By William Hill
Last Updated: 6th November 2019
After Cristiano Ronaldo racked up his 700th career goal earlier this week, it got us thinking about that age-old question: who is the best player in the world? That said, we’ll all bored out of our minds when it comes to comparing Ronaldo and his long-time rival Lionel Messi. That’s why today, we’re taking a look at the best of the rest, in no particular order…
Virgil van Dijk
First up is a man who makes the cut with ease after the past year he’s had. Already named the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year for 2019, and in contention for the Ballon d’Or when it’s handed out, Van Dijk’s arrival has helped transform Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side from a good one to a great one.
Liverpool under Klopp always looked the real deal going forward, but it wasn’t until Van Dijk’s arrival at Anfield in January 2018 (as well as Alisson Becker’s a few months later) that helped to ensure they were just as effective at the other end too.
Fast-forward 21 months and Van Dijk has inspired Liverpool to become champions of Europe, helped guide them to be eight points clear at the top of the Premier League table, while also being named PFA Players’ Player and Premier League Player of the Year last season.
The Netherlands captain, who also led his nation to the final of the UEFA Nations League this summer, has pace, power, an eye for goal and can read the game spectacularly – all qualities required for a modern-day defender – and to be the best one in the world today at that.
Kevin De Bruyne
Had Kevin De Bruyne’s 2018-19 campaign not been frustrated by injury, we could be sitting here talking about how the Belgium international is the obvious candidate on this list. His 2017-18 season was phenomenal, notching 16 Premier League assists – a league high for that campaign and just four off Thierry Henry’s record – as well as scoring a further eight goals as Manchester City steamrolled to a magical 100 points, before inspiring Belgium to a World Cup semi-final place that summer.
The following season, though, unfortunately saw the midfielder suffer from a range of knee, thigh, hamstring and ligament injuries, limiting him to a more restricted role in Pep Guardiola’s side, with the likes of Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling taking more of the plaudits.
This term, however, De Bruyne seems back to his best, already racking up a hugely impressive eight assists from eight Premier League games – continue in that vein and the assist record will be his – while pulling the strings in midfield in sublime fashion. Guardiola has his talisman back.
Mohamed Salah is a player who knows how to deliver on the big stage – and do it consistently. His first season at Liverpool in 2017-18 was a revelation as he tore defences apart on the way to netting a sublime 32 Premier League goals. Had Egypt had a better World Cup campaign that summer, he would have surely been a shoo-in for the Ballon d’Or.
Last season, with defences now supposedly clued up about his talents, he may have been expected to let his standards drop. While perhaps his campaign was less explosive than his first at Liverpool, he still ended up the club’s top scorer in all competitions, with 28 goals in all, as they lifted the Champions League, also finishing up as joint-Premier League top scorer.
Six goals scored from his first 11 appearances this season, and with Liverpool sitting eight points clear at the top of the Premier League, you’d expect him to deliver another stellar campaign.
If Mohamed Salah makes the cut, then based on the last year or so, so too does his Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane. The Liverpool No.10 was voted by Reds fans as their best attacking player last season, ahead of Salah, as the English club marched to Champions League glory. The Senegal international also finished up as joint-Premier League top scorer alongside his Liverpool team-mate and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with 22 goals.
This term, Mane has started off out of the blocks at lighting speed, netting eight goals in just 11 games for Liverpool as they hunt for their first league title since 1990. What’s more, he’s even had Lionel Messi this week calling for him to win the Ballon d’Or. High praise indeed.
That Kylian Mbappe has achieved all that he has done so far in what has already been a thrilling career by the age of 20 years old is incredible. The striker has won the World Cup, is one of the most expensive players of all time, wanted by the world’s biggest clubs, has won three Ligue 1 titles, three more domestic cups and ended up with 42 goals in all competitions last season. The list goes on…
Yes, it’s easy to say he’s only plying his trade in Ligue 1, where the millionaires of Paris Saint-Germain are often light years ahead of many of the clubs in France, but it feels as if, at least for now, this is the perfect place for Mbappe to continue his development. It won’t be long until Real Madrid or Barcelona come calling, and when they do, he should be far better suited for the switch with more games and goals under his belt.
With his raw pace, potent finishing and intelligence beyond his years, it’s frightening to think just how good the youngster can become in a few more years.
If we’re talking pure footballing talent, there are few in the world playing the game today outside of Messi and Ronaldo that can match Eden Hazard. Granted he’s had a slow start to life at Real Madrid with one goal from his first six games for the club since his summer big-money move from Chelsea, but the fact that the La Liga club made him their number one transfer target to help turn around an aging side’s fortunes speaks volumes. Come the end of the season, the critics will no doubt be proved wrong.
Sometimes misunderstood by managers – hello, Jose Mourinho – who have clipped his wings somewhat through a defensive system that can jeopardise his attacking talent, it’s when given full licence to roam, probe, attack and create in the final third that his attributes come to the fore.
That he ended last season with 26 goals in all competitions, a league-high 15 Premier League assists and a Europa League winners’ medal, all while playing in what was at times a mid-rate Chelsea side, makes it all the more impressive.
Neymar these days may well be a controversial addition to this list. A year or two ago that would not be the case with the Brazil international commanding a staggering world-record fee of £199.8 million in 2017 as he swapped Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain – a figure that doesn’t look like being beaten anytime soon.
Behind the decision to move to PSG was to win the Ballon d’Or and become the greatest player on the planet, having always been in Lionel Messi’s shadow at Barcelona. Over two years on and he’s no closer to achieving that aim, with concerns over an excessive lifestyle often overshadowing his footballing talents, and PSG fans turning on him earlier this season after he tried to force a summer exit.
That said, both Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to circulate and on his day he is a true world beater.
Matthijs de Ligt
Leading the charge from the next generation is Matthijs de Ligt, one the world’s top centre-backs and one who commanded a £67.5 million fee at the age of just 19 years old as he moved to Juventus from Ajax in the summer.
De Ligt, who became Ajax’s youngest ever captain in March 2018, was rewarded after a fantastic 2018-19 campaign that saw him inspire a youthful Ajax side to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in 22 years as well securing the Dutch domestic league and cup double. Now playing in a Juventus defence, typically known as one of Europe’s best, his rapidly frightening development is surely only set to continue.