50 best football players in the world of 2019

50: Thomas Partey — Atletico Madrid/Ghana

Thomas Partey

Age: 26

Position: Midfield

After four seasons in and out of the starting line-up at Atletico Madrid, Thomas Partey has finally established himself as a regular feature in Diego Simeone’s side.

The Ghanian has made 27 starts for Atleti in La Liga this calendar year, his most ever, and has provided the Spaniards with a powerful shield to its back four. 

The only criticism you can give Partey is that he gets booked too often (six times already this term alone). However, it’s a small price to pay for offering such excellent coverage to Simeone’s defence, which boasts the best record in the Spanish top flight, partly thanks to the 26-year-old midfielder. 

49: Moussa Dembele — Olympique Lyonnais/France

Dembele

Age: 23

Position: Striker

Dembele’s credentials were doubted when he was with Celtic despite his phenomenal scoring record. Many a striker in the past has scored heaps in Scotland but then failed to replicate it elsewhere. Not Dembele.

Since his $24 million move to Lyon in August 2018, the Frenchman has scored 30 goals in just 42 games, 10 of which have come in Ligue 1 this term already, making him the division’s second current top scorer.

48: Kieren Trippier — Atletico Madrid/England

Trippier

Age: 29

Position: Defender

Atletico Madrid securing the signing of Kieren Trippier for just $26 million in the summer was one of the bargains of the year.

Admittedly, England’s free-kick hero hadn’t had his best few months towards the end of his Tottenham career. But since the move to Spain, he’s rediscovered his best form and more.

Amongst his highlights for his new club are a dominating performance against Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League, an assist on his debut, as well a comparison to David Beckham, whom MARCA said his “crossing is akin too.”

47: Romelu Lukaku — Inter Milan/Belgium

Lukaku

Age: 26

Position: Striker

Antonio Conte made it clear he wanted to rescue Romelu Lukaku from his Manchester United nightmare when he took over as manager at Inter Milan in the summer. 

Given the 26-year-old’s start to life in Italy, it’s easy to see why. Conte has bought the best back out of the bruising Belgian, helping him score 10 times in just 15 Serie A games, which is the quickest any striker in the club’s history has reached that total. 

Lukaku has also formed a tasty partnership with Lauturo Martinez, which has proven enough to see Inter top the Serie A table midway through the season. 

46: Ricardo Pereira — Leicester City/Portugal

Pereira

Age: 26

Position: Defender

Pereira has been the Premier League’s stand out right back over the past two seasons. Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold may surpass him in terms of delivery in the final third, but as a complete player, the Portuguese packs the bigger punch.

So good has he been, Tottenham Hotspur boss Jose Mourinho — a man known for his defensive nous — wants to take him to North London, according to The Express.

However, given Leicester’s current form and position in the top flight, it’s difficult to see why he would leave.

45: Julian Brandt — Borussia Dortmund/Germany

Julian Brandt

Age: 23

Position: Midfielder

23-year-old Julian Brandt was exceptional for Bayer Leverkusen last term, scoring seven times and providing 11 assists to help it to a fourth-place finish in the Bundesliga.

His form prompted rivals Borussia Dortmund to come calling, where, since his $28 million summer move, he’s continued to impress.

After finding the net on his debut, he’s added a further six goals and contributed four assists. He is already well on his way to superseding his combined tally from last term.

44: Stefan de Vrij — Inter Milan/Netherlands

De Vrij

Age: 27

Position: Defender

Barcelona tried to sign Stefan de Vrij in the summer, but Inter Milan manager Antonio Conte rebuffed the offer, according to Calcio Mercato.

The Italian’s desire to keep the Dutch defender was much for the same reason he sought out Romelu Lukaku — he saw De Vrij as a key piece of his Inter jigsaw.

Playing as a sweeper, often in a back three, the 27-year-old boasts having made the most clearances and blocks for the Serie A giants this season. He also has the club’s second-highest pass completion percentage of 92.6% — a perfect fit.  

43: Wilfred Ndidi — Leicester City/Nigeria

Ndidi

Age: 23

Position: Midfielder

Wilfred Ndidi had (theoretically) huge shoes to fill when he took his place in Leicester’s midfield after the departure of N’Golo Kante. 

