On the back of the recent Ballon d’Or nominations, discussion is rife about the ranking of the world’s best players. Even more than usual it is a list comprised in large part by forwards. In part due to the tradition of those at the top end of the pitch earning a disproportionate share of the limelight, but it is also perhaps reflective of where the best talent in today’s game lies. The past summer transfer window was noticeable for the number of the world’s leading attackers switching clubs and for the monstrous size of the transfer fees exchanged. Especially with the 2014 World Cup on the horizon, it is an appropriate time to try and rank the world’s best 10 forwards.
Defining a player’s position in the modern game has become has fraught as labeling a musical artist’s genre and, like the list itself, is somewhat subjective. The line between midfielder and forward has become especially blurred, but all those on this list have featured as a central front man -- in some capacity -- at some stage. (Hint: you may find Franck Ribery in another category.)
1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Argentina)
The winner of the Ballon d’Or and the undisputed best player in the world for the past four years, Messi finds his status under threat this year. For the first time he has been effected by niggling muscular injuries that have dented his consistency and rendered him powerless to prevent Barcelona’s destruction by Bayern Munich last season. Still, it would be ridiculous to write him off any time soon. His goal record remains phenomenal and he has also played a pivtoal role in leading Argentina to next year’s World Cup where he could cement his status as the best player of all time.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal)
With the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti and Gareth Bale, there was much talk of whether Ronaldo’s effectiveness would be blunted. Instead, the 28-year-old has continued to be ruthlessly efficient, hitting more than a goal a game to start the new season. He may have his critics, but arguably no other player matches his combination of supreme athleticism and dedication to constant personal improvement. It is disheartening to envisage a World Cup without the Portuguese star present.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain, Sweden)
It is a well-worn and usually misused cliché, but in this case it would be accurate to label Ibrahimovic’s talents as unique. There has never been a player that combines the Swede’s physical stature with his supreme athleticism and technical ability. With the physique of a bruising target man but the sublime skills honed mimicking moves of idol Ronaldo in his youth, Ibrahimovic has also added the flexibility provided by a black belt in taekwondo. The 32-year-old has answered the challenge of Edinson Cavani’s arrival with a sensational start to the season.
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4. Neymar (Barcelona, Brazil) There were many doubters before his move to Barcelona that erroneously believed Neymar was more flash than substance. But since arriving at the Camp Nou the 21-year-old has answered those critics and also shown that the time was right to leave his homeland. Far from the individualist, Neymar has displayed an admirable team ethic, attested by his contribution of seven assists in his first 10 appearances in La Liga. A special talent who gives Barcelona a crucial second threat alongside Messi, the sky is the limit for the Brazil star.
5. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid, Wales)
Having shown signs of world-class ability since twice tearing Internazionale apart in 2011, Bale became a true consistent difference-maker last season as time and again he produced individual heroics to win games almost single handedly for Tottenham. There were not unfair questions asked about the record fee Real Madrid paid for his services this summer, but after a slow start he is beginning to demonstrate that he can excel on the biggest stage. The lightning Welsh attacker now forms a devastating wide tandem with the man with whom he’s game and attitude to constant improvement owes so much, Cristiano Ronaldo.
6. Radamel Falcao (Monaco, Colombia)
Deadly in the box, Falcao has averaged close to a goal a game since moving to Europe in 2009 and the 27-year-old shows no signs of slowing down. Having fired in the goals in Portugal, he made a seamless transition to La Liga and was a key part in Atletico Madrid’s revival under Diego Simeone. There was understandable disappointment that he that he took the riches on offer in Monaco and is not in the Champions League this season, but Falcao could well make a big mark on the world stage next summer after scoring nine goals in qualifying for World Cup dark horses Colombia.
7. Luis Suarez (Liverpool, Uruguay)
What truly sets the great players apart is their ability to change a game single-handedly, something with which Suarez has shown for both club and country that he is capable. Combining scintillating technical skills with a keen eye for goal, Suarez is now, aged 26, coming into his prime. He is as important for Uruguay as he is for Uruguay and top-scored in South American World Cup qualifying with 11 goals. His competitive streak understandably turns off many observers but even his most ardent critics can’t question his ability with the ball at his feet.
8. Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund, Poland)
Perhaps the greatest all-round No.9 in the world. Lewandowski fits Dortmund’s fast-breaking style perfectly with his ability to bring others into play and clinical touch in front of goal. He can also, as he showed in scoring a stunning hat-trick against Real Madrid last season, manufacture goals for himself. The only mark against his name is the failure to reproduce his prolific form for his club onto the international arena with Poland.
9. Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain, Uruguay)
Having fired Napoli back into the top echelons of Serie A, Cavani enjoyed his best season last term by claiming the coveted Capocannoniere title as the league’s top scorer with 29 goals. As well as a powerful and lethal marksman in the box, he is also selfless in aiding his team’s efforts as he has shown in playing wide for Uruguay as well as for new club PSG. Thus far, that sacrifice shows little sign of dulling his effectiveness in front of goal.
10. Robin van Persie (Manchester United, Netherlands)
In Marco van Basten, Johan Cruyff, Partick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp and Rudd van Nistelrooy, the Netherlands have had some of the world’s great forwards pull on the orange jersey over the years. Yet, it is Van Persie who now sits above them all as the country’s top scorer. The 31-year-old has come a long way from his days as a bad boy winger at Feyenoord and, after putting his injury worries behind him at Arsenal, was the difference maker in delivering the Premier League title to Old Trafford in his first season at Manchester United.