It may be a team game, but we are living in an age of incredible individual talent, with the two greats of their generation, Lionel Messi, now joined by cast of players who could one day take their crown.
There were plenty who caught the eye in the past 12 months, although the top 10 of the year is fittingly dominated by the club who won a clean sweep of major honors in 2015. There is no Barcelona bias here, just a level of respect for perhaps the best forward trio in club history.
1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Argentina)
There can surely be no doubt that Messi will pick up an unprecedented fifth Ballon d’Or crown next month. Returned to a right-sided role and liberated by the arrival of Luis Suarez, the Argentine magician has gotten back to his brilliant best in 2015. Filling the roles of both playmaker and prolific finisher, Messi has grabbed 23 assists and 47 goals in just 52 appearances for Barcelona this year as he helped his side lift four trophies.
2. Neymar (Barcelona, Brazil)
Had he not been playing alongside the greatest player of this generation, Neymar could well have been voted the world’s best player himself. Certainly his achievements have been eye-catching. The Brazilian has combined the scintillating individual skill honed back home with Barcelona’s more collective ethos and settled incredibly well to life at the Camp Nou. Happy to play a supporting role to Messi, Neymar also showed he could be the leading man when flourishing during his teammate’s recent two-month injury absence.
3. Luis Suárez (Barcelona, Uruguay)
There is a strong argument, though, that neither Messi nor Neymar would have flourished in quite the same way had it not been for Suárez . Unlike many who have tried before him, the Uruguayan has successfully given Barcelona the natural striker and pace that was sorely lacking in previous seasons. His unselfish running has opened up space of both Messi and Neymar, but he has also shone himself, scoring five goals in the recent Club World Cup and a goal in the Champions League final.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal)
While he is unlikely to win a third-straight Ballon d’Or, it says much about Ronaldo’s incredibly high standards than even in what can be considered a disappointing year, he has still scored 55 goals in 56 appearances for club and country. And he played a big part in helping Portugal reach Euro 2016. But the selfish side of Ronaldo was also seen too often during a year in which Real Madrid won nothing and have started life under Rafael Benitez in troubled fashion.
5. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)
His first season at Bayern Munich was hardly a failure, but Lewandowski has exploded into life this season, as both he and his team have adjusted perfectly to each other. The former Borussia Dortmund striker has already scored 23 goals this campaign, including, of course, his surely never-to-be-repeated feat of scoring five times in nine minutes after coming on as a substitute against Wolfsburg. As if that weren’t enough, he also finished as the top scorer in Euro 2016 qualifying to punch Poland's ticket to France.
6. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich, Germany)
Another year in which Neuer showed himself to be a league above as the best goalkeeper in the world. As well as doing everything expected of a goalkeeper to a supremely high level, Neuer’s anticipation in coming out of his goal and footballing ability when he gets there enables both Bayern Munich and Germany to get away with playing a high defensive line and pressing the opposition.
7. Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich, Germany)
While continuing to look ungainly in doing so, Muller continues to be one of the smartest, most effective players in the world. Aptly self-described as an “attacker of space,” the 26-year-old has an unmatched knack of finding the weak spot in an opponent’s defense and being in the right place at the right time to deliver the knockout blow. With 21 goals already to his name, Müller is on course for the best goal-scoring season of his career.
8. Sergio Agüero (Manchester City, Argentina)
The struggle to stay fit continues to be the only thing holding Agüero back from pushing the very best players in the world. When he has taken the field in top condition, he has exhibited his natural eye for goal by scoring at almost a goal-a-game for Manchester City. He also played a prominent role in Argentina’s run to the final of the Copa America.
9. Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal, Chile)
Few players have played as many games as Sánchez in 2015 and thus it was no surprise that his body finally broke down last month. But before that, a player that runs as hard as any during 90 minutes had showed incredible durability in what has been a year to remember. Having ended his first season in England as Arsenal’s top scorer and bagging a goal in a victorious FA Cup final, the Chilean forward then helped his country to win their first ever international title when lifting the Copa America on home soil.
10. Paul Pogba (Juventus, France)Having helped Juventus to a fourth consecutive Serie A title and the final of the Champions League, this was a year in which Paul Pogba took another step toward becoming a true great. Since leaving Manchester United, it has been obvious that the Frenchman has everything a modern midfielder could possibly desire. Dynamic, strong and technically gifted he is capable of dominating any match and could become a true global star at Euro 2016 when he will be the poster boy for hosts France.