The Best FIFA Men's Player 2019 shortlist: Lionel Messi

Some of these eleven belong to the no-shit-Sherlock category (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, say); some you might not have actually heard of at all (Messi of goalkeepersRonaldo of defenders?). Each baller is nevertheless included for having the highest individual seasonal match rating in their respective positions—from 2010 to 2019 across the top 5 leagues.

Without further ado.

DAVID OSPINA

Known to be “a few inches shorter than a top keeper should be“, Ospina averaged 3.3 saves to keep Nice from relegating during 2013/2014; his 7.28 seasonal match rating dwarfing the year’s IFFHS best goalies including Manuel Neuer’s 7.05, Gianluigi Buffon at 6.95, and Thibaut Cortois’ 6.73.

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The Colombia international carried his rich vein of form into World Cup 2014, where he successfully auditioned for a move to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. Ospina has since left to join Napoli following Wenger’s exit from the Emirates.

DANIEL CARVAJAL

When 20-year-old Carvajal put pen to paper for Leverkusen in July 2012, his Galacticos dream appeared to be in tatters. 32 Bundesliga games, 7 assists, and 7.72 seasonal match rating later, the Castilla captain was on the next flight back to Madrid. 

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Previously denied the opportunity to make a single first team appearance for Los Blancos, Carvajal would amass over 200 of those in the next seven years, lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy 4 times along the way. The academy role model is again leading La Liga for match rating in his position this season and at 27 looks to have his best years ahead of him.

NALDO APARECIDO

Born Ronaldo Aparecido Rodrigues, Naldo chose to shorten his name to avoid comparisons with his famous countryman. He went on to be christened the Cristiano Ronaldo of defenders, an association the former Wolfsburg captain deserves for his 2014/2015 performance which he notched 7 goals from centre-back, scored a joint-highest 7.78 seasonal match rating, and achieved league runner-up for his club—its second best ever finish.

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Naldo of course also topped Bundesliga defenders’ rating in three other seasons, making him one of the most consistent footballers in the past ten years. The veteran stopper has struggled for fitness at Monaco of late but is not planning to throw in the towel just yet. 

GIORGIO CHIELLINI

Not Bale-Benzema-Cristiano; Barzagli-Bonucci-Chiellini. Antonio Conte’s original BBC that launched the decade’s three at the back tactical trend debuted in 2011/2012 and won Juventus its first Scudetto since Calciopoli, unbeaten, with Serie A’s best defensive record to boot.

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Of the triple shield it was Chiellini who completed the most number of tackles, interceptions, clearances, and passes that season; his 7.78 seasonal match rating establishing him among the world’s elites. The reigning Bianconeri captain went on to receive the honour of Juventus Greatest XI of All Time and remains stellar for both club and country when available for selection.

RICARDO RODRIGUEZ

No defender from the top 5 leagues enjoyed an individual seasonal match rating as high as Rodriguez’s 8.01 in 2013/2014. Then 21, Rodriguez was a key part of Dietar Hecking’s youth project at Wolfsburg; he along with Kevin De Bruyne, 22 and Ivan Perisic, 24 combined for 86 Bundesliga goals and assists between 2013/2014 and 2014/2015, Rodriguez contributing 24 of them from left wingback.

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Whereas De Bruyne and Perisic sprung to the grander platforms of Man City and Inter off the trio’s success, Rodriguez opted to stay put amid interests from Man Utd and Real Madrid. Both him and Wolfsburg would fail to replicate the heights of those 2 years, the Swiss subsequently being sold to Milan without recovering his form. 

MARCO REUS

‘Twas 2011/2012. A blonde-haired, fleet-footed, lightning-quick Reus burst onto the Bundesliga scene from nowhere, dropping 18 league goals and 9 assists to be crowned German Footballer of the Year ahead of peak Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben at 22 years young. 

