Well, what a year in the world of football (I said that in 2013). We witnessed perhaps one of the greatest World Cups ever in Brazil which Germany won, Real Madrid completed ‘La Decima’ by winning their 10th Champions League trophy and goalscoring records aplenty were broken as part of the constant battle between Messi and Ronaldo, just to name a few. With the help of the Guardian’s and FourFourTwo’s top 100 players, as well as your votes I have compiled my top 10 players of the year, my team of the year, young player of the year, manager of the year as well as pick out my best goals from world football. You can guess who the main prize has come down to…
TOP 10 PLAYERS OF 2014
10. Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich & Germany) – 25 years old – NEW ENTRY
“I don’t think there are many [opposition] players in the world who understand his runs and ideas,” Bastian Schweinsteiger recently said of Thomas Muller’s unorthodox playing style. With his spindly legs and sloppy attire – socks pulled halfway down, singlet peaking out above his backside – the Bayern Munich and Germany forward does a very good job at masking his predatory prowess. “There are others who are better in the air, better with their right, better with their left,” he has admitted. His deliberate free-kick stumble against Algeria didn’t quite work out but he still scored five goals for the Nationalmannschaft in Brazil to double his tally in final tournaments. Still only 25, he is on course to outscore both his namesake Gerd Muller (14 goals in the World Cup) and the current record-holder Miroslav Klose (16). Muller has moaned that “muscles don’t grow” on him but also credited that deficit for forcing him to be more proficient above the neckline, to explore spaces others don’t even begin to see. “My legs have helped me,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung. “If you can’t just count on your physical attributes, you have to switch on your brain and make certain runs to avoid getting tackled.” Written by Raphael Honigstein
9. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City & Argentina) – 26 years old – NEW ENTRY
Sergio Agüero scored 19 goals in his first 21 appearances in a 2013-14 season that – injury permitting – is shaping to be the finest of his Manchester City career. For a man pivotal in both City’s Premier League title triumphs this is some achievement, and points to how Agüero has again elevated his game to a new level. Manuel Pellegrini, Samir Nasri and a host of other City players bill him as marginally a class down from Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and, considering the form the 26-year-old had consistently showed before he was sidelined by a knee injury in early December, it is difficult to argue with that view. The hope now is that Agüero can recover soon and instantly return to the player who – when Pellegrini’s side had a prolonged wobble – kept City in the Premier League title chase and the Champions League almost single-handedly. Who can forget that nerveless hat-trick against Bayern? Agüero featured in five of Argentina’s games as they reached the World Cup final but was not quite able to reproduce his club form on the biggest stage of all. He started the final on the bench but came on at half-time for Ezequiel Lavezzi but was unable to prevent Germany taking the prize. Written by Jamie Jackson
8. Neymar (Barcelona & Brazil) – 22 years old – NEW ENTRY
Brazil’s wobbly World Cup train derailed even before the dramatic Germany game. Until Juan Zuñiga’s challenge literally broke Neymar’s back, the striker had carried the host country on his young shoulders. Despite almost unbearable pressure to be Brazil’s hero, he scored two goals in the opening game against Croatia after the host nation had fallen behind and were struggling to find their rhythm. There were another two goals in the last group game against Cameroon before the win on penalties against Chile and then that fateful game against Colombia in Fortaleza. With 42 goals, Neymar is already the fifth-highest scorer in the history of the Seleção and with seven more will pip a certain Zico for fourth place. His record for Barcelona is not bad either: in his first 18 matches for the Blaugrana in 2014-15 Neymar scored 14 goals, three of them in the Champions League. It did help that from his first day in Catalonia Neymar did not try to upstage Lionel Messi, instead happily assuming second-fiddle duties. Getting more adapted to the rigours of European football will only make Neymar more dangerous, and all of a sudden the possibility of having to do without Messi is not completely unthinkable for Barcelona fans. Written by Fernando Duarte
7. Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich & Holland) – 30 years old – NEW ENTRY
There has often been a resistance to the charm of Arjen Robben in the past, a sense that his almost self-parodying fondness for hitting the deck has undermined his appeal, but he is finally winning acceptance from the wider public. A rare case of a winger who appears to be getting better and more consistent with age, the level the Dutchman reached for club and country this year has seen him rise 10 places on this list and although Robben has just missed out on a place on the podium, it is heartening to see recognition of his talent. Life would be easier if he stayed on his feet a bit more but even his detractors would have to admit that few things are more exhilarating than Robben on the run, snaking inside from the right and bending a shot into the far corner with his left foot. He can be selfish, but the brilliance of Robben is such that his intentions are often predictable and yet defences still cannot stop him. Robben was exceptional for Bayern Munich as they won the Bundesliga and a leader for Holland on their way to finishing third in Brazil. His performance when Holland destroyed Spain 5-1 was one for the ages. Written by Jacob Steinberg
6. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid & Wales) – 25 years old – Last Year: 6th (non-mover)
