The New Year is on the horizon and what an incredible decade of football we’ve been treated to.
From Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi scoring every 10 seconds, Leicester City winning the Premier League and France becoming world champions, there’s been no shortage of memories.
And here at GIVEMESPORT, we’ve been reminiscing on the last 10 years, selecting everything from the most exciting games, finest teams, greatest goals and even the best looking kits.
But we’ve now taken on our toughest and most important retrospective of the festive period: counting down the top 100 footballers of the decade.
As you can imagine, picking the candidates and ranking them all wasn’t easy, but join us in celebrating a remarkable decade of the ‘beautiful game’ by viewing and disputing our final list.
- 20 predictions for football’s next decade
- The Premier League table of the decade
- Fans’ Premier League team of the decade
100. Jamie Vardy
Considering Vardy started the decade as a Non-League footballer, his rise to a Premier League champion and appearance-maker in the 2018 World Cup is simply staggering.
The 32-year-old is now approaching a century of goals in England’s top division and finds himself amongst Europe’s most prolific scorers with 17 strikes for Leicester City this season.
99. Keylor Navas
Navas hit headlines around the world with his stunning performance for Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup, before spending five years at Real Madrid where he was criminally underrated.
The now Paris Saint-Germain ‘keeper played between the sticks for three Champions League titles at the Bernabeu and his legacy will continue grow in retrospect.
98. Fernando Torres
We only saw glimpses of a prime Torres during the current decade, although he still scored over 90 goals after 2009, but the Spanish striker earns his place with a stunning trophy cabinet.
Torres held the World Cup, European Championship, Europa League and Champions League titles simultaneously in 2013 and won the Golden Boot at Euro 2012.
97. James Rodriguez
How could we leave out a World Cup Golden Boot winner? Rodriguez became an instant superstar when he scored six times – including THAT volley against Uruguay – in the summer of 2014.
Things have fizzled out since then, but you can’t ignore 37 goals and two Champions League titles with Real Madrid as well decent spells at AS Monaco and Bayern Munich.
96. Rio Ferdinand
Ferdinand might have hung up his boots in 2015 after a terrible season with Queens Park Rangers, but he entered the decade as one of the best defenders on the planet.
The Englishman squeezes his way on to the list after some world-class displays during the 2011 and 2013 Premier League title wins alongside another player who will feature further down…
95. Marco Reus
Now a bona fide Borussia Dortmund legend, Reus would be much higher on the list – as well as in possession of a World Cup winners’ medal – if it wasn’t for a series of heartbreaking injuries.
But despite spending over 12 months on the treatment table, the 30-year-old has scored over 120 goals from midfield at Dortmund and been named Bundesliga Player of the Season three times.
94. Mario Mandzukic
One of the most underrated strikers of the modern era and a man who was prolific everywhere he went: Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and for his nation, Croatia.
The revered target man also had the distinction of scoring in two Champions League finals and the second of which – a bicycle against Real Madrid – will be replayed for decades to come.
93. Branislav Ivanovic
The Chelsea legend is arguably the Premier League’s best right-back of the last 10 years as well as a defender who always had an eye for goal, finding the net 34 times for the Blues.
Ivanovic won it all during the 2010s, finishing the decade with a Champions League title, Europa League crown, two Premier League trophies, two FA Cups and a League Cup.
92. Roberto Firmino
Look at Firmino’s goal-scoring record and you might be underwhelmed, but you know what the Liverpool man is all about if you’ve ever seen him play. ‘Complete’ doesn’t even do him justice.
His importance to Liverpool winning the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup can’t be articulated and he even bagged the Copa America for good measure.
91. Andrea Barzagli
If it wasn’t for their impermeable defender, Juventus would never have dominated Italian football this decade and Barzagli has played a massive role in that monopoly.
The forever underrated centre-back won everything in the domestic game, it’s just a shame that two Champions League final losses and a silver medal at Euro 2012 came in tandem.
90. Ashley Cole
When you consider Cole was the best left-back in the world at the turn of 2010, it seems harsh that the Premier League legend barely makes his way into the top 100.
However, we never saw the best of him again by the time Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge and three years of world-class displays isn’t enough to push him any higher.
From the best left-back in 2010 to the best right-back. Maicon was one of Inter’s star performers during their Champions League triumph and scored a stunning goal in that year’s World Cup.
