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RANKED! The 50 best players in the world, 2021

FourFourTwo logo FourFourTwo 6/10/2021 Mark White
a person standing in front of a birthday cake: Best 50 players in the world © Provided by FourFourTwo Best 50 players in the world

It's said that the technical and physical level of football is increasing all the time. Average players in the modern game would have been world-class decades ago - should we ever be able to test such a theorem.

Which makes deciding the 50 best players in the world all the harder. There's so much to judge a player on - is defending harder than scoring, for example - and really, there's no right answer. But that won't stop us gallantly nailing our flags to these poles. 

We compiled a list of the best players on Earth. We cross-referenced their form, their ability, their history and their sheer impact on a field: who wouldn't you be without? Who, all in all, is the most fantastic?

This is what we came up with. Feel free to have your say @FourFourTwo...


50. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Who you calling old? Ibrahimovic’s move to LA Galaxy in 2018 was supposed to signal the end of his career at Europe’s top table, but he’s just fired AC Milan back into the Champions League at the ripe old age of 39. His 19 Serie A appearances in an injury-hit season yielded 15 goals, giving him one of the best strike rates in Europe.

There simply aren’t enough words to describe how awesome Zlatan is. Or at least, that is how he’d want you to think. In actuality, the Swede is still finding the goal with regularity, notching 15 in Serie A this season to take his career goals total above 500. And he’s showing no signs of letting up.

Despite missing Sweden’s Euro 2020 campaign through injury, after purposely coming out of international retirement, Zlatan will stay with AC Milan for another season in which he’ll turn 40. 

Ibra’s evergreen exploits have seen him likened to Benjamin Button (by himself, of course), but for all the brashness and somewhat tiresome Zlatan shtick, the Swede remains a phenomenal footballer. Just don’t expect him to let his feet do the talking.

49. John Stones

Stones’ Manchester City career looked to be over a year ago. Ageing midfielder Fernandinho was preferred at centre-back. He could barely make the bench. Micah Richards suggested he join Everton. Twelve months on and Stones is celebrating a third Premier League title triumph, having played an integral part in City’s success. 

The Yorkshireman’s composure in possession and ability to carry the ball out of defence was always going to appeal to Pep Guardiola, but it’s more significant that Stones has cut out the sloppy mistakes and shaken off his tendency to lose focus. Usurping Aymeric Laporte in Pep’s pecking order is no mean feat.

48. Marco Verratti

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A star turn against Barcelona in the Champions League last season proved that Marco Verratti is still phenomenal. And he's still got Euro 2020 to truly stamp his authority on the international game.

The midfielder is a manager's dream. Giving him the ball is like locking it in a draw; his close control is superb and the Italian is comfortable in any phase of the pitch. He'd get into most sides in the world, still. 

47. Sadio Mané

“I’ll say it again. Sadio Mané best player in the league.” So tweeted No.1 fan Cesc Fabregas last September, after Liverpool’s ace frontman had bagged a quick-fire brace to sink Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Cesc wasn’t lying, either: he had given the same response when asked the question in January, having also named the speedster among the planet’s top three players months earlier.

Now, the rest of the world is catching up in its appreciation of the wide-man. Mo Salah may have edged him overall in every season since the Egyptian’s arrival in 2017, but Reds supporters are just as enamoured with their Senegalese star, who again dazzled en route to Liverpool’s first top-flight title since 1990.

Arguably the most consistent of their lethal attackers over the past few years - though not as prolific this year - Mané has also blossomed into one of the most complete: a bundle of trickery, imagination, pace and assassin-like finishing. “Maybe people thought, ‘I’m not sure he’s worth it’, but we were 100 per cent sure about him,” noted Jurgen Klopp in July. “Consistency was key... the level he performs at is unbelievable. He came as a young boy and grew up – he matured.”

46. Toni Kroos

"Toni Kroos has been imperious for Los Blancos - arguably the unsung hero of that midfield," Mark White of FFT said, following the midfielder's Man of the Match display against Liverpool last season. "When Real Madrid knocked Bayern Munich out of the Champions League in 2017, all the talk was typically of Cristiano Ronaldo, putting Germans on arses on his lonesome, with three goals. It should have been about Kroos: vision so impeccable, that he left Bayern just as their empire ended and Real’s began."

Kroos is maturing like a fine wine, too. The German is as cool and composed as ever, receding down the pitch to control things from deeper, having started his career as a more attacking midfielder. He's 31 - and still has another few years left in the tank. 

