The third part of the Top 50 Players in the World 2013 sees us move into the top 30.
There’s plenty of green arrows in this instalment of the countdown, testament to some of the huge strides made by some players in 2013. Five different leagues are represented here - the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1.
View the longlist and voting process here.
30 Isco (► New Entry)
Real Madrid and Spain
The year 2013 has been the breakthrough season for Isco. Emboldened by the prospect of playing in the Champions League for Malaga last season, he emerged from the shadow of Santi Cazorla and established himself as his team’s go-to guy, guiding them to an unbeaten group-stage campaign against the likes of Milan and Zenit.
Although Malaga were unlucky to bow out against Dortmund in the quarterfinals, but Isco had announced himself on the big stage. His exploits caught the attention of Del Bosque, who handed him a senior international debut in February.
While he was busy dazzling the world in Spain’s victorious Euro Under-21 campaign, where he finished as the third highest goalscorer, speculation about Isco’s future began to simmer in the summer.
Real Madrid were attracted by his brilliant performances in Europe (17 goals for the season) and decided to price the youngster away from Malaga. From the humble surroundings of the Andulasian province to the fabled luxuries of the Spanish capital, the 21-year old has drifted seamlessly into the Los Bloncos setup, showing no signs of being intimidated by the presence of world-beaters like Ronaldo and Bale in the dressing room.
Wrecking havoc with his ball control, silky skills and lethal passing, he has already notched up seven goals and five assists in 19 games this season. The modern-day number nine, Isco is the flag-bearer of the future of Spanish football.
If can continue to perform consistently at this level, he will become an integral part of the star-studded Spanish contingent in Brazil next year.
29 Manuel Neuer (▲ 33rd)
Bayern Munich and Germany
Having conceded a mere 18 goals in Munich’s title-winning campaign Neuer bested Oliver Kahn’s feat of being beaten just 21 times, helping Bayern set the record for most clean sheets (21) in a season. Of course, such was Bayern’s dominance domestically and in Europe it could be argued that these achievements have as much to do with the rest of the squad as with Neuer.
Indeed, it must be acknowledged that Neuer has faced criticism for some of his performances. He was heckled by German fans in the victory over Kazakhstan in February for gifting the opposition a goal. Even with Bayern he has shown he is not immune to the odd blunder.
It is handy then that just in September the 27-year-old achieved an individual landmark, that stretches all the way back to his Schalke 04 days, to remind us of his undoubted ability when he became the youngest ‘keeper in the history of the Bundesliga to achieve 100 clean sheets.
At international level Neuer continues to hold off tough competition for the #1 spot from the likes of Marc-André ter Stegen and René Adler. Despite winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles with Dortmund Roman Weidenfeller only made his international debut in a friendly against England in November, such is Neuer’s stronghold on the position.
Acrobatic, even at a towering 6’4″, strong on crosses and with a strong mentality to command the defence ahead of him, Neuer has all the attributes to be the perfect ‘keeper. Some would say he already is.
At the age of 27, the scary thing about Neuer is that the best is probably yet to come.
28 Wayne Rooney (▲ 35th)
Manchester United and England
If you had asked Manchester United fans if Wayne Rooney would still be playing out of Old Trafford when the new season started, you would probably have heard something between a snort of derision and a sigh of resignation, such was the cavalcade of rumour and news regards his mentality towards the club and the offers pouring in from various other locations.
But stay he did, David Moyes doing the necessaries to keep Rooney at Old Trafford, something that may yet be the most important success of his tenure. And the reasons are manifold and obvious. Rooney has his attitude problems, barren spells, brushes with unfitness and a propensity for off-pitch drama.
But he is also one of the best strikers that England has ever produced. His touch remains as good as it was during his Everton days, he has the ability (if maybe not the drive) to play as a centre midfielder, a winger, behind the attack as well as an all out striker. And that’s when he isn’t found helping out his defence, racing back and forth from one end to the other, to begin and finish the counter attacks that are an inherent part of Manchester United’s style.
While Robin Van Persie soaked up much of the adulation for the way Manchester United strolled to the league title last season, we cannot undervalue Rooney’s contribution. Aside from his goal tally, he had the highest assists for the Red Devils that season, his passes, crosses and through balls creating the strikes that got Alex Ferguson his last success.
And that has continued in the current edition of the EPL, where Moyes’ struggles often seem to have that one bright spark in the form of “ROO-NEY, ROO-NEY, ROO-NEY”. Old Trafford denizens must be hoping they are still chanting that for some time to come.
27 Thiago Silva (▲ 30th)
Paris St. Germain and Brazil
Silva has enjoyed a productive 2013, peaking perhaps with Brazil’s spectacular capture of the Confederations Cup, a tournament that many see as a pre-cursor to an inevitable Brazilian home win at the World Cup this coming summer.