Like Cole, though, we had seen the best of Maicon by the time 2013 rolled around and it was clear that father time was catching up with him when Gareth Bale turned him inside-out.
88. Jan Oblak
Oblak is revered by many as the best goalkeeper in the business and boasts an astonishing clean sheet record at Atletico Madrid with four consecutive La Liga Zamora Trophy wins.
Chuck in Europa League and UEFA Super Cup triumphs, and you have yourself a goalkeeper who seems destined to finish even higher when 2020s lists are penned in the future.
87. Miroslav Klose
Klose reminded us all that age is just a number with four goals at the 2010 World Cup and then a further two strikes at Brazil 2014 to make himself the competition’s record goal-scorer.
However, the German did more than impress at the World Cup and produced some of the most prolific seasons of his career – scoring 63 times in 170 Lazio games – during the 2010s.
86. Danielle de Rossi
The fact De Rossi didn’t win a single major honour this decade is an absolute travesty, but we’re talking about a midfielder who doesn’t need silverware to express his quality.
De Rossi dominated midfielders many years his junior across 277 outings for AS Roma post-2010 and was picked in the UEFA Team of the Tournament during Italy’s agonising Euro 2012 run.
85. Didier Drogba
Starting the decade with the Premier League title and Golden Boot was pretty good going, but adding the Champions League to his collection two years later was even sweeter.
That inspired performance in Munich is enough to warrant Dorgba’s inclusion alone, even if he did fall off the radar with spells at Galatasaray and Montreal Impact before his retirement.
84. Alisson Becker
Liverpool’s number one won everything under the sun in 2019: Copa America, Champions League, FIFA Club World, Golden Glove, Yachine Award and FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year.
As a result, we’ve got to consider him as the world’s best goalkeeper on current form and selecting him in 84th place is the least we can do.
83. Samuel Eto’o
Barcelona were left kicking themselves for ever selling Eto’o when he helped inspire Inter Milan to Champions League glory and scored 53 goals in just 102 appearances during his time in Italy.
Then, after a bizarre transfer to Anzhi Makhachkala, we got to see one final world-class season from the Cameroonian as he notched 12 goals in the Premier League with Chelsea.
82. Romelu Lukaku
Does this mean Lukaku is better than Eto’o? By no means at all, but Lukaku has been more consistent over the decade in question and bagged over 100 Premier League goals for proof.
Over 50 goals for Belgium before his 27th birthday is similarly impressive and 14 strikes already this season – more than Cristiano Ronaldo – proves he’s already a hit with Inter Milan.
81. Antonio Di Natale
Imagine scoring more Serie A goals than any other striker this decade when you were playing for a club that qualified for the Europa League at best. Insane.
At the turn of 2010, Di Natale was already in his thirties, but still managed to score more than 20 goals in five seasons and reached the Serie A Team of the Year three times in a row.
80. David Alaba
You can expect to see plenty of players from the 2013 Bayern Munich side on this list and Alaba’s role in that success saw him succeed Cole as the world’s best left-back.
The Austrian’s reign at the top was too short for him to be placed any higher, but over 300 matches and 17 major honours with Bayern means he can never be praised too much.
79. Hugo Lloris
We’re talking about a period of 10 years here and for every single one of them, Lloris has been in the conversation for the world’s best goalkeeper.
The 33-year-old has been an absolute bargain for Tottenham across 246 Premier League outings and captained France to World Cup glory in spite of dropping a clanger in the final.
78. Carlos Tevez
Tevez entered the decade like a man possessed with over 50 goals for Manchester City and, after falling off the radar for a season, waved goodbye to the club with 17 strikes in 2012-13.
The Argentine then transferred his goal-scoring expertise to Juventus, finding himself unlucky to miss out on the 2015 Champions League, and finished the 2010s in style with Boca Juniors.
77. Diego Forlan
Another player who only gave a glimpse of his best football during the decade in question, but we’re talking about a striker who won the 2010 World Cup Golden Ball by a distance.
Those five screamers in South Africa, combined with Europa League and UEFA Super Cup triumphs, are enough to keep Forlan rubbing shoulders with his contemporaries.
76. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Goals, goals, goals. Aubameyang caught the eyes of the world with his scoring at Saint-Etienne and then went one better with 141 strikes in just over 200 games for Borussia Dortmund.
