Since 2008, only one other player in Luka Modric has managed to wrestle the Ballon d’Or trophy away from the two best male players of this generation.
Even now, at the ripe old age of 34, Messi is the reigning holder of the prestigious annual award.
But given the Argentine maestro has scored just three league goals this season for PSG and Ronaldo has been subject to intense scrutiny at times for Man United, it seems as though a changing of the guard is occurring at long last. At least, we think so.
A plethora of outstanding players
If not Messi or Ronaldo, then who? Mohamed Salah was mesmeric at the start of the season for Liverpool. Robert Lewandowski continues to be a goal machine for Bayern Munich and Karim Benzema almost single-handedly destroyed Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Throw in the likes of a red-hot Kevin De Bruyne, the impenetrable Virgil van Dijk and a resurgent Harry Kane into the mix and the world’s best player debate suddenly got very interesting indeed.
The world’s best women’s footballer
Equally, women’s football has been a similar story in recent decades. While the USA have showcased their dominance by winning the past two World Cups, their most renowned stars in Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd are now past their best.
Given the extraordinary growth of women’s football in recent years it would be foolish not to give mention to the prodigious individuals who are transcending the game today. Given a record 91,553 people packed the Nou Camp recently, fans are clearly gunning to see the world’s best female talent in action.
The question is though, which of these names is the best female footballer on the planet? Could it be one of Barcelona’s masterful contingent, or is one of Lyon’s new impressive youngsters taking the game by storm?
Ranking the top 40 players in the world
To try and somehow decide who the world’s best players are, we’ve created a tiermaker, ranking the best 40 footballers on earth right now.
To be clear, we’ve included male and female players in this list but this is by no means an attempt to directly compare them. As such, we’ve included both a best male player and a best female player.
It’s also worth noting that this is a purely subjective exercise, though we’re confident we can justify every one of our decisions.
There are some exceptional stars who have narrowly missed out but ultimately we’ve tried to honour both the men’s and women’s game in equal measure.
Anyway, without further ado, feast your eyes on our rankings down below:
Jenni Hermoso, Pernille Harder, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Luka Modric, Rodri, Thiago Silva, Irene Paredes, Fabinho, Jude Bellingham, Wendie Renard
Let’s be clear, the names featured in these rankings are extraordinarily gifted players and despite appearing at the bottom of this tiermaker, all are still among the best footballers on earth.
Hermoso finished second in the Ballon d’Or Féminin last year, while Harder was named the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year in 2020. Unfortunately, both can perhaps consider themselves victims of their own success as neither has quite hit the same dazzling heights of previous seasons.
The same applies to Modric, and yes, we did see his assist against Chelsea. But while he still has the potential to produce moments of magic, he’s not the same player he was in 2018.
As for Fabinho and Rodri –– there’s no denying both are two of the leading holding midfielders in the Premier League. We can’t separate them though, hence we’ve concluded that putting both in the same category is the fairest solution.
Thiago Silva continues to show why he was one of the best free signings in football history, while Paredes and Renard are similarly capable ball-playing centre-halves.
Without forgetting keepers, Donnarumma was the hero for Italy at last year’s Euros and has established himself as PSG’s number one. The only reason he’s not higher in these rankings, is because a few other keepers have impressed us slightly more.
Bellingham’s performances for Dortmund and England this season are also worth a shoutout. Man United will no doubt be gutted they missed out on signing the teenager as he’s become some player already.
Declan Rice, Phil Foden, Fran Kirby, Catarina Macario, Thibaut Courtois, Ann-Katrin Berger, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joao Cancelo, Thiago, Marie-Antoinette Katoto
We know some people might not be sold on putting Rice above Fabinho and Rodri, but hear us out. He’s 23 years old, captained West Ham to the Europa League semi-finals and reportedly has a £150 million price-tag on his head. Surely that’s enough to convince you?
As for his England teammates Foden and Alexander-Arnold, both are two of the most technically gifted English players since Wayne Rooney. Even if you don’t think Trent is the best defensively, his crossing and passing is undeniably majestic.
Thiago’s range of passing has been equally outstanding of late. Cancelo, too, has produced some sumptuous assists this campaign and continues to be far too good to be playing as a full-back.
Meanwhile, Chelsea Women are once again on course to win the Women’s Super League and Berger and Kirby have been at the heart of the Blues’ success.
