We’re getting to the business end of the Top 50 now with the players ranked 20th to 11th.
Some of the world’s best playmakers are in this batch of players, as well as some clinical goal scorers. If you were to put together a 5-a-side team from the ten names below you wouldn’t need a goalkeeper because the opposition would never get the ball.
View the longlist and voting process here.
20 Mesut Özil (▼ 16th)
Arsenal and Germany
The guileful, 5ft 11 midfield maestro was much loved at the Bernabeu and had a superb few seasons with Madrid at the heart of their attack. None other than Cristiano Ronaldo stated his anger at the transfer and ultras chanted “Don’t sell Özil!” to Florentino Perez at the unveiling of Gareth Bale.
It therefore came as a surprise to many, when notoriously frugal Arsenal came in with a £40 million bid for the German playmaker. This made him the most expensive German football player of all time, giving you some indication as to the regard in which he is held within the footballing community.
Despite some early cynicism about him adapting to the pace and physicality of the Premier League due to his slight frame and bombastic playing style, he has so far proved the critics wrong. He is a major driving force behind the Gunners rapid surge up the table, orchestrating the play with typical languid genius and honed technique.
Nicknamed “der Rabe” (the Crow) due to his wily, opportunistic style, he has really shone on the international stage, forming a superb attacking partnership with Mario Götze. Interestingly both attacking midfielders idolised Zinedine Zidane as children.
Joakim Löw has always shown great faith in him, changing the formation of the German side from the 4-4-2 used for five years to 4-2-3-1 so they could maximise the incredible talent on their hands. Özil now forms the potent fulcrum of the German attack.
A mercurial virtuoso who glides past defenders with practiced ease, unlocking defences with impossible through balls and evoking viviacious football.
It remains to be seen whether he can continue to replicate the sublime form shown in La Liga and the Bundesliga in the Premier League, but whatever happens, it will definitely be exciting to watch.
19 Xavi Hernandez (▼ 7th)
Barcelona and Spain
Arguably the greatest midfielder of his generation, although some experts have gone the extra mile to tout him as the best ever, Xavi epitomizes the craft, the flair, the vision and the finesse that the beautiful game is all about.
This year has just been another illustrious chapter in the glorious career of the Catalonian legend. Having conceded the league crown to Real Madrid last season, the Xavi-led Barcelona came back in style, wresting the title from their bitter rivals in record-breaking fashion.
Xavi’s relentless tenacity and hunger for success was a key component of a successful domestic season for the Blaugrana.
For Xavi, football is not a game, it’s an art. He weaves beautiful patterns on the pitch with his movement, trickery and his trademark through-balls.
It is this very mastery which has elevated him to a pedestal only football legends can claim to occupy. There was, hence, no surprise when he was selected into FIFA’s World Team of the Year for 2012, incredibly, for the fifth consecutive year.
The humbling defeat at the hands of Brazil in the Confederations Cup final was a dampener for Xavi but by no means has taken the sheen off from his surreal ability with the football and his extraordinary achievements, for both club and country.
The global football fraternity will be hoping to see Xavi enthrall the world for one last time in Brazil next year. That would be his crowning glory.
18 Sergio Busquets (▼ 17th)
Barcelona and Spain
For much of his career Sergio Busquets has dwelled in the shadows. The dynamic duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta have cast a particularly large one as they’ve long soaked up the limelight for club and country, obscuring Busquets from the praise that would surely be sent his way if he shared the pitch with any other midfielders.
It’s said that Xavi and Iniesta make Barcelona tick, but Busquets allows them to.
Another factor that dims his reputation somewhat is that football fans generally don’t like him. Much has been made of his diving, play-acting, winking antics; too little has been made of his performances.
With Barcelona and Spain alike, the 25-year-old is the anchor between defence and attack. His positional discipline allows Xavi and Iniesta to venture forward and take risks and entitles Alves and Alba to bomb forward on the wings.
Busquets’ general excellence at protecting the Barcelona defence and breaking up opposition play is all the more remarkable because he lacks the physical dominance typical defensive midfielders boast like Nigel de Jong or the ferociousness of Mascherano types.
What Sergio does have in abundance is tactical nous. That unquantifiable attribute helps him excel as the pivot without launching into tackles or bullying opposition players, but by playing the angles, cutting off passes before they can happen and making key interceptions.
Recently, there seems to be a growing acknowledgement of Busquets importance, and while he may never receive the acclaim of some of his counterparts, neither will go as underappreciated as the likes of Didier Deschamps and Claude Makélélé have in the past.
17 Marco Reus (▲ 24th)
Borussia Dortmund and Germany
Despite suffering the heartbreak at Wembley in May in the Champions League Final at the hands of bitter rivals, Bayern Munich, the year 2013 has been one of evolution for the now central-figure of Borussia Dortmund, Marco Reus.
Aptly nicknamed, “Rolls Reus”, the versatile, dextrous, attack-minded playmaker has all the makings of a future household name worldwide.
With 11 goals and 10 assists to his name this season alone, Reus has put himself in a similar bracket to the likes of those who have gone before him – Thomas Rosicky, Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze – and inadvertently positioned himself in the eye-line of Europe’s elite in the transfer market.
