Golazo 100 countdown: Ranking the best men's soccer players in the world for 2024

For much of the last decade plus, an exercise such as this would have seemed utterly redundant. There was really nothing to debate when it came to the question who is the greatest footballer on the planet. What a waste of hours and spreadsheets it would be to present to you all that Lionel Messi is the best in the business.

Now, however, the sport is in a transitional period. The great man and his eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo have begun their post-imperial projects, spreading the game out to its footballing backwaters. Those who were cursed to pursue greatness in the Messi age now find their lights are dimming too. As for those that follow, how can anyone hope to reach a bar raised so high?

And so welcome to the Golazo 100, a ranking of the finest players in the men’s game, with a similar women’s list to follow ahead of the Olympics. Each expert was handed a straightforward task: Give us the best you’ve got. 

What we got was a quite remarkable spread. Across their individual lists of 100 came eight different players dubbed the best in the game.

Over the coming days we will unveil the best of the best, starting on Wednesday with our first 20 names. There will be surprises aplenty and plenty to debate in time for June 12, when we will name the inaugural winner of the Golazo 100. 

Golazo 100 schedule

Be sure to tune into Golazo Network, including Morning Footy to start your day with a breakdown of each batch of top players released every day. And, of course, make sure to check out the full breakdown and analysis of who was ranked where and why

  • Golazo 100: 100-81
  • Golazo 100: 80-61
  • Friday, June 7: 60-41
  • Saturday, June 8: Top Americans to watch for 2025
  • Sunday, June 9: Top 40 lookahead
  • Monday, June 10: 40-21
  • Tuesday, June 11: 20-11
  • Wednesday, June 12: 10-1

It is no great surprise that so many players had a convincing candidacy. There’s not much of a spoiler alert required to have a sense of who might be there or thereabouts when we unveil the top 20 on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. It took nearly 18 months for anyone to beat Rodri in a football match. Vinicius Junior has just delivered for Real Madrid in the biggest game in football, again. Harry Kane, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe continue to top the continent’s scoring charts.

None of these offer an iron clad candidacy to be the best of the best. Does it matter that all of Kane’s many goals have not yet contributed to club silverware? Can the greatest in the game play the bulk of his football in a league whose competitive balance has been nerfed by his employers? Have Vinicius and Jude Bellingham spent long enough near the summit to make the last step? Is the year after the year an appropriate moment to acclaim Manchester City’s Rodri, Haaland or Kevin De Bruyne?

For some of our panel these questions will have proven to be more persuasive. All of those mentioned above — and a great many others who will sit in the top 20 — have delivered moments of transcendent brilliance in this past season and beyond. It’s just that the guy before them did that all the time.

In a fashion that only Pele and Diego Maradona have done before, Messi changed the parameters of greatness in football. None of the greats that occupy the top of the sport have a season to compare with 73 goals and 32 assists in 60 games. None of them have eight Ballon d’Ors, 12 domestic titles, a World Cup won by force of will and the 2023 Leagues Cup. None are going to match Messi.

That’s where the fun lies. There are no locks anymore. When we repeat this exercise in a year’s time Mbappe, Vinicius and Bellingham’s collective brilliance might have spoiled their case for individual greatness a la the Kevin Durant-era Golden State Warriors. Age might have caught Kane and De Bruyne. Bukayo Saka, Florian Wirtz, Rafael Leao: All those and many more might take the last great leap. For the first time in a generation, the title of best in the world is there to be grasped.

Don’t miss CBS Sports Golazo Network’s Morning Footy, now in podcast form! Our crew brings you all the news, views, highlights and laughs you need to follow the Beautiful Game in every corner of the globe, every Monday-Friday all year long.

Golazo 100 Men’s List

61. Marc ter Stegen — Goalkeeper, Barcelona

Barcelona were off the pace in La Liga this season and have just gone through a painful divorce with Xavi after a brutal end to the campaign which saw a UEFA Champions League run abruptly ended by Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals. Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been a rare model of consistency for the mostly chaotic Catalan giants these past few years yet it might have gone unnoticed that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Germany international’s move to Catalonia. Part of the host nation’s squad for this summer’s UEFA Euro 2024, the 32-year-old will have the chance to put a difficult Blaugrana campaign behind him although he might not start ahead of Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer under Julian Nagelsmann. Ter Stegen remains one of the finest shot stoppers around and his ability to periodically remind everyone of that would probably be enhanced if Barca were more stable on and off the field. — Jonathan Johnson

62. Alexis Mac Allister — Midfield, Liverpool 

The World Cup winner has had an astronomical rise from his time at Argentinos Juniors and Boca Junior to Brighton and now at Liverpool. Seven goals for the Reds this season as part of a revamped midfield, he continues to improve and looked fantastic in his first season at Anfield. With a knack for rocket golazos from range, he can also provide the crucial pass for key goals, just like to Angel Di Maria in the 2022 World Cup final. A sure-fire starter for Argentina at this summer’s Copa America, he’s part of that next generation for the Albiceleste, as promising as any other country’s talent pool. Expect huge things from him moving forward, especially under new Liverpool coach Arnie Slot. He has all the tools needed to be one of the most versatile midfielders in the game. — Roger Gonzalez

