2013-06-22

The best of the best in world football.

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50. Barcelona & Spain left-back Jordi Alba

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Originally a product of Barcelona's famed La Masia youth system, Jordi Alba made his return to the Nou Camp in the summer of 2012 for around £12million, and has proved an excellent addition to this already vastly talented squad.

The 24-year-old had spent most of his career with Valencia, becoming a regular in 2009 after a successful loan stint at Gimnastic. He quickly established himself as a top performer in La Liga and earned his first call-up to the senior Spanish national team in 2011. He was often used as a winger at his old club, inter-changing with Jeremy Mathieu down the left-hand side, though his manager at the time, Unai Emery felt his potential was best used as a left-back.

It was at Euro 2012 that he truly announced himself on the big stage, starring as Spain won a third major tournament in a row, and even getting forward from left-back to score an excellent second goal in his country's 4-0 thrashing of Italy in the final. His long off-the-ball run from one end of the pitch to another to race on to Xavi's through-ball epitomised what his game is all about, and he finished off this fine move with all the composure of a top striker, slotting coolly past Gianluigi Buffon in Italy's goal.



Alba's excellent pace, technique and willingness to get forward make him the ideal Barcelona full-back, finally giving them attacking options from both flanks after years of relying mostly on Dani Alves on the other side to provide their width, as former left-back Eric Abidal was a more defensive-minded option in that position.

It was no surprise to see Alba find success at Barcelona, with an impressive four goals and five assists helping them to win back the title off fierce rivals Real Madrid, and he will surely only continue to get better as he matures and settles into Tito Vilanova's side. He would also benefit greatly from some improvements in the defence overall, as Barca struggled in that department particularly against the bigger sides this season.

There are few better attacking full-backs in the game at the moment, and though defenders don't always get the credit they deserve, Alba's all-round abilities make him an important member of both of these current superb Barcelona and Spain teams, and he deserves his place among the best footballers in the world.

49. Galatasaray and Netherlands midfielder Wesley Sneijder

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There are signs that Wesley Sneijder is getting back to his best, and on his day there are few better midfielders in the world than the Dutchman with his wonderful passing and vision and excellent long-range shooting technique.

He started his career as one of the brightest prospects coming out of the Ajax youth team, and became a regular in the team when he was just 18 years old. His creative ability from a variety of attacking midfield positions made him a highly influential player almost straight away, and with a highly impressive haul of 22 goals and 12 assists in his final season with the club in 2006/07, he was snapped up by Spanish giants Real Madrid for £23million.

Despite a decent first season at the Bernabeu with 9 goals and 9 assists, Sneijder was not a regular in the side in the following season, as he for no apparent reason fell out of favour at the club. It was their loss though, as Serie A giants Inter Milan obviously saw his great potential, signing him for just £12million.



The 29-year-old was undoubtedly at the top of his game during the 2009/10 season with Inter Milan, when his game really developed under then-manager Jose Mourinho. Sneijder was the heart of that team, scoring 8 goals and providing 16 assists as the Italians won the treble for the first time in their history. He was also in fine form for the Netherlands at the World Cup that summer, guiding them to the final of the competition in South Africa, where they were beaten 1-0 in a close contest with Spain, though there was no doubt he was one of the players of the tournament that year.

Sadly for him, Mourinho then left Inter to take the Real Madrid job, and there was speculation that the Portuguese coach would bring his star player with him and give him another chance to shine for Los Blancos. It wasn't to be, and Sneijder's form dipped along with the whole Inter side under new manager Rafael Benitez.

As Inter went downhill, Sneijder was strongly linked with a move to Manchester United, though it never materialised, which many neutrals will see as a great shame, as there's no doubt the midfield maestro would have made an excellent replacement for Paul Scholes when at his peak.

Unhappy and somewhat forced out of the picture at the San Siro, Sneijder finally got a move away from the club this January, joining big-spending Turkish giants Galatasaray for just over £6million. There have been glimpses of his best performances since moving to Turkey, and this has seen him linked again with his old boss Mourinho, who is now at Chelsea.

It would certainly be great to see Sneijder playing in a top team again, and there's no doubt he would add great quality to English football, even if he is not quite the player he was three years ago. His raw ability and achievements in the game still mean he is worthy of a place among the best footballers in the world at the moment.

48. Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard

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Despite his Chelsea career looking finished for the first half of this season, the veteran midfielder put in some fantastic performances to make himself first choice again and earn himself a new one-year contract, completing another excellent season for the club.

The England international first joined the club in 2001, and has confirmed his status as a Chelsea legend with a landmark 203 goals for the club. His late brace to turn around a 1-0 deficit to Aston Villa secured the record, and showed us that even at 34 years of age, he is still one of the best goal-scoring midfielders in the world.

Lampard finished the 2012/13 campaign with 17 goals in all competitions, making it ten seasons in a row in which he has reached double figures from midfield. He also weighed in with five assists, helping the Blues to a third-place finish in the Premier League and a win in the Europa League.

