- Sportsmail has been counting down the best 100 players in world football
- The week began with entries for the likes of Petr Cech and Ilkay Gundogan
- Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney made the list entering between Nos 80 and 61
- Barcelona duo Ivan Rakitic and Gerard Pique were ranked among 40-21
- Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have divided opinion for many years
This week Sportsmail has been counting down the top 100 players in world football.
From Nos 20-1, La Liga is well represented and there is space for three Manchester United players, but who comes out on top between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?
MISSED PLAYERS 100-21?
20. Thomas Muller
Age: 27, Teams: Bayern Munich and Germany, Position: Striker
Everything Muller touches seems to turn to gold. At 27, he is a multiple domestic champion, has won the European Cup and helped his country to the World Cup. His sometimes unorthodox style keeps opposition defences guessing and his ability to play right across the forward line is admirable. Muller describes his role as an ‘interpreter of space’ and his manipulation of room inside the 18-yard box makes him absolutely deadly.
Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller deserves a place in the top 20 with his knack for goals
19. Antoine Griezmann
25, Atletico Madrid and France, Striker
A young man who simply gets better and better. Atletico have this uncanny knack of signing superb strikers and with 63 goals in 115 appearances for them, Griezmann could be the best yet. Important goals, too, such as the ones that knocked Barcelona and Bayern Munich out of the Champions League last season.
They just missed out in the final and the same thing happened to Griezmann’s France at Euro 2016 after he’d scored six in the tournament. But his rewards will surely come.
Antoine Griezmann has scored some important goals for Atletico Madrid and France this year
18. Eden Hazard
25, Chelsea and Belgium, Attacking midfielder/Winger
Any football lovers will hope that Hazard’s slump last season for Chelsea was merely down to some Mourinho-related turbulence and there are signs of the old brilliance under Antonio Conte this term. In full flight Hazard can be unplayable - his passing, delivery and long-range shooting a delight to behold.
Eden Hazard endured a poor season last term but there are signs he is getting back to his best
17. Diego Costa
28, Chelsea and Spain, Striker
The ultimate modern day Marmite footballer. Many fans recoil at Costa’s snarling, snappy demeanour, the stretching of the rules to get ahead, the naked aggression.
But beneath all that is one of the most lethal strikers in the world and his outstanding scoring record for Chelsea over the past couple of seasons really does speak for itself. He sure is a very hard character to love though. Not that he’s bothered.
Like Hazard, Diego Costa went off the boil last campaign but he has start the new season well
16. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
27, Borussia Dortmund and Gabon, Striker
A figure who has been climbing lists such as this one for several years now. Although a very effective player when at Saint-Etienne in France, a move to Borussia Dortmund has proved the making of Aubameyang.
The lightning-fast, explosive forward has exceeded all expectations, scoring 39 goals in 49 matches last season and has a goal-per-game record this. Who would bet against him rising even higher?
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been Borussia Dortmund's go-to man for goals since arriving
15. David De Gea
25, Manchester United and Spain, Goalkeeper
It’s remarkable to think how far De Gea has come from the scrawny young man bullied by opposition strikers upon his arrival in the Premier League. The Spaniard has shown remarkable fortitude to succeed in England and become one of the finest stoppers in the world.
You do wonder where Manchester United would have slumped to under Louis van Gaal if not for De Gea’s wonderful saves.
David De Gea has been Manchester United's player of the season for three straight years
14. Mesut Ozil
27, Arsenal and Germany, Attacking midfielder
Arsenal aren’t exactly short of creative forces, so it takes something or someone special to stand out. With his barnstorming 2015-16 season, Ozil did exactly that.
With eight goals and 20 assists, the German underlined his place among football’s royalty and won over the remaining doubters that thought he was nothing more than a luxury.
Mesut Ozil is the king of the assist and the German is central to Arsenal as a creative force
13. Jerome Boateng
28, Bayern Munich and Germany, Defender
Strong, touch-tackling, composed in playing the ball out, Boateng has established himself as one of the world’s best defenders, if not the best.