63. John Stones — Defender, Manchester City

Like most signings at Manchester City, it took a bit for John Stones to ease into his role, but once he did he was able to prove that he’s one of the best defenders in England going from playing on the backline to also stepping into midfield when needed. It’s his presence that helped Pep Guardiola’s men smother their opposition but whenever he was absent with an injury, City’s performances with Stones off the pitch also showed his importance. Stones struggled with a hip injury this season that limited him to only 28 appearances in all competitions, but he still did what he could to contribute when available chipping in a goal and two assists alongside his solid defensive performances to help City to a fourth consecutive Champions League title. — Chuck Booth

64. Emiliano Martínez — Goalkeeper, Aston Villa

The Aston Villa man will be in the UEFA Champions League next season after Unai Emery’s miracle turnaround of the Birmingham-based giants resulted in a top four finish in the Premier League and a seat at European soccer’s top table. Emi Martinez is widely regarded as one of the top goalkeepers in the game right now and the Argentina international will have the chance to showcase that once again this summer with Copa America on U.S. soil. The 31-year-old might have missed out agonizingly on the UEFA Europa Conference League final with Villa despite his individual heroics in a penalty shootout against Lille OSC to reach the semifinals, but his role in the Villans’ restoration as one of the EPL’s leading lights has not gone unnoticed. — Jonathan Johnson

65. Xavi Simons — Midfielder, RB Leipzig

A breakout season with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands has been followed by an impressive developmental campaign in Germany with RB Leipzig which now has the Dutch international on the verge of potentially breaking out into genuine superstardom at this summer’s UEFA Euro 2024. Xavi Simons is part of an Oranje group which could spring a surprise or two in a group which also features France, Austria and Poland, but the 21-year-old’s future remains up in the air with Paris Saint-Germain head coach Luis Enrique keen to have the ex-Barcelona prodigy available for the post-Kylian Mbappe era. With 10 goals and 13 assists across all competitions and a first full term of UEFA Champions League soccer under his belt, Simons has been one of the revelations of this past year anywhere on the continent and a strong Euro could tempt suitors to try to test PSG’s resolve to keep him while Leipzig will be desperate to have him for another year or so to continue his rapid rise. — Jonathan Johnson

66. Achraf Hakimi — Right Back, Inter

After a difficult year on and off the field, the Morocco international took things back to basics under Luis Enrique and produced an improved season in the French capital which nearly ended with a UEFA Champions League final berth. Achraf Hakimi is one of Europe’s leading right-sided attacking fullbacks and having the former Inter, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund man on one side with Nuno Mendes on the other is a pretty enviable situation for Paris Saint-Germain’s Spanish tactician. The 25-year-old has been with the French champions for three years now and has grown extremely close with the departing Kylian Mbappe, so it will be interesting to see how the French superstar’s departure impacts his friend. Hakimi could thrive as one of the new leaders in Paris given his experience and influence, but also could go back to looking as lost as he did towards the end of last season when PSG were falling apart at the seams. There could also be an Olympic Games outing for the Moroccan in Group B which could impact his summer plans and Hakimi remains one of the leading names in his position which was illustrated by five goals and six assists all told. — Jonathan Johnson

67. Alessandro Bastoni — Center Back, Inter

He’s not just one of the most influential defenders of this era, he’s a playmaker playing in the left of a three-back defense, an assist-man and also a goal scorer when he has a chance. It’s not a coincidence that multiple European clubs are monitoring him for the future, but Inter have no intention to sell him. Bastoni improved a lot since he joined Inter and former manager Antonio Conte decided to count on him immediately. Under Simone Inzaghi, Bastoni’s leadership made him one of the key stars of the side that just won the Italian Serie A. – Francesco Porzio

68. Paulo Dybala — Forward, Roma

The Argentinian striker joined AS Roma in the summer 2022 and since then was able to restore his reputation after the many injuries that slowed his growth as a footballer over the past few seasons. However, thanks to the work he started under Jose Mourinho at Roma, he came back at the level he used to be and he’s now a key player for the Giallorossi. This season he scored 15 goals in all competitions but it was not enough to convince Argentinian head coach Lionel Scaloni to call him up for the upcoming 2024 Copa America. Next season, his third one at AS Roma, he has to deliver even more and possibly win a trophy with the team now coached by Daniele De Rossi. – Francesco Porzio 