This Premier League great started his career as a youngster at West Ham, making his first appearance for the club way back in 1995 and was tipped by then-manager Harry Redknapp to make it to the top. He joined Chelsea for £11million six years later, but it was arguably not until the arrival of Jose Mourinho that he really reached his best form, becoming widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world in the 2004/05 season, when his 19 goals helped the Blues to their first league title in 50 years.

From then on, he never looked back, and continued to shine under continuing managerial changes at Stamford Bridge, equalising against Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final, scoring a memorable winner against Everton in the FA Cup final the following year, and achieving his best individual season for goals in 2009/10, when he scored 27 times to help Carlo Ancelotti's side to the double.

As Lampard found himself out of the team for much of this season, and seemed to be waiting in vain for a new contract from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, speculation mounted that he could be set for a move to Monaco or LA Galaxy, but he has spoken of his delight at earning a new deal and working under Mourinho again as the Portuguese coach confirmed his return to the club this summer.

There's no doubt he will continue to be a key player for Chelsea next season, and could certainly keep going for a few years more as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have managed to do at Manchester United. Regardless, Lampard is already one of the best players to ever play in this country and still deservedly among the best in the world today.

47. Bayern Munich and Netherlands winger Arjen Robben

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There's no doubt this lively winger can delight as well as frustrate in equal measure, but in terms of pure talent, Arjen Robben has been up there with the world's best for many years now since making his breakthrough as a youngster at PSV Eindhoven.

His talent was obvious even as a teenager, as he earned a big move to PSV in 2002 when he was still only 18. His skill, pace and eye for goal quickly got him on the radar of several of Europe's top clubs, with Manchester United particularly keen to sign him, though their small bid of just £6million was instantly rejected by the Eredivisie club. Chelsea came back with an offer of £12million, which was accepted, and this exciting young talent became the latest addition to the Roman Abramovich revolution at Stamford Bridge.

Robben proved an instant hit in the Premier League, scoring 9 goals and terrorising defences up and down the country as he helped the Blues win the Premier League title, their first in 50 years. He continued his fine form next season but soon fell out of favour due to growing inconsistency and injury problems, though this did not put off Real Madrid signing him for £24million.

The Dutchman never truly settled in Spain either, lasting just two seasons at the Bernabeu, before making a move to another European giant in Bayern Munich for £21million. It was in Germany that he has arguably found the best form of his career, and though he has had frustrating times in notable cup finals, missing chances both for Bayern in the Champions League finals against Inter Milan and Chelsea, and for the Netherlands in the World Cup final defeat to Spain, he redeemed himself this year with an excellent display to score the winner in Bayern's win over Borussia Dortmund. He also set up the first goal for Mario Mandzukic and celebrated the best season of his career as Juup Heynckes' side won the treble.

Robben's pace and trickery make him unpredictable to play against - as well as to play with - and he is certainly a joy to watch when at his best. His 13 goals and seven assists for Bayern this season played a big part in their amazing success, and his overall collection of medals do not lie - Robben has won league titles in four different countries, as well as numerous cups, and now the Champions League.

Many argue that he is over-rated, but perhaps so much so that he has actually become rather under-rated, and all evidence suggests he is, and has for a long time been, one of the world's best players.

46. Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas

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Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas has achieved basically everything there is to achieve in football, breaking numerous records and winning all of the biggest trophies in his glittering 14-year career.

One of the most promising youngster coming through Real Madrid's academy, Casillas established himself as first choice for La Liga's biggest club in 1999 at the age of just 18. At the end of that season he became the youngest goalkeeper to play in a Champions League final, keeping a clean sheet as an added bonus as Real beat Valencia 3-0 to win the trophy.

It was a fine start to his career, and his rise continued, as he helped Real to victory in the Champions League final once again just two years later, putting in a man-of-the-match performance in a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen. By then he was also first choice for the Spanish national team, and represented them at the 2002 World Cup.

After more trophies with Real Madrid, Casillas was made captain of the national side in 2008 after his team-mate Raul was left out of the squad. He then led his country to glory in that tournament as they beat Germany 1-0 in the final. He has been captain ever since and added further silverware with the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championships again in 2012, keeping clean sheets in all three finals.

He was also made Real Madrid captain in 2010 after Raul left the club, and now holds the club record for appearances for a goalkeeper. He added a further La Liga title to his collection in 2012 and is being talked about as one of the best goalkeepers of all time. He is the most capped player for the Spanish national team and has won numerous individual accolades, such as the IFFHS Best Goalkeeper Award, which he has won a record five times in a row.

There's little more that can be said about Casillas, but he will certainly be remembered as a great of the game, and deservedly so. His form dipped slightly this season and he was harshly dropped to the bench by Jose Mourinho, but he undoubtedly remains one of the world's best players.

45. Juventus and Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal

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Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal is finally starting to gain some much-deserved recognition after a slow but steady rise to the top over the last few years.

