Along with the Euros, the second half of last season and the first half of the current football season, made 2012 to be quite an exceptional footballing year. But who have the best players been? Well, here’s my top 15.
15. Robert Lewandowski. Borussia Dortmund and Poland.
Lewandowski would be the first to admit that his stint with his national side in the Euros were a little underwhelming. No doubt this is probably due to the huge expectations from the 24-year old prior to the competition. But in the Bundesliga, he absolutely tears defences apart – and one Sir Alex Ferguson is keen to bring him to Old Trafford for big money.
14. Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Shakhtar Donetsk and Armenia.
Mkhitaryan is probably the biggest footballing product to ever come out Armenia – and he’s still only 23. At club level, he is one of – if not the – biggest talents in Ukraine. He was voted Shakhtar’s Player of the Season at the close of the 2011-12 season and continues to play some incredible football. He’s enjoyed a phenomenal 2012 – watch out for him in 2013.
13. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. AC Milan/Paris St-Germain and Sweden.
Serial-title winner Ibrahimovic broke tradition this year when he didn’t win a league winners medal with AC Milan who narrowly missed out on the Scudetto to Juventus. Aside from that, the Swede enjoyed a brilliant Euro 2012, scored the best goal of 2012, and now plies his trade with the noveau riche Paris St Germain, who have their eye on the Ligue 1 title. This Malmo native causes concern for every opposing defender he faces.
12. Robin van Persie. Arsenal/Manchester United and Holland.
Following his controversial £22 million move from Arsenal to Man United, van Persie arrived with huge expectation given his reputation with the Gunners over the previous number of seasons – and he delivered. Totalling 20 goals for his new club so far, van Persie & co finish 2012 in the Premier League’s pole position.
11. Gareth Bale. Tottenham Hotspur and Wales.
Bale’s performances for Spurs throughout 2012 have been stunning. His sheer pace, agility, and that brilliant left foot of his make him one of the most fearsome players any player in the Premier League can face.
10. Mesut Ozil. Real Madrid and Germany.
Madrid’s playmaker and Cristiano Ronaldo’s right hand man may not have played as well as he’d hoped at the end of last season. But he was certainly one of Euro 2012’s better performers and is now considered a crucial element for José Mourinho’s current Madrid side.
9. Neymar. Santos and Brazil.
The Brazilian wonderkid is constantly being linked with a move to Europe – and very often with both Barcelona and Real Madrid. His 31 goals and 15 assists this year, coupled with his sheer ability and dazzling displays makes him easily the best player in his country’s domestic league. He enjoyed a fantastic spell during the Olympics in London, picking up a silver medal in the process.
8. Sergio Ramos. Real Madrid and Spain.
Ramos’ natural ability to change from his preferred position on the right side of the pitch to partnering Barcelona’s Gerard Pique during Euro 2012 is a testament to his footballing brain. Not only did he end up winning Euro 2012, but he played out of his skin. And I haven’t even mentioned how powerful he has been for Real Madrid during 2012 yet.
7. Andrea Pirlo. Juventus and Italy.
He may have won the Champions League twice with previous club AC Milan, but the 33-year old midfielder has just enjoyed possibly his finest 12 months in football with new club Juventus. Maybe it’s the new beard? Nicknamed “The Architect”, Pirlo was hailed by pundits, along with Andrés Iniesta, to be one of Euro 2012’s best performers.
6. Wayne Rooney. Manchester United and England.
A key player for club and country, Wazza is easily one of the biggest natural talents in British football for the past decade. Depsite being banned for England’s opening two games in Euro 2012, he still scored 4 goals in 5 games during the calendar year all the while playing phenomenal for the Red Devils.
5. Xavi. Barcelona and Spain.
Xavi is, by many people’s opinion, the greatest Spanish player of all time. I agree. His remarkable vision, ability, precision and consistency makes him easily one of the world’s best. The midfield maestro also set a record for pass completions during the summer. I can’t even remember the last time I witnessed Xavi give the ball away. Has it ever happened?
4. Ramadel Falcao. Atlético Madrid and Colombia.
A sheer goalscoring machine, Falcao is one of 2012’s biggest sensations. Recently the Colombian star became the first player for a decade to score five goals in a single La Liga game. His nasty habit of finding the back of the net in almost every fixture is causing him to be the focus of all the big-spending clubs.
3. Andrés Iniesta. Barcelona and Spain.
Many fellow professionals, pundits, managers and fans believe Iniesta to be the finest midfielder in the world. He’s regularly the only player outside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who is even mentioned about for the Ballon d’Or. Dazzling displays for both club and country, Iniesta is on every manager’s dream-list.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid and Portugal.
CR7 has been hugely influential in Real Madrid’s quest to claim the La Liga title off rivals Barça. He enjoyed a superb Euro 2012 and at club level, aside from his impressive performances, he is currently sitting nicely on 20 goals in 24 games this season alone. The last twelve months has been kind to the Portugese winger. But what could be considered a poor season for Cristiano is still better than most.
1. Lionel Messi. Barcelona and Argentina.
It was never in doubt was it? Leo Messi is, and has been for some time, the world’s greatest player. His ability is beyond phenomenal. Sometimes there are no words to describe exactly what I had just witnessed when watching Messi play. His 91 goals in the calendar year is a record – one that may take some time to break it too I should add. One he may even break himself in 2013 if he carries on. The scariest part? He’s still only 25. Diego Maradona once famously said back in 2006, “I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi”. El Diego was not wrong.
Honorary mentions must go to Mario Gomez for his eye for goal for Germany during Euro 2012 as well as tearing defences to shreds for Bayern Munich. Yaya Touré and his forceful, direct style constantly causes many an opposing manager headaches. Mats Hummels has been the full package for both Borussia Dortmund and Germany, giving strikers serious problems. Likewise with Sergio Aguero who has been fantastic for both Man City and Argentina – and forever a legend in east Manchestester following that goal at the end of last season. Juan Mata’s consistency has been remarkable for Chelsea and he picked up a winners medal at Euro 2012. Edinson Cavani has been wonderful for Napoli with his insane 19 goals in 17 starts for the Serie A club.
Who do you think have been the best players of 2012? Hit Rob Smith up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)