69. Federico Dimarco — Defender/Winger, Inter

The Italian international should be considered among the best left wingers in the world. Dimarco improved drastically over the past two seasons under Simone Inzaghi and became an icon of the team he supported since his childhood, Inter. He also scored six goals in all competitions in the season that just ended and he’s a key player for Inzaghi’s side. Dimarco is a complete player, with his technique and his pace on the left side of the pitch making him the kind of player that can change the course of a game in any moment. Dimarco will also play as a starter at the UEFA Euro 2024 and became a crucial player also for the national team, especially since Luciano Spalletti took charge in 2023.  – Francesco Porzio 

70. Lamine Yamal — Right Wing, Barcelona

The youngest player on this list by a long shot at only 16, everything about Lamine Yamal makes you believe that he’ll be a star. Fearless on the ball and able to shoot and create from everywhere, I can’t think of a time that I’ve seen someone so young with the confidence that he has and records are already falling as he has become the youngest player to ever appear in a Champions Leauge quaterfinal, the youngest player to debut and score for the Spanish national team and the youngest player to ever provide an assist in Champions League play among other records. The wild thing is that he’s only getting better by the day. Plenty of steps still need to happen for him to grow into his role and become a bonafide star before he’s even 18. Like other members of Barcelona, consistency and patience will be needed, but things are trending in the right direction. — Chuck Booth

71. Gavi — Midfield, Barcelona

With 29 caps for the Spanish national team at only 19, Gavi is one of the players leading the charge of the current crop of academy graduates from La Masia. Despite the dysfunction around Barcelona as a club — he’s about to see his third permanent manager since debuting in 2021 — Gavi has still shined in midfield when healthy. Able to pop up all over the midfield or on the wing, Gavi is great at being a defensive presence and at setting up his teammates but if forgotten about he can show up in the box to get a goal too. Alongside Barcelona’s other impressive youth players, better times are coming for the club despite the lack of spending power, but consistency is needed at the top sooner than later. — Chuck Booth

72. Theo Hernandez — Left Back, AC Milan

Although it might not have been the season that Milan were hoping for, the versatile France international helped the Rossoneri to second place in Serie A and clocked the second best number of minutes out of the entire squad. With 12 goal involvements across all competitions, Theo Hernandez is a rare example of consistency among attack-minded fullbacks and he is likely to be a regular for Didier Deschamps at this summer’s UEFA Euro 2024 in Germany. The Marseille-born 26-year-old is coming up on five years in Italy, having honed his skills in Spain and could be tempted to return to his homeland to sample domestic soccer there as his brother — Lucas — has done to great effect in Paris. The two will not reunite with Les Bleus because of injury, but expect Theo to be a big attacking plus for the French on the left as they attempt to go all the way. — Jonathan Johnson

73. Julian Alvarez — Forward, Manchester City 

The Argentina international completed football last season by winning the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, adding those incredible achievements to numerous others such as World Cup, Copa America and Copa Libertadores.The 24-year-old native of Calchin, Alvarez has at least 17 goals in each of his last four seasons (two at River Plate, two at City). His 17-goal haul last season was surpassed this campaign with 19 strikes. 

Overshadowed by Erling Haaland, this is a $100 million player (in terms of value and potential) who is just an occasional starter for Manchester City. For the World Cup champs, he’s much more. 

Alvarez had seven goals in 2022 for Argentina, and despite not scoring in 2023, he’s likely the favorite to join Messi in attack over Lautaro Martinez thanks to what he pulled off at the 2022 World Cup, scoring two crucial goals against Croatia in the semifinals. 

Alvarez isn’t near his prime and has the potential to score 30 goals a season as the starting No. 9. Expect him to only rise on this list. — Roger Gonzalez

74. Kai Havertz — Forward/Midfield, Arsenal

When he left Chelsea in the summer of 2023, Kai Havertz knew what he didn’t want. He had grown tired of being a center forward, dueling with burly defenders, his back to goal and precious few opportunities to stretch his creative muscles. So it was with bitter irony that after half a season when it looked like his troubles had followed him from west London to north, Havertz found his joy again… as a center forward.

It is easy to see why the position might be more appealing at Arsenal, not least the altogether more settled nature of the club. Surrounding the German is elite talent with clearly defined roles, capable of feeding him chances and profiting off those he creates. The result has been goals in a flurry, since he got the striking gig permanently in the 3-1 win over Liverpool on February 4 he delivered nine goals and six assists, as many goal involvements as anyone in the Premier League except Cole Palmer. There was a time when the chant “Kai Havertz scores again” seemed a high stakes gambit on a player who could hardly buy a goal. Now it looks like prophesy. — James Benge

75. Alphonso Davies — Left Back, Bayern Munich

The posterboy of MLS players transitioning to – and thriving in – Europe, Davies has gone from a 15-year-old winger who was coming into his own to becoming one of the best left backs in the world with Bayern Munich. Davies has exceeded every expectation set for him and then some, yet he can still go even further being only 23. With his pace, Davies can keep up with the best wingers in the world while also delivering chances into attacking areas and still is able to flip back to being a full time attacker when on international duty for Canada.