The 26-year-old started his career in his native Chile with Colo-Colo, and made the move to Europe at the age of just 20 when he joined Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in 2007. He was slow to settle in Germany, but after a fantastic fourth season with the club, his 13 goals from midfield attracted attention from big names such as Bayern Munich.

In the end though, he joined Italian giants Juventus for £9million, which looks like a bargain now that he is being linked with moves to the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Manchester City for closer to £25million. This superb all-round midfield player seems to have it all, starting his career as more of a defensive player, and now playing a more attacking role for the Italian champions, scoring 15 goals and providing 10 assists for the club this year as he played a crucial part in their second Serie A title win in a row.

Vidal is a tough-tackling player, but also very gifted technically, and is known for his range of passing and accuracy in finding his team-mates. United see him as a good candidate for a long-term replacement for Paul Scholes, though he has said he is happy to stay at Juventus for now. That shouldn't stop the big offers coming in for him though.

He has nearly 50 caps for Chile and is his country's most expensive player of all time, and at 26 there is still plenty more to come from him, as he continues to grow into one of the best midfielders in the world. He is still somewhat under-rated, but continued success with Juventus, particularly if they can put in a better challenge for the Champions League, should elevate his status, as perhaps would a move to one of the aforementioned clubs.

In fairness, playing alongside the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio means you might not get noticed as much, but make no mistake - Vidal has been as essential to Juve's recent success as they have.

44. Fiorentina and Montenegro forward Stevan Jovetic

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It's been another terrific season for young Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetic, who has been the subject of much transfer speculation involving moves to Arsenal, Chelsea and Juventus this summer.

The 23-year-old has emerged as one of the best players in Serie A over the last couple of years, scoring 26 goals in the last two seasons in a creative forward role for La Viola. Known for his great technique and vision, he can also play in his team mates effectively, and this all-round ability appeals in particular to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who has been chasing him for months.

The Montenegro international has been in Italy for five years since he joined for £8million as a promising teenager from Serbian outfit Partizan Belgrade, where he was later joined by his equally gifted team-mate Adem Ljajic, and could now be heading for the Premier League this summer as Fiorentina seem to be facing the fact that they won't be able to keep him for much longer.

Arsenal were thought to be leading the chase for Jovetic with a deal worth around £15million, but interest from Juventus and Chelsea has seen his value rise to £25million. Jose Mourinho has identified him as a prime target upon returning to Stamford Bridge as manager, and that may now be his most likely destination as Fiorentina do not wish to sell their star player to an Italian rival.

There is no doubt that Jovetic would fit in well in the Premier League, whether it is at Arsenal or Chelsea, and his form in recent times suggest he has a great future in the game, and that he would be well worth his sizeable transfer fee.

Jovetic also has an impressive record of 10 goals in 26 appearances for Montenegro, and he could showcase his talents at next summer's World Cup as his international team continue to progress well in their qualifying group.

43. Manchester City and Belgium centre-back Vincent Kompany

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Manchester City's Vincent Kompany has risen to be one of the best defenders in the world in the last few years, establishing himself as one of the few bargain buys of this new era of success at the Etihad Stadium.

The Belgian joined City from German side Hamburg in 2006 for just £6million, and is now a Premier League champion, club captain, and winner of the 2012 Premier League Player of the Season award, an accolade more often reserved for attacking players.

Kompany started his career at Anderlecht, making his breakthrough in the first-team in 2003/04 when he was just 17, and was regarded as one of the most exciting defensive prospects in Europe, being voted Belgian Young Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. Injuries halted his career slightly, but his impressive displays in his second season at Hamburg in 2007/08 saw him back on the radar of several top clubs again, leading City to make a move with their new-found wealth. He initially was a little slow to adapt, partly due to being played in a variety of positions such as midfield and right-back, before finally establishing himself in his preferred position in central defence.

In the 2011/12 season Kompany was made club captain by manager Roberto Mancini, and he grew into the role quickly, leading the team to the Premier League title with his inspirational performances, even netting a crucial winning goal against rivals Manchester United along the way.

As well as his excellent on-pitch displays, Kompany is a popular figure in the game as a whole due to his professional and humble manner, always coming across well in interviews and showing a winning mentality that makes him an obvious choice for the captaincy of this star-studded team.

The 27-year-old is also the captain of the Belgian national side, and is one of many of this generation of talented Belgian players, many of whom are also playing in the Premier League. Although he is committed to Manchester City, his fine form has seen him linked strongly as a target for Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, and there's no doubt he would be an excellent addition to any team in the world with his defensive and leadership qualities.

Manchester City are lucky to have him, and in an era of questionable behaviour from over-paid celebrity-figure footballers, Kompany is a breath of fresh air, and worthy of his place among the best players in the world.

42. Bayern Munich and Spain midfielder Javi Martinez

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At the age of just 24, midfielder Javi Martinez has already achieved a great deal in the game, continuing his impressive rise since signing for Athletic Bilbao when he was just 17 years old.

The Spain international made a name for himself at Bilbao as a defensive midfield playmaker, becoming one of many of this incredibly talented generation of midfielders coming through in Spanish football, showing the superb ability to control the flow and tempo of a game with his passing in the middle of the park.