45. Jack Grealish

There's uproar that Jack Grealish might not be front and centre for the entirety of England's Euros campaign. That tells you everything you need to know about his ferocious talent.

Hands down the best player in the league until injury ruled him out for much of the rest of the campaign, the Brummie has a spark that so few others players in Europe have. The fact that he's so constantly fouled proves that there's no legal way to stop him and his goals and assists records have been steadily improving all season. Gareth Southgate might have a nationwide mutiny if he doesn't give Grealish games. 

44. Marquinhos, 43. Sergio Ramos

One is the seasoned stalwart at the very heart of everything that an establishment has done for the past decade; the other is about to take his mantle.

Sergio Ramos and Marquinhos are both included in this list not just for their ability but their leadership. While Ramos has been left out of Spain's Euro 2020 squad, the card-loving centre-back is still the very epicentre of the Bernabeu. Marquinhos, meanwhile, has stepped into Thiago Silva's shoes with ease, leading PSG to a Champions League semi-final and proving himself to be one of the best defenders on the planet.

They can both play a bit too. These are the guys that you build institutions around: they're solid as boulders. 

42. Achraf Hakimi

Achraf Hakimi apparently had Zinedine Zidane's blessing to leave the Bernabeu and follow his own path. While it was expected that the Moroccan would fulfil his destiny in the white of Real Madrid, Zidane let the player that he'd known since youth level head somewhere that he'd be a star man, after two years ploughing away on loan at Borussia Dortmund.

Hakimi managed 10 assists from open play in his last BVB season (the only full-back in Europe’s top five leagues to hit that), as well as striking five goals and a record speed of 36 km/h in a Bundesliga match. At Inter Milan, he's become a pillar of strength for Antonio Conte and he's a big reason they've won the title this season. He's 22 and already one of the most exciting full-backs of this generation. 

41. Paul Pogba

He dazzles, he destroys, he dictates, he delights. On the left of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's side he's been phenomenal all season; he can dribble and control tempo in equal measure and he's physically supreme, too. 

The naysayers have muted; he's no longer an £89m question mark. Paul Pogba's ascension to world class status may have taken the scenic route but it was well worth the journey.


40. Mason Mount

The first true Chelsea homegrown hero since John Terry, Mason Mount is fast-becoming the centrepiece of every team he plays in. The 'teacher's pet' label has been shaken off aggressively this season, as the 22-year-old adds more creativity to his instinct for a late run. 

He's starting to come in clutch for Chelsea, now. This is a lad that Thomas Tuchel has built his team around - he'll no doubt be the vital ingredient at Stamford Bridge for years to come. 

39. Luka Modric, 38. Frenkie De Jong, 37. Thibaut Courtois, 36. Raphael Varane, 35. Antoine Griezmann

Spanish football isn't what it was. There was a time when these five characters would bustle for positions within the top 20 players on Earth. 

But while Luka Modric, Frenkie De Jong, Thibaut Courtois, Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann have all slipped down the echelons of the elite in the last 18 months or so, all of them are key to their nations at the Euros. They're still cornerstones, one and all, and all have the big-game mentality that, frankly, makes them undroppable. 

34. Andrew Robertson, 33. Marcus Rashford, 32. Raheem Sterling

Andrew Robertson, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling all ascended to be leaders of their respective sides. But they all came the long way around.

Robertson's move to Liverpool from Hull City went under the radar, somewhat; he had to fight for contention in the Reds' side - similarly to Rashford competing for a spot at Manchester United with a plethora of big-name buys. Raheem Sterling, who drew ire from Liverpool fans when he moved to Manchester City, has himself had doubters, poor patches of form and moments where he looked a little out of his depth.

It's a testament to the mentalities of each of them to see where they are today; hugely valued by their managers and lauded for their work-rate and output. It didn't always look likely.

31. Trent Alexander-Arnold, 30. Phil Foden, 29. Alphonso Davies

It's hard to believe that these three precocious young talents are still 22, 21 and 20 respectively. They could be on this list for years to come.

Described by Jamie Carragher as “Kevin De Bruyne at right-back”, Alexander-Arnold is one of the best crossers of the ball in world football, and his long passing is right up there too. Iron out the deficiencies and greatness awaits.

Foden had already played more than 70 games for Manchester City before last season, but 2020/21 was his breakout campaign. The ‘Stockport Iniesta’ is the reason Pep Guardiola’s side didn’t miss David Silva, with Foden succeeding the Spaniard’s as City’s silky string-puller-in-chief.

