Ronaldo, Messi & the top 20 players of the past decade

Cristiano Ronaldo has just claimed top spot in the 10th edition of the Goal 50, which has been ranking the best players in the world since 2008.

It is a record fifth triumph for the Real Madrid forward, who had been previously level on four with Lionel Messi, but has the Portuguese superstar been the most consistent performer on the planet for the past decade?

Below, Goal runs through the players who have racked up the most votes since we first started polling editors and correspondents from across our 37 editions…


Gonzalo Higuain Juventus Olympiacos Champions League

Gonzalo Higuain has featured in the Goal 50 five times and for three different clubs: Real Madrid, Napoli and now Juventus.

The Argentine’s best ever showing came in 2016, when he finished ninth, after breaking the single-season goalscoring record in Serie A by netting 36 times for the Partenopei.:


Lahm Bayern Munich Freiburg

Despite having retired at the end of last season, Philipp Lahm makes our top 20 thanks to five previous appearances in the Goal 50.

The versatile full-back, who was converted into a defensive midfielder by former Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola during the tail end of his career, claimed fourth place in 2014, after leading Germany to World Cup glory in Brazil.


HD Dani Alves PSG

Dani Alves may now be 34 but the Brazilian right-back has just racked up his sixth Goal 50 appearance, having won a domestic double with Juventus before making an impressive start to his Paris Saint-Germain career.

Of course, the defender played his very best football at Barcelona and he finished sixth in 2009 due to the key role he played in the Catalans winning a treble at the end of what was his first year at Camp Nou.


Manuel Neuer Bayern Munich 2017

The man credited with revolutionising the role of the goalkeeper as a make-shift sweeper, Manuel Neuer has featured six times in the Goal 50.

Despite an injury-interrupted year, he even made the 2017 list, in 33rd place, but his best-ever finish came two years ago, when he ranked 15th.


Wayne Rooney Everton

Having returned to boyhood club Everton during the summer, Wayne Rooney’s best days may be behind him but the 32-year-old forward earns inclusion courtesy of five previous appearances in the Goal 50.

Indeed, England and Manchester United’s all-time record goalscorer ranked 10th in 2009, after helping the Old Trafford outfit win the Premier League title, and reach the final of the Champions League.


Buffon Juventus Cagliari

Gianluigi Buffon has already expressed his intention to retire at the end of the season, bringing to a close an illustrious career.

However, the goalkeeping icon is still playing as well as ever, as underlined by the fact that he finished second in this year’s Goal 50 – his highest-ever placing in four previous appearances.


Sergio Aguero Manchester City

There was no room for Sergio Aguero in this year’s Goal 50 but the Argentine has made five previous appearances.

Indeed, the Manchester City striker has previously ranked as high as 10th place, although that was back in 2008, when Aguero was a 20-year-old plying his trade at Atletico Madrid.


Bale goal Dortmund

Gareth Bale failed to get a single vote for this year’s Goal 50 but when fully fit, the Welshman remains a force of nature.

Indeed, he has featured on five previous occasions, with his most recent outing coming only last year, when he finished sixth after helping Wales reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016.


arturo vidal bayern münchen champions league 030717

One of the most dominant midfielders over the past decade, Arturo Vidal has won league titles in both Italy and Germany, with Juventus and Bayern Munich respectively, as well as two Copa America titles with Chile.

The 30-year-old failed to make the cut this year but he has finished as high as seventh (2015) in previous seasons.


Arjen Robben Bayern Munich

Arjen Robben’s stock may have fallen over the past 12 months – hence his exclusion from the 2017 Goal 50 – but he has made five previous appearances.

The Dutchman won the Champions League for Bayern Munich in 2013 but, according to our voters, he was at his very best the following year, when he starred for Netherlands at the World Cup in Brazil.


HD Thomas Muller Bayern Munich

Thomas Muller has suffered a dramatic dip in form over the past 18 months but the 28-year-old claims a place in the top 10 because of his prominent role in the recent success of both Bayern Munich and Germany.

Indeed, the forward featured five times in the Goal 50 between 2010 and 2016, with his highest ranking, fourth place, coming in 2013, after he’d helped his Bavarian employers win a treble.


Robert Lewandowski Bayern 2017

While many of Robert Lewandowski’s Bayern Munich team-mates struggled under former boss Carlo Ancelotti, the Pole remained as prolific as ever.

Although the striker failed to better his eighth-place finish from last year, Lewandowski still made the top 20, ranking 19th in his sixth appearance in the Goal 50.


Sergio Ramos Real Madrid Borussia Dortmund

Sergio Ramos’ discipline may leave a lot to be desired but nobody can dispute his impeccable sense of timing, at both ends of the field.

The free-scoring centre-back has featured seven times in the Goal 50 and this year racked up his highest-ever ranking by finishing fifth, after leading Real Madrid to a Primera Division and Champions League double.