Martinez was also used as a defender for Bilbao, but German giants Bayern Munich saw his potential as being best used in midfield when they signed him for £33million last summer - a record Bundesliga transfer fee. After achieving all he could realistically achieve with Bilabo, helping them to the Europa League final in 2012 where they were beaten by Atletico Madrid, he made the move to the Allianz Arena to become part of what would be the best team in the world in 2013.

Martinez played a crucial part in Bayern's phenomenal treble success, formering an excellent midfield partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger. The pair have become renowned not only for their passing and creativity, but also for their excellent work rate in pressing their opponents, which was highlighted particularly as they stifled Barcelona's midfield of Xavi and Iniesta in the Champions League semi-finals, helping Juup Heynckes' side to a thumping 7-0 aggregate victory over the Spanish champions.

His incredible achievements with Bayern should help him become more of an established member of the Spanish national team, for whom he has only made ten appearances due to an immense competition for places in this all-conquering national team. Still, his role as a squad player for Spain has also seen him taste success in the World Cup and European Championships to add to his trophy haul at club level.

Martinez's skills should progress further with former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola taking over at Bayern next season, as he is perfectly suited to the style of play that his new manager adopted so successfully during his time at Barca. With his guidance and the new arrivals to come at Bayern, Martinez is sure to become one of the game's greats and win plenty more silverware for both club and country.

He may still yet to be at the level of fame of Barcelona and Spain stalwarts Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, but Martinez is certainly starting to catch the eye more and more, and deserves recognition as one of the best players in the world.

41. Arsenal and Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla

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Arsenal completed one of the signings of the summer last year with the unexpected deal for Malaga star Santi Cazorla for a fee believed to be around £15million - an absolute steal for a player of his quality.

The Spaniard settled quickly in England, becoming one of the best players in the Premier League in his first season, with an impressive tally of 12 goals and 16 assists in all competitions.

Combining pace, skill and creativity, Cazorla seems to have a bit of everything, and has spent his career playing in a variety of attacking midfield roles for club and country. He first emerged as a top talent during his time at Villareal, earning a call-up to the senior Spanish squad in 2008. After 26 goals and 26 assists in four seasons with Villareal, he made a big-money move to Malaga, playing under his old boss Manuel Pellegrini. His reputation was enhanced further in his single season with the club, where he managed 9 goals and 5 assists to help the club to a Champions League place.

The surprising thing is that no other clubs came in for him when Arsenal made their offer last summer, as they signed this top talent relatively unchallenged. He has slotted in perfectly at the Emirates Stadium, looking ideal in their attacking and technical game, and scoring some memorable goals against West Ham and Tottenham, as well as the first hat-trick of his career in a 5-2 win at Reading.

If not for the amazing competition ahead of him in the Spanish national team, he would surely be a star on the international stage as well. Still, he has done well to reach 52 caps for Spain, scoring 8 goals, and could still force his way into Vicente Del Bosque's plans with his performances for Arsenal, as he was statistically better than David Silva and Juan Mata in many areas this season. With his ability to influence a game with his passing, dribbling and shooting, there are few better at causing opposition defenders a variety of problems and creating chances for team-mates.

If Arsenal are to end their eight-year wait for silverware, one feels Cazorla is likely to be a key player in their quest, and it would be great for neutrals to see him play with even better players if the Gunners can sign them. At 28 years of age, it's surprising that the Spaniard has never won anything at club level, and it would be a terrible shame if it continued that way for this top, top performer.

40. Tottenham and Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen

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One of many of this talented generation of Belgian players is Jan Vertonghen. The 26-year-old was wanted by Arsenal last summer before he made a keenly-anticipated move to Tottenham from Ajax.

At Ajax, Vertonghen developed into one of the most highly-rated defenders in Europe, showing a typical Ajax quality in being comfortable in numerous areas all around the pitch, though he was mostly used in defence as a centre-back. His fine leadership qualities also made him the obvious choice for club captain.

Still, as well as his defensive and leadership qualities, he showed great ability as an attacking outlet for the team, scoring 18 goals in his last two seasons with the club, and he took this prolific form with him to White Hart Lane, scoring seven times form the back in his first season at the club, including memorable strikes in big games against Liverpool (twice) and Manchester United. His reputation has continued to rise as he was firmly one of the best performers in the Premier League in 2012/13.

Manchester City were close to signing him while he was at Ajax, and his form this season has attracted interest from Barcelona. Although he will be in no hurry to leave Spurs immediately, he will surely feel he is capable of playing at a higher level if Spurs continue to miss out on qualification for the Champions League. A talent like him should be playing on the biggest stage, and he will surely do so at some point.

Vertonghen's all-round ability on the pitch has shown that 'total football' is alive and well in Holland, and he is a great example of a top class defender that has been somewhat lacking in recent years. Not since the likes of Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro have there been many great centre-backs worth raving about, but Vertonghen looks well on his way to becoming one of them.