After the disappointment of the World Cup in Qatar where Canada crashed out during the group stage of the tournament, it’s something that Davies and the team can use as motivation ahead of the Copa America and 2026 World Cup looking to put the Canucks on the map. — Chuck Booth

76. Mats Hummels — Center Back, Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund’s Cinderella run to the 2024 UEFA Champions League final was built on the back of a strong defense, and at the heart of their resolve in the back was veteran Mats Hummels.

The 35-year-old was able to steer Dortmund out of trouble as they slayed several giants of Europe en route to Wembley Stadium, including Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid. He made 81 recoveries in 13 games, ranking within the top five in the Champions League during the 2023-24 season. His adaptability to the modern demands of the game, though, was his most admirable attribute — Hummels still fit in amongst the best center backs of the game over the course of the season, ranking within the top 10 for touches with 930 and the top 15 for attempted passes with 708, posting a passing accuracy of 87.6%.

Nearly a decade removed from his central role as Germany won the World Cup, the five-time Bundesliga champion almost ushered in a career renaissance with reminders of his quality. Hummels’ long-standing reputation as an elite defender was on full display in Europe this season, serving as the picture of longevity in the process. — Pardeep Cattry

77. Artem Dovbyk — Striker, Girona

There’s bursting on the scene and then there’s what Artem Dovbyk did this season, winning the La Liga golden boot with Girona behind 24 league goals. Coming into the team as a relative unknown after moving from SK Dnipro-1, the Ukrainian quickly established himself as a dominant threat in the air for Girona helping them qualify for a Champions League berth this season. Six of those goals were scored with his head this season maximizing his 6’2″ frame and showing how important timing can be in those moments. Like many of the names on this list, Dovbyk will be leading his team at Euros which will only be their fourth ever appearance at the tournament. 

With improving talent, they’ll have a chance to do better than their quarter finals finish at the 2020 edition of the tournament, but they’ll need more goals from Dovbyk to do it as his next step will be proving that this breakout season is repeatable and not a flash in the pan. At only 26 years old, there are plenty of reasons to believe that this is only the start for the Ukrainian. — Chuck Booth

78. Marquinhos — Center Back, PSG

Now into his 11th year with Paris Saint-Germain, the Brazil international has risen to the position of full-time captain and is writing the sorts of records that you imagine might not ever be topped with the French giants. Marquinhos is Les Parisiens’ all-time top appearance maker at the age of 30 and has until 2028 to add to that, by which time he would be 34 and well on his way towards the sort of longevity exhibited by former PSG teammate Thiago Silva. The former AS Roma man has experienced all of the ups and downs that Paris under Qatari ownership has had to offer and retiring at Parc des Princes should not be ruled out now that a slide in form has been arrested with a good first term under Luis Enrique which brought Marquinhos his ninth Ligue 1 title and a third UEFA Champions League semifinal outing. — Jonathan Johnson

79. Jan Oblak — Goalkeeper, Atletico Madrid

Jan Oblak is no stranger to the top levels of the game. The 31-year-old is a prodigy-turned-elite talent, having been Atletico Madrid’s starting goalkeeper for the better part of a decade and collecting one La Liga title and a UEFA Europa League trophy in the process. His consistency may go a little under the rade at times, but one thing is clear — Oblak’s reliability takes his team up a level, serving as the foundation for their success.

Look no further than their UEFA Champions League campaign, when they made a surprise run to the quarterfinals despite drawing Serie A champions Inter in the round of 16. Oblak was one of the best goalkeepers in Europe last season, making 38 saves — the fourth-most in the competition — and posting a 74.5% save percentage, behind only Borussia Dortmund’s Gregor Kobel. It was not just his stability that helped Atleti reach the last eight, either. He was arguably one of the heroes of their round of 16 triumph, making two stops in a penalty shootout as the Spanish side overcame a 2-0 aggregate disadvantage to force spot kicks.

His reputation as a picture of reliability for a modern goalkeeper could grow this summer, when he plays in the Euros for the first time after Slovenia qualified for the competition for the first time since 2000. Oblak is far from the team’s only talent — Benjamin Sesko scored five goals in qualifying — but he is undoubtedly their leader, not only because he wears the armband. Slovenia conceded just nine goals in 10 games, and Oblak recorded three clean sheets en route to Germany. He will most likely be the anchor of their ship at the Euros and may have some more big game moments in him this summer. — Pardeep Cattry

80. Jack Grealish — Left Wing, Manchester City

Manchester City’s greatest success is that it can hang onto some of the world’s top talents and break them out when need be. The opportunities to play come more often for some than others, but the chances come for most of City’s core and considering the stockpile the reigning Premier League winners have, each of the players on the roster is bound to make an impact. That includes Jack Grealish, who may have had a smaller role than he preferred during the 2023-24 season, but still demonstrated his skill set en route to their fourth successive title.