A move to Arsenal has since backfired, but 54 goals in 84 appearances – as well as a Ballon d’Or nod – is miraculous when you consider their plight under Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery.
75. Javier Mascherano
Through all of Barcelona’s success over the past 10 years, Mascherano has been one of their most overlooked players and always did everything in his power for the team.
Brace yourself for his trophy cabinet this decade: two Champions League wins, five La Liga titles, five Copa del Rey triumphs, two UEFA Super Cups and a pair of FIFA Club World Cup victories.
74. Thiago Alcantara
From one of Barca’s shrewdest signings to one of their stupidest sales. Alcantara was snapped up by his former manager Pep Guardiola in 2013 and Bayern’s midfield hasn’t look back since.
The 28-year-old has won every trophy under the sun during his spells in Germany and Spain, while the fact he’s only made a single Bundesliga Team of the Year is nothing short of criminal.
73. Thiago Silva
We might have been talking about Silva as one of the greatest defenders in history if he hadn’t picked Paris Saint-Germain over the hoards of European clubs chasing his signature in 2012.
We’re not denying that Silva has been a world-class centre-back, but his talents make you wish he’d chosen a team that could deliver the Champions League glory that he deserves.
72. Dani Carvajal
There was no disputing the world’s best right-back when Carvajal was lifting four Champions League trophies in the space of five years at the Bernabeu.
The Spaniard might not get pulses racing with dramatic runs into the penalty area, but he remains one of the best defensive full-backs we’ve seen since the turn of the decade.
71. Paul Pogba
If Pogba consistently produced the displays that saw him star at the 2018 World Cup, which he helped inspired France to victory in, he would have been in contention for the top 20 at worst.
However, the Frenchman has proven too much of a handful at up-and-down spells with Juventus and Manchester United to warrant anything higher than 71st place.
70. Diego Costa
What an absolute beast. Costa was the latest world-class striker to alight the Atletico Madrid conveyor belt when he scored 36 goals in 52 games on his way to the La Liga trophy.
The Spaniard reproduced that form in English football, winning two Premier League titles in three years at Chelsea, and Antonio Conte should never have given him the boot.
69. Sadio Mane
Even when Mane was shining at Red Bull Salzburg and Southampton in the first half of the decade, nobody could have expected him to finish it in contention for the Ballon d’Or.
However, Mane was arguably Liverpool’s star performer on their way to Champions League glory and inspired Senegal to a historic African Cup of Nations final shortly after.
When Pepe was playing alongside a defender who will appear further down the list, there wasn’t a strike-force in Europe that wasn’t intimidated.
The defender’s bullish playing style was crucial in Real’s first three Champions League wins of the decade and his role in Portugal’s charge to the top at Euro 2016 remains underrated.
67. Petr Cech
You’d be hard pressed to find many goalkeepers in better form than Cech when 2009 switched to 2010 and he remained Chelsea’s undisputed number one until Mourinho’s second season back.
Cech was named his country’s best player for six years on the bounce, won a final Golden Glove at Stamford Bridge and even led Arsenal to a record clean sheet total in 2015-16.
66. Vincent Kompany
Injuries were so cruel to Kompany during the 2010s, but he made the Premier League his playground whenever he took to the pitch and captained City to four league titles.
Marry that to four League Cup wins, two FA Cup trophies, three appearances in the PFA Team of the Year, a Premier League Player of the Year award and you have yourself a stellar 10 years.
65. Jerome Boateng
Between 2013 and 2014, Boateng was the defensive rock behind Bayern’s Champions League triumph and Germany’s run to the World Cup trophy.
Just because Lionel Messi left him in a tangle one year later and things have petered out in recent years, don’t forget just how indomitable Boateng really was for most of the decade.
64. Steven Gerrard
We’ve arguably been too generous to Gerrard here, but he still managed to play some of his best football at Liverpool – most notably in 2013-14 – before waving goodbye to Anfield in 2015.
However, we’re giving the England legend the benefit of the doubt when you consider he could probably outperform 90% of the players on this list when he was truly on song.
63. Yaya Toure
We feel obliged to reward Toure for his 2013/14 season alone, where he inspired City to the league title with 20 goals, 10 set-piece strikes, nine assists and 40 chances created.