Integral to both Bayern Munich and Germany, he has worked tirelessly on his game and the rewards have come in the form of an impressive medal collection. He has been compared to Franz Beckenbauer in some quarters. Praise indeed.
Jerome Boateng (far left) enjoys a rare game from the substitutes' bench for Bayern Munich
12. Kevin de Bruyne
25, Manchester City and Belgium, Attacking midfielder/Winger
What a contrast between the boy who couldn’t get a look-in at Chelsea and the outstanding playmaker at Manchester City today. De Bruyne didn’t come cheap at £55million, but his exceptional performances since have confirmed his status among the best players in the world.
Those driving runs, pinpoint passes and scoring touch make him one of the sharpest weapons at Guardiola’s disposal.
Kevin de Bruyne has shown Chelsea were wrong to dispense with his services back in 2014
11. Robert Lewandowski
28, Bayern Munich and Poland, Striker
There may have been some misgivings when Lewandowski signed for Bayern Munich in 2014 from their one serious rival, Borussia Dortmund, but how he has won over the doubters.
His biggest achievement is surely those five goals in eight minutes and 59 seconds that turned around a losing situation against Wolfsburg back in September 2015. He ended up with 42 goals in 51 outings last season and has continued apace this time round. Lethal, absolutely lethal.
Robert Lewandowski has won over the doubters at Bayern since his arrival from Dortmund
10. Paul Pogba
23, Manchester United and France, Midfielder
While we’re still waiting for Pogba - the world’s most expensive player at £89million - to show his very best at Manchester United, he is still rightly considered as the best box-to-box player in world football.
Pogba has the capability to dominate any contest and, once reacclimatised to the Premier League, most expect him to take the expectations of his price tag in that long, languid stride.
Paul Pogba is the best box-to-box midfielder in the world and he can dominate any contest
9. Andres Iniesta
32, Barcelona and Spain, Midfielder
You might think that by now the old master’s powers would be on the wane, the inevitable injuries and the toll of all those matches of high intensity tippy-tappy football over the years. Not a bit of it.
Iniesta remains a genius and as important to Barcelona as he ever was. You only have to look back to Barca’s 4-0 rout of Real Madrid in the Bernabeu last season to understand and appreciate how he remains a game-changer.
Andres Iniesta is still central to Barcelona and he remains a game-changer at the very top
8. Manuel Neuer
30, Bayern Munich and Germany, Goalkeeper
It takes something special to redefine the position you play on the field, especially so if that position is the goalkeeper. Neuer has proved that not only is the keeper the last line of defence, but also the first in attack as well.
His ‘sweeper-keeper’ style is of course helped by Bayern’s dominance of the vast majority of their games, but it takes a special courage and awareness to come so confidently out of the comfort zone. Neuer is the ultimate goalkeeper for the 21st century.
Manuel Neuer is the undisputed best goalkeeper in the world and he is the start of each attack
7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
35, Manchester United, Striker
Plenty scoffed when United and Jose Mourinho decided to bring Zlatan over to England for one final hurrah. After four seasons of feasting heartily on the defences of Ligue 1, he’d never hack it in the Premier League, especially in the twilight of what has been a superlative career.
But with six goals in his first 11 games in United red, Zlatan remains determined to prove the doubters wrong and, really, that’s what he’s spent his entire career doing. So it might be best to just enjoy him for what he is while we still have the chance to marvel.
Talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic's power have not waned despite the passing of the years
6. Sergio Aguero
28, Manchester City and Argentina, Striker
Few strikers, if any, can terrorise an opposition defence quite like Aguero. He is the quintessential defender’s nightmare, a charged bundle of unpredictability, with finishing that’s as sharp as a knife. What’s most impressive is the consistency with which he has delivered goals at the highest level in England and Europe.
The goal tally speaks for itself - Aguero has 147 in 214 for Manchester City including 11 in half a dozen matches this season. Is Aguero the greatest striker the Premier League has ever seen? There is a very strong case to be made.