Grealish scored three goals and recorded three assists during the campaign, some of his best games coming in the fall. The England international was arguably at his best during City’s 3-0 win over Manchester United, when the champions perfected their possession-based style to out-pass the rivals and render them useless. Grealish was a big part of their harmonious but ruthless display, demonstrating an impressive awareness in attack. He posted a 92.3% passing accuracy in the attacking third, taking five shots and creating one chance in the process.

His role dwindled as the season went on, but even as he played almost exclusively on days Pep Guardiola rotated through the team, his talents were clear. Grealish posted similar numbers towards the end of the season, including big wins over Aston Villa and Crystal Palace during City’s end-of-season race to the top. His less-than-ideal season at City means Grealish has a big summer ahead of him at the Euros, three years after he impressed enough with England to even earn a big money move to Manchester. The standard will be high — England head into the competition as the favorites — but Grealish’s midfield flair has only improved under Guardiola’s stewardship. He should be up for the task, if called upon. — Pardeep Cattry

81. Christian Pulisic — Winger, AC Milan

What’s a list of top players in the world without the current Captain America on it? Possibly the best American soccer player ever produced, Pulisic has won a Champions Leauge title with Chelsea, a DFB Pokal with Borussia Dortmund along with multiple honors for the United States men’s national team. Now, entering the prime of his career with Milan, it seems like Pulisic is enjoying his soccer while also producing results with it. Still only 25, the versatile attacker has yet to even enter the prime of his career ahead of an important summer where he’ll lead the USMNT during Copa America on home soil. 

Things are trending well ahead of 2026 which could be a crowning year in Pulisic’s career with a chance to lead the USMNT at a World Cup on home soil. Growing in his role in Serie A will set him up well but so will the fact that Pulisic has been a world traveler able to integrate in three of the five major European Leagues while scoring along the way shows that even if Pulisic just continues to do what he has done that he’ll go down as one of the best American careers ever. For more on Pulisic, don’t miss this full breakdown on why he made the list and what it says about American talent. — Chuck Booth

82. Luis Díaz — Left Wing, Liverpool

One of the focal points of Jurgen Klopp’s final Liverpool team was the embarrassment of riches he had in attack. Not only did he have several noteworthy players to choose from, he also had enough options to rotate through as the Reds made deep runs in four different competitions. Even as Klopp spread the love, some players naturally ranked above others in the team’s most important games. Luis Diaz was on the pitch more often than not to generate — and score — chances.

Diaz scored 13 goals and recorded five assists in 51 games this season, doing his part in Klopp’s final season. He did so on important occasions, too — he scored in extra time of Liverpool’s second leg of their EFL Cup semifinal against Fulham, sending them to the final and playing a big role in the team that won the trophy. He also managed to carve a place for himself amongst the top attackers in the Premier League this season, ranking within the top 20 for expected goals with 11.88, shots with 95 and chances created with 64. The 27-year-old will be counted on to impress for Colombia at the Copa America, a few short months after scoring twice for Los Cafeteros in their first-ever World Cup qualifying win over Brazil in November. Diaz has a habit of emerging from a crowded field as a dependable attacking force, offering both his club and country a healthy chance to win each and every time he’s on the pitch. — Pardeep Cattry

83. Viktor Gyokeres — Striker, Sporting CP

A winger turned striker, Victor Gyokeres has broken out since moving to Sporting Lisbon. From being a relative unknown in Brighton’s academy to emerging as a dangerous attacker with potential at Coventry City to now now showing that he’s the real deal in Portugal, Gyokeres’ improvement under Rubin Amorim has been striking. Some forwards are the type to artfully curl shots into the net, but not Gyokeres who strikes every ball like it will be his last. Making the net ripple with every goal, the Swedish striker puts a venom on the ball that even if a keeper gets their hand to it, they may not stop it. It may be an interesting summer for him as transfer interest grows, but it’s rightly deserved. Add his abilities with the ball to strength retaining it and being good at pressing and it makes a forward who any manager would want. It’s unfortunate that he won’t be at Euro 2024, but it does provide the added benefit that he’ll be well rested entering the season, wherever that season may be. — Chuck Booth

84. Mike Maignan — Goalkeeper, AC Milan

Established as France’s undisputed No. 1 since the retirement of Hugo Lloris after the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar, this summer’s UEFA Euro 2024 is the first chance for Milan’s shot stopper to make a name for himself at international level. On the club scene, consecutive titles in Ligue 1 and then Serie A have been added to by the UEFA Nations League with Les Bleus and Maignan is finally getting the overdue silverware and individual recognition that his ability warrants. The 28-year-old French Guiana-born Rossoneri goalkeeper is considered one of the best in Europe right now and formative club Paris Saint-Germain’s decision to sign Gianluigi Donnarumma which paved the way for Maignan’s Italy switch looks questionable from the French giants given their push for domestic talent of late. Expect to see this late bloomer rival the likes of Thibaut Courtois in being recognized as Europe’s best netminder over the next few years and possibly even being coveted by a continental juggernaut before the age of 30. — Jonathan Johnson