After an injury-plagued start to his career as Real Madrid’s €100m record signing, Bale showed no sign of wilting under the burden of his price tag. He began 2014 in fine style and finished his first season in Spain with 22 goals, including one solo effort in the Copa del Rey final that was as breathtaking as it was lung-bursting. He also became the first Welshman to score in a Champions League final, during Real’s extra-time victory over Atlético. Bale has started this season as he finished the last, while speculation that his presence at the Bernabéu might pose a threat to the ego of Cristiano Ronaldo has proved to be without foundation. Indeed, the pair seem to have hit it off – “He understands me, I understand him and he produces fantastic passes,” enthused the Portuguese, “I love him.” Bale speaks equally highly of his team-mate. “I think I’m improving all the time and trying to get to the level that Cristiano’s at,” he said. “It gives me that platform to aim for and keeps me improving and hopefully one day I can get there.” On the international front, Bale’s nationality precluded him from strutting his stuff on the World Cup stage, but thanks to his influence Wales are entertaining realistic hopes of reaching the finals of Euro 2016. Written by Barry Glendenning
5. Luis Suarez (Barcelona & Uruguay) – 27 years old – Last Year: 7th (up 2)
A typical year in the career of one of football’s most instinctive, divisive, brilliant and troubled talents. The striker inspired Liverpool to the cusp of their first league title for 24 years, his 31 league goals, audacious skill and relentless movement integral to the breathtaking form of Brendan Rodgers’ team. Suárez swept up England’s individual honours, being named PFA and FWA Player of the Year despite claims that everyone had it in for him, with an apparent new-found maturity behind his elevation into the game’s elite. Liverpool’s title challenge ended in tears but the World Cup offered another chance to alter his reputation. Recovering from a knee ligament injury to score twice against England was a fairytale for Uruguay’s talismanic forward, but five days later he blew it, or bit it, by sinking his teeth into Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. His World Cup was over in disgrace. Fifa hit Suárez with a four-month ban from all football-related activity and a nine-match international suspension but the record punishment did not deter Barcelona from signing the striker for £75m in July. He has made a slow start at the Camp Nou but left behind a gaping hole at Anfield. Written by Andy Hunter
4. Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich & Germany) – 31 years old – NEW ENTRY
The Germany and Bayern stalwart successfully filled in as a deep-lying playmaker for Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger at the start of the World Cup, bringing rhythm as well as defensive stability to midfield. Joachim Löw switched him back to his customary right-back role from the quarter-final against France onwards, and the 31-year-old went on to lead his side to a fourth World Cup triumph, shedding a few tears at the final whistle at the Maracanã. Has there ever been a captain who has played two different positions so successfully in a major tournament? “A footballing robot,” the former Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel called him; Pep Guardiola praised him as “the most intelligent player I’ve ever worked with”. Lahm retired from the national team after lifting the trophy. Guardiola has had him playing in yet another role this season, as an inside-right midfielder with a licence to go forward. Lahm duly scored two goals in the league before suffering a broken ankle in training in November. “We cannot play badly any more,” he said. “That’s mostly due to the manager, and the variety we now have in our game.” In other words: Bayern have now become a side in his image. Written by Raphael Honigstein
The top three have been voted for by you…
3. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich & Germany) – 28 years old – NEW ENTRY
Neuer has politely rebuffed the idea that he has revolutionised goalkeeping, pointing at the influence of Jens Lehmann and Edwin van der Sar. But there is little doubt that the 28-year-old has set a new benchmark by adapting with particular brilliance to the modern demands on the position. His confidence, skill and pace allow him to come out of his area and effectively give his teams a 12th player on the pitch; Neuer is both No1 and last defender, an additional safety barrier behind the high line and an extra outlet for passes to break the opposition pressing. “Only Franz Beckenbauer was a better sweeper,” said Germany’s goalkeeping coach, Andreas Köpke, after Neuer had run six kilometres and touched the ball 21 times outside his own box in the last-16 match against Algeria at the World Cup, during which he also saved 85% of all shots on goal. His game can look flash to the uninitiated but Neuer, who has studied the movement of handball and ice hockey goalkeepers for inspiration, says he is simply doing what is best for his sides. “Goalkeepers can’t do their own thing and wait to make a great save on the line anymore,” he has said. “They are team players. Behind everything is the fundamental question: What does the team need?” Written by Raphael Honigstein
2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina) – 27 years old – Last Year: 2nd (non-mover)
