The world football governing body has released a list of the ten best footballers on the planet in the last twelve months from where the best of the best will be named but who has been better than the greatest player to ever play the beautiful game?
Three Liverpool stars, Tottenham’s captain and a former Chelsea playmaker make up an English Premier League-strong contingent; the Eredivisie make a long-awaited comeback with two talented youngsters; an ex-Real Madrid icon placed the Serie A back on the football map; and Ligue 1’s Golden Boy return after a fourth place finish in the vote last year. Lionel Messi is the undisputed La Liga star and remains the one to beat come September.
Centre-back Virgil van Dijk, forwards Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah are the Liverpool trio among five Premier League players shortlisted. Harry Kane skippered Tottenham’s incredible run to the Champions League. Chelsea had Eden Hazard’s magic and goals to thank as the Londoners crushed all comers to lift the Europa League.
Ajax pair of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt made the cut, as well as 2018 FIFA World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 31, 2019
For the first time in a long, long time the current holder of the award will not be in the race to retain the coveted gong. 2018 champion Luca Modric swam and sunk with Real Madrid last season, and is therefore omitted.
But who else other than the unstoppable Magic Messi is fit to be the next king of men’s football?
You could draw up a lengthy cast of stars – Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva, Neymar Junior, Antoine Griezmann, etc – who should have easily been on FIFA’s list but, without a doubt, everyone on it deserved to be there.
Take a look at Eden Hazard, for example.
The Belgium national team captain was in inspirational form as Chelsea made the EFL Cup final, eased into the league’s top four and won Europe’s second-tier cup competition.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) July 31, 2019
The attacking midfielder’s contribution of 16 goals, 15 assists and 14 man-of-the-match honours was bettered by no other teammate.
What about Harry Kane?
The England international was slowed down a bit by injuries but he was still a vital part of the Spurs side that nearly conquered Europe with their bold attacking style. His 17 league goals in just 28 matches bore testament to his esteemed finishing abilities.
Clubmate Son Heung-min would have merited a place on The Best Player’s list as well but both would still have been handicapped by their lack of trophy won under the year in review.
Then there’s Sadio Mane.
The Senegal forward’s 22 goals in 38 matches was a league-high – together with teammate Mo Salah – as Liverpool pursued league-leaders Manchester City to the final day in vain. The disappointment of the league-title loss was however washed away by their stunning Champions League triumph.
10 days to the season opener, it was a fantastic season from Sadio Mane last season with some vital goals nearer to the end of the campaign, so here’s all of his goals from last season for you to enjoy. #LFC pic.twitter.com/yTTUoEfdyX
— Rhian Brewster (@R_B_24_) July 30, 2019
But the Liverpool Number 10 only contributed 4 goals to that feat. He’s fantastic but he’s no Messi.
And that impenetrable wall, Virgil van Dijk.
The Netherlands captain didn’t miss a single game for the Anfield giants in the Premier League, bagging four goals and two assists. For a defender, who was equally a terror for attackers and ensured that Liverpool had one of the continent’s better defences, van Dijk is probably the best in the business.
The former Southampton centre-back then repeated the same feat in the Champions League as Liverpool lifted the UEFA Champions League.
But with so many gifted forwards at their peak, is the world ready for another defender – remember Cannavaro? – crowned as the king of men’s football?
There’s Mohamed Salah.
One of Liverpool’s many heroes in a successful season, even Salah knows that Salah could have done better. Still considered one of the best players in the world, the Egyptian forward netted 22 strikes in 38 league games. It would have been talked about in high places if not that the same player banged in an astonishing 32 strikes in 36 games the prior season.
— supermane10 (@supermanelfc) July 31, 2019
Surely Messi cannot be better-placed by a striker who did not notch a single player of the month award all season.
There’s also Frenkie De Jong.
An extremely versatile player, the 22-year old operated in different games as a defensive midfielder, box-to-box midfielder, and even centre-back with the dexterity of a genius. Blessed with an unbelievable range of passing (Frenkie recorded a staggering pass accuracy of 91.4%), the rest of Europe could not but be left behind in awe as the youngster drove the Dutch giants to the semi-finals of Europe’s premier competition.
After winning the Eredivisie and KNVB Cup, de Jong was voted the Eredivisie Player of the Season.
