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2024 FC 100: Mbappé, Ronaldo among best men’s soccer players


We are back! With the 2023-24 European club season closed after the Champions League final, and the European Championship and Copa América on the horizon, we’re returning with our eighth annual rankings of the best men’s players in world soccer. Welcome to the FC 100.

The FC 100 is different than most countdowns. It is not a Nos. 1-100 ranking. Rather, we truly take into account all 11 positions on the pitch, whereas most rankers go talent-first with little regard for where the stars play. That leads to uninspiring lists that are heavily weighted toward goal scorers (forwards) and players who create goals from midfield, paying little attention to the talent in less glamorous areas of the field.

Our rankings are divided into four lists and give readers the closest thing to a position-by-position “depth chart” across world soccer.


LISTS: 2024 FC 100, POSITION BY POSITION

Go to: Goalkeeper | Defenders | Midfielders | Forwards

Previous editions: 2022-23 | 2021-22 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016


What’s new and what has changed for 2024

This year’s ballot had over 50 entries from all over the globe and from all areas of ESPN FC; from writers to reporters, from editors to producers, from behind-the-scenes staff to on-air talent. Gab Marcotti, Julien Laurens, Mark Ogden and Alejandro Moreno were just some of the key voters.

The biggest change is how we compiled the list. In a nod to the modern game’s shift from specialist position players to flexibility and fluidity, we’ve moved away from the old approach of “10 top 10s across positions and coaches” to a broader list that acknowledges the four key positions. Now, you’ll see a top 10 of goalkeepers followed by our top 30 defenders, midfielders and forwards.

The other major update? No more managers. The evolution of the role, from the traditional steward of the whole club to more of a specialist on the team and tactics, means we’re focusing on the players here. We will handle our global manager rankings separately later in the summer. This decision has also yielded a lot of new faces in the list this year compared to any previous edition: More than a quarter of the players listed are new to the FC 100 universe in 2023-24, ensuring the list keeps up with the times.

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Main takeaways

  • A new format means a lot of new names: This season’s edition of the FC 100 has 28 new names for the first time in the rankings’ eight-year history, which is a testament to both the evolution of the game and the next generation breaking through in Europe’s top leagues.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo is BACK: After dropping out of the FC 100 universe in 2022-23 because of a terrible year in which he had a bitter exit from Manchester United, a poor World Cup and an underwhelming move to the Saudi Pro League, the Portugal star is back on the radar heading into Euro 2024.

  • Behold, an American player! Off the back of a superb season with AC Milan, United States captain Christian Pulisic returns to the FC 100, making his second appearance. Canada’s Alphonso Davies makes his fourth FC 100 appearance following another strong campaign for Bayern Munich.

  • The Premier League reigns supreme again: In total, 38 members of the FC 100 this year are from the English top flight, with a range of clubs beyond Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal contributing to its strength in depth. LaLiga hangs tough in second place with 19 names on the list, though the German Bundesliga has come through with 18 selections — thank Bayer Leverkusen (seven names) and their incredible unbeaten domestic season for the resurgence.

  • Man City are also still on top: Pep Guardiola’s side might have fallen short in the FA Cup and Champions League, but their fifth Premier League title in six years is rewarded with 11 players making the FC 100 in 2023-24, with every position on the pitch covered. From there, Real Madrid contribute 10 names after a dominant LaLiga campaign and run to the Champions League final, while Liverpool are third with eight nominees to this year’s list.

How our voters handled the ballot

Conducting a global vote on the world’s best players is no easy feat, and we gave some guidelines with the ballots as to how people might proceed. Voters were encouraged to take the following things into consideration: who are the best players right now, weighted toward their 2023-24 seasons. Voters were given discretion as to how much of a part injuries played in votes; some players made the cut despite missing chunks of the season given the scale of their contributions and performances when healthy. Equally, performances in individual competitions (e.g., Champions League) were considered, but were not the overarching factor, in casting a vote. Players whose efforts spanned the largest sample of games should naturally rank higher than those who excelled in short tournament formats.

Here are some of the questions we asked our voters:

On what basis should I rank my players?
On who you think are the best players right now, if they are fully fit.

How much should I take the current season into account?
It will likely be an important component, but this is not a ranking of the best players in 2023-24. Rather, this season will probably weigh heavily in your assessment because it reflects more recent performances. If somebody is outstanding in 2023-24 there’s reason to believe they’re an outstanding player right now.

What if somebody has performed at a very high level for a long time but this year hasn’t been as good?
That’s when it becomes a judgment call. For example, Mohamed Salah is a great player, but this past season he scored only 25 goals in 44 games, the first time he’s scored fewer than 30 in all competitions since the 2019-20 season. He’s 31, so you would need to decide whether it’s the start of a downward trajectory or if it is just a slight blip that will be corrected next season.

How do we handle players who were injured for significant periods of the season?
Assess them on the periods in which they were fit and their body of work before. And again, if they’ve been out a long time, decide whether you think the injury has had a long-term impact to the point that their performance will decline permanently.

Should we give more weight to performances in major competitions like the World Cup and the Champions League?
Not necessarily. If there is a player who excelled in the Champions League (think Divock Origi a few years ago) but was ordinary in the league, he probably shouldn’t be in your ranking.


What each list of the FC 100 is about

The key here is twofold: why each player made the list in 2023-24, and what they project to do next season.

Goalkeeper

It’s not enough for the modern goalkeeper to be good with his gloves. These days, shot-stoppers are expected to start the attacking moves often by playing out from the back as well as shutting them down.

Agility and reflexes are par for the course, but the best goalies in the world also fuse a sense of confidence and daring in their penalty areas that make them seem larger than life.

See the full list here.

Defenders

In our first bold break from previous ranks, we’re grouping all those in the defensive third under a single banner, though don’t think that this list is limited to center-backs. All three main positions — right-back, center-back, left-back — are covered in the run-down, and rightly so.

Right-back was never the most glamorous position, but the game’s many evolutions have seen it become a thrilling and unpredictable spot on the pitch. The best in the game will marry a strong positional awareness with blinding speed, as well as the daring to surge forward and support their teams in attack.

If you’re going to have a great team, you need a great center-back (two, if you’re really lucky). The best in the game are formidable in both size and strength but also blessed with the grace to time tackles and anticipate a striker’s movements in order to win back possession. Elegance on the ball and off it is essential, whether playing a weighted pass up-field or feinting their way past opponents to ease the pressure.

Just like their counterparts on the opposite flank, the best left-backs combine pace and intelligence to be a threat in attack or in defense. Comfort and precision crossing with the left foot is a rare commodity, too, but the top players will be at their best when on the overlap before curling in the perfect ball.

See the full list here.

Midfielders

We used to have two positional rankings to cover the heart of the field, but we’re combining those with skill with and without the ball here for 2023-24. There are defensive midfielders who may create or destroy. Either they are like Rodri, covering plenty of distance to disrupt the opposition with precision and elan, or like Martin Odegaard, who control the rhythm of the game with crisp ball distribution and vision.

Mischief, creativity, pace and confidence: these are the stock tools of the best attacking midfielders. Sometimes referred to as the No. 10, these guys are as comfortable scoring the goals as they are teeing up teammates. With free rein to drift around the pitch and exploit the space, their ability to conjure something from nothing makes them the most entertaining players around.

See the full list here.

Forwards

Finally, the glamour positions! These are your showboats, your goal scorers, your free-roaming forces of nature. From wing to wing and everything in between, the attacking third is where your high-skill, high-quality talent is often found.

Wingers have become a little antiquated in the modern game, but there’s still plenty of benefit to having fast, forward-thinking players in wide positions. Blessed with pace and persistence to beat their markers and make it to the byline for a cut-back cross, they can be truly dangerous.

From there, forwards and strikers are harder to define. They’re a potent blend of close-range finisher, playmaker and space-creator for teammates around the box. They’re talented enough to handle the free role and graceful enough under pressure to constantly deliver. They’ll score in any game, against any team from any position. Fleet of foot and quick of mind, their ability to read the play and anticipate where the ball will be three passes before it gets there is what sets them apart.

It’s not just the tap-ins they’ll score, either: the best can improvise with any part of the body (except the hands, of course) to get the job done. Clever flicks, nifty tricks, brash back-heels and calm set pieces are their best attributes.

See the full list here.



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