For the past ten years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have shared the title of The Best FIFA Men’s Player between them with five wins apiece, and show no signs of slowing down. The tenth anniversary of this duopoly is a good time to cast a critical eye over the heirs to this particular dynasty. Can one of them even triumph in London in 2018?
The crown prince: Neymar (Brazil)
This stylish attacking player became the most expensive footballer of all time when he moved from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain last summer and has the potential to enjoy as illustrious a career as Messi or Ronaldo. With his powerful dribbling, intelligent play, excellent finishing and captivating style, Neymar has all the qualities needed to be named the best in the world. Having been sorely missed by Brazil in the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ semi-final against Germany, he led his country to their first-ever gold medal at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament two years later and will now be determined to lift the World Cup Trophy in Russia.
The shooting star: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Before moving from Roma to Liverpool in June 2017, Salah was considered a good but not exceptional winger whose defining feature was his pace. Under Jurgen Klopp’s playing system he has demonstrated hitherto unseen finishing abilities and ended last season as the Premier League’s top goalscorer, which earned him numerous other individual accolades. Now part of the game’s global elite, Salah helped Egypt return to the World Cup finals for the first time in 28 years. If he can recover from the injury he sustained in the UEFA Champions League final in time, an impressive performance in Russia will help to reinforce his claim to The Best FIFA Men’s Player throne.
The assist king: Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
This title could just as easily be applied to Eden Hazard, whose style of play is often more spectacular than that of his compatriot and has already earned him a place on the shortlist of the world’s best players. Yet the assists and incisive passes that De Bruyne has provided for Manchester City and Belgium in recent years, creating countless goals for his team-mates in the process, represent football played to the very highest standard. If Belgium justify their status as dark horses with an impressive World Cup campaign, De Bruyne’s name could end up at the top of this year’s shortlist for The Best FIFA Men’s Player.
The master of understatement: Harry Kane (England)
In Harry Kane, England have a world-class striker for the first time since Alan Shearer, who came third in the 1996 FIFA World Player of the Year vote. The 24-year-old stands out for his strength of character, hard work and incredible sense of space and timing. This, combined with his impressive ability to read the game and significantly improved heading, enabled him to churn out goals as if from a production line last season. England coach Gareth Southgate has even handed Kane the captain’s armband ahead of the World Cup finals in Russia, while transfer rumours have been swirling around him that would lift him to a similar level as Neymar.
The young prodigy: Kylian Mbappe (France)
At just 19 years old, Mbappe is the youngest player on this shortlist and is not just one to watch for 2018 but for the next few years. Despite his age, he is already an incredibly astute and mature goalscorer, as he proved for Monaco in both Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League. He is now keen to take the next step to the pinnacle of the beautiful game with Paris Saint-Germain.