With partner and fellow-playmaker Mario Gotze re-locating to the banks of the Isar River in Munich, and team-mate Robert Lewandowski boarding a similar train next season, the void left for Reus is one he can certainly fill.
His direct manner of play, particularly in 2013, has seen him (and will continue to see him) torment even the sturdiest of defences, as Bayern Munich found out in the DFL-Supercup. Reus displays a keen eye for the cutting-edge pass, which is sure to keep the Dortmund-born 24 year old a firm favourite at the Westfalenstadion.
It was argued that the exit of Gotze would impact on Reus, as many had compared the pairing to that of Iniesta and Xavi at Barcelona. Reus, contrastingly, has demonstrated that, despite Dortmund lagging well off the pace in the Bundesliga, he can continue to be a shining star in the drive for title number six.
On the international scene, Reus has used 2013 to cement his place with Jogi Low, despite the presence of renowned names like Muller, Ozil, Gotze, Schurrle among others. His two goals against Kazakhstan may be his only two of the calendar year in six appearances, but do not fully reflect the contribution he makes over 90 minutes.
Perhaps, most notably for Reus (and others) is the dynamism he brings to the game, as no fewer than 14 of his 24 Dortmund goals have been the 1-0 head-start any team thrives on.
The tattoos may frighten some, but it is the electric turn of feet and pace, combined with the almost nonchalant natural manner of finishing and creativity displayed by Reus, which makes him a firm fixture in Klopp’s Schwarzgelden.
In Marco Reus, Dortmund possess a midfielder and a talent who, with one Bundesliga Player of the Year Award already, could find that the highs of 2013 may just be the beginning of a career where sky is the limit.
16 Andrea Pirlo (▼ 6th)
Juventus and Italy
A man whose beard is only outclassed by his exquisite passing range, Andrea Pirlo has reasserted himself as one of the world’s finest central midfielders in the later years of his career. Now 34, it is fair to say that Pirlo is well into the winter of his playing career, and whilst he is increasingly injury prone- his class remains clear for all to see.
Reigning Serie A Player and Italian Player of the Year, Pirlo has excelled in a dominant Juventus team that rampaged to a third straight Serie A title last season under manager Antonio Conte, who recognises Pirlo’s influence on the team:
“Players like Andrea are hard to find because they have such extraordinary ball technique. He brings calm to the team in possession and anticipates play. Adding those talents to an organised system where everybody knows what they have to do, his qualities come out even better.”
Ever-classy, collected, with a killer eye for a pass, Pirlo has been the standout performer in the Italian top flight in recent times, and has transferred that across to the international stage. Part of the Confederations Cup Team of the Tournament (during which Pirlo displayed his spectacular ability from dead ball scenarios), Pirlo has passed the 100 caps milestone for the Azzuri- cementing his legacy as one of the finest Italian players of his generation.
Although knocked out of the Champions League in the week, Juventus have started this campaign in typically rampant fashion- in no small part due to Pirlo’s imperious influence over the side.
Expect Andrea Pirlo to continue picking up silverware and personal accolades as his illustrious career comes to an end in the coming seasons.
15 Robert Lewandowski (▲ 31st)
Borussia Dortmund and Poland
Robert Lewandowski heads into 2014 as one of the most highly coveted strikers in European football. Just five years ago, he was digging out goals in the Polish second division, but since Jurgen Klopp brought the rangy number nine to Borussia Dortmund in 2010, he has proved his metal, climbing through the ranks and rising to the occasion whenever asked.
When Dortmund won back-to-back championships in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Lewandowski led the line with distinction, scoring at a rate higher than a goal every two games in the Bundesliga and Champion’s League. In 2013, this 25 year old Pole has scored 39 goals in club and international football, yet one game defines this year as his greatest.
Lewandowski’s four goal haul against Real Madrid in April’s Champion’s League semi final first leg was a master class in centre forward play. As lone front man, he battled for space among a deep-lying defence; Polish grit up against Real’s seasoned superstars. Each of his first three goals were struck from less than twelve yards, the fourth was a penalty.
In terms movement and aggression it was a performance that evoked the greatest goal purists: Rush, Batistuta, Lineker, and Klinsmann. Lewandowski’s iron nerve and sharp mind elevated Dortmund to the top table of European football.
2014 may be the year that Lewandowski faces his greatest challenge yet. A long-rumoured contract with Bayern Munich is set to initiate at the end of the season. It will be interesting to see how this goal scoring natural adapts to life at the most successful club in German football history, or what he brings to one of the most richly talented teams in Europe.
14 Bastien Schweinsteiger (▲ 34th)
Bayern Munich and Germany
It was hard for any member of Jupp Heynckes’ all-conquering Bayern of last season to make themselves stand out from the pack, but Bastian Schweinsteiger found recognition for his individual performances beating out team mates Ribery and Müller taking the German writers’ Player of the Year.
The 29-year old with enough experience to fill an entire career capped his greatest ever club achievement with his greatest international one, reaching 100 caps for the German national team in a 5-3 win over Sweden back in October.