But the Ivorian also started the decade as an underrated asset to Barcelona, teed up City for their first Premier League victory and captained his country to glory at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
62. Raphael Varane
At the heart of Real’s Champions League and La Liga triumphs over the last 10 years has been Varane, the initially age-defying defender who also has a World Cup trophy to his name.
Our only regret about Varane is that he hasn’t emerged as the legendary centre-back that his talent, as well as Mourinho’s comments, suggest that he could have become.
61. Raheem Sterling
Premier League fans collectively face-palmed when Sterling was snapped up by City for £49 million in 2015, but the Englishman is now accepted as one of the best players in the world.
With 66 goals during his last two and a half seasons at the Etihad Stadium, plus eight strikes in his last nine England outings, you can expect him to place even higher during the 2020s.
60. Thibaut Courtois
Just because he’s made a slow start to life at Real Madrid, it doesn’t mean we should forget his stellar displays for Atletico and Chelsea, not to mention his World Cup Golden Glove.
The Premier League and La Liga are widely considered to be the world’s toughest leagues and Courtois has won both titles as well as finishing seasons in each with the most clean sheets.
59. John Terry
If you see a Premier League team of the decade without Terry at centre-back, then it’s either down to recency bias or they’ve forgotten just how superb the ex-Chelsea captain really was.
Terry played every minute of the Blues’ league triumph in 2014-15, despite long surpassing his 30th birthday, and lifted the same trophy twice more as well as the Champions League, too.
58. Mats Hummels
But sorry, John, we can’t pick you above a World Cup-winning colossus and Hummels spent most of the mid-2010s being revered as the sport’s best defender.
Things have fizzled out recently with a return to Dortmund, but Hummels was just a Champions League away from winning every major trophy during his time at Bayern Munich.
57. Frank Lampard
Just as Lampard’s career looked to be nosediving, he helped inspire Chelsea to their first European cup, bagged 17 goals in 2012-13 and became the club’s all-time record goalscorer.
Even when Lampard wound out his career with Manchester City and New York City, he was still finding the net on a regular basis and bowed out in far more impressive fashion than Gerrard.
56. Thomas Muller
At the halfway point of the decade, Muller would have looked nailed on for the top 20 after scoring five goals at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cup tournaments.
The German still deserves plenty of praise for 21 major honours and almost 200 goals for Bayern, but scoring less than 10 goals in three of his last four seasons has left a lot to be desired.
55. Cesc Fabregas
Fabregas was a force to be reckoned with during his penultimate season at Arsenal and his three-year spell with Barcelona gets far more criticism than it deserves.
He then arrived at Chelsea, racking up a stunning 18 assists on his way to a maiden Premier League crown – and did we mention he won a World Cup and European Championship, too?
54. Harry Kane
Just like Aubameyang, this is all about goals. Kane might not boast the trophy cabinet of players both above and below him, but he’s consolidated himself as a world-class number nine.
Kane romped his way to back-to-back Premier League Golden Boots, won the equivalent award at the 2018 World Cup and becoming England’s all-time leading scorer seems a formality.
53. Nemanja Vidic
The fact Vidic is over 40 places ahead of Ferdinand shows he dealt far better with an advancing age and remained one of United’s strongest performances up until his 2014 departure.
In 2011 alone, the Serbian lifted the Premier League trophy, reached a Champions League final, earned a place in the PFA Team of the Year and featured in the FIFPro World XI.
52. Leonardo Bonucci
On the topic of world-class defenders, few come close to Bonucci and his spectacular 2017 saw him named in FIFA’s Team of the Year despite suffering a second Champions League final loss.
Barring that doomed year with AC Milan, the Italian has been one of the sport’s most consistent centre-backs and has an eye-watering seven Serie A trophies to show for his efforts.
51. Radamel Falcao
Once upon a time, Falcao was the world’s best number nine and it wasn’t even close, scoring 71 goals in just 91 games at Atletico Madrid to fire himself into Ballon d’Or contention.
Dreadful loan spells at United and Chelsea slammed the brakes on proceedings, but he still saw out the decade with some brilliant displays at AS Monaco, including 30 goals in 2016/17.
50. Diego Godin
If ever you see Godin’s performances flying under the radar, it’s because his defensive nous is so brilliant that you just don’t notice him sometimes.
