The most popular sport in the world, football has had some true heroes who have transcended the game itself and cemented their legacy in the minds of football fans forever. Is picking only the top 5 footballers from such a great pool of talented players even possible?
In this article, we have attempted to do just that and while it has been no easy task, we have tried to break down the selection into 3 main factors: Ability to win matches singlehandedly, Longevity and performance under pressure.
1. Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in the world, and has been named so five times since 2008. (He received the second-best player in the world honor the other five years.)
But one title has eluded him on his quest to become the best player ever: the World Cup trophy. He led Argentina to the 2014 World Cup finals against Germany but lost 1-0. That’s a trend for Argentina: La Albiceleste (“the white and sky blue”), as they are known to loyal fans, have lost four straight finals in major competitions, including that World Cup final defeat.
All eyes will be on La Pulga (“the flea”), as fans lovingly call him because he can be a pest to defenders in games. A creative genius with attacking flair, he will carry the weight of a nation on his shoulders. Now at 30 years old, Messi has his last, best chance to shine at the peak of his talents on the world’s greatest stage.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo is Messi’s nemesis, for lack of a better word. Since 2008, Ronaldo was named the world’s best soccer player the other five times Messi didn’t win the award (and came in second the times Messi won).
Ronaldo also wants to stake his claim as the best player ever, and he has an advantage in that he captained Portugal to the European championship in 2016. But Portugal has a tough draw against Spain early on and a difficult road to the final, should the team progress out of the group stage.
That means Ronaldo’s dazzling tricks, lightning-quick feet, and penchant for scoring huge goals may not be enough to lead his team to ultimate glory. But he’ll be fun to watch in what might be the 33-year-old’s last World Cup.
Brazil is one of the favorites to lift the World Cup trophy — and Neymar is the key man who may lead the Seleção to the promised land.
There is already talk that the 26-year-old striker is better than Messi and Ronaldo, and leading Brazil to the 2018 World Cup title could confirm that his star is ascending as the others’ dim. He became the world’s most expensive player last year after Barcelona sold him to Paris-Saint Germain for around $262 million. Neymar wanted to leave, in part, to get out of Messi’s shadow in Barcelona.
The problem is Neymar was part of the Brazil squad that lost 7-1 — yes, 7-1 — to Germany in the semifinals at the last tournament (which took place in Brazil). Neymar and his team will try to exorcize those demons in Russia.
4. Mo Salah
Egypt’s Mo Salah took the soccer world by storm in 2017 and seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the planet’s best players.
He’ll cap off a remarkable year by leading his country to its first World Cup in 28 years. Salah has fantastic speed, pinpoint passing ability, and unnatural coolness in front of goal. If Egypt is to have any success, Salah must carry the team on his shoulders.
But Salah actually injured his shoulder just a few weeks before the tournament, which means he may miss a game or not be at full fitness. That’s a big blow for a long-shot Egyptian side that relies so heavily on Salah’s brilliance. Still, Salah will be a sight to see whenever he steps on the field.
5. Kevin De Bruyne
Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne will look to make an immediate impact for Belgium.
Belgium is chock-full of talent, but De Bruyne stands out among them all. A pure attacking midfielder who consistently makes passes that lead to a goal, the 26-year-old will orchestrate Belgium’s attack. Basically, if De Bruyne doesn’t play well, Belgium will struggle to advance beyond the group stages, despite the team’s depth.
De Bruyne is already a well-known player among soccer fans, but the World Cup is where he could take the next step to become a globally recognized superstar.