Despite fierce competition for places in attack, Foden made himself undroppable in the second half of the season. His touch, vision and balance are all exemplary, but the 20-year-old is efficient too: 16 goals in all competitions made him City’s second-highest scorer. “The best of his generation,” says Fernandinho. Who are we to argue?

Davies, meanwhile, seems to do everything at breakneck speed – but then again, that’s not really surprising for a player who made his professional debut at Vancouver aged 15. He began his Bayern career shoehorned out of position at left-back, yet became key to their ruthless bullying of the Bundesliga and Europe last season. With boundless stamina, fearless dribbling and cheetah-like pace, he has already won every club honor there is to win with Bayern after securing the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup.

28. Bernardo Silva, 27. N'Golo Kanté, 26. Virgil van Dijk

2017, 2019 and 2020. They were owned by three players; three standout stars in Premier League-winning campaigns. 

N'Golo Kanté came first. The diminutive destroyer lit up the league for a second season running with his grin and his ball-winning, playing like two midfielders and firing Chelsea to a title. Then in 2019, Bernardo Silva took a leaf out of his book; rarely had such talent burned across a pitch so intensely, as the Portuguese playmaker moved into midfield to fill the considerable void left by Kevin De Bruyne's injury issues. 

Just a year later, Virgil van Dijk nabbed his spotlight. He stood taller than the pair - stiller too - but led with the same superhuman consistency as Liverpool delivered a title for the first time in three long decades. 

Bernardo, Kanté and van Dijk occupy places 28, 27 and 26 in our list, respectively. They've all dragged a team to a title and each of them are powerful and graceful in their own individual ways. 


25. Son Heung-min

FourFourTwo devoted its cover to South Korean superstar Son back in February. The Tottenham Hotspur winger had glitzed and hypnotised the Premier League all season - and anyway, that infectious smile deserved to be splashed all over newsstands, right? 

The Spurs man is now waltzing into teams of the season, along with partner-in-crime Harry Kane, despite the North Londoners faltering since the turn of the year. His speed, his capability with either foot and his positioning is elite, while his glowing enthusiasm and willingness to get stuck in has endeared him to Tottenham fans everywhere.

“If you were to describe a professional footballer, he ticks all the boxes,” Ryan Mason told FFT in our big feature on Son. “Everyone absolutely loved him at the training ground. He was so hard working. You’ve never heard anything about him having a negative attitude, because he’s a consummate professional.”

Has a player ever been loved by neutrals as much as this guy? Rarely. His fantastic technical ability only adds to the appreciation. 

24. Serge Gnabry, 23. Manuel Neuer

“I'm not satisfied with myself. I wanted to lift my goal and assist stats," Gnabry said at the end of the season. The Bayern Munich forward would no doubt have hoped to notch more than 10 Bundesliga goals and two assists last term, but the frank assessment of his performances speaks volumes about Gnabry's determination to be one of the world's best. 

Anyway, those numbers look rather different when you consider he only started 20 top-flight games. Versatile, intelligent and technically gifted, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Gnabry more than double his goal involvements next time out. He's certainly talented enough to do so.

And Gnabry has the same bouncebackability as clubmate Neuer. While the former Arsenal attacker stagnated on an ill-fated loan to West Brom before building himself back up, three years ago, Neuer’s career at the highest level looked to be over. A recurring foot injury had dented his confidence. Mistakes had become commonplace. His reading of the game was off-kilter – a particularly damaging development for the 21st century’s foremost sweeper-keeper.

Yet Neuer has experienced a remarkable revival. His reflexes have not dulled with age, and he’s successfully recalibrated his radar to clean up behind his defence once more. Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge isn’t alone in thinking that Neuer is the greatest goalkeeper of all time – although Oliver Kahn, Rummenigge successor as of January, might beg to differ.

They're both integral to Bayern and Germany now. The comeback kings, well and truly.

22. Joao Cancelo, 21. Ederson, 20. Ilkay Gundogan

Manchester City's title-winning titans are built on one of the most extraordinary spines that English football have ever seen. Joao Cancelo, Ederson and Ilkay Gundogan - places 22, 21 and 20 in our list - are not your average full-back, goalkeeper and midfielder.

Joao Cancelo was a regular wing-back at Juventus but has undergone a Masters in Guardiola-ball, becoming an inverted, auxiliary midfielder in the City set-up. He functions in three different roles at once some games, offering thrust and composure and in equal part. 