As well as winning the Spanish league title and reaching two Champions League finals, the fantastic Uruguayan has also been a regular fixture in La Liga and UEFA’s best XIs.
49. Kevin De Bruyne
Oh baby. Few midfielders can hold a candle to De Bruyne right now and he seems on course for both the Premier League assists record and the PFA Player of the Year award this season.
The Belgian is slightly held back by only reaching world level under Guardiola’s gaze, but underrate his performances under Manuel Pellegrini and with Wolfsburg at your peril.
48. Angel Di Maria
Barring his brief spell with United – which he still racked up 10 assists, by the way – you’d be hard pressed to say Di Maria has produced a single bad season throughout the decade.
The Argentine dropped a Man of the Match display in the 2014 Champions League final, reached a World Cup climax the same year and continues to shine in a star-studded PSG side.
47. David Villa
Kicking off the decade as the joint top-scorer at the World Cup is a pretty impressive start and Villa rounded off 2010 as the final addition in one of football’s greatest ever front threes.
The recently-retired striker played three glorious seasons at Barcelona, scoring in the 2011 Champions League final, and became Spain’s record goal-scorer with 59 strikes from 98 caps.
46. Mohamed Salah
Nobody could have expected this after Salah flopped at Chelsea, but two Golden Boots during his first two seasons at Liverpool have made the Egyptian one of the world’s best players.
As well as having a Champions League winners’ medal to show for his efforts, Salah bagged the Puskas Award and scored THAT penalty for Egypt to secure World Cup qualification.
45. Alexis Sanchez
Let’s just forget his spell at Manchester United for one second and remember how incredible Sanchez was during his time with Udinese, Barcelona and Arsenal.
But aside from winning a glut of Spanish trophies and three FA Cups, Sanchez most notably inspired his country to back-to-back Copa America titles in 2015 and 2016.
44. Wesley Sneijder
Suggestions that Sneijder deserved the 2010 Ballon d’Or are a little dramatic, but the former Inter Milan midfielder still warrants such a high placing for that year alone.
The Dutchman won the Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia for a historic treble under Mourinho and scored five goals for the Netherlands on their to the 2010 World Cup final.
If there is justice in the world, Pedro will be heralded as the Barcelona legend he truly is and one that scored 45 goals during the first two seasons of the 2010s.
The Spaniard collected the World Cup, Champions League, European Championships and FIFA Club World Cup as his reward, before adding the Premier League to his collection at Chelsea.
42. Wayne Rooney
You know you’ve had a pretty good decade when you become Manchester United and England’s record goal-scorer, even if things have petered out at Everton and DC United in recent years.
The 34-year-old won the PFA Player of the Year award, two Premier League titles, two League Cups, the FA Cup and scored THAT bicycle kick at Old Trafford during the decade in question.
41. Robin van Persie
When ‘RVP’ returned from injury in 2010, he came back as the world’s best number nine and romped his way to consecutive Premier League Golden Boots and the PFA Player of the Year award.
His magnum opus came at Manchester United with a first English league title, scoring no fewer than 30 goals, before shining at the 2014 World Cup and unwinding his career at Feyenoord.
40. Gareth Bale
Bale announced himself by destroying Inter Milan home and away in 2010, before proving he was truly world-class with 20 Premier League goals from out wide during the 2012/13 campaign.
He then bagged a world-record move to Real Madrid, scoring the winner in his first Champions League final, and has since bagged three more European crowns as well as 104 goals in Spain.
39. Giorgio Chiellini
All three members of Juventus’ famous ‘BBC’ defence have made this list, but nobody can deny that Chiellini has been the star man from the three.
Aside from boasting every Italian trophy available twice over, the 35-year-old was named in Juve’s greatest XI in history and made the Serie A Team of the Year five times in seven years.
38. Gonzalo Higuain
Higuain scored an astonishing amount of goals at Real Madrid considering his limited game-time, but elevated himself to the next level with 91 strikes in fewer than 150 games for Napoli.
Chuck in another 31 goals for Argentina and a highly-underrated stint with Juventus, which has harvested 61 goals, and you have one of the greatest strikers of the decade.
37. David de Gea
Has there been a better shot-stopper in world football during the 2010s? De Gea has been named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year a record four times for his heroic displays in England.