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Highlighted by his 7.99 seasonal match rating, the best of any midfielders under the age of 23 throughout 2010s; Reus was touted the neo–attacking midfielder who would redefine false nine, false ten, and winger positions altogether. One ill-fated injury after another, ad infinitum held him back: While the goals and assists tally maintained, the current Dortmund captain even clinching his second German Footballer of the Year title in 2019, fans are left to wonder what could have been if Reus’ progress were never hampered by more than 800 days out on the sidelines over the past 8 years.

ANDREA PIRLO

“32-year-old luxury player winding his career down at seventh-placed has-been club” was how most deemed Pirlo’s arrival at the Old Lady, on a free after being let go by newly minted Serie A 2010/2011 champions Milan, to be. Little did anyone know that the perceived step down would kickstart Juventus’ absolute hegemony in Italy for the next ten years.

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Parachuting into the heart of Bianconeri’s midfield, Pirlo delivered 13 assists—most in Serie A 2011/2012 and 2,779 accurate passes—most among the season’s top 5 leagues, as reflected in his 7.88 seasonal match rating. The 2012, 2013, and 2014 Serie A Footballer of the Year would keep defying age with his renaissance extended to international football, leading Italy into Euro 2012 final; before truly winding down two decades of excellence in New York’s concrete jungle.

THIAGO ALCANTARA

Often labelled as Pep Guardiola’s pet student, Thiago’s best season actually came under Carlo Ancelotti in 2016/2017: His 8.28 seasonal match rating classes above every active central midfielders in the top 5 leagues throughout the decade—including his “partner” in this best eleven Andrea Pirlo whose stardom was incidentally also developed by Signore Ancelotti in the 2000s. 

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Entrusted with creative autonomy, Thiago thrived as the total footballer across number six, eight, or ten positions; accomplishing career highs of 85.6 accurate passes and 4.6 interceptions per game. The coming of age was put on brakes however as Bayern dismissed Ancelotti the following season, both player and club stagnating since even if domestic success did not cease.

NEYMAR JUNIOR

So the footballer with the highest individual seasonal match rating of the decade from the top 5 leagues is none other than Lionel Messi in 2011/2012, and the runner-up is C… wait—surprise no surprise—Neymar during his final season with Barcelona. 

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Unplayable in La Liga 2016/2017, the 8.52 seasonal match rating of Messi’s ex–heir apparent was higher than that of even King Leo himself. The statistic, coupled with his “seven minutes of unparalleled genius” in the Champions League, perhaps convinced Neymar to take that step outside Messi’s shadow. His search for footing is coming to its third season though with PSG falling short in Europe the previous two attempts. 

LIONEL MESSI

Three feats defining King Leo’s 2010s: One, Messi was statistically the world’s best player eight out of ten seasons. Two, the 2011/2012 season in which Messi netted an impossible 50 goals, dished out a world class 16 assists, got named man of the match a ridiculous 24 times all from 37 league games at 8.88 seasonal match rating was the best the decade had seen. 

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Three, Messi’s 73 goals in all competitions that season smashed open Gerd Muller’s 40-year-old figure of 67, making him the current record holder for most goals scored in a season. Numbers do not tell the whole story but what Messi had done in the 2010s would probably be unrivalled for a long, long time; such is the weight of his being.

CRISTIANO RONALDO

Ronaldo played second fiddle to Lionel Messi in terms of league showings throughout 2010s, his personal best in 2014/2015—which the then Real Madrid ace did grab more league goals than Messi with 48 over 43 but ultimately lagged in seasonal match rating at 8.48 to 8.84—the story of his decade.

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The Champions League and Portugal all-time top scorer had nevertheless been the more dominant of the pair in Europe and international football: Ronaldo’s 104 European goals triumphed Messi’s 89, steering Real Madrid to a record La Undecima and himself record fifth Champions League winner’s medal; his 77 national team goals outshone Messi’s 57 as well, adding Euro 2016 and the UEFA Nations League 2018/2019 to the serial winner’s cumbersome list of accolades. Ronaldo himself admitted as much that his emphasis shifted from domestic to Europe and international competitions, and no doubt he has trained his eyes on the upcoming Champions League knockout matches plus the summer’s Euro 2020 for more.

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