The Nigerian joined just sixth months after Kante left for Chelsea in 2017. He had the added pressure of seeing Nampalys Mendy, the man whom the Foxes had originally signed to replace Kante, failing to do the business.

Not only has Ndidi stepped up to the plate, but he’s also established himself as one of the Premier League’s finest defensive midfielders. This year he’s been better than ever, thriving under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers, making himself the heartbeat of a Leicester team that has established itself title challengers once again. 

42: Antoine Griezmann — FC Barcelona/France

Griezmann.JPG
Antoine Griezmann in action for Barcelona. 

Age: 28

Position: Forward

Griezmann’s year has been tainted slightly by his big-money summer move to Barcelona from Atletico Madrid. 

The Frenchman seemed distracted in his final days in Atleti and has endured a somewhat difficult period of adjustment at his new club this term. 

He has still managed 17 goals this year, seven of which have come for his new club, and he’s only likely to improve as he settles into life at the Camp Nou. 

41: Carlos Vela — Los Angeles FC/Mexico

Vela

Age: 30

Position: Forward

Carlos Vela didn’t just break the MLS record book during 2019, he tore it apart, burned it, and wrote his own version. 

MLS All-star; MLS Best XI; Player of the Month three times; Most Valuable Player; Golden Boot — Vela’s year has been remarkable.

Zlatan who? 

40: Raphael Varane — Real Madrid/France

Varane

Age: 26

Position: Defender

Raphael Varane keeps a low profile at Real Madrid, unlike many of the mega-money “Galacticos” around him. 

You’ll rarely ever see him the news, he seldom does interviews, and his social media accounts are, quite frankly, boring. 

But while others are making noise, the Frenchman is going about is job week-in week-out, unassumingly, but excellently. Varane is strong in the tackle, quick, and possesses a sound footballing brain — something many current centre-backs lack. 

39: Raheem Sterling — Manchester City/England

Raheem Sterling

Age: 25

Position: Forward 

Raheem Sterling was often criticized for his lack of goals, but since Pep Guardiola took over at Manchester City, such criticism has vanished. 

The Englishman, who has perfected the art of being in the right place in at the right time in the six-yard box, has scored an impressive 33 times in 2019 — the most he’s ever managed, by some distance. 

38: Raul Jimenez — Wolverhampton Wanderers/Mexico

Jimenez

Age: 28

Position: Forward

A clever recruitment drive which has included the acquisitions of Rui Patricio, Adama Traore, and Joao Moutinho, to name just a few, has been the secret to Wolves’ ascension to the upper echelons of the Premier League and the Europa League. 

The club’s smartest signing of recent times, however, has been that of Raul Jimenez.

The Mexican forward has been involved in everything Nuno Espirito Santo’s side has done well over the past 12 months. Whether it’s finding the net (which he’s done 26 times), holding the ball up, assisting his teammates, or even tracking back to defend — Jimenez is the full package. 

37: Achraf Hakimi — Borussia Dortmund/Morocco

Hakimi

Age: 21

Position: Defender

Real Madrid has an abundance of top-class full-backs at its disposal in Marcelo, Dani Carvajal, Ferland Mendy, and Alvaro Odriozola.

It’s best, however, is currently out on-loan with Borussia Dortmund.

Achraf Hakimi joined Germans on a temporary two-year deal in the summer of 2018 and has since taken the Bundesliga by storm. 

His partnership down the right flank with teammate Jadon Sancho has been a thing of beauty, the pair so often combining to devastating effect in the final third. Sancho gets most of the plaudits in front of goal, but Hakimi, mostly thanks to his devastating pace, has chipped in with more than his fair share, having hit six goals already this season. 

36: Ciro Immobile — SSC Lazio/Italy

Immobile

Age: 29

Position: Forward

Immobile has scored 27 goals for Lazio this year. However, 19 of those have already come this term in just 20 games.

It’s the best start to a season the Italian has enjoyed his career and has seen his total with the Eagles soar past the century mark, and move him up to fifth in its all-time scorers list.

He’s currently 44 off the leader Silvio Piola, who has 149, but if he continues to find the net the way he has done in 2019, he should have no problem breaking his countryman’s record. 