Partnering another great defender Vincent Kompany for Belgium should also give their team a great chance at next summer's World Cup, as there are few better pairings around at the moment - and that's without even taking Thomas Vermaelen into account.

39. Roma and former Italy attacking midfielder Francesco Totti

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Roma legend Francesco Totti has had a long and great career all for the same club. The Italian could no doubt have played for any team in the world at the height of his career (and arguably now) as he is widely regarded as one of the best players of his generation.

Now 36, he is still showing some top form, scoring 12 goals and providing 12 assists for Roma this season, putting him up there with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Mesut Ozil and Juan Mata as one of Europe's best creators. His performances have been an inspiration in an otherwise below-par Roma team that could only manage a 6th place finish in Serie A this year.

Making his debut way back in 1992, Totti became a regular in the team in the 1994/95 season, scoring seven goals. He became club captain at the age of just 21, highlighting his maturity and inspiration even in his earlier years.

Throughout his career he has chopped and changed between being used as an out-and-out striker, or as the team's main playmaker in a deeper midfield role. His all-round talent for passing, shooting and dribbling has meant he has excelled wherever he's played, and while he is probably best known as an attacking midfielder, he has managed to score 32 goals in a season when played upfront.

Although Totti has many more runners-up medals than he would like, he has also won some of the biggest trophies. He was a Serie A winner with Roma in 2000/01, proving an influential figure in their title win as he was voted Italian Player of the Year. He has also won the ultimate prize with the Italian national team, as he was part of their victorious squad in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, finishing the tournament with the highest number of assists. In total, he has 9 goals for Italy in 58 appearances, and retired from international football in 2006.

He is Roma's all-time record appearance maker and goal-scorer, with 282 goals in 678 games for the club. He is also the second highest goal-scorer in the entire history of Serie A with 227 league goals.

Totti is certainly the best Roma player of all time, and one of the all-time great one-club men, a rarity in the modern game. It is perhaps sad that this legendary player could not win more silverware elsewhere, but that won't stop him being remembered as a true great of the game, and there is still plenty more to come from him even in his advancing years. Even at 36, Totti is still a world class performer and up there with the best in the world.

38. Chelsea and Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech

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Petr Cech looked like a star in the making ever since first appearing as a youngster for Sparta Prague. At the age of just 19 he broke the record for longest time without conceding a goal in Czech league history, stretching his run to 855 minutes.

His fine form quickly attracted interest from the likes of Arsenal, though due to problems obtaining a work permit he instead joined French Ligue 1 side Rennes, and furthered his development there, though he only remained with them for two seasons before moving to Chelsea for £7million as one of the early major signings by Roman Abramovich.

Cech was the club's most expensive goalkeeper of all time when he moved to Stamford Bridge, and was immediately made number one by manager Jose Mourinho, keeping out the more experienced and established Carlo Cudicini. His first season with the club was fantastic, as he formed part of a rock-solid Chelsea defence that only conceded 15 goals on the way to winning the Premier League title. During this run he also went a record 1025 minutes without conceding in the league, though this record has since been eclipsed by Manchester United's Edwin van der Saar.

Cech was voted the world's best goalkeeper in 2005, and maintained his excellent form as he won another league title with Chelsea. He has continued to be the club's undisputed first choice for many years and is up there with Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon as the best goalkeeper in the world.

His staying power is even more impressive considering the dangerous head injury he sustained in 2006 as a result of a horror challenge from Reading's Stephen Hunt. Doctors said at the time that he was lucky to be alive and it looked like he might not play again, though he returned later that season and has worn a headguard in matches ever since.

The Czech Republic international is undoubtedly a Chelsea legend now, notching up 425 appearances for the club, keeping 142 clean sheets, and winning almost everything there is to win at club level. The 31-year-old is a three-time Premier League champion, and his heroics last season helped the team to an unlikely victory in the Champions League. He also has four FA Cups, two League Cups and the Europa League to his name, as well as 100 caps for the Czech Republic national team.

And there is still plenty more to come from Cech, as 31 is definitely young for a goalkeeper. He could still be around in ten years' time, but even now he has already secured his place in the history books as one of the world's best-ever goalkeepers.

37. Liverpool and England midfielder Steven Gerrard

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Liverpool's inspirational captain and midfielder Steven Gerrard is up there with the best midfielders the Premier League has ever seen, rightly earning his place alongside greats such as Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane for his sheer ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck and carry his team-mates to victory.

The 33-year-old is a one-club man, having spent his entire career at Anfield, and like Francesco Totti, one can only wonder what more he could have achieved if he'd taken the chance to move some point. He was made club captain at the age of just 23, becoming an instant key member of the team when he broke through as a youngster. At the height of his career, Gerrard was ranked as the best midfielder in the world and was wanted by the likes of Real Madrid, and in fact came very close to joining Chelsea.

Still, Gerrard has managed to win arguably the biggest trophy in football, after inspiring his team's comeback from 3-0 down against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final. His goal made it 3-1 and got the Reds on their way to a memorable victory, forever ensuring his place in Liverpool folklore.