85. Lois Openda —  Striker, RB Leipzig

Few expected the Belgium international to maintain his hot form with RC Lens quite as spectacularly as he managed to do during his first season with RB Leipzig with 28 goals and seven assists across all competitions including a first taste of UEFA Champions League action. Openda is one of European soccer’s most in-form strikers at present and is expected to take that clinical edge into this summer’s UEFA Euro 2024 with the Belgians which could make Domenico Tedesco’s men dark horses in Germany, which is where the RBL man now plies his trade. Die Roten Bullen are known as a stepping stone club despite their regular continental forays so the chances are that Openda or strike partner Benjamin Sesko will be wanted men sooner rather than later. However, the 24-year-old along with Xavi Simons was one of the Bundesliga outfit’s top performers all year long and will have another shot at the UCL next term before a potential suitor comes calling. — Jonathan Johnson

86. Karim Benzema — Striker, Al-Ittihad

It seems like only yesterday that the French superstar was being crowned Ballon d’Or winner after some unstoppable form with Real Madrid, but things are a far cry from that glorious moment in Paris less than two calendar years later. Benzema, like a few others on this list, benefits from form being temporary and class being permanent — his Al-Ittihad spell in Saudi Arabia has certainly not been going according to plan so far since his arrival to great fanfare last summer. The former Olympique Lyonnais man’s incredible trophy haul with Real — notably five UEFA Champions League and four La Liga titles — will live long in the memory but it is hard not to feel that the 36-year-old’s final few years are fading into obscurity. With fellow Al-Ittihad man N’Golo Kante still holding down a UEFA Euro 2024 squad berth despite being out of European soccer for a year now, it could be that the end of Benzema’s international career with France brought about the premature closure of his club days too. — Jonathan Johnson

87. Manuel Neuer — Goalkeeper, Bayern Munich

Manuel Neuer’s reputation as one of the game’s best goalkeepers is already set. The World Cup and UEFA Champions League winner is considered a trendsetter for today’s shot-stoppers, skilled with his feet in a way that was once unique, but is now the standard for the game’s elite goalkeepers. At 38 years old, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for Neuer but he impressively remains a valuable asset for both Bayern Munich and Germany, even as both storied teams hit a period of uncertainty.

He had to overcome his own hurdles to keep his stock high nearly a decade after winning the World Cup, though. Neuer spent the better part of a year away from the pitch after fracturing his right knee during a ski trip in December 2022, but played his first game in 350 days when Bayern beat Darmstadt 8-0 in October of last year. He has since collected new individual records in his comeback year, chief among them breaking Iker Casillas’ record for most clean sheets in the Champions League. Neuer now has 58 clean sheets to his name in European competition, the most recent of which came in Bayern’s 1-0 win over Arsenal in the quarterfinals, when the usually attack-minded team delivered a defensive masterclass.

He can still come up big against the best players in the game, too. Look no further than their second leg semifinal tie against Real Madrid, when Neuer made five saves in a loss. The icon may be in the twilight of his career, but there’s no reason to suggest he’s behind the pace at the elite levels of the game just yet. — Pardeep Cattry

88. Dusan Vlahovic — Striker, Juventus

The Serbian striker had a very strong season at Juventus after a disappointing start and is now set to start a new chapter under Thiago Motta at the club after the Euros he will play with Serbia. Apart from the 18 goals scored in all competitions this campaign, Vlahovic finally seemed to be finally back at the level he was at Fiorentina before signing for Juventus. The feeling is that he can only improve under Motta, and a lot will also depend on how Juventus will play next season when they will also be back to play Champions League soccer. So far, Vlahovic performed better when he was playing with another striker playing next to him, rather than in the 4-3-3. If the Serbian striker will be able to make that extra step we are all expecting, we should consider him among the best ones around Europe. –  Francesco Porzio

89. Neymar — Left Wing, Al-Hillal

Just about scraping onto this list, despite not having played much soccer in the best part of two years is the Brazilian superstar who does not even have a goal to his name with Al Hilal yet after making a mega money move from Paris Saint-Germain last summer. Neymar is now 32, and although he remains important for his country and a darling of the nation, his best days are definitively behind him, and it is unlikely that he will be featuring in many more lists like these unless there is a dramatic turnaround in fortunes. Given how injury-prone the South American has been in recent years, it might be a better plan to get back to playing regularly before considering whether European soccer is worth one final crack. A brilliant player on his day but not consistent nor motivated enough over the final meaningful years of his career means that this feels like things ending in ignominy unless Neymar can summon huge inner strength and belief to get back to something close to his best one final time. — Jonathan Johnson

90. Joao Cancelo — Fullback, Barcelona

When he started to show all promise at Valencia a decade ago (how is he already 30 years old?), he looked destined for superstardom. Another Portuguese prodigy ripped from Benfica for big money, only to then play for Inter Milan, Juventus, Manchester CityBayern Munich and Barcelona in a six-year span. While his maturity is often questioned, his ability is not. He’s as fast as they make them, he can dominate you with his technical skill, and even though he’s a fullback, he’s an attack-minded player with all the potential in the world. 