35: Kai Havertz — Bayer Leverkusen/Germany

Kai Havertz

Age: 20

Position: Midfielder

Bayer Leverkusen’s sporting director and the German national team’s fourth all-time top scorer, Rudi Voller, described Kai Havertz as a “once in a generation talent,” according to Bundesliga.com.

Lothar Matthaus, Germany’s highest ever appearance maker, agreed, saying of the 20-year-old: “He plays with passion, he’s spontaneous, he’s very quick, scores goals, his distribution’s good, he really works for the team – and all that at such a young age.”

Given his seal of approval from two of his country’s most revered ever players, it is safe to say Havertz is on his way to great things.

34: Neymar — Paris Saint Germain/Brazil

Neymar could be on the verge of joing Real Madrid.JPG

Age: 27

Position: Forward

If this list were based purely on ability: Neymar would be second. The Brazilian, without a doubt, possesses all the attributes to one of, if not, the world’s best. 

However, 2019 has been a challenging year for the 27-year-old. Injuries, suspensions, poor form, ongoing transfer rumours, and off the field problems — including a false accusation of rape — have affected his form. 

Such woes have been put behind him in recent months, however, and he’s been back to his best for PSG, scoring eight times in his last 11 games, three which were the only goals in 1-0 wins for the French champion. 

33: Son Heung-min — Tottenham Hotspur/South Korea

Son

Age: 27

Position: Forward

Tottenham Hotspur has had three years of big changes, including a new stadium, a new manager, and an influx of $377 million worth of new players. 

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the brilliance of its star man, Son Heung-min. 

The South Korean has continued to steal the Harts of fans at The Lane with his tantalizing performances, scoring 20 goals and providing 11 assists in all competitions.

His best effort came against Burnley in December, where he ran from the edge of his penalty area, dribbled past six opposition players, and slotted the ball in the net. For that alone, he deserves his place on this list. 

32: Luis Suarez — FC Barcelona/Uruguay

Luis Suarez

Age: 32

Position: Forward

Suarez recently said moving to David Beckham’s new MLS franchise Inter Miami after his time at Barcelona is up is a “nice possibility,” according to ESPN.

Given Suarez’s outstanding 2019, the Catalan club will be pulling out all the stops to make sure that day is as far away as possible. 

The Uruguayan hitman has scored 25 goals, 12 of them which have come this term in what’s been a strong start to the new campaign. One of those dozen was perhaps the best goal he’s ever scored in his career too in the form of an audacious lobbed back heel against Mallorca. 

31: Georgio Chiellini — Juventus/Italy

Chiellini

Age: 35

Position: Defender

One of the world’s standout defenders over the last decade, Juventus’ Georgio Chiellini is still going strong at the age of 35.

The Italian is still very much the leading figure of the Serie A champion’s back four, which has conceded just 34 top-flight goals during the whole calendar year.

Fortunately for Juve, when Chiellini does decide to call it time, he has one of the world’s most talented youngsters alongside him. 20-year-old Matthijs de Ligt, whom Chiellini already has been full of praise for, telling Sky Sports Italia, as per Football Italia: “He’s smart, he wants to learn and is doing so quickly.”

30: Roberto Firmino — Liverpool FC/Brazil

Firmino

Age: 28

Position: Forward

He may not score the most goals for a striker, but Roberto Firmino’s importance to Liverpool should not be under-estimated.

The Brazilian’s centre-forward roll, in which he often drops deep and collects the ball before distributing, acts as the perfect ploy for both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to get in behind and deal damage to the opposition.

His link-up play in tight areas is second to none, his work rate is fantastic, and he’s also capable of pulling off the sublime, often when Liverpool most need it. 

29: Angel Di Maria — Paris Saint Germain/Argentina

Angel Di Maria

Age: 31

Position: Forward

Angel Di Maria’s career time looked up after his failed spell at Manchester United in the 2014/15 season. 

However, the Argentine has turned things around since his move to Paris Saint Germain and is enjoying the best spell of his footballing career. 

He had a strong 2018/19 season, scoring 19 times and producing 17 assists as PSG won the Ligue 1 title, but has got off to an even bigger flyer this campaign, managing nine goals and 10 assists in just 22 games. 