7.  NEYMAR (231 VOTES)

Neymar PSG Paris Saint-Germain

Barcelona fans were understandably devastated by Neymar’s shock departure to Paris Saint-Germain, given the Brazilian has long since proved himself one of the best players in the world.

Indeed, the forward has featured seven times in the Goal 50, for Santos, Barca and now PSG, and even finished fourth in 2015, after teaming up with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to fire the Blaugrana to the treble.

6. XAVI (234 VOTES)

Xavi Barcelona

Xavi is now plying his trade in Qatar with Al Sadd and hasn’t featured in the Goal 50 since 2012.

In spite of the fact, the legendary Barcelona and Spain playmaker ranks sixth in the overall rankings because he never finished outside the top seven between 2008 and 2012, a run which included three consecutive third-placed finishes (2009-2011).


Luis Suarez Barcelona
One of the great goalscorers of the modern era, Luis Suarez has appeared in six of the past seven Goal 50 lists.

The man who very nearly carried Liverpool to Premier League glory in 2014 may have slipped to 20th this year but he achieved his highest ever ranking of second place just 12 months ago.


Manuel Arana Andres Iniesta

Andres Iniesta may have missed out on inclusion in this year’s Goal 50 but the 33-year-old magician made the cut on eight previous occasions.

The Barcelona legend even finished second in 2009, after the Catalan club’s treble triumph, while he ranked fourth in both 2011 and 2012.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be the first to tell you that he’s been one of the best players in the world for the past decade but it really is borne out by the Goal 50 voting.

The Swedish striker has featured in all but one edition, never finished outside the top 25, made the top 10 three times and claimed fifth place in 2009.


Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

The greatest goalscorer the game has ever seen, Cristiano Ronaldo has been a model of consistency for over a decade now with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Portugal.

The 32-year-old superstar, who has fired his current club to three Champions Leagues in four years and led his country to European Championship glory in 2016, has appeared in every edition of the Goal 50.

Ronaldo has only finished outside the top four once (ninth, in 2010) and has won the award a record five times, successfully retaining his title this year.


Lionel Messi Barcelona Catalan flags 2017

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Fourth for the past two years yet, remarkably, Lionel Messi has never finished any lower in the Goal 50.

Prior to last year, the man many believe to be the greatest player of all time had never failed to make the podium, winning the award four times in total.

Indeed, such has been Messi’s level of consistency that he amassed a staggering 488 points from a possible 500 when all the votes from our 10 editions were added together.


Does Higuain really risk missing out on the 2018 World Cup?

After the almost unbearable anguish of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Argentina can finally breath easily. Victory over Ecuador in the final game of the arduous CONMEBOL competition sealed passage to Russia, and this week the Albiceleste gain a sneak preview of next year’s finals with two friendlies on Russian soil against the hosts and Nigeria.

But while Jorge Sampaoli’s men may feel the pressure has been lifted, albeit temporarily, the same cannot be said for Gonzalo Higuain. The Juventus striker was once more left out of Sampaoli’s plans and must be wondering if his dream of making a third World Cup finals may have already ended. Could Argentina really leave a player of Pipita’s quality and track record at home?

In his short time to date as Argentina coach Sampaoli has indeed given mixed signals over Higuain. He was included in the first Sampaoli call-up to take on Brazil and Singapore back in June and started that first match, in what was widely considered at the time to be the trainer’s strongest line-up available. But in the subsequent squads for Argentina’s final four qualifiers he was a notable absentee, with Mauro Icardi and Dario Benedetto preferred up front. Sergio Aguero, too, would have been in line to play against Peru and Ecuador were it not for a car accident sustained while on leave in Amsterdam.

Publicly, Sampaoli has never written off a man who with 31 international goals sits behind only Lionel Messi and Aguero in the current squad. “I have him in mind and I know what he can do,” he told reporters in October when asked to explain Higuain’s exclusion from these friendlies.

Gonzalo Higuain Brasil Argentina Friendlies 09062017Gonzalo Higuain Argentina

“He is a player who due to his place amongst football’s elite is extremely close to us. It is not necessary to go over his current situation with him, we do not have to test anything. It will be our decision whether he goes or not to the World Cup.” Back in August Higuain met with Sampaoli and assistant Sebastian Beccacese during a tour of Europe, where the trio sat down and discussed his performance against Brazil and Singapore and held a tactical discussion including directions on playing with his back to goal and his movement in the area.

One of the few things that is clear is that there is no personal rift between coach and player that can explain his being overlooked; all suggestions indicate that they enjoy a warm personal relationship.