Silva is a natural-born leader both on and off the pitch, possessing startling pace and ball skill for a centre-back, excellent reading of the game, tough tackling ability and a domineering aerial presence that makes him an ominous threat from set plays.
Though his spell at PSG has been somewhat hampered by injury, this has not prevented him from captaining the Paris based side to only it’s third Ligue 1 title in their history earlier in the year.
Along with trophies for both club and country this year, there has also been a steady flow of personal accolades for Silva, winning Ligue 1 player of the month in March, and claiming the Samba D’Or (award for the best Brazilian player playing in Europe) two years in a row. No small feat given the competition.
Silva is a cool and calming influence on the pitch, and a level-headed and valuable presence off it- noted for his intelligence and mild-mannered nature, that sees fans rapidly warm to him. At 29, the Rio-born defender looks to be peaking at just the right time to lead Brazil to World Cup glory this summer, and looks set to be an animalistic and unwavering blockade against any attack he comes up against for years to come.
26 Thomas Müller (▲ 45th)
Bayern Munich and Germany
Often patronisingly put down as a workhorse, Thomas Müller could be more accurately described as one of the world’s greatest direct forward-thinking attacking threats; crossed with a workhorse. His rather unique style of play has featured heavily in both the German national team and also the world’s most terrifying club side at Bayern. This has been the case for years, but 2013 was definitely his most fruitful calendar year to date.
Surrounded by a gluttony of suppliers and a leading striker in Mario Mandzukic who would set the ball up for Müller like a scrum half in rugby, he ended Bayern’s record-breaking, all-conquering season as their top scorer both overall and in the Champions League, where he managed to keep pace with Lionel Messi with eight goals.
Müller should have found it harder than ever this year to cement a spot in the ever-increasing circus of talent that is the German national outfit, but his remarkable form led him to being one of Joachim Loew’s most reliable selections, featuring in all 10 matches of their qualification process which involved two hefty defeats of Ireland, scoring four goals overall in the process.
Müller’s kept his goal scoring pattern running into the new Spanish flavoured establishment at Bayern, netting seven times in the Bundesliga already this season. I suppose the most remarkable thing about Thomas Müller is that he is still just 24, with his peak rather scarily still being four or five years away. I would say that this means that he is going to be one hell of a player, but let’s face it, he already is one.
25 Diego Costa (► New Entry)
Atletico Madrid and Spain
The Brazilian-born-Spaniard’s rise to become one of the most feared centre forwards in Europe has been rapid since the turn of the year. After playing second fiddle to the seemingly irreplaceable Radamel Falcao last season, he has gone on to score an incredible 17 goals in 16 La Liga appearances this season, comfortably stepping up to fill the Colombian number nine’s sizeable boots.
His upturn in form is in no small part down to him now being able to control his temper, which was a major hindrance to his performances. Costa even admitted that he “thought he had to kill” his opponents whenever he walked onto the pitch, something which he suggested was inherited from his upbringing in Brazil.
His goals and new mild(er)-tempered nature have made him one of the most sought after players in Europe, while he has also drawn praise from some of La Liga’s finest. Andres Iniesta said: “Costa has shown almost unbeatable performance levels”, while Dani Alves added: “Diego Costa would be an important player for Brazil.”
Which brings us onto Brazil, the country of Costa’s birth which he has represented on two occasions.
After making his debut for the Seleção earlier this year, Costa decided he wanted to play for Spain and was called up to the squad for their November friendlies. However, having to withdraw through injury only sparked speculation that he was still undecided.
With the World Cup fast approaching, Costa will need to make up his mind quickly or we could be without one of Europe’s most exciting talents come the start of the tournament in June.
24 Yaya Toure (▼ 12th)
Manchester City and Ivory Coast
The Ivorian joined the Manchester club in 2010 from Barcelona and since then has been a vital cog for the citizens playing a huge role in their success over the past few seasons. However 2013 was not all that successful for the former Barcelona midfielder who suffered massive disappointment in all areas for both club and country.
The Ivorian saw his side lose the Premier League title to neighbors Manchester United and although City finished second in the league, the manner by which United won the league was inconceivable. The Ivorian suffered even more disappointment when City were defeated by minnows Wigan in the FA Cup final. In the international stage, the Ivory Coast was also eliminated from the African Cup of Nations by Nigeria, the eventual champions.
The new season though has seen massive improvement for Toure and Manchester City. Under new manager, Manuel Pellegrini, City find themselves fourth in the league and through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time since the Ivorian joined the Manchester based club.