28: Gabriel Barbosa — Flamengo/Brazil

Gabigol

Age: 23

Position: Forward

Gabigol was dubbed “Gabi-no-gol” by fans during his time at Inter Milan, after scoring just once in a year. 

Since moving back to his home country of Brazil in January 2018, though, the 23-year-old has firmly removed the acrid adlib from his nickname.

This year has been particularly brilliant, Barbosa finding the net 42 times in 55 games, firing Flamengo to both the Brazilian Championship and the Copa Libertadores — the latter in which he scored twice in the dying minutes of the final to earn his side a 2-1 victory over River Plate.

27: Cristiano Ronaldo — Juventus/Portugal

Ronaldo

Age: 34

Position: Forward

It’s not been Ronaldo’s best year. Statistically, it’s been his worst in a decade.

But fortunately for the Portuguese forward, his worst is generally better than most players’ best. 

The 34-year-old has scored 20 goals for Juventus in 2019, helping it win an eighth consecutive Scudetto. He was also named the division’s Player of the Year for last season and finished third in the Ballon d’Or award standings. 

26: Bernardo Silva — Manchester City/Portugal

Bernardo Silva

Age: 25

Position: Midfielder

Winning Manchester City’s Player of the Year award is no easy feat, but Bernardo Silva’s brilliant performances last season saw him do just that.

Manager Pep Guardiola also said he believed the silky Portuguese playmaker should have been named as the best player in the Premier League, according to Squawka.

“Bernardo can play incredibly well everywhere, give me a team, and he can play well there,” he said. “He does everything with the ball.”

Silva’s game time has been reduced this term due to the return from injury of Kevin de Bruyne and signing of Rodri. However, given City is now third in the Premier League and trailing leaders Liverpool by 14 points, Guardiola may be wise to reinstate the 25-year-old. 

25: Jan Oblak — Atletico Madrid/Slovenia

Jan Oblak

Age: 26

Position: Goalkeeper

He’s nicknamed “The Wall” for a reason.

For each of the last five seasons in La Liga (including the current one), Jan Oblak has been the leading clean sheet keeper in the division. 

In total, he’s managed 90, with a season average of 56%, meaning he keeps the opponent out completely out at least every other game. 

Nine of those have come this season, the most out of any keeper in the country, as he and Atletico look to push Barcelona and Real Madrid to the title. 

24: Eden Hazard — Real Madrid/Belgium

Eden Hazard

Age: 28

Position: Forward

Life at Real Madrid hasn’t gotten off to the start Eden Hazard would have hoped for after his $111 million move from Chelsea in the summer.

The Belgian star scored just one goal in 13 games for Los Blancos before he injured his ankle against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League, leaving him on crutches.

Fortunately, the knock isn’t as bad as first feared, and he could be back in action before the end of the year, according to AS.

When he does return, the 28-year-old will be keen to put behind him the past few months and prove once again his calibre as one of the world’s best players, as he did in the first half of the year at Stamford Bridge. 

23: Joshua Kimmich — FC Bayern Munich/Germany

Joshua Kimmich

Age: 24

Position: Defender

“[Kimmich] has everything to be the second [Philipp] Lahm.”

Those were the words of former Bayern Munich and West Germany midfielder Paul Breitner, as per Bundesliga.com. “He is his successor. He’s got great ability. I watch Kimmich, and he has the same qualities as Lahm.”

Given that Lahm was a versatile, bombarding full-back who often played centre midfield, with a knack for teeing up his teammates and an occasional eye for goal — that assessment is accurate. 

Kimmich has created 14 goals this year for Bayern, scored three times, and, most importantly, provided the German champions with excellent defensive coverage down the right flank. 

22: Dries Mertens — SSC Napoli/Belgium

Mertens

Age: 32

Position: Forward

You know you’ve got some player on your hands when he surpasses a scoring record held by Diego Maradona. 

That’s what Dries Mertens did in October when he hit his 116th goal for Napoli against RB Salzburg in the Champions League, moving him one ahead of the Argentine in the club’s all-time top scorers list. 

