The countdown continues as we look back at the year 2016 and review the football players who took our breaths away with their sterling performances. Just in case you missed the first post, you can catch up here. When you’re done, we’ll be here waiting for you… 😉
9. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal FC & Germany)
Jose Mourinho once admitted that anytime Mesut Ozil struck the ball, it made a different sound. It was another pitch, a note no one else could hit. At a time, there was an meme which had the magical German which and a line which read, ‘I WILL FIND YOU AND GIVE YOU AN ASSIST’.
In a world where it’s all about the goals, hardly would one see someone so dedicated to setting them up. Step in Mesut Ozil. The German creates goals with relative ease. It took him just 11minutes to create his first Arsenal goal and it is that kind of class that separates him from other Trequartistas in football.
He knows how to pick out the perfect pass, be it the arching pass that Bastian Schweinsteiger buried at the Euros or the looping corners into the box or the passes on a silver platter for Arsenal’s goal-shy forwards; with Mesut, the supply never stops.
He is gradually taking matters into his own hands, and the second half of 2016 has seen him evolve into the goal-scorer. He creates his moments and he decides what is best for himself, be it the mazy Puskas-worthy goal against Ludogorets, or the smash-ins or his tap-ins. He is gradually becoming ‘THE FOOTBALLER’.
He is already the specialist, and 2016 was the year he realized he was just more than a supplier; it was a year when the supplier became the executioner. And it won’t take long before the net starts making a different sound when he scores.
8. Paul Labile Pogba (Manchester United & France)
An obvious selection, for obvious reasons. Three years after leaving Manchester United for greener pastures in Juventus for a measly compensation fee, Paul Pogba returned to his boyhood club this year amidst a world record transfer fee. He was the most talked-about footballer this year, again, for obvious reasons.
The 23-year-old French midfielder started the year with the Old Lady, as they continued their fine form from 2015 to run unchallenged at the Scudetto. Pogba was an integral part of the team, with his lung-busting runs from deep, long-range stunners, fancy footwork and immense strength in the middle of the park all proving to be important tools in making him one of the finest midfielders in the world.
Shortly after the Scudetto glory, Pogba was a part of the French squad that performed admirably at the Euros 2016 but fell short of expectations by losing to Portugal in the final match. Paul himself was not at his dominant best for the national team but this can be attributed to the more defensive role he was asked to play by his national coach.
Fast forward over the summer and he now plies his trade in the Red half of Manchester once again. And while his performances have been far from bad, the tag of the world’s most expensive player on his head has seen many football fans calling for more consistency from the young midfielder.
Pogba can go on to be the best midfielder on the world, such is his potential and it is safe to say we expect him to justify this fact in the near future. He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or 2016 too by the way, which is the least that should be expected from a player of his quality.
7. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City & Algeria)
Well what can I say? Riyad Mahrez’s meteoric rise to prominence is nothing short of phenomenal and is worthy of the pages of a Hollywood script. The tricky winger, signed dirt cheap by Leicester from Le Havre about three seasons ago, will surely go down in his club’s history as their biggest bargain signing of the Premier League era.
After taking a season to settle into England, Mahrez absolutely burst to life in his second season, grabbing double figures in goals and assists, an incredible feat for any PL player, talk less of one playing for a team like Leicester City. From the beginning of this year, Mahrez was part of a fairytale run to the end of the season that ensured that Leicester would finish league leaders and he was arguably their most exciting and outstanding player.
Later in the year, Mahrez was named BBC’s African Footballer of the Year, and was part of the shortlisted three up for the CAF Player of the Year award. He also found his way into the list of nominees for the Ballon d’Or award, alongside fellow revelation of the season, teammate Jamie Vardy. Could he possibly need to do more to grab a spot in this list? I think not.
6. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal & Chile)
Unbelievable. That is one word that describes this man’s form this year. 2016 has been a very good year for Chilean ace, Alexis Sanchez. The versatile forward was the Premier League’s best rated player, according to WhoScored, achieving an average rating of 7.81 out of a possible 10.
In the calendar year, he grabbed 19 goals and 9 assists, more than any other player in the league. In a club that has countless talent going forward, it is impressive that Alexis is considered to be the best player, and he has justified this sentiment, helping Arsenal to finish second in the league in May.
Fast forward to the Copa America and Alexis was once again influential, contributing goals and assists in Chile’s run to the final and proving key as they beat Argentina once again to win the cup.He was named player of the tournament, despite not being the highest goal scorer or assist king. Such is the influence he had on the team’s success.
Fast forward again to the new season and Alexis has not slowed down one bit. Deployed as the main striker, he has rewarded coach Arsene Wenger’s faith with a return of 12 goals (second best in the league as at time of writing). His pace, trickery, shot power, intelligence and surprising “Hulk” strength despite his diminutive stature is a constant terror for opposition and his inclusion in our end-of-the-year list is well justified.
5. Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz (FC Barcelona & Uruguay)
Messi and Ronaldo are regarded as superhumans because they score goals like no one can. But how do you class a player that can score more? There was a popular belief that no Barcelona striker could score too much with Messi around (maybe Zlatan wasn’t Zlatan then). But the Uruguayan, since joining the Catalan giants, has added more bite to that Barcelona attack.
That’s why there was utter disappointment when he wasn’t named in the top three best players of the year 2016 because he actually was one of them. Doing everything right, and having the right names around him, Suarez won the Pichichi crown as the top goal scorer in the La Liga 2016/2016 season.
He didn’t stop there as he went on to win the European Golden Boot. He has become a part of a deadly trio, the MSN, whose joy is to terrorize defenders and rattle the onion bag as often as possible. Stopping Suarez and his cohorts will take a miracle and at that they’ll almost always find a way in the end.
With his wife and children cheering their hero from the sidelines in a culture similar to his own, Luis finally has found that psychological balance to enjoy his football. The ghosts of 2014 are long gone now. Suarez bites with his boots now. He’s been the best in the world in every position he has played in this year and that is subject to no argument.
4. Neymar Jr (Brazil & FC Barcelona)
If Neymar Jr was a punching bag, he would be bruised, battered and almost useless at this point, giving the kind of year he had. The 24-year old had to deal with accusations of his involvement in his own transfer move which has been stylishly called all names but fraudulent.
He was made to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea by his club when they informed him he couldn’t play at two international events in the space of three months. It was a daunting year but one that seems to be worth it. Many would make a case that he shouldn’t make the list. But for a player whose is a high-functioning part of the world’s deadliest trio, that would be injustice.
From the Copa del Rey final to the Olympic games final and those times when Messi and Suarez were out injured, Neymar Jr rose to the occasion. He has his detractors, those feel he is to fanciful, but for a player who believes in the ‘Zinga’, the Samba and whose trademark is to show off like a peacock, you can’t blame him for being the closest thing to fun that football has seen since Ronaldinho gaucho.
And even though he doesn’t possess the free flowing hair of his counterpart, he does possess his skills and seeing him enjoy himself is beauty to football in itself. It is this flair that influences his passion, one characterized by his tears as he struck the penalty that brought Olympic Glory to the Seleccao after several years of agony.
He has suffered his worst drought in front of goal already but it’s all an indication that he is growing and if 2016 brought joy and agony simultaneously, 2017 can only get better for the purist’s golden boy.
Photo credits: Twitter
What do you think about the list? Is there a footballer “wrongly” placed above or below another? Or have we committed an unforgivable mistake by completely omitting a certain name? Let us know in the comments section below. We’ll like to hear from you.
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.