Ederson, meanwhile, is well-documented. So good with his feet, it's claimed, he could get into other sides' midfields; he's an extra pass-sprayer, another assister. And then there's Gundogan. If you thought it was impressive that Pep turned this guy into a no.6, his reinvention into a false nine and Sergio Aguero replacement has been nothing short of unbelievable.

But for all their intelligence and ingenuity, at their core, Manchester City's trio of Cancelo, Ederson and Gundogan are simply fantastic examples of their respective positions. Cancelo can just run up and down and he'd be the best right-back in the league, Ederson won the Golden Glove last year and Gundogan is the much-needed tempo-setter in midfield. Without these three key ingredients, City would be lost. 

19. Jadon Sancho

Sancho’s transfer saga has generated more headlines than his football in recent times, but don’t let that fool you. The Borussia Dortmund forward is as bright a talent as England has right now, and we can expect the appreciation of him to explode if he does return to the Premier League this summer.

Sancho reached double figures in both goals and assists across the Bundesliga and Champions League last term. He thrived in several different roles: on the left, on the right and through the middle. A quick, tricky dribbler with an impressively polished end product, the 21-year-old Sancho will only get better.Once seen as a game-changing option from the bench, Mahrez took centre stage for Manchester City last term. He was perhaps City’s most consistent attacker, registering 13 goals and eight assists in the Premier League and Champions League. It’s a measure of his rise in status that Mahrez started six of his side’s seven knockout games in Europe.

He did more than just start them. Mahrez scored the tie-deciding goal against Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals, then notched three more across both legs of the semi against PSG. The Algerian entertainer doesn’t just decorate games these days; he increasingly decides them too.

18. Ruben Dias

Accolades from football writers may not be everything – much to FourFourTwo’s chagrin – but Ruben Dias becoming the first defender since Steve Nicol in 1989 to be crowned the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year is still a decent indicator of his talent.

Joining Manchester City with the unenviable task of replacing captain and legend Vincent Kompany in the heart of defence, he has not only risen to the task, he has in some ways exceeded it – his Champions League performances in particular have been crucial in helping City to hitherto unscaleable heights in the competition.

17. Riyad Mahrez

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Once seen as a game-changing option from the bench, Mahrez took centre stage for Manchester City last term. He was perhaps City’s most consistent attacker, registering 13 goals and eight assists in the Premier League and Champions League. It’s a measure of his rise in status that Mahrez started six of his side’s seven knockout games in Europe.

He did more than just start them. Mahrez scored the tie-deciding goal against Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals, then notched three more across both legs of the semi against PSG. The Algerian entertainer doesn’t just decorate games these days; he increasingly decides them too.

16. Leon Goretzka 

Goretzka was called a “Bayern pig” when he traded Schalke for Bavaria in 2018, but there’s a good reason why they’re so alluring. In turn, the 26-year-old has blossomed into a Swiss army knife star: a goalscorer, preventer and gut-busting worker. 

Working perfectly in tandem with Joshua Kimmich in the heart of Bayern’s midfield, Goretzla can dominate with an iron fist, yet still deliver sumptuous key passes for the side’s clinical finishers. The all-action midfielder is a physical specimen that possesses a keen eye for a pass - which often ends in a goal.

15. Karim Benzema

"Benzema, the narrative claimed, was nothing more than a magician’s assistant," FFT's Mark White said of the freshly-recalled French striker. "But there was a reason why Real Madrid didn’t directly replace Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018. Out of the showman’s shadow he has twice top-scored for Real, and this term led them to his third La Liga title with seven goals after lockdown."

Didier Deschamps made the biggest u-turn of his career for this man - and he didn't need to either, with France stacked with talent. Benzema's overhead kick was literally the only piece of genius that Real Madrid mustered against Chelsea; he was a constant threat against City last year and he was the biggest thorn in Barca's side during the monsoon Clasico of April. 

Oh Big Benz still has it, alright. He's 33 but since stepping out of Ronaldo's shadow, he's more than happy to take some of that limelight for himself. 

14. Mohamed Salah

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Sadio Mané waned. Roberto Firmino dropped deeper and deeper, that sprinkling of gold dust seemingly missing from his arsenal. But in Liverpool's difficult second season after winning the Premier League title, still, no one could stop Mohamed Salah. 