“[Mertens] was born to be a striker,” said Maradona after learning the Belgian has beaten his tally, while also encouraging the club to extend his contract at the San Paolo Stadium, according to Goal.

21: Frenkie de Jong — FC Barcelona/Netherlands

De Jong

Age: 22

Position: Midfielder

Andres Iniesta left a huge void in Barcelona’s midfield when he left for Japanese side Vissel Kobe in the summer of 2018.

Fortunately, it appears the Catalan club has found itself a natural replacement already in the form of Frenkie de Jong. His excellent vision, acute eye for a pass, and skillful feet have seen him slot straight into the Barca starting XI following his move from Ajax.

Iniesta himself has even given the Dutchman his seal of approval, calling him “exceptional,” according to Tribuna.

20: Serge Gnabry — FC Bayern Munich/Germany

Gnabry

Age: 24

Position: Forward

Gnabry was outcast by Arsenal, and then told my West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis he was “not at the level” of Premier League football, according to The Evening Standard. Still, he has done more than enough to prove his doubters wrong at Bayern Munich.

The 24-year-old won Bayern’s Player of the Year award last term thanks to a 13 goal and nine assist return, and he could be en route to claim the prize for a second year running thanks to his blistering start to the 2019/2020 campaign.

In just 18 games this term, Gnabry has 10 goals, four of which came in one game against Tottenham in the Champions League, and seven assists. 

19: Marc-Andre ter Stegen — FC Barcelona/Germany

Ter Stegen

Age: 27

Position: Goalkeeper

Marc Andre ter Stegen has gone from strength to strength since joining Barcelona in 2014, and 2019 has been his best year so far. 

The German can win points for his team like no other keeper in world football. He has unbelievable shot-stopping abilities and reactions coming to the rescue for Barcelona on more than one occasion over the year.

The best example was against rivals Atletico at the start of December, when he produced two astonishing saves denying Mario Hermoso and Alvaro Morata from point-blank range, in turn earning his side a 1-0 victory. 

18: Riyad Mahrez — Manchester City/Algeria

Mahrez

Age: 28

Position: Forward

Mahrez might play more of a bit part for Manchester City than he did during his time at Leicester, but when given a chance, he still shows every ounce of quality that convinced City to pay $79 million for his signature in July 2018.

He’s also excelled for his country this year — his three goals steering Algeria to win only its second-ever Africa Cup of Nations during the summer. 

17: Mohamed Salah — Liverpool FC/Egypt

Mo Salah

Age: 27

Position: Forward

Strangely, Mohamed Salah’s debut season at Anfield did him no favors.

The Egyptian hit 44 goals in all competitions during the 2017/18 campaign, winning both the Premier League Golden Boot and the PFA Player of the Year. Since then, anything he has done has been compared to it.

While he might not have hit the net as many times, he was still an integral part of Liverpool’s run to Champions League glory and managed to retain his Golden Boot.

So far this season, he’s scored another ten to take his total to 81 to 141 games for the club — the fastest any player in its history has hit that number. 

16: Matthijs de Ligt — Juventus/Netherlands

Matthijs de Ligt

Age: 20

Position: Defender

The Dutch national team is enjoying a golden generation of talent coming through its ranks, and its brightest star is defender Matthijs de Ligt.

The 20-year-old shone in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semis earlier in the year, earning him an $83 million move to Juventus, where he’s quickly established himself a regular in the starting XI.

He also won the 2019 Kopa Trophy, the award for the best player in Europe under the age of 21, which is presented by the same organization as the Ballon d’Or.

15: N’Golo Kante — Chelsea FC/France

Kante

Age: 28

Position: Midfielder

What has made N’Golo Kante so great this year has been his ability to adapt.

The Frenchman was forced out of his natural deep-lying midfield position at Chelsea by Maurizio Sarri the last term and had to find a way to convert his game into a more attacking one.

It worked to reasonable success. But since Frank Lampard took over at Stamford Bridge, he has made the role his own, providing energy and goals going forward. He also is still managing to break up the play from a more advanced position and provide coverage for Chelsea’s other midfielders and defence. 

As the man who invented his role, Claude Makelele, said: “Every manager in the world wants a player like [Kante] in his team.”