Throughout his career, Gerrard has been known for scoring both important and high-quality goals. The midfielder still has his trademark long-range strike in his locker, as he demonstrated this season with a goal-of-the-season contender away to Manchester City. He has scored 159 times for the club, finishing as their top scorer in 2005, 2006 and 2009, putting him up there with Frank Lampard as one of the best goal-scoring midfielders in the country.

Although it has been a difficult few years for Liverpool since they fell away from the top four, Gerrard would surely have been able to make more of a difference if not for some problems with injuries. After a better run of fitness in 2012/13, the Reds skipper found some of his best form again, showing himself to always be reliable even in this new-look Liverpool team. He finished the campaign with 9 goals and 10 assists in all competitions, demonstrating that he's still got it even as he approaches the latter years of his career.

Gerrard also has over 100 caps for England, and has captained his country on many occasions, being made permanent skipper by Roy Hodgson last year. Although England have struggled for success in recent times, Gerrard has more than played his part in keeping the national team competitive, and will be hoping for one last shot at a major tournament with the World Cup next summer.

36. Everton and Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini

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It's been a fantastic season for Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini. The 25-year-old is one of many talented Belgians starring in the Premier League at the moment, and has relished his new attacking midfield role this year.

Previously used as a defensive midfielder, the former Standard Liege man was moved forward by manager David Moyes at the start of the season in what turned out to be a tactical masterstroke. Fellaini started the season with a superb individual match-winning display against Manchester United, scoring the winner with a header to beat the eventual champions 1-0. He terrorised their defence throughout, taking up positions that made him hard to mark, and simply out-muscling most of their players with his strength and height.

He carried on this way for much of the season, finishing with a personal best record of 12 goals and providing 5 assists for his team-mates as well, often using his height to good effect to win knock-downs against opposition centre-backs.

His fine form has seen him unsurprisingly linked with a move to a bigger club, with Moyes said to be keen on taking the Belgian with him to his new post at Manchester United. Arsenal and Chelsea are also showing a strong interest in him, and it seems increasingly likely that he will be playing for a bigger team before long. His minimum release fee clause, rumoured to be around £23million, looks a bargain for such an influential player.

Fellaini's form at Everton has been excellent and he would surely only improve with better players around him. He is already up there with the best players in the world on current form and if he can get his big move he will cement his place among the world's best.

35. Real Madrid and Germany attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil

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The phenomenally gifted Mesut Ozil is a joy to watch, having established himself as one of the best attacking players in the world in recent years since his rise at Werder Bremen, the German national team and then his big move to Real Madrid.

Still only 24, he has 46 caps to his name since making his debut in 2009 at the age of 20, and it was at the 2010 World Cup that he really caught the eye of the world's biggest clubs with some superb displays for Joachim Loew's side as they reached the semi-finals of the tournament.

However, he had already made himself known to Bundesliga fans with his displays for Werder Bremen, as his introduction to the team helped them climb from mid-table to title challengers, finishing third in 2009/10 with Ozil contributing 9 goals and 17 assists for the team.

His form saw him linked with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Barcelona, but in the end it was Real Madrid that captured him for what now looks a bargain at around £13million. Since wearing the famous white shirt at the Bernabeu, his reputation has only improved further, as he has shown himself worthy of playing alongside the best and biggest names in world football.

Ozil has become known for his excellent partnership with Real star Cristiano Ronaldo, being the main provider of the Portuguese star's numerous goals, and he famously set up his team-mate with an excellent through-ball as Real won 2-1 against Barcelona at the Nou Camp last season to all but seal the La Liga title.

And although Real's form has dropped this year, Ozil remains one of the best individual players in Spain, scoring 10 goals and providing 17 assists in all competitions, falling behind only to Barca's Andres Iniesta in the league's assist charts.

Ozil is perhaps not known for being a regular goal-scorer, but the goals he does score are usually of exceptional quality, particularly his memorable half-volley against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup, which was undoubtedly one of the goals of the tournament. In general, everything he does in his play is highly effective and influential on the rest of his team-mates, whether he's playing centrally, wide left or wide right.

The Turkish-born German international is part of this exceptional generation of talented young players coming through in Germany, and the prospect of him linking up with the likes of Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle and others at next summer's World Cup will make them one of the favourites for the tournament for sure. And despite the immense competition for an attacking midfield spot in Germany's squad, Ozil's place is surely guaranteed as he is regarded by many as being the best of the lot.

34. Bayern Munich and Germany full-back Philipp Lahm

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Another fine player in this all-conquering Bayern Munich team is their long-serving right-back and captain Philipp Lahm. The 29-year-old has been one of the club's key performers for many years now, since becoming a regular in 2005.

The German international is certainly one of, if not the best attacking full-back in the game, and has shown tremendous ability as either a right-back or left-back throughout his great career. Although obviously a very capable defender, he is best known for his skill and pace getting forward, and is very two-footed, scoring some cracking goals from a variety of angles for both Bayern and the national team.