You just have to look at his goal away to West Ham United in January to realise what he's all about. 20 seconds prior, Liverpool were defending a corner. And then, all of a sudden they weren't: Salah sees a pocket of space in behind the Irons' backline, controls a raking pass like he's caught a cricket ball from the heavens and pokes it home with ease. 

It was one of 22 goals in the Premier League last season. He has 125 in 203 Liverpool games. Calling him an Egyptian King doesn't seem enough anymore: he's a god of a footballer. 

13. Joshua Kimmich

Arguably the world’s finest footballer in two positions, Kimmich was regularly switched between right-back and defensive midfield for club and country again during 2020-21. 

His stellar performances in both roles were key as Die Roten clinched their trophy hat-trick last season, and he has continued that form again this season while also displaying admirable leadership for a player still only 26. His outstanding reliability and determination have become as valuable as his pinpoint passes and spatial awareness - earning him his place in the Bundesliga Team of the Season for the fourth season in a row. 

12. Jan Oblak

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Is there a goalkeeper more universally acknowledged as world-class?

Simply put, no one doesn't rate Jan Oblak. The towering presence in goal for La Liga champions Atletico, Oblak has been superb over the last year again and he's a big reason for Diego Simeone's side famously being impenetrable at the back. It's not always been easy for him, either.

"I've always praised him for his commitment and hard work, especially the way he earned the place he has in the team," Simeone said of the Slovenian. He arrived, didn't play at first and got injured. Moya did really well so he waited his turn and worked hard – normally when you work hard you get your reward. He won his place in the team and we're delighted with him."

Oblak is a fighter, just like his manager. At 28, we might not have seen the best of him, either...

11. Thomas Muller

He might not have much of a future in stand-up comedy, but Muller remains one of the world’s most effective attackers. Eleven goals and an astonishing 18 assists in 32 Bundesliga matches helped Bayern Munich to yet another title in 2020/21. His club performances also forced the stubborn Joachim Low to recall him to the Germany squad. Watch out, Europe.

He doesn’t look or play like the conventional footballer, but by the time the opposition has worked out exactly what Muller does, the ball’s usually in the back of their net. Robert Lewangoalski certainly appreciates his efforts.


10. Cristiano Ronaldo

Records follow Ronaldo - according to the man himself - and not the other way around. If there was ever a case-in-point for what the human mind is capable of, you only have to look at the Juventus forward or his Argentine counterpart. But whichever fence you sit on in the debate of Ronaldo vs Messi, you probably have to admit that Ronaldo's achievements are more extraordinary when compared to his natural ability.

There was a never doubt in anyone's mind that Messi would achieve greatness. As a stepover-happy, toothy teen, Ronaldo was pure potential. He's moulded himself into the biggest big-game player in the world; he's become a prolific goalscorer where he lacked end product. And it's a testament to his determination and elite mentality that he's worked himself into the conversation of being the best ever. 

And he's still ruddy brilliant. At 36, he scored a goal every 97 minutes in Serie A this season. We've never seen anyone quite like him - no, not even him

9. Romelu Lukaku

Is there a greater joy in modern football than watching Romelu Lukaku? At a time when elite football is being corralled into a series of well-drilled ‘automations’, Lukaku’s style of play more resembles the chaotic pleasure of the playground: even when presented with a tap-in, the Belgian striker is more likely to give the ball a fierce wallop and test the net’s strength.

Second only to Cristiano Ronaldo in the Serie A scoring charts, he fired Inter to their first Scudetto in a decade, and has netted 22 more goals in total for I Nerazzurri than he did at Manchester United, despite having played a game less. The reward for building a team towards his strengths is evident.

8. Bruno Fernandes

There is no greater evidence that Bruno Fernandes could be the man to inspire Manchester United back to glory than the fact opposition fans bother to belittle his achievements and influence.

In 2020/21, he broke Frank Lampard’s record for most goals from a Premier League midfielder in a single season, netting 28 – including one less penalty than the Chelsea legend managed that year.

The Portuguese maestro appears to be the missing link that the Red Devils have longed for in the last eight title-less years. If they are to win the league anytime soon, it will be with Fernandes at the heart of the team.

7. Erling Haaland

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Terrifying. That's the only way to describe part Scandi-god, full-time goal machine Erling Haaland. He's the top scorer in the Champions League, he averages a goal a game and he's barely finished growing. Sheesh. 