Former Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois has also been mightily impressive for Real Madrid and made some crucial stops to deny Thomas Tuchel’s men in the Champions League earlier this month.
As for the future of the US Women’s National Team –– it’s in safe hands with Catarina Macario, who has been sublime for Lyon this season. However, the 22-year-old is currently being pipped in the French division Golden Boot race by PSG’s Antoinette-Katoto –– a striker we expect to light up Euro 2022 this summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo, N’Golo Kante, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Erling Haaland, Vivianne Miedema, Ada Hegerberg, Alisson, Ederson, Aitana Bonmati
As much as we want to put Ronaldo and Messi higher, it’s probably fair to say both are past their best now. That’s not to say that the two aren’t still world-class players though. Ronaldo is United’s top scorer and has won matches almost single-handedly at times. And Messi, despite his lack of goals, is on course to break the record for the most assists in a single Ligue 1 season.
Miedema and Hegerberg, likewise, are two of the best forwards in the women’s game. Miedema remains a prolific goal-scorer for the Gunners and Norway’s Hegerberg, who has recently returned from a huge injury lay-off is starting to score for fun again.
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about Norway’s other superstar striker in Erling Haaland. The 21-year-old’s goal record for Dortmund is just crazy and he could well have ended up higher on the list, had it not been for his injury problems this season.
Neymar may not be PSG’s main star anymore but there’s no disputing the skillful Brazilian is still world-class. The same can be said for Kante and Bonmati. The former’s performance in the Champions League final was nothing short of phenomenal, while the latter remains an integral part of Barcelona’s imperious midfield.
Alisson and Ederson play for two of the best clubs in the world and as such, they’re our highest ranked keepers on this list. Once again, it’s almost impossible to separate the Brazilian pair, so we’ve played it safe and stuck them both in the world-class category.
Ballon d’Or contender
Mohamed Salah, Robert Lewandowski, Karim Benzema, Sam Kerr, Caroline Graham Hansen, Kevin De Bruyne, Virgil van Dijk, Harry Kane
With Messi and Ronaldo out of the occasion, it’s time to look at this year’s potential Ballon d’Or contenders.
Lewandowsi was desperately unlucky last year and is still one of the most prolific goal scorers in Europe. Benzema is equally dependable in front of goal and has relished being Madrid’s main man since Ronaldo left.
On the subject of goalscorers, Chelsea’s Sam Kerr is on track to win back-to-back WSL Golden Boots, while Mo Salah has looked destined to win the same award in the Premier League since before Christmas.
At one stage last year, there was an argument to call Salah the best player in the world but while Liverpool are seemingly unbeatable at the moment, the Egyptian’s goals have dried up slightly.
It’s the opposite story for Harry Kane, though. Written off earlier on in the campaign, the England captain has thrived under Antonio Conte and that performance against Man City was most certainly one of the best in Premier League history.
Man City don’t have a prolific goalscorer like Kane, Salah or Benzema but they do have a Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian has been in scintillating form of late and everything he hits seems to be turning to goals.
Graham-Hansen is a similar player to De Bruyne in many ways. Skillful, creative and ridiculously consistent, the Norwegian star has been unplayable on many occasions –– as both Arsenal and Chelsea have found out.
Best of the best
Kylian Mbappe, Alexia Putellas
We’ve got there at last. The ones you’ve been waiting for. This is who we’ve ranked as the best male and female players in the world, respectively.
Mbappe has been truly magnificent for PSG this season. Playing in a team alongside Messi and Neymar, the Frenchman has outshone both by some distance.
So far this campaign, Mbappe has 33 goals and 18 assists in all competitions –– truly stunning numbers, which even his Argentine teammate would be proud of.
While there was some debate with regards to Mbappe, Alexia Putellas is without question the best women’s player in the world.
The reigning Ballon d’Or Féminin holder has 31 goals and 16 assists so far this season, and that’s while playing in midfield. Crazy, right?
Putellas has become so popular among Barcelona fans, the club shop has run out of the number one, because so many people have tried to order a shirt with her name.
Indeed, as a packed out Nou Camp cheered on Barca against Real Madrid last month, shouts of “Alexia, Alexia” permeated the stadium.
The Barcelona prodigy is a generational talent and we should consider ourselves lucky to be able to marvel at her greatness.