ESPN FC 100 shocks and surprises Were Neymar, De Gea lucky to make it? Is the Premier League the best?
So there you have it: the 2019 edition of the ESPN FC 100 — our annual ranking of the best players in the world — was dominated by Liverpool off the back of one of their best seasons in the modern era.
Winning the Champions League and finishing just a point behind Manchester City for the 2018-19 Premier League title resulted in five Reds finishing No. 1 in their respective categories, with Jurgen Klopp toppling Pep Guardiola for best manager, Alisson soaring to No.1 goalkeeper and a clean sweep of the right-back, centre-back and left-back awards.
To compile our latest countdown, more than 40 ESPN FC experts from around the world were given a list of about 250 players and managers to make their selections. Here, four of our experts review the final list and offer their main takeaways.
What was your biggest takeaway from the ranking?
Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_): That Liverpool had a very good year. They topped five of the categories, including the No. 1 manager with Klopp, even though Manchester City completed a domestic treble in England.
Gab Marcotti (@Marcotti): Somewhat predictably, folks react to the Champions League and big tournaments and who played well in games everybody watched. But it’s pretty telling how many Ajax players were in there as opposed to PSV players when you consider Ajax only won the Eredivisie by three points… I think it’s also interesting how some positions (central defender, forward) are so much deeper than others (left-back, central striker).
Julien Laurens (@LaurensJulien): The biggest takeaway for me is the heavy presence of players over 30 in the rankings. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fabio Quagliarella, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, of course, but also Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Sergio Ramos, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, David Silva and others, not to mention the goalkeepers!
Equally, it’s good to see a few “smaller” clubs away from the big European superpowers, like Everton, Gremio, Atalanta, LA Galaxy, Sporting CP and Bayer Leverkusen, represented. The same goes for countries like Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Scotland, Austria and Algeria.
James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle): Aside from Messi, no Barcelona or Real Madrid player tops a category. It’s a time for both to reflect. Barcelona resemble more and more Messi’s Argentina in that they’re propped up by him instead of helping him soar even higher.
Which player gets you most excited to watch each week, and why?
Ogden: Cristiano Ronaldo. No surprises here: Ronaldo and Messi are almost impossible to separate, but Ronaldo just edges it.
Marcotti: Messi, obviously. But maybe that’s too obvious. So I’ll say Kylian Mbappe. He moves with a fluidity and looks to be such a “natural” player. And he’s smart, too. Very smart.
Laurens: For the next decade, I think, the player I’m most thrilled by is Mbappe. His cameo entrance for PSG against Club Brugge in the Champions League at the end of October was breathtaking. He is breathtaking and has no limits.
Horncastle: Mbappe. Flashes of the original Ronaldo in him take me back.
Who were the most surprising omissions from the 2019 FC 100?
Ogden: Daley Blind had a great year at Ajax and should have squeezed into the top 10 centre-backs as a result.
Marcotti: I had Fabian Ruiz very high [in my ranking] but I guess not everybody enjoys watching Napoli so maybe that’s not surprising. I am surprised that Gerard Pique failed to make the cut. I would have thought he would have made it on reputation alone, despite not having the greatest of seasons for Barcelona.
Laurens: We debated a lot over this ranking. Yet I didn’t always have my way and I would have liked to see Barcelona centre-back Clement Lenglet, Ajax attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech, Bayern winger Serge Gnabry, Napoli forward Dries Mertens and Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini in the final 100 given their form in 2019. Gasperini deserves particular credit and Gnabry has been a revelation for club and country since establishing himself in the Bavarians’ first XI.
Horncastle: First of all, it’s a joke that Gasperini’s name is not on here. Atalanta get broken up every year (apart from last summer) and he qualified a team with a mid-table wage bill to the Champions League, reached the Coppa Italia final and finished top scorers in the same year Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Serie A. I add Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and Atalanta’s all-action forward Alejandro “Papu” Gomez to the roll call of jaw-dropping omissions. Take a look at yourselves, panelists.
Who were the most surprising inclusions?
Ogden: Neymar. A lucky boy to make it after a distinctly dour year.
Marcotti: I wouldn’t have guys like Ferland Mendy in there, at least not yet, while Sergio Busquets at No. 3 for central midfielders is a bit of a stretch. Nor did I expect Bernardo Silva to be No. 1. I get why Quagliarella and Ibrahimovic got votes, but … seriously?
Laurens: On the other hand, how on earth did Man City winger Leroy Sane, Real Madrid’s midfielder Casemiro, Man City right-back Joao Cancelo, Roma’s Aleksandar Kolarov, Copa America star Everton or Diego Simeone make it in the mix?