His four goals for Barca this season are a career high, and despite those defensive woes, he offers enough to be on this list due to talent and production.

Now, if he were simply playing as an attacking winger (I think he should), I think he’d be much higher on his list because he does posses the skill to set up his teammates and create space to cross it in from the wing. Though he can struggle passing if he drifts centrally, he balances it out with the one-on-one ability. — Roger Gonzalez

91. Ademola Lookman — Forward/Winger, Atalanta

Lists like these are generally a celebration of the glamorous side of sports, featuring players who most anticipated would be stars and lived up to the billing from a young age. Most sports journeys, though, are not linear but a lengthy road to landing in the right place at the right time can be a triumphant one. Just ask Ademola Lookman, who is finally hitting his stride.

The 26-year-old Lookman landed at his sixth club in three countries when he joined Atalanta in 2022. It was one of those moves that attracted limited attention — the England-born Lookman was chewed up and spit out of the Premier League and landed at a club on the rise but far from anyone’s list of top contenders for silverware. Quickly enough, those perceptions did not matter — he scored on his Serie A debut, a 2-0 win over Sampdoria and scored 15-plus goals in consecutive seasons across all competitions. He mixed that in with acclaim for Nigeria, scoring three goals en route to this year’s Africa Cup of Nations final and making the team of the tournament.

Lookman’s crowning achievement, though, is the hattrick he scored in this year’s UEFA Europa League final in Dublin. The promise many had identified in him once upon a time was clearly on display — he barely put a foot wrong that day, scoring on each of his shots and beating his defender on just about every occasion. Lookman’s success is a reminder that there’s no one right way to the top, and there’s plenty to celebrate about that. — Pardeep Cattry

92. Raphinha — Right Wing, Barcelona

His play might be overshadowed by Barcelona’s incredible consistency of being inconsistent, but the Brazil international just wrapped up his third straight season (two at Barca) with double-digit goals. The former Leeds United man can finish in a variety of ways, but it’s his ability to be in the right spot at the right time, on top of creating danger down the right, that makes him such a concern for opposing defenses. He figures to have a solid role with the Brazil national team at Copa America, and if it weren’t for him, Barca’s season probably would have been worse than it already was. 

Raphinha is exceptional when it comes to beating a defender in tight spaces as his ability to react to the slightest hesitation will see him clean through more often than not. With the speed to beat you down the flanks, he does a superb job of putting the ball into dangerous areas for his teammates to finish. — Roger Gonzalez

93. Vitinha — Midfield, PSG

The Portuguese midfielder has really come into his own over the last season, becoming an integral part of a Paris Saint-Germain team that made it to the semifinals of the Champions League while also winning Ligue 1 and the French Cup. The 24-year-old Portuguese international joined from Porto in 2022 and had a stellar campaign this season with nine goals in 46 games. His creativity on the ball and ability to shoot from a distance has made him PSG’s most dangerous player, arguably, behind Kylian Mbappe. He only needs a little bit of room to launch a rocket, and he seems to enjoy pulling the trigger from range over getting into the box. 

There is no doubt he’s more settled in the French capital and his performances indicate a player at the top of his game, with a knack for recovering the ball high up the field just an added bonus to an all-around star. With Mbappe leaving PSG, he is set to become one of the new faces of the club as they pursue European glory, and he’s expected to be a key part of Roberto Martinez’s Portugal plans this summer at Euro 2024. — Roger Gonzalez

94. Alvaro Morata — Striker, Atletico Madrid

The one trait all great strikers share is an ability to find themselves in great scoring positions with frequency. For the best part of half a decade, Alvaro Morata did that, but the ball just did not go in the net as often as it ought to. At almost every club he ended up at he would be the whipping boy, the player who infuriated a portion of the fanbase because so many big chances came and went.

In his second spell at Atletico Madrid, all that has changed, at least at club level. The 31-year-old is admired by his teammates for the quality of his all-around play and the leadership he brings to the locker room. More important even than that, he is scoring goals and more of them than his expected goal total would suggest. His 21 this season are the best of his career so far, while he also has 11 goals in his last 21 caps for Spain. It has taken time and a lot of mis-steps for Morata to get to a peak lower than it might have been if he had ever found a stable environment. Still, the summit he is at now is higher than most. — James Benge

95. Nico Williams — Winger, Athletic Club

The Spain international has managed to burst onto the scene at Athletic Bilbao alongside his brother Inaki, who narrowly missed this list, but it is the younger Williams brother who looks destined for stardom. A winger with speed, technical ability and incredible talent, he can beat almost any defender with his super dribbling skills. Defenders are often left with the only recourse being to hack him down as his foul-winning ability is one of the best around. Already a key member of the Spanish team, he’s aiming for a deep run at this summer’s Euros. 

