevertheless, looking back on a campaign best described as ‘so near and yet so far’ a major positive throughout were the goalscoring exploits of Mario Gomez, the centre-forward often labelled cumbersome, but whose knack of being in the right place at the right time saw him record 41 goals in 52 games over the course of his club season.

The second most expensive transfer in Bundesliga history, the former Stuttgart man is something of a throwback to the old fashioned target-man, perhaps not the most lithe of movers, but an aerial threat, with decent link-up play and a better touch than he is often credited for – witness his goals at Euro 2012 against Portugal and Holland for confirmation of the aforementioned.

Of course there will always be those who claim that he is nothing more than an average finisher who scores the volume of goals he does due to the quality service he gets from the likes of messrs Robben, Ribery, Kroos and Schweinsteiger. But his career statistics (206 goals in 352 games) are comparable to any German striker since the great Gerd Muller.

2012/13 has unquestionably been a personal disappointment; A combination of an ankle injury picked up at Euro 2012, which kept him on the sidelines until November, and the good form of Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic limiting him to a mere 11 appearances thus far, although he has still managed to find the net four times, showing that he hasn’t lost any of his natural instincts, even if his form following injury has been patchy at best.

And yet, with Bayern looking a shoo-in to reclaim the Bundesliga crown – they’ve dropped a mere nine points thus far – and another crack at the European Cup knockout stages to look forward to, there remains the opportunity for Gomez to emerge from his early season setbacks as the hero once more.

If he can begin firing on all cylinders once more between now and the season’s end, then he and his Bayern teammates may just be celebrating at Wembley come May 25.

Alex Richards

46StephanElShaarawy46 Stephen El Shaarawy ( New Entry)

AC Milan and Italy

It’s difficult to miss the striker dubbed Il Farone – The Pharaoh – with his looks bearing a striking resemblance to the Egyptian gods, a trait he inherited from his father.

Now part of the recently assembled ‘Three Mohicans’ with AC Milan, lining up alongside M’Baye Niang and January arrival Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy enjoyed a prolific year with the Rossoneri.

After signing for the Serie A giants from Genoa back in 2011, the 20-year-old went on to impress over the last 12 months, becoming a key figure in Massimiliano Allegri’s side, before making his international debut for Italy back in August.

El Shaarawy has since gone on to make three appearances under Cesare Prandelli, netting in the 2-1 win over France back in November. Such a high standard have his performances been that he continuously astounds Italian and footballing connoisseurs with his dazzling attacking displays for club and country.

Currently second in the Serie A goalscoring charts, at the time of writing, with 15 goals coupled with an added five assists to his name, the young striker is part of the next generation of exciting Italian’s breaking onto the international stage.

Along with Marco Verratti, 2013 is set to be a make or break year for El Shaarawy. While he may’ve dazzled in 2012; the next 12 months will really prove as to whether he is a player capable of making it to the very top.

Milan may currently find themselves 15 points behind league leaders Juventus, again at the time of writing, but if the Italy international can replicate the performances from this season in the next, it would only aid in him harnessing his undeniable potential to become of the games most exciting talents, while giving his side a greater chance to land their first domestic title since 2011.

Ben McAleer

45ThomasMuller45 Thomas Muller ( 49th)

Bayern Munich and Germany

It seems strange to label Germany’s current crop of young players ‘the golden generation’ such is the near constant ability the country has to produce talent.

But when considering the strength of the German talent pool Müller’s name appears at the very top of that list.

Since his breakthrough season for Bayern Munich to his Golden boot-winning world cup the next year the 23 year olds rise has been meteoric.

Primarily played as a second striker for both club and country his eye for goal often sees him outscore the strikers he’s seen to be supporting. Not to say that he is a selfish player. His decision making, pace and skill make him an ideal foil for a more box dwelling striker.

While pace is not a rare asset for forwards in today’s game, what stands Müller out from the crowd is his composure, often whilst running at pace towards opposition defences. Joachim Löw described the youngster as “impervious to pressure”.

Last season was somewhat of a disappointment for Thomas. He found himself increasingly utilised as a substitute for the Bundesliga side and despite scoring the winning goal of the Champions league final he was substituted before Chelsea scored and could only watch on as his team lost the penalty shoot-out.

His dissatisfaction came to a head when he alerted Europe’s giants that he may have to consider a move if first team opportunities were not forthcoming.

However he decided to stay on at his boyhood club and so far this season has been the star performer as ‘FC Hollywood’ steamroll towards another title.

With Pep Guardiola taking over as head coach in the summer and a purported €200 million transfer kitty available speculation is rife as to who the former Barca coach will want to bring in. One position he needn’t worry about if that of Thomas Muller’s.

Charles Pulling

44EdenHazard44 – Eden Hazard ( 29th)

Chelsea and Belgium

Lille may have finished third in Ligue 1 last season but the season will always be remember for Eden Hazard breaking out of his shell and showing the true potential that all LOSC fans had seen grow since his debut in 2007.