While that is perhaps reassuring to Higuain, who has been boosted in recent weeks by a welcome return to form after a nightmare start to the season where he looked overweight and sluggish, it does not necessarily bring him any closer to a recall. No matter how plausible Sampaoli’s explanations are, the bare fact remains that of all of his possible World Cup starters Pipita is the only man whose apparent lack of need to be tested keeps him out in the cold.

There is no doubt that Sampaoli’s ambitions with the national team far outspan merely a solid performance at the World Cup. An obsessive scholar of the game and tactical perfectionist, the former Chile and Sevilla man is desperate to leave his own strategic stamp on the Albiceleste, a style that filters through no matter who the opposition may be. To implement his favoured high-pressing, dynamic game certain key elements still need to be found and nurtured; mobile full-backs, defenders adept at playing the ball out at all times, a true box-to-box midfielder – and, crucially, a centre-forward whose role on the pitch goes far beyond the act of scoring goals.

Higuain PS

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“We need a forward who besides goals also has the ability to assist,” the coach explained in August when asked why Icardi and not Higuain would be leading the line. Sampaoli’s weakness for the Inter striker, the archetype of what he looks for in a ‘No. 9’ is evident. Conditioned perhaps by years of giving his every last fibre for an ailing Nerazzurri, the youngster made virtue out of necessity and was moulded by his own team’s weakness into a far more complete striker, able to operate in and outside the penalty area. While things have not quite fallen his way so far in international colours, Icardi’s future is huge – and Sampaoli’s is right to persist with him.

Aguero, too, while no new face in Albiceleste circles, appears to have redeemed himself in the coach’s eyes after being dropped for his first squad. Much of what Sampaoli has asked of the Manchester City star has been repeated in his ear by Pep, making the Aguero of 2017 vintage far more than a goal poacher. The new, improved Kun this year in the Premier League is creating chances for others, attacking empty spaces with voracity and forcing himself into the game as a linkman while losing none of his potency in front of the net.

The onus, then, is on Higuain to show that he is more than just a goalscorer. In Paulo Dybala he has the perfect foil to expand his game at Juve, but he has little time to convince Sampaoli he can be that man. Little time, too, and perhaps even less opportunity to finally banish those demons that have dogged him in major finals for Argentina, and hinted at yet again in his no-show for the Old Lady in this year’s Champions League blow-out at the hands of Real Madrid. Pipita’s Argentina may not be over, but he has an uphill task to show a sceptical Albiceleste he can be the player to lead them to World Cup glory.


Messi denies influencing Argentina squad selection

Claims that Lionel Messi exerts an influence on Argentina’s squad selection have been dismissed by the star attacker as a “total lie”. 

Messi’s brilliant hat-trick in Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against Ecuador last month ensured his side will be at the finals in Russia next year.

Argentina 8/1 to win the World Cup

Despite his importance on the pitch, the Barcelona forward has been subject to speculation suggesting he holds too much influence over who plays for Argentina.

Inter captain Mauro Icardi, who is married to the ex-wife of Messi’s friend Maxi Lopez, had not been selected since 2013 before returning to the group under Jorge Sampaoli.

But Messi is adamant he has never held any sway over the coach’s decisions. 

“It was said that I didn’t want Icardi coming to the national team, but I’ve never decided if a player comes or not,” Messi said in an interview with TyC Sports.

“Now it’s coming out that all that was said was a lie. I never said I didn’t want Icardi in the national team, nor did I make anyone leave other players out.

“Telling great players that they’re only playing because they’re Messi’s friend is disrespectful — and it’s also a total lie because I don’t run the national team.”

While Icardi has been called up by Sampaoli, Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain has been omitted from recent squads, despite his prolific form in Serie A.

And Messi defended Higuain against criticism that he has failed to perform for Argentina in key matches, such as their 2014 World Cup final loss to Germany and back-to-back Copa America showpiece defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016, both of which were settled on penalties after scoreless draws.

“The truth is that it hurts — everything that was said at this time,” Messi said. “We played the final of a World Cup, two Copa America finals, at least two of the three [we] deserved to win.

“We did not win — and we all went through that. [Higuain] had the situations he had and they took it against him, but we are used to being told atrocities about us.

“We all had hard times, beyond what was achieved. There was a lot of hard blows to this group. I talk to everyone, we have a great relationship, we have played together for many years and we know each other.”


A post shared by Leo Messi (@leomessi) on

Messi also denied having a problem with Higuain’s Juve team-mate Paulo Dybala, who has said he finds it hard to play with the 30-year-old, as they occupy similar positions on the pitch.

“There’s nothing to clarify with Dybala,” Messi said. “I knew what he meant from the first moment.”

Should Argentina ultimately lift the trophy in Russia, Messi has vowed to complete a 65-kilometre pilgrimage on foot — starting in his hometown of Rosario.

“If we win the World Cup, I promise to walk from Rosario to San Nicolas,” he said.