This season he has flourished in Bayern's treble-winning team, providing a remarkable 11 assists, the second highest in the Bundesliga, which is staggering from a defender in a league with so many talented attacking players. Although it is hard to point to individuals in such a well-oiled machine such as Bayern, Lahm's forward runs have been a crucial part of their success, and he is an excellent captain for this breathtaking team.

Lahm will surely go down as an all-time great in the glorious history of the club, with five league titles, the Champions League trophy, and many more cups and numerous individual honours such as appearances in FIFA and UEFA teams of the season.

Although he has not yet won silverware for the German national team, he has excelled as one of their best players as well with his performances in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, where Germany finished third both times, and as a runner-up in Euro 2008. He was also in the team of the tournament for the European Championships in 2008 and 2012. In all, he has 98 caps for the national side and five goals. He is also the captain of his country as well as his club.

Lahm is truly an enjoyable player to watch, and will go down as one of the finest full-backs of his generation. At the moment he is a vital part of a hugely successful team and that will surely only continue, confirming him as one of the best players in the world at the moment.

33. Lazio and Brazil midfielder Hernanes

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Perhaps a slightly under-rated name in world football at the moment is Lazio and Brazil star Hernanes. The 28-year-old is starting to attract serious attention this summer after an impressive few years in Serie A.

The former Sao Paulo man is one of the best midfielders in Italy at the moment, showing himself to be a real all-rounder, playing box-to-box for the Rome club and becoming a crucial member of their team with his tackling, passing, and perhaps best of all - his shooting. He is known for his powerful long range shots with his right foot, and no player scored more goals from outside the box this season than Hernanes.

As well as 11 goals, he provided 7 assists for his team-mates, helping the club finish 7th. He is certainly the star player of this current Lazio side and would understandably be tempted to think he could be playing for someone better. His fine form has attracted strong interest from big-spending French duo PSG and Monaco, as well Manchester City this summer, where he could team up with fellow Brazilian Fernandinho in midfield. Chelsea and Manchester United have also been linked with him in the past, and he could be worth around £20million now, a good price for a player of such ability.

A move to a bigger team would surely get him the recognition he deserves as a world class midfielder, and help him add to his ten caps and one goal for the Brazilian national team. There's no doubt he is performing at an excellent level at the moment and would only improve with better players around him.

Hernanes is perhaps something of a late bloomer, having only arrived in European football three years ago, but he has maintained his fine form from his time in Brazil, showing he can do it at the highest level. There is still more to come from him, but he is a top player and one of the best all-round midfield players in world football right now.

32. Barcelona and Spain striker David Villa

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After a year out with injury, there are signs that David Villa is getting back to his best, and although he may not be highly valued by current club Barcelona, the attention he has attracted from top Premier League sides such as Arsenal and Tottenham shows he is still one of the world's best finishers.

Villa first attracted attention from the world's biggest clubs as a youngster with Real Zaragoza, where he scored 41 goals in his two seasons with the club. This saw him snapped up by Valencia in 2005, where he truly established himself as world class with an impressive tally of 128 goals in 217 appearances for the Mestalla side. It was around this time that he became a regular starter for the Spanish national team as well, and he has now established himself as one of the country's best ever players, with a record-high 51 goals for the national team, helping them in their glorious era of two European Championships and one World Cup between 2008 and 2012. He is also Spain's leading goal scorer of all time in World Cup competitions.

He has played a somewhat different role since joining Barcelona for £33million in 2011, often playing more wide to accommodate Barca's star player Lionel Messi. Although he has had to adapt his game slightly, this hasn't stopped him finding the back of the net, and he enjoyed a successful first season at the Nou Camp, notching up 23 goals and 9 assists, including a memorable curling finish in Barca's Champions League final win over Manchester United.

Villa has dropped down the pecking order this season due to fitness problems, but has still managed an impressive tallyof 16 goals and 9 assists from the bench, showing he is still a top performer and worthy of a first-team place. He could still remain with the club after they rejected a bid from Arsenal for him in January, and there is certainly still time for him to get back to his best.

Throughout his career he has been a lethal finisher, but also a scorer of some great individual goals, making him the perfect all-round striker. He has also always performed in the biggest games, providing some memorable moments for both club and country.

Barcelona would be unwise to let him leave, and Arsenal or Tottenham would be very lucky to have him. Still one of the best strikers in the world, it would be great to see this class act playing in England before he hangs up his boots.

31. Manchester City and Spain midfielder David Silva

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Despite having something of an off-season due to sheer fatigue in 2012/13, Manchester City star David Silva could be well on his way to becoming one of the finest playmaking midfielders of his generation if he regains his best form.

The 27-year-old has enjoyed a glittering career for both club and country, playing a pivotal role in City's Premier League title-winning season of 2011/12, scoring 8 goals and providing 21 assists, and bringing the Spanish 'tiki-taka' style football to England in the process with some wonderful passing and ability on the ball.

