Ranking the best footballers every year is a nigh-on impossible task to get ‘right’ – mainly because there is no way to do so without aggravating at least some impassioned fans who will tell you straight up that Pablo Hernandez is the greatest human being that ever lived and if anyone is above him they can absolutely do one. OK fine, just Leeds fans then.
But we at FourFourTwo Towers like to stick our necks on the chopping block each year, because frankly, you lot love it. This is the 12th consecutive edition of the #FFT100, and we’re still going strong thanks to our trusted band of writers from around the world who help us compile this list. Even they can’t agree, though, so we’ve had to weigh in with some opinions of our own to separate these superstars of 2018.
First up, a note: this list of the best footballers in the world is largely derived from performances over the calendar year, but as ever we feel there should be a nod to overall class as well. After all, does one good – or bad – year define a player as such? We think not. You may disagree.
We’ll be revealing our list throughout the week, kicking off with the men at 100-91. Who will reign supreme? You’re about to find out…
100-91 • 90-81 • 80-71 (coming Tuesday)
100. Hirving Lozano (PSV)
Feted as a future superstar from the moment he set foot in Europe, Lozano has proven the hype correct. PSV’s top scorer in his debut season, ‘Chucky’ – so nicknamed because he used to jump out from underneath unsuspecting youth-teamers’ beds back in Mexico, like the character in Child’s Play – was central to his new team securing the Eredivisie title.
He started fast in the World Cup with Mexico too, scoring a superb counter-attacking winner to seal a famous win over holders Germany. A record-breaking start to their title defence has vindicated his decision to stay for now, but the 23-year-old’s ability to create as well as score is widely admired. – Andy Brassell
99. Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach)
It would be fair to say that 2018 was Hazard Jr’s best year, and his reward was playing time at the World Cup in Russia. The 25-year-old approaches the prime of his career showing ever-continuing signs of improvement.
The Belgian made a lightning start to this season, with all of his skills on show. His goalscoring output is better than most wingers’, but it’s his interplay and agility in tight attacking spaces which make him so hard to stop and such a pleasure to watch.
It’s no surprise that many around Europe have taken notice of the player who has now fully stepped out of brother Eden’s shadow. – Jonathan Harding
98. Memphis Depay (Lyon)
The 24-year-old started 2018 as an expensive riddle. The £16 million winger was such a defensive liability that he would start Les Gones’ biggest games from the bench, even if his stunning February winner against PSG teased at more than a supersub role.
Now, moved to the centre by coach Bruno Genesio, the Dutchman has been more productive than ever. Depay has laid on more goals and assists combined in 2018 than Neymar or Kylian Mbappe, and his switch has done Ronald Koeman a favour, too – he was a key part of Holland’s surprise qualification for the Nations League final four. – Andy Brassell
97. Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
The second half of 2018 has been frustrating for Jesus. He started just five Premier of Manchester City’s first 17 Premier League games, scoring only three times, and he’s also lost his position as Brazil’s first-choice centre-forward after a disappointing World Cup in which he failed to find the net.
Still, the former Palmeiras man was a key part of a magnificent City team which won the English title with a record 100-point haul last season, netting 13 times in the top flight – including the gorgeous winner at Southampton which lifted them to that three-figure tally – plus another four in Europe. Still only 21, he remains one of the most gifted young strikers on the planet. – Greg Lea
96. Alessio Romagnoli (Milan)
It’s not been a great year to be a) Italian or b) play for Milan, and yet centre-back Romagnoli has managed to rise above the underachievement around him and prove himself as a captain that the Rossoneri can finally be proud of.
Injury has stunted a month of his 2018/19 season, and therefore a seamless succession to Roberto Mancini’s national team too, but there’s little doubt that the stylish 23-year-old will form part of the Azzurri’s first-choice backline for years to come. After their failure to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy are looking towards fresh-faced stars of the future like Romagnoli to make sure such embarrassment doesn’t happen again. If anyone can successfully succeed Chiellini and Bonucci, it’s him. – Joe Brewin
95. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Lukaku turns 26 in May but he’s yet to shake off the inconsistency which has defined his game for several years. On his day the Belgian is unstoppable, combining intelligent movement, ruthless finishing and powerful running, but his first touch and hold-up play vary wildly from unplayable to unwatchable, even in the same game.
It’s hard to argue with his scoring record, however: Lukaku struck 16 goals in 34 Premier League appearances in 2017/18, as well as five in eight Champions League outings. He impressed with a big World Cup too as Belgium reached the semi-finals, and ended the calendar year with 14 goals in 14 matches for his country. Perhaps he’s just at the wrong club. – Greg Lea
94. Ante Rebic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
The 25-year-old Croatian came of age in 2018. Spearheading Niko Kovac’s Eintracht Frankfurt attack at the Commerzbank Arena, Rebic’s brace helped down Bayern Munich 3-1 in the German Cup final.
If a terrific goal against Argentina and some outstanding displays at the 2018 World Cup showed Europe’s biggest clubs that he is quite the dynamic talent, five goals in his first eight Bundesliga games for the Eagles this season proved it definitively.
Manchester United remain interested in Rebic, making Frankfurt’s decision to sign him up until 2022 in August – with a reported buy-out clause to warm off potential suitors – all the more prescient. – Russell Smith
93. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)
In 2017/18, Milinkovic-Savic delivered the breakthrough season his talent has long demanded. The Serbian midfielder seemed to turn in match-winning displays each week, contributing 14 goals and seven assists in all competitions for Simone Inzaghi’s improving Lazio. Every outing raised the 23-year-old’s stock.
The Eagles eventually finished fifth and there was talk of a €100 million move to Real Madrid, Manchester United or Juventus after their heartbreaking final-day defeat to Inter in May cost the club a first Champions League group stage appearance in 11 years. But the Serb remained with Lazio, who continue to benefit from his combination of strength, height and physicality, allied with a wonderful first touch, excellent range of passing and accurate shooting.
Few players possess all those traits, and you should expect to find Milinkovic-Savic much higher on next year’s list. – Adam Digby
92. Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)
The Werner hype may have cooled – no goals from three starts as your country crashes out in the World Cup group stage will do that to you – but the 22-year-old centre-forward still leads the line for RB Leipzig and the German national team. And rightfully so.
Domestically, Werner is still strong — he had 10 Bundesliga goals by mid-December to kick off the new season, a haul bettered by only one player. Unless Jogi Löw conjures a new solution, the former Stuttgart ace remains Germany’s top striker to fire them towards better times. – Russell Smith
91. Edin Dzeko (Roma)
The big Bosnian has hit the best form of his career in Rome, and last season plundered eight goals in 12 European appearances to fire the Giallorossi to the Champions League semi-finals.
A group stage brace at Chelsea and the early strike which set Roma on their path to a spectacular quarter-final second-leg comeback against Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico stand out. After all, it’s not every day you inspire a 3-0 victory and overturn a 4-1 first-leg defeat against the European behemoths.
The powerful forward may have hit something of a domestic slump this season, with only two Serie A goals thus far, but the Champions League continues to be a profitable hunting ground. Dzeko struck five times in Roma’s group and no defence fancies the 32-year-old’s combination of muscle and technique. – Alasdair Mackenzie
100-91 • 90-81 • 80-71 (coming Tuesday)