He continues to improve in his ability to deliver crosses and fire on goal, and those early minutes in his career are paying off for his development with bigger clubs likely to come calling before long. His ability to play on either side of the wing makes him just that much more valuable. — Roger Gonzalez

96. Anthony Gordon — Winger, Newcastle 

There’s always a level of uncertainty attached to a youth prospect, some of whom unfairly carry the hopes and dreams of idealistic supporters on their shoulders. Newcastle United‘s £45 million bet in January 2023 to sign Anthony Gordon from Everton was a good one, though, and the 23-year-old’s stock is only rising after a career-best season with the Magpies.

Gordon wrote the prologue to his strong first full season in Newcastle at last year’s European U-21 Championships, scoring two goals and notching one assist as England won the competition and he picked up the Player of the Tournament award. The follow-up act was just as impressive — he scored 12 goals and recorded 11 assists in 48 games for Newcastle during the 2023-24 season, behind only Alexander Isak in the former category. Gordon has not just carved out a place in Eddie Howe’s lineup but also in the club’s history, becoming the first Englishman to score in four league home games in a row for the Magpies since Alan Shearer did so in 1999.

As a changing of the guard takes place at the top levels of the game, Gordon’s name is a worthy inclusion amongst talented young players who are emerging as the sport’s new stars. There’s still room to grow for the 23-year-old, but he is beginning to demonstrate a reliability that serves as a foundational element for any top-tier goal-scorer. — Pardeep Cattry

97. Dominik Szoboszlai — Midfield, Liverpool

It’s hard to believe he is just 23 years of age, but not long ago he was that teenage sensation starring at Red Bull Salzburg. A move to RB Leipzig and back-to-back 10-goal seasons resulted in the transfer to Liverpool last summer. Since then, he’s delivered with seven goals in 45 games with four assists. He’s been part of a rebuilt Reds midfield alongside Alexis Mac Allister, and the versatile Hungary international can play wide or centrally. He has the ability to beat a defender one-on-one or deliver clinical vertical passes, while also showing he can put the right amount of touch on a through ball. 

Any coach’s dream, he wants to be involved in duels, he seeks contact, and he will fight for the man next to him in any situation. That aggression and toughness can rub off on others, and it was much needed in a Liverpool team that looked like the Europa League and Premier League favorites at one point. — Roger Gonzalez

98. Teun Koopmeiners — Midfield, Atalanta

The Dutch midfielder was one of the surprises of the season under Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini. He showed surprising attacking qualities, exploding for 15 goals in all competitions. Those are numbers that are usually reserved for strikers have around Europe. The Dutchman has been a key player for Atalanta since he joined the Italian side in 2021, and has attracted the interests of multiple European clubs, including Juventus, who seem incredibly interested in signing him this summer. Koopmeiners is the type of player who could easily make that jump up in notoriety this summer ahead of the new season, but on the other hand, staying at Atalanta would mean the chance for him to play Champions League soccer with a team that just won their first European trophy against Bayer Leverkusen. Remember his name, Koopmeiners is one of those players that could become one of the biggest names around European soccer over the next few years. – Francesco Porzio 

99. Federico Chiesa — Winger/Forward, Juventus

The Italian winger narrowly slides onto the list, even though a few years ago he could have been in a higher position. Chiesa, still only 26, had a strong start to his Juventus spell while also winning the Euro 2020 as one of the stars of Roberto Mancini’s Italy. However, an ACL injury suffered in January 2022 sidelined him for a whole year and when he came back he was not able to rise to his forrmer level. Over the past two seasons, Chiesa played in different roles as winger in the 4-3-3 and also as a striker in the 3-5-2 as the Bianconeri played, and sometimes not even as a starter. The feeling now is that he needs a coach who can get the best out of him, because the talent is there and there is no reason to think that he can’t get back to his previous best. Thiago Motta might be the right manager for him at Juventus, but there are also increasing rumors he might also leave Juventus this summer, as his contract currently expires in 2025. – Francesco Porzio 

100. Ronald Araujo — Center Back, Barcelona

Continuing the tradition of Uruguay’s production of elite center backs, the 25-year-old Rivera native is a menace in the middle. At 6-foot-2, he plays even bigger with his superb aerial ability. He’s got speed and power to push nearly any player off the ball with his aggression. A key piece for Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay national team, if the Charrua make any noise at the Copa America this summer, he will have to play a big role. His 2023-24 season, while strong for an inconsistent Barcelona, will unfortunately be remembered by his questionable red card on Bradley Barcola of PSG in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg. Barca were up 4-2 at that point before their surprising elimination. Those occasional high-profile errors are what keep him from being higher up the list. — Roger Gonzalez 

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