🇳🇱 Frenkie de Jong ➡️ Barcelona: £67.8m
De Jong secured a move from Ajax to Barcelona. Frenkie de Jong is one of the Europe’s most promising midfield talents. At just 21 years of age, he is joined FC Barcelona after proving himself as a valuable player. pic.twitter.com/cSeSOaG6Aw
— Sport Grid (@sport_gridalive) July 24, 2019
A player Ajax bought from Willem II for an incredulous 1 euro thereafter earned a 73 million euros move to Barcelona where he would join the legion praising the little Argentina football god.
Let’s not forget his compatriot, Matthijs de Ligt.
The 19-year-old defender recently completed a dream transfer from Ajax to Juventus after becoming a Dutch champion and a Dutch Cup winner. De Ligt was named the Eredivisie’s Young Player of the Year after a record-breaking year for the talented centre-back.
🕵️♂️ #UCL Scout:
⚪️ Dutch wonderkid
🔴 Ajax captain
⚪️ Master of the tackle
🇳🇱 Matthijs de Ligt in 2016: " My goal is to someday play in the ArenA on a weekly basis." ✔️ pic.twitter.com/7W9tOEQjOk
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) January 16, 2019
You could just feel that despite his incredible year, we certainly have not seen the best of Matthis just yet.
Is anyone still asking, who is Mbappe?
The Frenchman is fully out of Neymar’s shadows and is back again on the list. Mbappe was the fourth-best footballer on earth last year and he’s staking a strong claim after becoming the first player to win Ligue 1’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards in the same season.
Another goal for Mbappe in pre-season ✅
The PSG striker is showing no sign of slowing down 🔥🚀
— Football Index (@FootballIndex) July 30, 2019
Obviously, 33 goals plus 7 assists in 29 matches, even in France, are astonishing figures but are those numbers up to Messi’s standard?
Doff your hat for Cristiano.
Even the staunchest of Messi’s fans know that Ronaldo will be hard to beat once again. By the Portuguese’s own high standard, the 28 goals he struck in 43 appearances for Juventus was not just jaw-dropping enough.
Cristiano Ronaldo's free kick! 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/470CzFgkky
— Cristiano Ronaldo ⬜⬛ 🐐 (@Cr7Fran4ever) July 24, 2019
But the 34-year-old has had another successful year with his country, playing crucial roles as Portugal won the inaugural UEFA Nations League title.
The Portugal captain finished second in the Best Men’s Player award last season and he’s back in the hunt again following a Serie A-winning campaign with the Old Ladies.
Ronaldo is the only previous winner in contention with the Argentine but this has to be Messi’s year.
The greatest player of all time has one again enjoyed another fabulous season both on an individual and collective level. With Barcelona, he won the Spanish Super Cup and the La Liga, his tenth league title in Spain.
The Blaugrana may have been knocked out in the semifinal but Messi still ended the campaign as UEFA Champions League top scorer with 12 goals in ten games, a tally better than the ten he scored the last time the Nou Camp giants lifted Europe’s most coveted trophy.
The 32-year-old topped La Liga’s chart for both goals (36) and assists (13 – level with Sevilla’s Pablo Sarabia). That effort handed the 5-time Balon D’or winner the Pichichi award as La Liga’s top scorer for a sixth time to equal Telmo Zarra’s all-time record which had stood unshaken and untouched for 66 years.
Lionel Messi was then handed the European Golden Boot award after nobody else could come anywhere near his 52 goals and 23 assists in all competitions.
Lionel Messi's free-kick against Liverpool has been nominated for UEFA Goal of the Season 🤩
Can anything beat it? 🤔
— Goal (@goal) July 28, 2019
Apart from scoring wonder goals, Messi’s all-round contribution is unparalleled with the Argentina skipper also leading La Liga for total shots taken, shots on target, chances created, big chances created, fouls won in the final third, goals from outside the box, goals from free-kicks, braces and hat-tricks.
Nearly perfect for one almost super-human.
It was no surprise then that Messi picked up the most man-of-the-match awards (17) of the season and earned the highest average player ratings worldwide for a player that participated in over 50 matches.
Everyone on FIFA’s list for Men’s Best Player Award has won something except Harry Kane. Everyone has earned his shot to win it. Only one may have just done enough to take the crown home. All hail King Messi!