Finishing the season with a record high 20 goals was quite a jump from scoring seven the previous campaign. 13 of those goals came in a wonderful five month spell between January and May. Crucial goals against Ajaccio, Dijon, Nice and Auxerre plus 10 assists in the same period helped Lille qualify for the Champions League once again; amazingly his best spell in a Lille shirt came amongst the media storm regarding his big summer move. He ended his Ligue 1 career in style a hat-trick at home again Nancy was the perfect ending to arguably Lille’s greatest ever player.

Chelsea winning the Champions League brought them back into the picture, it looked like a straight shoot-out between the Manchester clubs but Di Matteo’s miracle put the Londoners top of the pack and £32 million ended the so called transfer saga.

Falling on his face whilst trying a trick in the Community Shield against Manchester City wasn’t the ideal start to his Chelsea career, but the doubters were put in their place when after three league games the Belgian had assisted with four goals, won a couple of penalties and tucking one away against Newcastle.

Moving to a new country and a new league can be tough for any player no matter the quality they possess. So far Hazard has scored five league goals and set up another seven. Despite the kicking of the Swansea ball-boy the rest of the season should end successfully giving Eden an encouraging start in his first nine months. He will only improve as he settles into the English style; this is only the beginning for Monsieur Hazard.

Andrew Gibney

43JoeHart43 Joe Hart ( 48th)

Manchester City and England

Joe Hart enjoyed a strong 2012, with his performances between the sticks for Manchester City contributing strongly to the club’s first league title for 44 years.

In the process he picked up his second successive Golden Glove award and earned a sport in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year.

Having cut his teeth out on loan to Birmingham City and as a back up to Shay Given, Hart has rewarded Roberto Mancini’s faith in him  over the past few seasons to the point where he has played every Premier League game since the opening day of the 2010/11 campaign.

Now 25, Hart is firmly established as England’s number one goalkeeper and such is his reputation as a strong character at both club and country level that he was mentioned as a possible replacement for John Terry as England captain.

As well as winning the Premier League title, Hart also went to the European Championships and performed well as England reached the quarter finals before exiting to eventual runners up Italy on penalties.

Hart comes across well in interviews with his honesty refreshing in a world of neutral opinions and clichéd responses. His assessment of City’s September collapse against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu summed up his attitude – he wants to win and makes no excuses for not doing so.

Hart is also big on fan engagement and does more than his fair share of work with the City in the Community initiative, with this video summing up his character.

Of course, Hart is not without his flaws and has dropped his fair share of clangers so whether he is the best goalkeeper around or not is very much up for debate, but as a City fan there aren’t many I’d swap him for right now.

Neil Sherwin

42PetrCech42 Petr Cech ( New Entry)

Chelsea and Czech Republic

Number 42 on the list of the ‘Top 50 Players’ poll results is long-time Chelsea stopper, Petr Cech. The 30 year old Czech goalkeeper has been regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in England and Europe for a long time now, most notably during his career at the London club, which has spanned over eight years.

Some would suggest his inclusion controversial to an extent given some critics believing his form took a nosedive in the last couple of seasons, from his usual impeccable standards, but others believe he found form again at just the right time, being the last line of defence in a Chelsea side which won the Champions League last season, seeing off the might of Barcelona with a defensive masterclass in which he was instrumental.

Despite some criticism, Cech ended up keeping 10 clean sheets in the Premier League last season, and 22 in all competitions; a stat not matched by many; and true to his return to form, has continued in the same vein this season, already notching up nine Premier League clean sheets, with 14 in all competitions.

With the signing of Thibaut Courtois a year and a half ago, many saw it as the end of the road for Petr Cech at the top level, but he has unquestionably proved all his critics wrong, and remains the reliable last line of defence for the still reigning ‘Champions of Europe’.

Keith Rogers

41FranckRibery41 Franck Ribery ( 46th)

Bayern Munich and Germany

It can’t have been easy being Franck Ribery during 2012, both on and off the football pitch.

The 29-year-old was part of the Bayern Munich team that lost a Champions League final that they dominated on penalties to Chelsea, while Borussia Dortmund conquered German football.

On the international scene, France’s recent disappointing performances at major tournaments continued at Euro 2012 as they stuttered through a group that included England, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine, before being knocked out by eventual champions Spain in the quarter-finals.

As if things couldn’t get much worse, the winger was the centre of a police investigation after he was accused of having sex with an underage prostitute back in 2010. It has since been confirmed that he will stand trial later this year.

Despite all that, on a personal level, Ribery can be happy with what he produced when he crossed the white line in 2012.

Last season he found the net on 12 occasions in the Bundesliga, while adding three more in the Champions League and two in the DFB-Pokal.

It was his ability to lay on goals for team-mates that proved to be the most impressive statistic though. The Frenchman made 26 assists, which meant that overall he was directly involved in 43 Bayern Munich goals during his 50 appearances.

However, producing his best for France is still something that eludes him. Supporters of Les Bleus had pinned their hopes on Ribery taking over the mantle from Zinedine Zidane, but it’s not quite happened.

An apparent poor attitude in 2012 at international level resulted in some pundits branding him ‘Le Brat’.

It must be remembered that Ribery is not the only player that struggles to shine for France though and for that reason, he can look back on his work for Munich last year with pride.

Liam Apicella

Stay tuned for Part 2 and numbers 40 to 31 later in the week!