City striker Sergio Aguero is arguably the Premier League's best ever natural centre forward
5. Gareth Bale
27, Real Madrid and Wales, Winger
What a year it has been for Bale. First, he helped Real Madrid win their second Champions League in three seasons. Then, he played his part as unfancied, unfashionable Wales made it to the semi-finals of the European Championship.
He is a talismanic figure for both, a veritable dynamo of a footballer and fully deserving of his place in the world’s top five. Just think that a year ago, rumours abounded that Real would try and recoup their world record outlay for him. Now he’s on the fast-track to Bernabeu immortality.
Wales' Gareth Bale arrived at Real Madrid for a huge sum but he has justified the price tag
4. Luis Suarez
29, Barcelona and Uruguay, Striker
The ugly incidents that have dogged Suarez’s career have been well and truly consigned to the past since he came to Barcelona. The beast has become an exponent of beauty - beautiful goals and beautiful assists for his two partners-in-crime, Neymar and Lionel Messi.
The MSN have rampaged through virtually every defensive line they have encountered and Suarez can certainly claim to have played his full part. Last season, he ended up with an astonishing 59 goals in 53 games. This is Suarez 2.0 it would seem - controversy-free and oh so fun to watch.
The phenomenal striker Luis Suarez scored 59 goals in 53 games last season for Barcelona
24, Barcelona and Brazil, Forward
A player who continues to ascend to ever-greater heights. Perhaps one day, we’ll reflect that living in the age of Messi, Ronaldo AND Neymar was to witness football played as magnificently as is humanly possible. Being younger than those two, Neymar can still become the world’s best and with every passing year, it becomes a finer margin.
The last few months have seen more outrageous goals, more befuddled defenders and yet more trophies for a man who has done and accomplished so much for a 24-year-old. With Messi absent at times, Neymar stepped up and became Barcelona’s main man.
In other areas, he has eclipsed the Argentine as the club’s poster boy. In the long-term, he will overtake the two men ahead of him here. For now, he is just behind.
Neymar has stepped up and been Barcelona's main man when Messi has been absent
2. Lionel Messi
29, Barcelona and Argentina, Forward
The Messi vs Ronaldo debate remains a frenetic one, and every football fan in the world will separate these two idols in their own way. Messi remains the one player that everyone would pay good money to go and watch - the magical buzz of anticipation when he receives the ball is one witnessed only rarely in the history of the game.
He has been the best for a few years now, but things have turned in the past 12 months. Ronaldo won a major international trophy, Messi still doesn’t have one and almost quit in sheer exasperation at this fact. Ronaldo won his third Champions League, Barcelona faltered.
Ronaldo scored 51 goals last season, an injury-troubled Messi mustered only the 41. Ronaldo remains more of a main man at Real Madrid, Barca can fall back on Neymar and Suarez.
Admittedly, Messi doesn’t come with the unnecessary theatrics that Ronaldo brings and for that we should be grateful. Both possess a superhuman will to win, when both are on the field, you feel that no situation is irretrievable. It is of course the finest of margins but, right now, Messi is just behind his great rival.
Lionel Messi awaits his first major international trophy but has won everything at club level
Cristiano Ronaldo has had a magical year having won Euro 2016 and the Champions League
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
31, Real Madrid and Portugal, Forward
As Ronaldo ticked over into his fourth decade, with 13 years of top-level football already behind him, we did wonder if those legendary powers would start to decline.
Ronaldo confounded us by producing some of his finest football yet, though it wasn’t all plain-sailing. There were very public shows of fussiness and petulance when team-mates didn’t supply the right pass, there were some comments that didn’t toe the party line.
But when you plunder 16 goals to deliver your club their 11th European Cup and then help your country to win their first piece of international silverware at the European Championship, all that can be forgiven.
Of course, the injured Ronaldo’s role in the final with France came mainly from the sidelines, showing that a managerial career could well be in the offing one day.
The relentless devotion of Ronaldo to maintaining his body should ensure we can enjoy his brilliance for another five years at least. There doesn’t seem to be any chance of him winding down and so we will continue to lap it up.
And now he has that international triumph - something that still eludes Messi - he is, for the moment at least, the world’s finest player.