2016 was the ultimate year for any football fan. There was more than enough football to go round for everyone. There never seemed to be a quiet month during the year. From the leagues to international football, transfer speculations and the ones that became realities, football in 2016 was more than enough.
Add to that list, the number of exceptionals that occured over the year, then it’s safe to conclude that another year like 2016 may be very hard to come by in a very long time. While all these actions were ongoing, it was the players that were in the spotlight, some stealing the show with their amazing performances and others leaving mouths the world over agape with their brilliance.
Of all of them, we at For The Goals have selected 16 players who we think outperformed every other football player on the planet during the calendar year. With the number of football events that happened over the year, it was very hard to come up with just 16 names. it was so hard that we had to include a “Worthy Mentions” list which you’ll get to see at the end of the countdown.
But first, we countdown, the best footballers who took the world by storm in 2016
16. Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus & Italy)
The retirement of Paolo Maldini in 2007 was the end of an era for defenders; a role scarcely appreciated by fans due to its perceived lack of excitement. The defender is tasked with stopping the attacker from scoring. But that role is gradually evolving, with ball-playing defenders like John Stones and Gerard Pique overshadowing men who have fulfilled varying roles in the strong defensive position either by breaking up play, making last ditch tackles, the oft goal-line clearance, taking one for the team, or creating memories with goals that break opposition hearts.
They are often the most stable outfield players and no man embodies these qualities more than Juventus brave heart Leonardo Bonucci. Be it in Antonio Conte’s three-man defence or Max Allegri’s four-man defence, Lenny has forged partnerships with his partners and made them impenetrable.
He was a backbone in the Italian team that reached the Quarter finals of the Euros not to mention his performances with Juventus and his key role. It didn’t come as a surprise when he became the subject of a 50million-pound bids from multiple clubs. He is giving defenders new identity and I’m not talking about just tackling,
It is shouldering the responsibility of his team and carrying the hope of a nation. It is his fierce loyalty to the Old Lady despite the money distractions from the ‘younger ladies’. He is the symbol of the new defender: reborn, tough and yet performing at the highest level. 2016 has indeed been one for Lenny to remember. He would join Maldini as the next Italian to have his jersey retired at his club.
15. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham FC & France)
Speed off the line, cat-like reflexes, great handling skills, accurate kicking and consistency; all these attributes and more make Hugo Lloris an undroppable option. Already long considered to be one of the finest goalkeepers in the business, Hugo Lloris has taken his game to yet another level this year as his heroics for club and country earned him a spot in the FIFA Ballon D’or list of nominees.
The French goalkeeper has been outstanding and he has proven to be an extremely solid last line of defence as he was crucial in Tottenham’s run to third place towards the end of last season. Hugo also formed part of a formidable French team that competed in the 2016 Euros, getting to the final before losing to underdogs Portugal in an unexpected turn of events.
Carrying this good form into the new season, Hugo is still the undisputable first choice goalkeeper for Tottenham and he is part of a defence that has conceded the second least number of goals so far in the Premier League, letting in only 12 goals in 17 games. Stunning form, no doubt.
14. Marcelo Vieira da Silva Júnior (Real Madrid & Brazil)
He may be just 5’8 tall but, don’t be deceived. He is a beast that attacks, defends, and sometimes patrols the whole left wing on his own when Ronaldo is where Ronaldo wants to be. Arguably the world’s best left back at the moment, you might mistake him for a winger sometimes when he’s skinning his opposite number.
2016 is a year Marcelo will most likely not forget in a hurry. Winning the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA World Cup and on top of the La Liga table, the playful left-back can look back on the achievements of the year and several reasons to feel on to of the world. Although he wears the jersey number 12, he plays in the no. 3 position while CR7 can be anywhere. 3+7=10. That’s perfection, you do the maths.
Marcelo, smiling Rasta, leftwing demon.
13. Ngolo Kante (Chelsea & France)
The French African that has been compared to the Makaleles of football and rightly so… He knows his role and he plays it well. His role, like his complexion, is to be engaged in the dark arts of football. Break and attack, and start a new one. Shield the defense and give the strikers no joy. So far, this year has been his year, playing key roles in helping Leicester win the EPL and helping Chelsea lead the table in the new season.