Match of the Day even awarded him their Save of the Season accolade five times in six seasons and in spite of his recent struggles, spent many years regarded as the world’s best goalkeeper.
36. Bastian Schweinsteiger
When Bayern hoovered up the Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal in 2013, Schweinsteiger shined as one of the Bavarian’s star performers.
He also reached the 2010 World Cup Dream Team after producing the most assists and went one better four years later by collecting the main prize itself with a heroic display in the final.
35. Edinson Cavani
Again: goals, goals, goals. Cavani established himself as a club legend at Napoli with 104 goals in the space of just three seasons and also notched up a half-century of strikes for Uruguay.
The forward has spent the last seven campaigns with PSG, never scoring less than 23 goals each year, and overtook Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the club’s all-time record goal-scorer.
34. Mesut Ozil
If it wasn’t for some stagnant recent years with Arsenal – he’s never topped that 19-assist season in 2015-16 – the German playmaker would find himself much closer to the top 20.
Ozil was a key influence in Germany’s trek to the 2014 World Cup and his three years under Mourinho at Real Madrid arguably saw him become the world’s best midfielder.
33. Virgil van Dijk
For a man who ticked over with sound performances at Celtic and Southampton, it’s credit to Van Dijk’s incredible impact at Liverpool that he finishes above the likes of Vidic and Chiellini.
The Dutchman inspired the Reds to Champions League glory, has them on the cusp of a maiden Premier League trophy and came just seven votes away from winning the 2019 Ballon d’Or.
32. Kylian Mbappe
This man could easily take first place for the 2020s. Considering Mbappe is still just 21 years old, the fact he’s a World Cup winner and has scored over 100 goals is nothing short of astonishing.
We can’t reward him too much considering he only turned professional in 2015, but he’s already well ahead of schedule to become one of the greatest players the sport has ever seen.
31. Jordi Alba
Since his memorable goal in the Euro 2012 final, Alba has never been far away from the title of world’s best left-back and only went from strength to strength after swapping Valencia for Barca.
Moving to the Camp Nou ensured Alba had the La Liga and Champions League crowns his name, while he’s also formed a near-telepathic connection with someone who might top this list…
30. N’Golo Kante
Coming from absolute obscurity to win two consecutive Premier League titles, the World Cup, FA Cup and Europa League doesn’t seem to do Kante’s fairytale decade justice.
However, Kante defied all the odds to rise from an obscure Leicester signing to the best player in English football and is now estimated to be worth an eye-watering £90 million.
29. Eden Hazard
Arriving at Chelsea in 2012 as one of the world’s highest-rated youngsters, he would leave seven years later as one of the club’s greatest ever players and a PFA award winner.
Hazard can now build on his legacy at Real Madrid after finishing his time in England with two Premier League crowns, two Europa League wins, an FA Cup title and the League Cup.
28. David Silva
One of the greatest ever Premier League players. Silva will leave Manchester City next summer as a club legend and with three league titles, as well as nine domestic honours, to show for it.
He was also part of Spain’s World Cup-winning squad in 2010 and headed home the opening goal in the Euro 2012 final to pave the way for his second European Championship medal.
27. Toni Kroos
This man loves trophies. You know you’ve had a successful decade when you were part of the 2013 Bayern Munich side, 2014 Germany team and Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid outfit.
But aside from winning every piece of silverware available, Kroos has proven himself to be one of the world’s most versatile midfielders and hardly ever drops below a pass completion rate of 90%.
26. Antoine Griezmann
Don’t be fooled by his slow start to life at Barcelona, Griezmann has enjoyed a spectacular 10 years and look no further than 133 goals in 257 games with Atletico Madrid for proof.
The forward was also crowned the best player and top scorer at Euro 2016, before finding the net three times on France’s route to becoming world champions two years later.
25. Iker Casillas
Casillas’ best days were behind him by the time 2010 rolled around, but there was still enough magic for him to produce an unforgettable save from Arjen Robben in that year’s World Cup final.
The Real Madrid legend had time to add a second European Championship trophy to his collection, too, and captained Los Blancos to their first Champions League crown in 12 years.
24. Xabi Alonso
Alonso had already established himself as a world-class player at Liverpool, but a five-year stint at Real Madrid – which ended in a second Champions League win – elevated him to legend status.