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The world is clamouring for his services. There's not a soul on the Earth who doesn't want him on their team and as a complete striker already - he can link play, he's pacy and he's aerially supreme - there's no ceiling to what he might achieve. We've barely seen forwards with this level of potential. Even if he maintains his standards, he'll scare the pants off of every defender he ever meets.

6. Harry Kane

It seems unfair to defences that England’s best striker keeps improving. Kane seemingly downloads new patches to boost his game, excelling in a Tottenham side that faltered during the second half of the season - and now, as he enters his peak years, it seems inevitable that he will leave for pastures new.

Unsurprisingly the Premier League golden boot winner for the third time in his career, Kane also led the assists chart as he developed in an effective withdrawn striking role at Spurs. Still surprising, still brilliant, Kane now has his sights set firmly on Alan Shearer’s 260-goal record.

5. Kylian Mbappe

The world has been in love with Kylian Mbappe ever since he first dropped that left shoulder. He blew into the world with quicksilver pace and a Thierry Henry impression: he's now a man, one of the most exciting strikers on the planet and a goal machine to boot. 

Perhaps something that's often left unsaid about Mbappe is that he's incredibly mature and intelligent. Wherever he plays across the frontline, he adapts his game. Whichever way the game is shifting, he can contort his abilities into whatever his team needs: he's the pace on the break, the width in attack or a pure poacher, should Paris Saint-Germain demand one. 

Oh, he's taken the world by storm. He's a household name and he's only going to grow. 

4. Neymar

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Neymar will never be universally popular. Yes, his tendency to showboat can rub opponents up the wrong way. Yes, he goes down too easily sometimes. Yes, he’s hardly N’Golo Kante off the ball. But anyone who doesn’t enjoy watching Neymar at his electric, exhilarating best should probably find another sport to watch.

Last season was not the best of the Brazilian’s career. PSG won neither Ligue 1 nor the Champions League, and Neymar missed large chunks of the campaign with injury. Yet he still scored 17 goals in all competitions and was superb in PSG’s two-legged victory over Bayern Munich. On his day there are few better.

3. Robert Lewandowski

"There is beauty in simplicity. Perhaps no other footballer on the planet embodies that idea more than Robert Lewandowski," FFT's Ed McCambridge said of the Polish hitman last year. "Bayern Munich’s trusty striker might not be the most skilful player in the world, the most jaw-dropping, the fiercest nor the quickest, but he has made a habit of doing the simple things better than anybody in 2020. And he is devastating at it."

Lewandowski has cemented his name in the history books as perhaps the greatest finisher ever with yet another outrageous season in front of goal. The Pole dispatched an unfathomable 41 goals in the Bundesliga on the way to breaking Gerd Muller’s 49-year-old record, which looked seemingly unbeatable.

All the more impressive is that the marksman achieved this feat in just 30 games, after missing four matches in the season due to injury. 

Impossible to keep quiet, Lewandowski picked up the Bundesliga Player of the Season for the fifth time in his career, and is showing no signs of letting up. 

2. Lionel Messi

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One of these days, potentially sooner than we think, a stadium will be packed to the brim with watery-eyed, camera-clicking fans. Lionel Messi will applaud the tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, welling up himself. And like that, the genius himself we leave football. Retire. We will be in a new age. 

And that's why it's so important not to underrate this man. Not to normalise his achievements. Messi is unique as the greatest passer, dribbler and goalscorer of a generation - according at least to the stats - and at 33, he's still on top of his game. 

But beyond the stats, he's just magical. He makes football fun, even as he pirouettes into his twilight. He's the most gorgeous footballer on earth to watch with a ball at his feet and he has been for 15 years now. Enjoy him while he's still here. 

1. Kevin De Bruyne

While Manchester City can sometimes feel like Pep Guardiola-designed footballing machine, Kevin De Bruyne is the inexplicable spark that elevates it to life. His unpredictability, spotting passes no one else can, still somehow looks perfectly at home in the City side: it’s unclear whether to see the world through his eyes would be to experience overwhelming vivid technicolour or lines of zeroes and ones.

In the past year, he’s found his way into the Premier League assists chart top 10 and proven that to succeed, a team does not necessarily need a reliable goalscorer; they just need a reliable goal creator.

Not that he doesn’t chip in with goals, too: his three in the Champions League this season have all come in the knockout rounds, including one in the away leg of the semi-final against PSG.

At 29, he may soon either wane or be forced to adapt his game. Working under Guardiola, and seeing the post-30 careers of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, FourFourTwo would be inclined towards the latter. And we can’t wait to see it.


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