At the time of writing Lionel Messi had played 50 games for Barcelona in 2014 and scored 48 goals. He had hit the post 11 times, too, so that figure could be even higher, and he had provided 19 assists. He ends the year having just become the all-time leading scorer in La Liga and the all-time leading scorer in European competition. And that’s just for his club: he also took Argentina to the World Cup final. And yet most people have concluded that this was a bad year for Messi, which perhaps it was. It was certainly disappointing for his club, runners-up to Atlético Madrid in the league, Real Madrid in the cup and beaten by Atlético in the Champions League quarter-finals. The statistics really just hammer home the absurdly high standards Messi had set. It was a difficult season off the pitch as well as on it, with injury and tax issues, while Messi’s relationship with some on the board has been strained. Meanwhile his team fades too. In a way, maybe the surprise is that he played as well as he did, albeit still not well enough to top this chart. For some Messi is the best player of all time, but not the best player in the world in 2014: as he fails to overhaul Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of my list. Majority written by Sid Lowe
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid & Portugal) – 29 years old – Last Year: 1st (non-mover)
Probably the best compliment of all is that he has beaten one of the giants of his sport into second place on my list for the second year running. Lionel Messi has taken the art of attacking football to its highest level, to the point at which it is perfectly legitimate to compare his achievement to Diego Maradona’s. Yet Cristiano Ronaldo has caught, and maybe overtaken, him as the most destructive force in world football. Ronaldo doesn’t just take on opposition defences, he bludgeons them. He could score the kind of goal that George Best used to score. But then again, he could score the kind of goal that Nat Lofthouse used to score. And he could score the kind of goal that the other Ronaldo used to score. It’s a blur of speed, gelled hair and fluorescent boots and perhaps the greatest part of it all is that this is a workaholic’s career. For all his natural skill and athleticism, it gets overlooked sometimes that Ronaldo is utterly devoted to his craft. He is coming up for 30, but just try to find the first sign of decline when he is greedily accumulating goals at the prodigious rate we have seen over the past year. Ronaldo is the former Manchester United star who was clapped off by an Anfield crowd this season. It is known as authentic greatness. Majority written by Daniel Taylor
Best Young Player of 2014 (VOTED FOR BY YOU)
To qualify for this award, players had to be 23 years old or younger. The winner has already featured on my top ten players of 2014….
3rd – James Rodriguez (Real Madrid & Colombia) – 23 years old
It was always likely that Real Madrid would use the World Cup as a kind of casting for their latest galáctico. They needed a new star to emerge and none did so more than James Rodriguez. Hardly a nobody – after all, he had cost £38.5 million a year ago – ‘Hames’ was still a revelation in Brazil. Top goalscorer and scorer, against Uruguay, of the tournament’s top goal too. He has performed superbly since joining Madrid, with Carlo Ancelotti finding a role for him despite the absence of an obvious natural position in the line-up. Written by Sid Lowe
2nd – Eden Hazard (Chelsea & Belgium) – 23 years old
Hazard has long been considered one of the most talented midfielders of his generation but has also been known to frustrate. Since returning to Stamford Bridge José Mourinho has prodded him constantly to try to make him more efficient. “It is the first time I have known this with a coach,” admitted Hazard. “The others tended to protect me. He really wants my potential to explode.” Hazard is not as influential as he should be for his country, as the World Cup proved, but he has become far more consistent for Chelsea – he was their leading assist-provider last season, though he is lagging well behind Cesc Fabregas so far this season. Written by Paul Doyle
1st – Neymar (Barcelona & Brazil) – 22 years old
Brazil’s wobbly World Cup train derailed even before the dramatic Germany game. Until Juan Zuñiga’s challenge literally broke Neymar’s back, the striker had carried the host country on his young shoulders. Despite almost unbearable pressure to be Brazil’s hero, he scored two goals in the opening game against Croatia after the host nation had fallen behind and were struggling to find their rhythm. There were another two goals in the last group game against Cameroon before the win on penalties against Chile and then that fateful game against Colombia in Fortaleza. With 42 goals, Neymar is already the fifth-highest scorer in the history of the Seleção and with seven more will pip a certain Zico for fourth place. His record for Barcelona is not bad either: in his first 18 matches for the Blaugrana in 2014-15 Neymar scored 14 goals, three of them in the Champions League. It did help that from his first day in Catalonia Neymar did not try to upstage Lionel Messi, instead happily assuming second-fiddle duties. Getting more adapted to the rigours of European football will only make Neymar more dangerous, and all of a sudden the possibility of having to do without Messi is not completely unthinkable for Barcelona fans. He is the star of the future, and it’s no surprise you have voted as the best young player of 2014. He’ll still be eligible next year as well… Majority written by Fernando Duarte
Coach of 2014 (VOTED FOR BY YOU)
3rd – Joachim Low (Germany)
After a long and arduous journey, Joachim Low has finally reached the summit of world football after leading Germany to a deserved triumph at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, including an astounding 7-1 win over the hosts in the semi-finals. It marked the highlight of his eight and half year reign as Germany coach so far, coming four years after his side finished in third place at the tournament in South Africa thanks to their technically demanding attacking game. A meticulous worker and astute tactician, Low impressively moulded his team to perform as a single unit in Brazil, with the side harmonising almost perfectly both in defence and attack. “I was absolutely convinced that we would be able to take the last step, which we did in 2014,” the 54-year-old Black Forest native said. “The time was right and the team were ready.”