14: Jadon Sancho — Borussia Dortmund/England

Jadon Sancho

Age: 19

Position: Forward

Manchester City will be kicking itself for having let Jadon Sancho leave for Borussia Dortmund in August 2017 for a measly $10.5 million. 

The English youngster has taken the Bundesliga by storm since the move, scoring 26 goals and producing 36 assists in just 78 games. 

He’s also broken numerous records, including most recently becoming the youngest Bundesliga player ever to reach 22 goals — a record previously held by Horst Koppels that stood for 51 years. 

Should City want him back, he’ll cost as much as $222 million, according to the CIES Football Observatory. Whoops. 

13: Andrew Robertson — Liverpool FC/Scotland

Andrew Robertson

Age: 25

Position: Defender

The role of the full-back has changed dramatically over the past decade. It used to be that their sole job was to defend, with venturing forward seen as a high-risk maneuver.

In recent years, it’s been the opposite, as many fullbacks are revered for attacking qualities rather than defence.

Liverpool’s Andy Robertson’s ability to do both so effectively makes him the prototype for a new wave of fullbacks that are likely to dominate the game in years to come. 

“I am still tired just looking at Robertson,” Jose Mourinho told The Guardian after watching the flying Scotsman dismantle his Manchester United side back in December 2018. “He makes 100-metre sprints per minute, absolutely incredible.”

12: Sergio Aguero — Manchester City/Argentina

Sergio Aguero

Age: 31

Position: Forward

Aguero is one of those players that has been so good for so long, that his greatness is often underappreciated. 

In 2019, the Argentine has managed 33 goals in all competitions for City, helping it win a domestic treble, including the Premier League. He was also named in the PFA Team of the Year for last season and scored three times for Argentina as it reached the semis of the Copa America. 

11: Georginio Wijnaldum — Liverpool FC/Netherlands

Wijnaldum

Age: 29

Position: Midfielder

Georginio Wijnaldum is a well-rounded footballer. 

For Liverpool, he plays in an unassuming midfield role, sitting back and quietly dictating the tempo with his neat and frequent passing.

For the Netherlands, the 29-year-old is an entirely different beast, playing in a much more attacking role in which he seems to thrive. His eight goals in European Championship qualifying will tell you that.

Whichever position he plays in, however, and whomever he is playing for, the Dutchman excels. 

10: Hakim Ziyech — AFC Ajax/Morocco

Ziyech

Age: 26

Position: Midfielder

After last year’s phenomenal Champions League run, Ajax saw a number of its biggest talents, including Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, pawned off for big bucks.

Fortunately for the Dutch champion, it was able to hold on to the talismanic Hakim Ziyech, despite confirming he would in-fact leave the club in the summer, according to the BBC.

Keeping the Moroccan has proved a quality piece of business, as he’s already scored seven goals and managed 15 assists in all competitions this term to help Ajax back to the top of the Eredivisie table. 

9: Kevin De Bruyne — Manchester City/Belgium

Kevin De Bruyne

Age: 28

Position: Midfielder

“Poetry in motion” is how you would describe Kevin De Bruyne playing football. Everything the Belgian does, he does with unmissable grace and elegance, making the beautiful game look easy and, well, beautiful.

The Manchester City star missed a large chunk of last season through injury. However, having returned to full fitness over the summer, he’s been back to his very best this term.

The 28-year-old already has six goals and nine assists to his name in the Premier League, the latter being the highest total in the division.   

8: Alisson Becker — Liverpool FC/Brazil

Alisson

Age: 27

Position: Goalkeeper

Liverpool had long craved the stability of a world-class keeper before the arrival of Alisson Becker from AS Roma in 2018.

And the effect the Brazilian has had on the club has been quite astounding. Not only has he been untouchable between the sticks, but he’s also given Liverpool’s defence a huge confidence boost, and the attack an extra outlet thanks to his sharp distribution. 

The best keeper in world football right now, Alisson won the inaugural Yashin Trophy at this year’s Ballon d’Or awards, as well as both the Premier League’s and the Copa America’s Golden Gloves.

7: Robert Lewandowski — FC Bayern Munich/Poland

Lewandowski

Age: 31

Position: Forward

Robert Lewandowski is like a fine wine — he gets better with age.