Round that off with the same medals that many of the Spanish players on this list have earned, plus an underrated spell with Bayern Munich, to see exactly why Alonso has placed so high.
23. Philipp Lahm
Captaining your club and country to Champions League and World Cup trophies within the space of a year is justification for 23rd place alone, but Lahm did more than keep an armband warm.
Lahm is one of the greatest defensive full-backs the game has ever seen and Guardiola reacted to his retirement by saying: “football is going to miss one of the best players ever.”
22. Sergio Aguero
Aguero has made the Premier League his playground over the last 10 years: winning the title four times, collecting the 2014/15 Golden Boot and scoring more than 27 goals in all but one season.
Plus, we had to reward a player who scored arguably the most iconic goal of the decade against QPR in 2012 and away from City duties, he’s also bagged over 40 strikes for Argentina.
21. Franck Ribery
The Bayern legend had a pretty good case for the 2013 Ballon d’Or after winning the Bundesliga, Champions League, DFB-Pokal, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup all in seven months.
But even when you put that year to the side, Ribery produced more assists than any other player in Germany for three years on the bounce and reached the Team of the Season five times.
20. Manuel Neuer
If Neuer could have maintained the form he showed during the middle of the decade, he would easily have been the highest-rated goalkeeper on this list. Stay tuned for the real winner.
But we’re still talking about a World Cup and Champions League winner who, thanks to a stunning 2014, came closer than any shot-stopper to winning the Ballon d’Or since Oliver Kahn in 2002.
19. Andrea Pirlo
It says everything about Pirlo that despite playing his best football before 2010, he was still so brilliant during this decade that he makes the top 20 regardless.
The Italian maestro experienced a renaissance in 2012, inspiring his country to a European Championship final and deserved to win the Champions League with Juventus three years later.
18. Carles Puyol
If you thought leading Barca to a sextuple was as good as it got, Puyol still had another four years up his sleeve and was regarded as one of the world’s best defenders up until his retirement.
The inspirational skipper still had time to pull Spain to World Cup glory, the Blaugrana to another European crown and was named amongst legends in the UEFA Ultimate Team of the Year.
17. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The Swede has been prolific everywhere he’s been in the last 10 years: Barcelona, AC Milan, Parsi Saint-Germain, Manchester United, La Galaxy and with his country, Sweden.
Don’t believe us? Well, Ibrahimovic scored over 300 goals during the period in question, despite spending most of it in his thirties, and even scooped the Puskas Award for THAT England goal.
When we’re talking about an entire decade, you’ve got to reward footballing furniture like Marcelo, who has hoovered up four Champions League wins and six domestic trophies with Real Madrid.
The Brazilian has been named in the FIFPro World XI an astonishing six times, made two consecutive World Cup Dream Teams and boasts almost 500 appearances for Los Blancos.
15. Sergio Busquets
The most underrated footballer in history. Guardiola’s legendary Barcelona team wouldn’t have functioned without Busquets pulling the strings, creating from deep and doing the dirty work.
And if you’re only interested in objectivity then look no further than six La Liga crowns, the World Cup, a European Championship, two Champions League titles and five Copa del Rey trophies.
14. Gianluigi Buffon
The top goalkeeper on this list. An often-injured Buffon appeared to be declining in 2010, but he rolled back the years and proved everyone wrong with an inspired tournament at Euro 2012.
He was then named Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year five times, returned to the FIFPro World XI after 10 years away, reached two Champions League finals and came fourth in the Ballon d’Or.
13. Arjen Robben
Robben was an absolute star at the 2010 World Cup, coming just a toe away from scoring in the final, and emerged as Bayern’s hero with the winner in the 2013 Champions League climax.
The Dutch produced some otherworldly performances on the European stage, won every trophy available to him in Germany and came fourth in the Ballon d’Or votes in 2014.
12. Karim Benzema
It’s mind-blowing that Benzema never gets the credit he deserves when he’s scored 238 goals for Real Madrid and only three players in history have scored more in the Champions League.
But he won’t lose too much sleep when two La Liga trophies, four European titles, three UEFA Super Cups, four FIFA Club World Cups and two Copa del Rey medals are keeping him company.
11. Gerard Pique
An immovable object at the back that has made over 500 appearances for Barcelona in a decade that has seen them win almost 25 major honours.