2nd – Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid)
Carlo Ancelotti showed what he is made of by sliding into the hotseat at Real Madrid and winning the Copa del Rey and the club’s eagerly awaited tenth UEFA Champions League title. These successes were made all the sweeter by the fact they were secured with respective victories over old rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. The Italian coach exceeded expectations in his first season with Los Blancos, restoring a sense of calm to the club and turning his side into a relentless winning machine spearheaded by a lethal and insatiable frontline. Ancelotti picked up this season where he left off last by landing the UEFA Super Cup, yet another piece of silverware for the Bernabeu trophy cabinet.
1st – Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid)
“One game at a time” became Diego Simeone’s mantra last season, one in which his brand of dedication, perspiration and complete commitment allowed Atletico Madrid to win the Spanish La Liga and break a nine-year stranglehold by Real Madrid and Barcelona. A master when it comes to set-piece strategies and man management, the Argentinian also took his side to the brink of European glory. Appearing in only the second European Cup/UEFA Champions League final in their history, they came within seconds of lifting the famous trophy only to succumb to a last-gasp rally by cross-town rivals Real. A small measure of revenge would later come for Simeone and his men in the Spanish Super Cup. But for turning La Liga into a three horse race, and actually winning Spain’s top division, you have voted Diego Simeone as your manager of 2014.
Team of the Year
This is always the hardest bit to decide for me, as there are so many fantastic attacking players that I have to leave out. This year’s XI includes seven people from the top ten players list, compared to six in 2013.
Top Three Goals of the Year
Finally, we come on to my goal of the year award, which I have chosen from FIFA’s nominees. Every year since 2009, the football governing body has had a ‘Puskás Award’ celebrating the best goals of the year. They draw up a list of ten nominees which a panel then vote from. The list can include goals from November 2012 until October 2013, meaning for example, Aaron Ramsey’s 35 yard volley against Galatasaray cannot be included. (You’ll have to watch the videos on Youtube, as copyright doesn’t allow for them to be shown on here).
3rd – Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs Bastia
Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the FIFA Puskas Award in 2013 with a goal scored when the ball was behind him, and he repeated the feat to give Paris Saint-Germain the lead against Bastia in Ligue 1. When Lucas Moura’s cross was deflected to the Swede’s rear, he swung his right leg back and produced an exquisite back-heeled volley which went just inside the post.
2nd – James Rodriguez vs Uruguay
Voted by fans as the Goal of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Colombia’s James Rodriguez chested the ball over his head, swiveled instantly and unleashed a venomous, dipping volley which crashed in off the underside of Uruguay’s crossbar.
1st – Hisato Sato vs Kawasaki Frontale
When the ball was rolled into Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Hisato Sato on the edge of the Kawasaki Frontale box, he flicked it up and, while on the spin, executed a rare looping volley which went over goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe and into the back of the net.
FIFA’s top three have been announced as:
- Robin van Persie vs Spain
- James Rodriguez vs Uruguay
- Stephanie Roche vs Wexford Youths
FIFA will announce their World Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Puskás Award winner on 12th January in Zurich. Let me know what you think of my top ten and tell me any changes (if any!) you would make to it as well as my team of the year in the comments below
Once again, thank you for all the support in 2014, and Happy New Year! After today’s triple upload, two more posts are going up tomorrow!