Not long to go until we reveal this year’s winner but for now, here’s the first batch of players to crack the top ten.
Two of last year’s top five have dropped slightly and feature here, while a certain Welshman jumps 15 places to 6th after a massive 12 months.
View the longlist and voting process here.
10 Robin van Persie (▼ 4th)
Manchester United and Holland
When sheer goal difference denied Manchester United the title the year before last, Sir Alex Ferguson knew that a heavy hitter up front was a requirement. Wayne Rooney remained a great player, but problematic, Danny Welbeck frequently struggled and even Hernandez was not banging in the goals like he had done. Something had to change.
Enter “RVP”. A marquee signing that divided many. Some thought that the price was exorbitant for a man nearly in his thirties. Some worried about his proneness to injury. Others knew better.
The result of Van Persie’s transfer from London to Manchester has been the last great flourishing of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, spearheaded by the free scoring Dutchmen. It only took a handful of games before it became clear, the difference he provided, that rare spark where just getting him the ball in any kind of shooting position had the chance to turn into something magical.
That hat-trick early on against Southampton signalled the intent, and it was goals galore from there on in, with numerous Man of the Match performances, and only the very occasional goal drought.
Top of the goal scoring charts and in the top ten of the EPL for assists, Van Persie proved himself to be the key offensive player for Manchester United and in the league as a whole, capable of grabbing goals from range or from close in, with that sweet left foot and its curling efforts or with his powerful headers. His set-piece skills have been a wonderful addition to the United set-up, a facet of their play that has been lacking ever since the departure of their last great superstar.
Wrapping up the title with a clinically brilliant personal display against Aston Villa, Van Persie was able to celebrate his first league win and give a metaphorical two fingers to the critics and the sneers from the more bitter Gunners. Lining up for the Dutch national team as well, Van Persie will be sure to make some kind of impact in Brazil, as his homeland tries to banish the memories of 2010.
The new season has seen some change, thanks to his first major bout with injury during his time at the club – Van Persie started nearly every game last season. Still, seven goals in 11 games is not a bad return, and David Moyes must be praying that his Dutch superstar will be trading passes with Rooney, Kagawa and company, before turning to smash the ball home, before too long.
9 Radamel Falcao (▼ 5th)
Monaco and Colombia
Forty-one goals in 51 games for Porto. Fifty-two goals in 67 games for Atletico Madrid. Nine goals in 14 games for AS Monaco. It is statistics like this that make Radamel Falcao the most recognised striker on the planet, and the crowning jewel of Colombian football.
Though many people were confused by his agent-engineered €60million move to AS Monaco in the summer that means he isn’t playing Champions League football, and appeared to be money-motivated (perhaps one of the reasons that the 27 year-old isn’t higher on this list), the Santa Marta-born hit man has been consistently one of the most lethal strikers on the planet over the past four or so years, evidently scoring goals for fun wherever he has been playing.
Though only 5”10, Falcao is deceptively strong and physical. Combine this with his pace and direct style, then defenders have quite a problem on their hands. Probably the best pure finisher in the world, spatially and positionally adept and at times technically brilliant, Falcao is a rare breed of striker that has the ability to score from pretty much any position.
Having excelled in recent times to become one of the world’s leading players, 2013 has been a characteristically successful year for the Colombian. Concluding a 2012-13 season in which he scored at a rate of almost a goal a game (scoring 34 in 40 games), Falcao played an instrumental role in winning his first piece of domestic silverware for the Spanish Club, winning the Copa Del Rey at the Bernabeu.
He has since started this season for Monaco in a similarly rich vein of form, scoring in each of his first seven games, though a niggling thigh injury has somewhat hampered his start at the club.
His success has been mirrored on an international level, as Falcao consolidated his position as the undisputed prince of Colombian football. Falcao, finished the 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign as top scorer in the South America’s with nine goals (five of those goals coming in 2013) and spearheaded a Colombia side that has rampaged up the FIFA World Rankings tofourth.
Perhaps Falcao’s only vice is that we have yet to see him use his talent in a genuinely world-class team. Approaching at the age of 27, he is approaching the peak of his talents and a widely anticipated January move to Chelsea (following widespread reports that the player is already unsettled at the French club) could push Falcao from being the best pure striker in the world, to becoming a true legend of the game.
8 Neymar (▲ 10th)
Barcelona and Brazil
Eternally followed with every movement by the global rumour stirring network every transfer window during his emergence at Santos, Neymar managed to select the one summer of the last five years where a 57 million euro move to Barcelona could have possibly been overshadowed, which is solely to the young Brazilian’s benefit.
With Bale, Falcao or Özil stealing the limelight across Europe, the fact that Neymar’s move to Catalonia had been set in stone months in advance also helped to ease one of the world’s greatest talents into one of the world’s greatest teams.
Just a month or so following his announcement that he had decided to join Barcelona, he had his mind set back in the world of international football, where he’s arguably under more pressure than his new European surroundings.
The Confederations Cup offered Brazil their first chance at competitive football since an embarrassing 2011 Copa America effort and their last before their home World Cup, and Neymar began and ended it in style, taking just three minutes into the tournament’s opening game against Japan to score a volley that would go down as one of the goals of the year.
Following an awe-inspiring 3-0 final triumph over Spain, scoring the second himself, Neymar undisputedly took the prize for player of the tournament. If ever there was a confirmation needed to the casual Premier League-watching football fan that Neymar was firmly among the world’s best, this was it.