It’s so widely accepted that Pique is one of the greatest defenders of the modern era that he’s been picked in the FIFPro World XI four times and has featured in five UEFA Teams of the Year.
10. Luka Modric
You can’t win a Ballon d’Or and not find yourself near the top. Modric rose through the ranks at Tottenham with his shimmering talent and quickly proved the naysayers wrong at Real Madrid.
But we can’t not talk about his 2018, where the Croatian won the World Cup Golden Ball, lifted the Champions League, nabbed FIFA’s ‘The Best’ award and ended the Ronaldo-Messi duopoly.
9. Robert Lewandowski
Goals win games and few players have found the net more than Lewandowski since 2010. In fact, he penned his name on the scoresheet more than 300 times at Dortmund and Bayern.
A further 61 strikes have come in Polish colours; he’s scored more than anybody else in Europe in 2019 and who could forget when he bagged five goals in just nine minutes against Wolfsburg!?
8. Sergio Ramos
Ramos will do anything and everything in his power to win and that unrivalled commitment to the cause has seen him captain Real Madrid to a hat-trick of Champions League trophies.
But even before he sported the armband, Ramos was bombing down the right flank for the world and European champions as well as scoring an unforgettable header against Atletico in 2014.
7. Luis Suarez
The top number nine. Suarez announced himself at world level with some heroic performances at Liverpool, matching the former Premier League goal record with 31 strikes in a season.
However, it was at Barcelona where he rose to omnipotence, becoming the club’s fourth all-time top scorer and outperforming Messi with 59 goals in 53 games during the 2015-16 campaign.
6. Dani Alves
When we’re talking about the most decorated footballer in history, we’ll just let his trophies do the talking: La Liga (5), Copa del Rey (3), Champions League (2), FIFA Club World Cup (2)…
… UEFA Super Cup (2), Serie A, Coppa Italia, Ligue 1, Coupe de France, Coupe de la Ligue, Trophee des Champions, Supercopa de Espana, Copa America and Confederations Cup.
For starters, Neymar is on course to become the highest international goal-scorer in history, closing in on Pele’s Brazil record with an astonishing 61 goals in 101 caps at just 26 years old.
That, and he formed part of the greatest attacking trio in the sport’s history, secured a historic Olympic gold medal and has still emerged from his PSG controversy with 60 strikes in 70 games.
Where do you even begin with this wizard? Xavi started the decade as an ever present in FIFA’s team of the year and strolled into the World Cup Dream Team for his displays in South Africa.
It seems blasphemous that Xavi never won the Ballon d’Or, but three podium finishes is by no means a poor return. Oh, and he captained Barca to the Champions League in his final season.
3. Andres Iniesta
Behind Spain’s World Cup and European Championship-winning teams and the Barca side that conquered all that lay before it, there was Iniesta – the greatest midfielder of the last 10 years.
But let’s forget about the stats, because no set of numbers or titles will ever do justice for a player with magic in their boots, talent in each step and a footballing brain that may never be rivalled.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
If you could concoct the perfect footballer from scratch, the end result would be Ronaldo and his goal-scoring record of 450 strikes in 438 Real Madrid matches seems to bend the rules of reality.
Ronaldo has collected four Ballon d’Or trophies during the decade, collected a hat-trick of European Golden Shoes and made history by guiding Portugal to victory at Euro 2016.
1. Lionel Messi
The greatest of all time. Messi has been the best player throughout the 2010s and it’s not even close: winning five of his six Ballon d’Or titles and finding the net more than 500 times.
The Barcelona legend scored a world-record 91 goals during 2012 alone, won the European Golden Shoe five times and has been selected in the FIFPro World XI every single time.
We could list his trophies and accolades until we’re blue in the face, but if you’ve ever had the privilege of seeing Messi play football, then you know why we’ve picked him as number one.
Top 100 players of the decade
So, there you have it, the 100 greatest players from the last 10 years. Treasure them.
Some of these stars will move even higher on the 2020s list, many will plummet towards the bottom and others will merely be reading it from a dugout, TV studio or their armchair.
However, let us take just one thing from the current list: the Chinese calendar only assigns animals to years, but we’re pretty sure the 2010s have been the decade of the GOAT.
His name? Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini