As 2016 comes to a close, The Sports Lowdown brings its weekly feature of footballers who have risen to the occasion in the calendar year. After a year filled with high drama, intense action, successes and failures in the biggest and best competitions in the sport, this is the definitive list that singles out the 25 best footballers on the planet this year.
5. Diego Godin
“Diego is a big player for us. With his decision to renew, along with many others in the summer, we are going to have a strong squad going forward. We have a solid foundation in place.” – José Luis Caminero, Atletico Madrid’s Sporting Director upon Diego Godin’s decisition to renew his existing contract back in 2013.
Uruguayan centre-half Diego Godin was part of the Atletico Madrid side which challenged Real Madrid and Barcelona all the way in the La Liga and fell just short in the UEFA Champions League against their Madrid rivals in the final. His numbers prove his quality and give an indication as to why he’s ranked so highly on this list. In the 50 games across both competitions in the 2015/16, he racked up a sensational 163 interceptions, 25 blocks, won 88 fair tackles and had just the solitary error, which is an immense testament to his concentration and defensive ability. He’s a key member of Diego Simeone’s plans this season as well, with 33 interceptions and 17 tackles across 17 games.
He’s also been an important figure in a defensively poor Uruguay side. At the Copa America Centenario, Uruguay crashed out in the group stages, but Godin was the shining light for the team. He earned his 100th cap and 8th goal for his country at the tournament in the United States as it was the poor form of forwards, plus the absence of star striker Luis Suarez that led to Uruguay’s early dismissal. He was also awarded the Premio Jose Nasazzi-Obdulio Varela – Uruguay’s highest sporting honour for his services towards the country. The Copa America failure shouldn’t take the gloss off a wonderful year for the 30-year old defender as he reached his peak and proved that he is a rock for both club and country.
4. Lionel Messi
“Messi is an alien that dedicates himself to playing with humans.” – Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon before his side’s clash with Barclona in the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2013.
Genius, inhumane, magician and the greatest of all time – Lionel Messi has earned all the synonyms representing greatness over the years and this year was no exception. He started his year off in the best possible fashion, winning the Ballon d’Or in January for his contributions in 2015, and he has carried his impressive form into 2016. In a year of unbelievable feats, one of the best fell in March in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey against Valencia (a competition they eventually won) when he scored his 500th career goal, including youth competitions. He would later rack up his 500th senior career goal against the same opponents. He also managed some fine strikes against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Celtic in the Champions League and also sealed a second successive La Liga title in May.
He also had a fine year with the national team at the Copa America Centenario where he finished as the second highest goalscorer of the tournament with five goals and four assists – the highest in the tournament. His decision to overturn his retirement proved to be a fruitful one for Argentina as he proved to be a crucial figure in their World Cup Qualifying games against heavyweights Uruguay and Colombia. Despite a relatively “quieter” year, he still proved why he should never be written off and is a strong contender to retain his Ballon d’Or later this year. A win would be his sixth overall, well clear of the nearest competition.
3. Antoine Griezmann
“Antoine Griezmann was a threat in every game he played. He works hard for his team and possesses technique, vision and quality finishing. The technical observers were in unanimous agreement that he was the tournament’s outstanding player.” – UEFA’s chief technical officer Ioan Lupescu on their decision to pick the Frenchman at Euro 2016’s best player.
Antoine Griezmann has come a long way since his left-wing days at Basque-based Real Sociedad. Now a forward, he’s been a major asset to Atletico Madrid and France’s progress. He’s had the best year of his life in terms of personal achievements, but it is the trophy cabinet that has been empty. He lost both the Champions League and European Championships finals but was excellent in both. With France, he was the top scorer in the competition held at home with six goals, two of which came in the semi-final success over World Champions Germany. The sadness of losing in the final could possibly have been consoled by the fact that he was elected as the Player of the Tournament by UEFA and was a member of the Team of the Tournament.
He’s had similar fate with Los Rojiblancos, winning a spot on the Champions League Team of the Tournament and was La Liga’s Player of the Season for 2015-16 ahead of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luka Modric to cap off a sensational campaign. He played a key role in Atleti’s run to the Champions League final as he scored a wonderful header against Barcelona in the quarter-finals and a sensational solo strike against Bayern Munich in the semi-finals to prove his quality in front of goal.
His transition from a winger to a forward has been nothing less than brilliant, and still at 25, he can be certain that he will be able to fill up his trophy cabinet and that he will be at the centre of the side that he does it with.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
“Cristiano is showing it on the pitch. Today he has scored three goals. We always ask for goals from Cristiano, but he was doing very well in all aspects. For sure he will have another game when he doesn’t score, but he has patience. He showed today that with hard work he gets back to doing what he knows – scoring goals.” – Zinedine Zidane on Cristiano Ronaldo after a fine hat-trick against Alaves in October 2016
Portugal hero Cristiano Ronaldo added a new and highly-craved-for trophy to his impressive list of honours. A first international success with his country was achieved at the Euros in France as Portugal overcame the hosts in the final. Unfortunately for Ronaldo, he suffered an injury in the final, but that shouldn’t undo his contributions that carried his country all the way to the Stade de France. He scored twice in a group game against Hungary in a stunning 3-3 draw that eventually sealed qualification for his country, and scored the opener in the all-important semi-final against Wales. Emotional and euphoric, he led his country with pride and inspired a fairly youthful side.
On club level, he added a third Champions League honour and secured a new contract that runs until 2021 – a deal that Madrid faithful will be hoping is as satisfying as his entire stint in the Spanish capital. He found the net 51 times in 48 games last season – a feat which saw him score 50+ goals for the sixth successive season with Los Blancos. Some notable fixtures from his year are the Clasico win at the Nou Camp, where he scored the winner in the dying minutes, or the hat-trick against Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April to save Real Madrid’s Champions League campaign as well as the hat-trick in the Madrid derby earlier in November to send his side clear at the top of La Liga. Ronaldo has managed to reinvent himself once again in 2016 and he looks set to win a well-deserved fourth Ballon d’Or after another fantastic year of football.
1. Luis Suarez
“I am not surprised by the number of goals Suarez is scoring. He has been a goalscorer all his life and will continue to score goals.” – Barcelona manager Luis Enrique
Luis Suarez has finally unlocked his full potential and has become the world’s best footballer. Free from controversy and distractions both on and off the pitch, the forward revealed himself to the world in the best way possible. Goal after goal for his club helped propel them to a La Liga title (which he sealed with a hat-trick on the final day) while he also helped them win the Copa del Rey despite suffering an injury in the final. He opened the new season in fine fashion with a goal in the Supercopa de Espana success against Sevilla. His wonderful tally over two campaigns of 88 goals and 43 assists in 100 games gave him the distinction of racking up a better goal and assist tally than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi after they made their first century of appearances.
He also made a return to the national setup with Uruguay for the first time since the 2014 FIFA World Cup and scored 3 times in 8 games with all goals coming in World Cup qualifiers. To cap off a brilliant year, he was a member of UEFA’s Team of the Year in the Champions League, won the La Liga’s Pichichi Award for being the league’s highest goalscorer and had the joint-highest number of assists (16), thus becoming the first player to lead the league’s goal scoring and creating charts. He’s also been nominated for France Football’s Ballon d’Or award as well as FIFA’s award for the best player of the year and it would be a deserved accolade if he wins either one.
After a year of some scintillating football action, which saw some amazing football by teams and individuals alike, fantastic goals and some breath-taking moments, it is Barcelona and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez who is The Sports Lowdown’s Best Footballer of 2016.