The now 21-year old was introduced into the Barcelona team at the beginning of the season in a rather understated fashion by new manager Gerardo Martino, a tactic which eventually proved fruitful for Neymar, who has taken up his usual left-wing position in Martino’s plans among a lot of competition.
But when Neymar has hit his best for Barcelona, you can already tell the difference between the dangerous class of Pedro and Alexis Sanchez and the sheer electricity the still improving Neymar takes to the field. His confidence is incredible, but his ability backs up his reason for having it.
A lack of an eyebrow-raising haircut and a slight decrease in fragility indicate Neymar is growing up and he’s going to keep that up to reach the top echelon status he promises. If Neymar’s highlight of 2013 wasn’t driving Brazil to a tournament victory on home soil, it was scoring the first and then assisting the winner in his El Clasico debut, I wouldn’t say that there’s many players out there whose 2013 can compete with that.
7 Luis Suarez (▲ 11th)
Liverpool and Uruguay
I think we can all say, irrespective of what year it is, that for Luis Suarez, every year is an eventful one. 2013 has been one of the most eventful to date. Suarez has experienced some big downs and some huge ups this calendar year.
If we think of the downs, we remember of the bite on Branislav Ivanovic which landed him a ten game ban, the handball against Mansfield and the summer transfer tantrum over a move to Arsenal. It is never simple with Luis Suarez. It never has and it never will be but one thing that we can all agree on that in 2013, Suarez has shown that he is right up there with the with best in the world.
The Uruguayan captained Liverpool against top four rivals Spurs and scored two and had two assists. At the time of writing, he is the league’s top goal scorer despite the fact that he missed the first five games of the season. Those are the stats and stats don’t lie.
But it’s not just the amount of goals he scores; it’s the different types of goals he scores. Look at the two he got against Spurs. One was quick feet in the box with a sharp finish and the other was a nonchalant lob over Hugo Lloris. What about the 40 yard strike, not lob, against Norwich? Suarez is a top striker, no one can deny that and any team in the world would love to have him.
After his summer tantrum, when Liverpool denied him a move to Arsenal, many questioned how Suarez would perform for Liverpool even though his heart seemed elsewhere. He has answered that question with 15 goals this season and one yellow card, to date. He became the first player in Premier League history to score three hat-tricks against the same club.
He has been touted as one of the best players, if not the best player, to wear a Liverpool shirt by many of the clubs legends. He has more league goals than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Gareth Bale and is equal with fellow South American or Spaniard, Diego Costa.
His eel like agility in the box make him a nightmare for defenders to mark. He can play on the shoulder or drop off into space and turn. If there was a stat in the Premier League for nutmegs, he would top it week in week out.
He can score with either foot (11 with his right and three with his left this season) and can also be the team’s provider (four assists, three behind Ozil). Many also wondered if he could share the limelight with Daniel Sturridge up front. The SAS have scored 24 goals so far between them this season so I guess that answers that.
There is no doubting that Suarez is a genius, and although he has been on his best behaviour this season, the beast still lurks beneath. Will he explode again? Probably. Is he worth it? Definitely. In the words of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, “There is no great genius without a mixture of madness”.
He is a genius, an enigmatic talent that at any given moment can win a game on his own. He can play for any team in the world and score any goal you can think of. He can even play in goal, just ask Dominic Adiyiah of Ghana.
If Suarez continues to play like he has so far in 2013, whoever wants him will have to part with at least £101 million.
6 Gareth Bale (▲ 21st)
Real Madrid and Wales
It is Boxing Day evening, Tottenham Hotspur have just hit West Brom for five. Spurs manager Andre Villas Boas has a grin as wide as North London’s White Hart Lane as he chats with the assembled media – the questions range from whether Spurs can hold onto first place in the league to what AVB thought of Gareth Bale’s man-of-the-match performance.
The Portuguese manager’s demeanour changes slightly as he takes on a serious tone, explaining how important it was to hold onto the Welsh superstar and how David Levy deserves credit for holding his nerve in the face of a series of astronomical financial offers from Real Madrid. A happy 2014 Christmas for Spurs.
The reality couldn’t be more different could it? The abject nature of Tottenham’s season sans Bale spells out in ten foot letters how much they miss his presence in the team and, perhaps more importantly, how good Gareth Bale is.
If the preceding years have seen the 24-year-old – to steal a baseball analogy- firstly make it to the big leagues and then subsequently step up to the plate, then 2013 was the year that Bale hits it straight out of the park.
When approaching the peak of their abilities the truly great players take on superhuman personas, constantly shocking spectators as they burst through walls – records are broken, the performances become more outrageous, the goals more spectacular.
In the second half of last season Gareth Bale became that superhero. A comic book character whose lightning pace and thunderbolt shot blasted all others off the pitch. The performances racked up with spectacular consistency – Goal of the Month in January and February, the latter coming in a stunning two-goal performance against West Ham and his eighth goal in six games.
With the forward motion of a runaway steam train Bale hoisted his club over his shoulder and powered toward the promised land of the UEFA Champions League, those obstacles in his way obliterated.
Alas it wasn’t to be, even a 90th minute thunderbolt from 25 yards in the last game of the season would not be enough for Spurs to reach Europe’s top level. The level Gareth Bale deserves to be on.
Whether that was a mitigating factor in the Welshman’s move to sunny Madrid isn’t in doubt. And despite all the questions over Real’s footballing intentions and, not least, the astronomical monetary sums involved no one can begrudge the young man from Cardiff his dream move.
And, along with a rather hefty cheque, David Levy and Tottenham received a pertinent lesson – the definition of priceless.
Keep an eye out for Part 6 coming later this week!