The Polish striker turned 31 at the beginning of the season and has since enjoyed his finest ever start to a domestic campaign, netting 28 goals in all competitions, which is, by a long shot, the best of any player in Europe’s top five leagues. 

Last season wasn’t too bad either, as he scored 40 and claimed the Bundesliga top scorer award for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in the last six seasons. 

6: Kalidou Koulibaly — SSC Napoli/Senegal

Kalidou Koulibaly

Age: 28

Position: Defender

Koulibaly was named Serie A’s best defender for the 2018/19 season as Napoli pushed Juventus right to the last day in the race to the Scudetto.

He also excelled at the Africa Cup of Nations in the summer, being named in the Team of the Tournament as Senegal finished as runners up to Algeria. 

Napoli has put a $89 million price tag on the 28-year-old’s head in an attempt to ward off potential suitors such as Real Madrid and Manchester United, according to Il Mattino.

Given his CV, that’s a bargain. 

5: Donny van de Beek — AFC Ajax/Netherlands

Donny van de Beek

Age: 22

Position: Midfielder

At the start of 2019, very few people would have known the name Donny van de Beek. Now, he’s one of the household names in European football.

The Dutch youngster outshone some of the best midfielders on the planet — Toni Kroos, Miralem Pjanic, and Thiago Alcantara included — in last season’s Champions League as Ajax enjoyed a thrilling ride to the semi-finals.

He was also excellent in the Eredivisie as Erik ten Hag’s side won the Dutch top division for the first time in five years. 

4: Kylian Mbappe — Paris Saint Germain/France

Kylian Mbappe

Age: 21

Position: Forward

Mbappe took the world by storm at the 2018 World Cup, where he finished with four goals and the Best Young Player award as France won their second-ever title.

Since then, he’s just gotten better and better. The 20-year-old ended last term as Ligue 1’s top scorer with 33 goals in 29 games, and he’s already got another five this term to set PSG on its usual course to domestic domination.

He’s still got plenty of time, but it’s unlikely to be long until the Ballon d’Or sixth-place finisher leaves France for one of Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Barcelona or Real Madrid, and firmly establishes himself as the sport’s biggest talent since the emergence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

3: Virgil van Dijk — Liverpool FC/Netherlands

Van Dijk

Age: 28

Position: Defender

Van Dijk told cameras he was “extremely proud to be in the same company as two of the greatest players to ever play” after finishing second, between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, in this year’s Ballon d’Or standings.

But the Dutchman need not worry, as his performances over the last year have put him firmly in the same bracket as the Argentine and the Portuguese.

Van Dijk has been an omnipresent force in Liverpool’s defence (not one player dribbled past him the whole of last season), guiding it to Champions League glory and a second-place finish in the Premier League. He also won the PFA Player of the Year. 

2: Sadio Mane — Liverpool FC/Senegal

Sadio Mane

Age: 27

Position: Forward

When Liverpool signed Sadio Mane from Southampton for $45 million in the summer of 2016, it was taking on a raw but potentially brilliant talent.

In the three-and-a-half seasons that have followed, the Senegalese forward has developed into one of the most devastating attackers in world football.

At his current pace, Mane is managing a goal every other game for Jurgen Klopp’s men, which for a winger, is impressive going. More importantly, however, his symbiosis with Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah has made Liverpool’s attack the most feared in Europe, of which Mane is the epitome.

Pacy, direct, skillful, accurate, and strong, Sadio Mane is a defender’s nightmare and one that may be about to fire Liverpool to its first Premier League title.

1: Lionel Messi — FC Barcelona/Argentina

Messi

Age: 32

Position: Forward

Magical. Marvelous. Majestic. There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how good Lionel Messi has been over the past decade and a half.

This year, he’s been no different, scoring 40 and assisting 17, guiding Barcelona to the 2018/19 La Liga title, as well as to the top of the league this term.

More impressively however has been the manner in which he’s acclimatized to a rapidly changing environment at Camp Nou. Whilst many of his peers of yesteryear have either moved on or retired, the Argentine has still managed to keep up his outrageously high-performance levels amongst a new, and vastly more inexperienced, roster. 

The greatest there ever has, and ever will be.