To highlight his importance, Leicester have struggled so far this season while Chelsea who were the jokers of the last season are not letting in much and are leading the table. N’golo Kante is a school-of-hard-knocks type of player, efficient midfield beast reincarnated from a previous era.
12. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund & Gabon)
He has been described as ”maybe the paciest striker in the world.” Being one of the only 2 Africans who came close to winning the Ballon d’Or this year (he ranked 11th on the France Football list), that description is just perfect.
From being crowned the CAF African Footballer of the Year in January, to being voted the Bundesliga Player of the Year by his fellow professionals (beating names like Robert Lewandowski by the slimmest of margins, 0.2%), to being nominated again for the African Footballer of the Year, 2016 has been a beauty of a year for the Gabonese striker.
Despite not having much to do during the summer like the CR7s and Leos did, Aubameyang still managed to score 32 goals in all competitions during the year. Even though that number falls short of the 42 he scored last year, Pierre is still one of the most sought-after strikers in the game, with big shots like Real Madrid rumoured to be interested in the Gabonese.
Any blots on his scorecard this year? His fall-out with his coach Thomas Tuchel, which led to him getting suspended. Asides that, Aubameyang had a beautiful 2016. With the AFCON and more coming up, I can’t wait to see more of the Gabonese.
11. Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City & Denmark)
It was May 1993; Man United were on their way to a first Premier league title; Guarding the goal was a 29year old blonde-haired clean shaven Dane, his name; PETER SCHMEICHEL. Twenty-three years later, another Schmeichel was repeating the feat, albeit in more magical circumstances, with lowly Leicester City.
His rather not-so meteoric rise has seen him play in the lower divisions of English & Scottish football. Kasper is not the clean-sheet king his father was or the ball-playing sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer is. He belongs to the old school category of safeguarding the goal, placing all on the line to prevent his net from bulging, and these were efforts that rarely were recognized.
2016 was, however, the year in which Schmeichel made his mark, leaving a huge print on the sands of time with memorable performances while protecting his side’s goal when the fairy-tale was looking in doubt. This was the form he carried into the new season. And despite his club’s sickening league form, his Champions League performances have been virtuoso just as much, keeping clean sheets in his first four games in the competition, and earning himself a Best-Goalkeeper-in-Europe tag from his manager.
There were several forces that made Leicester City tick and achieve the fairy tale they did. Mother luck played her part. Riyad Mahrez might have possessed the wizardry of skills and Jamie Vardy the goals, but as Adriano Galliani once said, Defence is the best form of Attack; a defence that starts with the line who comes in handy when the other lines are found wanting.
That is another great Dane, whose performances have sparked talks of a move to Manchester City, another one that got away.
10. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid CF & Germany)
Since Joachim Low’s appointment as Germany boss in 2006, never has he listed a central midfielder as his best player in the world. This year changed all that. His enthusiasm and delight at citing the consistent year that Toni Kroos had for Real Madrid was evident. It was the grin and the joy of a father who was delighted in his own son, impressed with how the boy had become the man.
It is quite shocking how Pep Guardiola let the metronome slip through his grasp. Toni has become more technical, with every stroke of the ball like that of a mother caressing her baby. Kroos may yet not be the Andres Iniesta many Catalans see or the Xavi that fans were in awe of. He is his own man, the technical master, the musical chord that is the leader of the orchestra.
Like the violinist who plays with an alluring tempo, he has consistently been at the top of his game according to Low and it is a sentiment his club manager echoes. It’s not a farce. If his stats are anything to go by, Kross has averaged an 88percent pass completion rate for the year and has registered 8assists in the second half of the year already for Real Madrid.
He was sorely missed in the Clasico as he would have matched Iniesta for technique upon his introduction. He is often touted to be the toast of several clubs but he doesn’t look likely to leave the Bernabeu anytime soon. He is just like the proverbial sugar that attracts small insects. Kroos is the midfielder, the fantasista.
Wondering who else made the list? You can continue reading here!
Author: Rotimi “Papi the Great” Daramola
Rotimi Daramola aka Papi the Great is the owner of ForTheGoal.
A freelance sports writer who focuses on football, Rotimi is also a freelance writer, a copywriter and a football analyst who regularly appears on radio and television to talk football. You can follow him on twitter @papi_thegreat to keep up with his writings, engage him and also find out about how you can secure his writing services.