Naming the world's best player at every age from 16 to 41-years-old

Who is the best footballer in the world?

Generally speaking, the answer simply must be either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re number one when you assess specific years in isolation.

Besides, Virgil van Dijk has a pretty strong argument for being the top dog in 2019 and all the individual awards pointed to Real Madrid‘s Luka Modric as recently as last year.

Even when you break it down like that, however, the pool of players that genuinely stand a chance of winning FIFA’s ‘The Best’ award or the Ballon d’Or is absolutely miniscule.

So, what if we decided to loosen the criteria for being the ‘best player in the world’ and sift through the wealth of talent in the sport so more players can be rewarded.

Best players in the world by age

Arguably the best method of achieving that is by breaking down players into ages, allowing fans to get to grips with the world’s greatest player at each respective points of a sporting career.

Here at GiveMeSport, we’ve decided to take on this ominous challenge and decide football’s number one at ages 16 all the way to the trailblazing Gianluigi Buffon at 41.

There’s one spoiler for you already, but you can check out the full list down here:

16-years-old – Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes)

17-years-old – Joao Pedro (Fluminese)

18-years-old – Rodrygo (Real Madrid)

19-years-old – Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)

20-years-old – Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

21-years-old – Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)

22-years-old – Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

23-years-old – Leroy Sane (Manchester City)

24-years-old – Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

25-years-old – Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

26-years-old – Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

27-years-old – Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

28-years-old – Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

29-years-old – Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)

30-years-old – Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

31-years-old – Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

32-years-old – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

33-years-old – Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

34-years-old – Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

35-years-old – Andres Iniesta (Vissel Kobe)

36-years-old – Dani Alves (Sao Paulo)

37-years-old – Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

38-years-old – Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao)

39-years-old – Artur Boruc (Bournemouth)

40-years-old – Claudio Pizarro (Werder Bremen)

41-years-old – Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)

It’s surprising how the sport is so dense with quality at every age, although players like Boruc can probably count themselves lucky that there’s not quite so much talent at his stage of life.

Some of the age categories pick themselves, no less than Ronaldo and Messi, but some of the mid-twenties prove particularly tricky with players like Neymar and Alisson Becker missing out.

So, breaking the competition down by age is neither an exact science nor something awards should tag alone to, but it’s fascinating to see stars dominate their minute generation.

Do you agree with our decisions? Have your say in the comments section below.

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