The league title was followed up by yet another trophy with Spain that summer, as he scored his side's opener in what turned into a 4-0 thrashing of Italy in the Euro 2012 final. He also scored a fine goal against the Repubic of Ireland earlier in the tournament, making it a superb individual season for him. This was also his third major honour with Spain, adding to his World Cup medal from 2010 and another European Championship in 2008.

Despite fierce competition from the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata in this vastly talented generation of Spanish attacking midfielders, Silva has managed to notch up 72 caps for the national side, scoring 18 goals.

Silva started his career in La Liga with Valencia, making quite an impression as a youngster though initially playing as a winger for the Spanish side. In truth, his all-round ability makes him a great option in any number of attacking midfield positions, and he still drifts wide to good effect for City.

His big-money signing from Valencia to City was one of the most important of the Sheikh Mansour era at the Etihad Stadium, helping Roberto Mancini turn the team into a genuine Premier League force. Though it was still imagined quite how good he could become, as he looked like one of the best players in the world at times in his second season with the club, and was voted as City's player of the year by the club's fans ahead of some steep competition from the likes of Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero.

Silva makes the game look easy and is a wonderfully gifted player. That combined with his impressive trophy haul so far in his career firmly puts him up there as one of the best footballers in the world.

30. Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon

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This legendary goalkeeper has been around for a long time now, but even into his 35th year he is still arguably the best goalkeeper in the world.

The Italian famously became the world's most expensive goalkeeper of all time when he joined Juventus from Parma for £32million in 2001, and he has continued to live up to this incredible price tag and reputation.

Buffon has stuck with Juventus during tough times such as their relegation to Serie B for match-fixing, and is being rewarded with his patience now as the Old Lady have returned to the top of Italian football. He has added two more Serie A titles to his collection with the team's success in 2012 and 2013 under Antonio Conte, and was one of the players of the tournament for Italy in Euro 2012, despite their defeat to Spain in the final of the competition.

He has been voted Serie A's goalkeeper of the year an incredible nine times in his career - a record, and it is easy to see why with some of the fantastic reflex saves he is capable of producing. He is currently the captain of both Juventus and Italy and is quite simply a legend of the game, widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of all time.

35 is still young for a goalkeeper, and Buffon looks like he will keep on going for a good few years more. He is still a key player for club and country and will surely help both to more success in the next few years.

Goalkeepers often don't get the credit they deserve, but we are arguably spoilt at the moment by having such top class shot-stoppers in Buffon, Iker Casillas and Petr Cech all playing at their peak at the same time.

29. Bayern Munich and France winger Franck Ribery

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Many football fans have argued down the years for Franck Ribery as either under-rated or over-rated, with no general consensus being met. However, the success he continues to enjoy in his excellent career surely speaks for itself, and he has just had the season of his life with treble-winning Bayern Munich.

Although often thought to go missing in the big games, Ribery has arguably been Bayern's best player in their incredible season, scoring 11 goals and providing 22 assists in all competitions, and putting in an excellent display in both legs of Bayern's 7-0 aggregate mauling of Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals. Statistically, he has been the best player in the Bundesliga this season, with the most assists and man of the match awards in the whole league, as well as completing the most dribbles and playing the most key passes. He can occasionally seem frustrating to watch, but he has been brilliantly effective this season and will surely have silenced many of his critics.

Ribery first made a name for himself at Marseille, attracting interest from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United after an impressive season in 2005/06. He then starred for the French national team in that summer's World Cup, helping the unfancied Les Bleus to the final of the competition. One year later, he became Bayern Munich's then-record signing when he joined for £21million.

He has been part of one of Bayern's most successful periods since joining, scoring 80 goals and providing 120 assists in his six seasons with the club, helping them to three league titles and three Champions League finals.

Along with Arjen Robben, he provides excellent natural wing play for Bayern, with his superb dribbling and crossing skills. Few teams in the world right now can enjoy the service of two better wide players. He also has 72 caps and 12 goals for the French national team, being a key player in the side since 2006.

It's hard to understand why Ribery does not get more credit, but perhaps he is starting to find a bit more consistency now in this excellent Bayern team. Their success will surely only continue, and he will carry on playing a major part in it. Though even now, he is surely up there with the best players in the world.

28. Zenit St Petersburg and Brazil forward Hulk

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A big name, and quite literally a very big player, Hulk will likely earn a keenly-anticipated move to a bigger club this summer as he looks to establish himself as the world class talent he is widely thought to be.

The 26-year-old has been something of a late bloomer in the game, only really coming to prominence in the 2010/11 season as he played a major part in Porto's incredible treble winning season under Andre Villas-Boas. The Brazilian scored 36 goals and provided 21 assists that season playing mostly from the wing, and attracting big attention from all across Europe.

However, Porto's enormous asking price put many suitors off, and he remained in Portugal until last season when he finally moved for big money to Russian side Zenit St Petersburg. This will have disappointed neutrals, as it was hoped Hulk would soon be showcasing his talents in a bigger league.

He hasn't really managed to settle in Russia, and that big move could

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