The man Heynckes described as ‘the world’s best midfield player’ also numbed the heartbreak of his two previous Champions League finals last May at Wembley, arguably his greatest achievement in his greatest ever season.
Of course the second half of 2013 cannot not be ignored, where Schweinsteiger has struggled to define himself at Guardiola’s Bayern, with Philip Lahm dictating things in the area he used to roam.
Forced to play further forward, Schweinsteiger’s quality is still there but his gritted edge not so much, and a two month injury he’s currently enduring won’t help matters.
Schweinsteiger fighting his way back into the Spaniard’s line-up while his youthful competititon Kroos, Thiago and Gtze hold the limelight would just be another remarkable achievement of a remarkable career. Maybe this is the world’s chance to see a unique genius ply his trade elsewhere.
With 2013 being the year he’ll be remembered by club wise, Schweinsteiger can only look to 2014, especially next summer, as the one his international career can be remembered for.
13 Sergio Aguero (▲ 14th)
Manchester City and Argentina
Despite missing chunks of the year to injuries, Sergio Aguero’s record this year stands high and proud amongst other elite strikers. Kun has established himself amongst the world’s best players this season leading Pellegrini to even suggest that he was “the third best player in the world after Messi and Ronaldo.”
While that comparison might be slightly far-stretched right now, it shouldn’t tarnish the scintillating form of Sergio Aguero this season. Kun has already racked up 19 goals in 18 appearances, mesmerising defenders with his phenomenal close-control dribbling and deft guile.
Sergio hasn’t shyed away from being the focal point of Pellegrini’s City side either, scoring six goals in big games against rivals Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
The Argentinian has also managed to struck up the most fearful partnership in Europe with City’s new Spanish acquisition, Alvaro Negredo much to the horror of defences in Europe. The duo complement each other with the perfect mix of power, pace, movement and an incredible work-ethic. I guess it’s safe to say that this has brought out the best of Aguero.
Aguero will have to be at his best if City are to withstand any chance of surpassing Barcelona in the Champions League and with 31 goals and 15 assists in just 44 appearances this calendar year, you can count on him doing that.
At just 25, El Kun rightly stakes his claim among among the world’s best player after a fabulous calendar year.
12 Arjen Robben (► New Entry)
Bayern Munich and Holland
Only the stony-hearted amongst us would feel the littlest glint of sympathy for Arjen Robben. The 29-year-old had the season of his life last time round and yet, after all this time, for the winger from the Northeast of the Netherlands unilateral adulation is still far from his grasp.
I say after all this time because, quite frankly, it seems a lifetime ago that the awkward looking winger barnstormed into our collective consciousness with displays that saw him clinch successive Premier League titles. It also never fails to elicit a ‘wow’ from anyone who sees that the man – who looks as if he was born looking middle-aged – is still only 29 years old.
Perhaps, a culmination of questionable diving antics, a seemingly endless conveyor belt of injuries lead to him being unfairly labelled as something of a ‘dandy’ of modern football.
Some believed that, with the second era of Galaticos resulting in Robben’s departure from Real Madrid, Robben’s career had entered a decline. How they were wrong.
And last season Robben produced some of the greatest football of his career. The two semi-final performances against Barcelona and a man-of-the-match display in the victorious final made the footballing world sit-up and take note of a player that had been written off by many.
The victory at Wembley served to exercise the ghosts of the year before, an annus horribilis ravaged by injury and then topped-off by a missed penalty in the Champions League final loss to former employers Chelsea.
Robben was also a key component in his country’s world cup qualification and if he can remain fit – a big if – he will be key if ‘Oranje’ are to banish the monkey off their backs.
However, the sad fact remains, that even if the Dutch are victorious next summer, universal acclaim will probably still evade Robben – sometimes in life its better to be lucky than good.
11 Philipp Lahm (▲ 37th)
Bayern Munich and Germany
2013 was a special year for Philip Lahm. Besides the fact that the German full back was a part of the Bayern Munich side that lifted the treble under Jupp Heynckes, the year also showed just how complete a player Lahm is.
The previous year ended in a disappointing way for the German international who saw his side lose the Champions League final in their own backyard along with the league, but Lahm and co. certainly made up for the sorrow of last year, defeating rivals Dortmund to both the league and the Champions League.
The 30-year old has started every game this year for the Bavarians except one game in the German Cup and with Lahm in the side Bayern have suffered just two defeats the whole year, with none of them coming in the league.
“The most intelligent player I’ve ever coached” were the words of the new manager Pep Guardiola when asked about Lahm. The German captain who played a vital role in the defense line of Bayern last season was shifted to central midfield role this season by Pep Guardiola due to the lack of options for the Spanish manager at the start of the season and ever since then Lahm has made that place his own.
The future for the German captain looks bright in all stages. The Bavarians are through to the final 16 of the Champions League, winter champions of the Bundesliga as the league closes for the Winter break and the start of New Year might see another medal for the full back as the club travels to Japan for the Club World Cup.
Keep an eye out for Part 5 coming early next week!