Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina) 32 games, 46 goals***
The fact that some people regarded this as a disappointing season for Messi shows just how far he has raised the bar. Just as telling was the fact that even at 4-0 down in theChampions League semi-final against Bayern few dared to rule out a Barca comeback if the Argentine was fully fit. During a spell that saw Messi score against every single La Liga team consecutively there were those who claimed he was out of form. Those are the challenges faced by the greatest player in the world but there was no denying that this was another season that will go down in history as among the best ever.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal) 34 games, 34 goals ***
Another season in which Ronaldo excelled but ultimately came up slightly short. Top scorer in the Champions League, a goal a game in La Liga and the Portuguese forward still was left ruing a season in which the biggest prizes eluded him. That should not take away from a magical season which, as with Messi, can only be considered even remotely disappointing by a player as consistently excellent as Ronaldo.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool and Uruguay) 33 games, 23 goals***
That Luis Suarez’s season will be best remembered for his biting of Branislav Ivanovic is something of a tragedy. For in an often pedestrian, sometimes brilliant Liverpool side he proved himself to be a cut above his teammates. Though the Reds could only finish in a disappointing seventh place in the league the Uruguayan was the equal of any player in the league with his exceptional ability on the ball and markedly improved finishing.
Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich and Germany) 28 games, 13 goals ***
After a 2010 in which Muller announced his talents to the world it was perhaps inevitable that there would be a period of consolidation. This year saw him storm back in to form, demonstrating quite why expectations had been so high. A stellar autumn was consolidated on in the spring and he was, along with Ribery, the principle reason that Bayern were so potent going forward in the league. Quite what role Pep Guardiola has in mind for the young star is unclear but he will surely be central to Bayern’s future.
Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) 32 games, 14 goals **
Reus’s first season in Westphalia was perhaps not as spectacular as his last at Borussia Moenchengladbach. With an all-star cast around him there was less onus placed on the young attacker to carry the side, but with that freedom came some wonderful interplay, particularly with Robert Lewandowski and Mario Goetze. The departure of that pair will place greater responsibility on the shoulders of Reus, but based on past experience he should be well placed to cope with it.
Francesco Totti (Roma and Italy) 34 games, 12 goals **
When football historians look back over the last 20 years and remember the truly great players of this era how many will give Francesco Totti his dues? The Roma captain furthered his position in the pantheon of greats by overtaking the legendary Gunnar Nordahl to sit second in the all-time top goalscorers list for Serie A, sitting behind only Silvio Piola. The magnitude of that achievement will only be realized in hindsight but it capped off another superb campaign for a tremendous player.
Erik Lamela (Roma and Argentina) 33 games, 15 goals **
A hugely frustrating season for Roma was one of significant development for Lamela. The Argentine confirmed his status as one of the brightest prospects in the game and as arguably the best dribbler in Serie A, flourishing under Zdenek Zeman’s attack minded tutelage. It had previously been unclear whether the former River Plate star would be able to convert his potential into performance but this year demonstrated that he is more than up to the challenge.
Michu (Swansea and Spain) 35 games, 18 goals *
One of the best signings in Europe this season, Michu was outstanding in the opening months of the campaign surprising many with quite how quickly he adapted to life in the Premier League. Some of that credit should go to Michael Laudrup who was instrumental in helping the Spaniard adjust but while his performances tailed off after Swansea had claimed the League Cup it still marked a memorable year for the Jacks. Did you know he only cost £2m?
Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina and Montenegro) 31 games, 13 goals *
Widely rumoured to be the top transfer target for Juventus this summer, it’s obvious to see what the young forward would offer the Italian champions. Intelligent movement, graceful on the ball and capable of expertly linking attack and midfield the Montenegrin prodigy many now have outgrown his surroundings in Florence. On the international stage his team currently lie top of a challenging qualifying group and could yet be making their World Cup debut in Brazil.
Ruben Castro (Real Betis and Spain) 34 games, 18 goals *
A prolific season for Castro has seen him shoot up the goalscorers’ charts in Spain. The former Deportivo forward has enjoyed the finest year of his career in Seville, though he has frequently been deployed in a variety of roles. Quick and nimble he’s a fine finisher but whether he can repeat such a rich vein of form so late in his career is unclear.
Lima (Benfica and Brazil) 27 games, 20 goals *
It has been a long and slow rise to the top for Lima. After jumping from team to team in his native Brazil he moved to Portugal with Belenenses four years ago and joined Braga a season later. Having now fought his way to the top of Portuguese football it is only now, at 29, that he has really hit top form. Arguably Benfica’s most important player this year, particularly domestically where his goals proved invaluable.
Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany) 34 games, 11 goals *
Apparently set to join Chelsea in the summer, their longstanding interest in the young German star looks now to be coming to a conclusion. It certainly appears to be a well judged acquisition with Schurrle ideally suited to joining the attacking triumvirate of Hazard, Mata and Oscar in supporting a central striker. If this proves to be his final season at Leverkusen he’ll have signed off in style, delivering a fully deserved third place finish.
Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo and Spain)
Antonio Cassano (Inter and Italy)
Siem de Jong (Ajax and Netherlands)
Samuel Eto'o (Anzhi and Cameroon)
Sebastian Giovinco (Juventus and Italy)
Max Kruse (Freiburg and Germany)
Alex Meier (Eintracht Frankfurt and Germany)
Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow and Nigeria)
Lukas Podolski (Arsenal and Germany)
Bryan Ruiz (Fulham and Costa Rica)
Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany)
Alain Traore (Lorient and Burkina Faso)
Theo Walcott (Arsenal and England)