Yaya Toure has already taken his tally to eight league goals this season, his highest in a single Premier League campaign. Toure was also awarded with the BBC’s African Footballer of the year award.
Under Pellegrini, Toure has been promoted as the vice-captain of Manchester City, often leading the club due to the regular absence of Vincent Kompany due to injury.
The Ivorian is highly regarded by his club and that was evident when he was handed a new contract that keeps him with the club till 2017 along with a massive paycheck.
23 Juan Mata (▼ 15th)
Chelsea and Spain
One year, two seasons not quite alike in dignity: Juan Mata has gone from fêted hero to weary bench-warmer for much of Mourinho take two, many observers and Chelsea fans shaking their heads in collective disbelief.
Mata’s poise, elegance on the ball, and his ability to score as well as create, make him arguably the most complete number 10 currently plying his trade in the EPL.
While the second half of last season was stellar for Mata, he has come under fire for perceived defensive weaknesses and his work-rate. Before Mourinho’s return, though, there is no doubt that Mata was the standout performer for Chelsea in 2012/13.
He won both the Players’ Player of the Year and the Player of the Year and was nominated by the PFA for their gong as well. He got the assist for Chelsea’s winner against Benfica in the Europa League final, as well as scoring a total of twenty goals and getting thirty-five assists throughout the season.
He also played for Spain in the Confederations Cup, scoring against Tahiti, the kill-joy, and has featured for La Roja in World Cup qualifying.
Uncertainty and sporadic appearances have so far limited Mata’s undoubted ability to change the course of domestic games but his instrumental performance in Chelsea’s 3-1 destruction of Southampton seems to have been a turning point.
Neutrals and Chelsea fans alike will be hoping that Mourinho’s pragmatic approach will find a place for this diminutive wizard who, on his day, can electrify any match.
22 Edinson Cavani (▼ 9th)
Paris St. Germain and Uruguay
There are few football players in the world today that exemplify the complete striker. If one were to think of the attributes such a player would need you say things such as physically strong, clinical on the grass and in the air, technical, quick and willing to put a shift in. Edinson Cavani ticks all of these boxes.
Cavani christened ‘El Matador’ by his former employers in Naples for his killer instinct and deadeye. His nous in front of goal brought him suitors from across Europe, but it was the millions of PSG that snatched the Uruguayan away from his beloved Neapolitans this summer. Complete centre forwards aren’t cheap mind you, €64 million PSG paid for his services.
He didn’t leave Napoli on a whimper though; he netted 38 times in 43 appearances in his final season in Italy and was the leading Serie A scorer with 29 goals. His goals to game record for Napoli was astonishing, 104 goals in 138 games, averaging 0.75 goals a game a record only bettered by the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.
Few can say that Cavani hadn’t earned his transfer away from Napoli.
If becoming the most expensive player in the history of French football doesn’t add some pressure then who knows what does, but it seems ‘El Matador’ can handle such expectations. He’s already notched 14 goals in 20 games for his new side, all whilst playing alongside the most egotistical man in football, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He will be relishing the prospect of playing in his native South America at next summer’s World Cup, and if he continues his incredible goal scoring form England will have a lot to worry about come June 19th.
21 Arturo Vidal (▲ 26th)
Juventus and Chile
Modern football is becoming an increasingly specialised industry. And that specialisation has transferred onto the pitch, where clubs – now au fait with the rigors of modern football – build squads of highly specialised footballers, all picked to fulfil specific roles within the team.
It is in the face of this new reality that makes Arturo Vidal so special. The young man from Santiago has it all. He’s so good in fact that it is almost impossible to label him. Is he a playmaker- his pass completion rate this season is 84.5%. Or maybe an attacker; he already has 11 goals in 20 games so far. Or perhaps a defender – Vidal currently holds the second highest tackle rate in this seasons Champions League.
The statistics only tell half the story. To watch Vidal in action you just know you are watching one of the world’s best. His powerful legs show signs of cultured intelligence and grace. His shooting both ferocious and measured. And a commanding aerial ability despite being under six-foot tall. When watching Vidal you get that reminiscent feeling of Keane, Robson and Gullit in their prime.
When Arturo arrived in Turin many expected he would have to be patient for his chance. Yet the sheer ability that confronted Conte resulted in the Juventus manager simply ripping up his tactics and employing a three-man midfield to accommodate Vidal.
Perhaps if the young Chilean was not part of a midfield with Pogba and Pirlo he may well get more widespread recognition of his talents – the Juve fans know, voting him the best player of last season.
Yet time is on the 26 year old’s side, and Brazil next summer may well be the perfect stage for Il Guerriero to announce himself as the most complete player in world football.
Keep an eye out for Part 4 coming later this week!