Horncastle: David De Gea is in the top 10 on reputation, not performance. Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti is fortunate to make the list, particularly in 2019 given the chaos around the club. Maurizio Sarri won a European trophy and somehow finds himself behind him! I’m guessing other members of the judging panel follow Dani Alves on Instagram and enjoy his singing and fashion sense rather than his footballing contributions these days.
BREAKING DOWN THE FC 100
Which clubs and countries were represented in this year’s list?
Clubs of the FC 100
– 13: Manchester City
– 9: Liverpool
– 8: Juventus
– 7: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona
– 6: Ajax, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid
– 5: Bayern Munich
– 4: Tottenham
– 3: Chelsea, Manchester United, Unattached/free agent
– 2: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli
– 1: Algeria, AS Roma, Atalanta, Bayer Leverkusen, Benfica, Everton, Gremio, Inter Milan, Leicester City, River Plate, Sampdoria, Sao Paulo, Sevilla, Sporting CP
Leagues of the FC 100
– 36: English Premier League
– 21: Spanish Primera Division
– 15: Other
– 14: Italian Serie A
– 8: German Bundesliga
– 6: French Ligue 1
Countries of the FC 100
Note: this is only focused on the players, not managers, so the final tally adds to 90.
– 12: Brazil, Spain
– 10: France
– 7: England, Portugal
– 6: Germany
– 5: Argentina
– 4: Italy, Netherlands
– 3: Uruguay
– 2: Belgium, Poland, Senegal, Serbia
– 1: Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cameroon, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, Gabon, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden
Which players do you expect to debut in the 2020 FC 100?
Ogden: Erling Haaland is a certainty thanks to his remarkable form in the Champions League for FC Salzburg. In England, a pair of youngsters — Chelsea’s Mason Mount and Man United’s Daniel James — are making strong claims. Looking a little further ahead, it’s worth keeping an eye for United’s 19-year-old left-back Brandon Williams and Partizan Belgrade centre-back Strahinja Pavlovic.
Marcotti: That Eduardo Camavinga kid at Rennes looks special. Inter loanee Stefano Sensi too — if he keeps it up. Martin Odegaard has arguably been player of the year in La Liga with Real Sociedad, and Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi might just be ready to break out…
Laurens: The next edition of FC 100 is a long way away but some newcomers have already emerged to watch out for in 2020. Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Nubel, Chelsea’s Jorginho and Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz have been excellent this year. Inter midfielder Sensi has been a revelation on loan from Sassuolo; the same is true of Atletico’s box-to-box dynamo Thomas Partey.
Elsewhere, Kingsley Coman, Gnabry, Rodrigo and Lautaro Martinez have been brilliant for Juventus, Bayern, Valencia and Inter respectively. But if I had to put money on one sure-fire addition in 2020, it would be Odegaard. If the rest of Odegaard’s season is like the first three months of it as the fulcrum of Sociedad’s first team, he will definitely be there.
Horncastle: Haaland has already captured the imagination with Salzburg but needs to be on the big stage every week in order to be worthy of a spot in the FC 100. Therefore I’ll go for Sensi.
Does the Premier League’s dominance settle the debate about it being the world’s best league?
Ogden: Not yet. After all, the world’s biggest stars — Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and Mbappe — still play elsewhere.
Marcotti: Well, that and the fact that all four European finalists came from the Premier League in 2019.
Laurens: The Premier League has earned top spot in so many positions this year, and rightly so. After all, Liverpool and Manchester City are the two best teams in the world right now and their players are No. 1 or No. 2 in seven positions as well as the top two managers! The rest of the Premier League is well represented too, which definitely strengthens the position of the league as the best in the world at the moment. That said, these things are cyclical so don’t expect the same next year.
Horncastle: Not necessarily. For now, it merely reflects the fact that both European competitions had all-English finals. And besides two of those finalists (Arsenal and Tottenham) now look broken while Man City and Liverpool are so far ahead of everyone else. It’s as stratified as all the other top five leagues, apart from the Bundesliga.
Pick your ideal starting XI and formation from the 2019 FC 100
Ogden: (4-3-3) Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; Kante, Fabinho, Bernardo Silva; Messi, Ronaldo, Mbappe
Marcotti: (4-3-3) Oblak; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Koulibaly, Jordi Alba; Pogba, Kante, David Silva; Messi, Lewandowski, Ronaldo
Laurens: (4-2-2-2) Oblak; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Robertson; Fabinho, Kante; Mane, De Bruyne; Messi, Mbappe.
Horncastle: (4-4-2) Ter Stegen; Alexander-Arnold, Chiellini, Van Dijk, Kolarov; Raheem Sterling, De Jong, Pjanic, Sancho; Messi, Zapata.