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But Messi does not consider the Albiceleste to be favourites next summer, highlighting Spain as one powerhouse he’d particularly like to avoid.

He told ESPN: “Spain, Brazil, Germany and France are the teams with the best image at the moment. I think they are the favourites.

“I would not like to face Spain in the group. I would prefer to avoid them because of what their team represents, for what they have [in terms of talent]. They’d be a very difficult opponent.”


Juventus 2 Benevento 1: Second-half comeback saves champions’ blushes

Goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Juan Cuadrado earned Juventus the points after Benevento led for almost an hour in Turin.

Juventus survived a scare with an underwhelming 2-1 home win over Serie A’s bottom side Benevento sending them up to second on Sunday.

The reigning champions took their opportunity to leapfrog Inter, who drew 1-1 with Torino earlier in the day, as Gonzalo Higuain and Juan Cuadrado denied the determined visitors their first top-flight points.

Benevento have now lost all 12 of their league games this season, but can take heart from giving the Bianconeri real difficulties at Allianz Stadium.

Roberto De Zerbi’s side even took an unlikely first-half lead when Amato Ciciretti’s free-kick left Wojciech Szczesny, in for the rested Gianluigi Buffon, rooted to the spot.

Although that was the visitors’ only shot of the opening period, it took Massimiliano Allegri’s men – wearing a special 120th anniversary kit – until the 57th minute to forge a breakthrough as Higuain coolly dispatched his fifth goal in four matches in all competitions.

Cuadrado then clinched the points with a close-range header to the relief of the home supporters, Juve now trailing Serie A leaders Napoli by only a point after their 0-0 draw at Chievo.

A dazzling early Douglas Costa dash down the left flank almost led to the opener as his low cross was parried awkwardly against the near post by Alberto Brignoli.

And Costa soon came close again – this time without the aid of the goalkeeper – rattling a left-footed strike against the angle of the upright and crossbar.

But the goal instead came at the other end. Benevento captain Ciciretti curled a free-kick around the wall and beyond the idle Szczesny, celebrating maniacally as the Allianz Stadium fell to a stunned silence.

Cuadrado should have drawn Juventus level when he ran through from Paulo Dybala’s pass, but the Colombian blazed his effort over the top.

Brignoli then brilliantly stood tall to block from Dybala after he shimmied through the visiting back line, before the same man somehow shot wide when Higuain teed up a clear opening.

The keeper saved again from a Costa free-kick as Benevento incredibly survived the onslaught to take their lead into half-time, with Juve initially continuing to struggle after the restart.

However, the first big opportunity of the second half fell Higuain’s way and he made no mistake, sweeping a pinpoint finish into the top-right corner from Blaise Matuidi’s knockdown.

Brignoli persisted with his brave resistance as he denied Cuadrado’s effort and then scrambled across his goal line to dive on Higuain’s trundling rebound, before Matuidi nodded over.

But the turnaround was complete in the 65th minute, with Cuadrado meeting Alex Sandro’s deep cross with a firm downward header that bounced up past Brignoli.

Danilo Cataldi’s wonderful dipping effort almost restored parity, but that represented the extent of Benevento’s attacking intent as only a smart Brignoli stop kept Dybala’s replacement Rodrigo Bentancur from adding a late third.


Argentina omit Higuain again as Perotti recalled from international wilderness

Juventus star Gonzalo Higuain has been left out of Argentina’s squad yet again by Jorge Sampaoli, but Roma winger Diego Perotti has been recalled from the international wilderness.

Argentina face friendly matches against Russia and Nigeria this month as they begin preparations for next year’s World Cup, which they only progressed to thanks to a Lionel Messi inspired victory over Ecuador in their final qualifier.

Higuain has been left out again despite strong form at club level, scoring four goals in his last three matches for Juventus.

Higuain 33/1 to be CL top scorer

The 29-year-old played 45 minutes in Sampaoli’s first match in charge against Brazil in September, but he has not been named in a squad since.

Perotti has fought his way back into contention, though, with the Roma forward receiving his first call up since June 2011.

He made his international debut under Diego Maradona in November 2009 after breaking through as a talented youngster at Sevilla, but injuries and inconsistency wreaked havoc on him in the three years that followed his last inclusion.

Boca Juniors winger Cristian Pavon has been selected for the first time, with the 21-year-old enjoying a fine start to the Argentinian Primera Division season.

Squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres), Agustin Marchesin (Club America)

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Defenders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Federico Fazio (Roma), Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Emiliano Insua (Stuttgart)

Midfielders: Ever Banega (Sevilla), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica), Marcos Acuna (Sporting CP), Matias Kranevitter, Leandro Paredes, Emiliano Rigoni (all Zenit St Petersburg), Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta), Perotti (Roma)

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Mauro Icardi (Inter), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Dario Benedetto, Cristian Pavon (both Boca Juniors).