Top footballers expected to perform wonders in 2017
Top soccer stars from Europe and the Americas have had the chance to further enhance their reputations among the best in the world after doing so much in 2016.
While some took full advantage of the big stage, others failed to deliver.
As the New Year begins and the 2016- 17 season across Europe’s top leagues continues, here are the top soccer stars expected to perform wonders in 2017
Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Argentina) 2016 was not a good year for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. As well being found guilty of tax fraud, Messi suffered heartbreak for a third successive major tournament with Argentina, this time missing a penalty in the final shootout of Copa America and later shocking his country by announcing his retirement from international soccer.
However, he still showed during that tournament, not least with his mesmeric free-kick against the United States and scintillating hat-trick off the bench against Panama, that he remains untouched as the best player on the planet.
He is expected to help his Spanish club side Barcelona FC achieve set goals in 2017 and also give Argentina a push to pick the ticket to play at next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Luis Suárez (Barcelona, Uruguay) Suárez was another to endure a disappointing 2016, with injury preventing him from getting on the pitch as Uruguay crashed out at the group stage of the Copa America.
Still, he is coming off his most prolific season yet at club level, firing 53 goals in just 48 games for Barcelona.
And the former Liverpool forward also does plenty to aid the performances of Messi and Neymar as part of the bestever forward trio.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal) In terms of silverware, Ronaldo has enjoyed an extraordinary past 12 months. He added a long-sought first title with Portugal to a third Champions League winners’ medal picked up with Real Madrid in May 2016.
The irony, though, was that he played very little part in either final. While injury was the cause of that, the fact remains that at the age of 31, he is no longer a player that dominates games, but rather, as he showed in the Euro 2016 semi-final against Wales, a player who produces decisive moments.
He is expected to do more than that in 2017, with his mind focused on helping Portugal get to the next edition of the FIFA Mundial.
Neymar (Barcelona, Brazil): Brilliant at the start of last season which kicked off in September 2016, even suggesting that Barcelona could have a life beyond Messi, Neymar fully earned a place on the Ballon d’Or podium for the first time and should even have taken second spot ahead of Ronaldo.
But there is no question that he tired considerably at the climax of the campaign, which played its part in his side’s exit from the Champions League. He stayed away from the Copa America to concentrate on Brazil’s quest to win itsfirst ever Olympic soccer gold, which he helped them achieved at the Rio Olympics.
For 2017, Neymar is expected to help both Barcelona and Brazil to articulate planned targets in the Uefa Champions League and the Russia 2018 World Cup finals.
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid, Wales) Overshadowed by the reputation and ego of Ronaldo at the Bernabeu, Bale showed at Euro 2016 that he is capable of being the talisman for a team. Not only did he come up with crucial contributions as Wales reached the semi-finals, he was also a superb blue-collar team player.
His record at Real Madrid wasn’t bad last season, either, scoring 19 goals in 23 La Liga appearances and often being far more influential over the course of 90 minutes than his more illustrious teammate.
For 2017, he is expected to score more goals helping Real Madrid to challenge for the Spanish La Liga title with Barcelona breathing down their neck.
Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid, France) The Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner at Euro 2016, Griezmann was the spark for a France team that often lacked cohesion. With six goals, five in the knockout phase, it would be unfair to remember his tournament for his missed chance in the final.
Having also scored 32 goals for Atlético last season, he has unquestionably elevated himself into the ranks of the world’s best forwards.
In 2017, he is expected to score more goals. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona, Spain) Spain’s Euro 2016 campaign may not linger long in the memory, but Iniesta’s performance in the group phase still provided plenty of thrills at the time.
Handed the central playmaking role for the first time in a major tournament, Iniesta starred.
Even at the age of 32, and having scored one league goal in his last two seasons, Iniesta’s incisive passing and dribbling through the lines is a joy to behold.
Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich, Germany) He may have made a costly error in Germany’s Euro 2016 semi-final defeat to France, but there can be little doubt that Neuer remains the benchmark for the modern goalkeeper.
So good is he with his feet that his ability with his hands almost goes unnoticed.
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona, Spain) It may be true that, as Busquets himself said, “ People who don’t like football don’t appreciate my game,” but to those who watch closely there is so much to admire.
Just see how Barcelona struggles to move the ball without its fulcrum in front of the back four.
When it comes to describing the Barcelona graduate, soon-to-be former Spain coach Vicente del Bosque did it best.
“If you watch the whole game, you won’t see Busquets,” he said. “But watch Busquets and you will see the whole game.”
Paul Pogba (Man United, France) That he could well become the most expensive player in history this summer is indicative of a midfielder that possesses an unprecedented range of attributes.
Strong, quick and skillful he has all the tools required to be the next global superstar.
All that is holding him back so far, as was shown at Euro 2016, is consistency and perhaps a better positional understanding.
Luka Modric (Real Madrid, Croatia) Once voted the worst signing in La Liga following his move to Real Madrid, Modric continues to enhance his reputation as the one of the world’s outstanding midfielders.
Now able to stand up to a physical challenge, the Croatian truly excels in linking the lines of a team together. One of the great disappointments at Euro 2016 was that Modric’s tournament ended so early.
Toni Kroos (Real Madrid, Germany) It should be one of the great frustrations to soccer fans that in a team filled with so many attacking talents a player of Kroos immense ability often has to consume himself with the ugly legwork at Real Madrid.
As he showed at Euro 2016, when dictating Germany’s play, he is one of the outstanding central playmakers in the game.
Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal, Chile) While his second season at Arsenal was not as spectacular as his first, he more than made up for that with a sparkling Copa America Centenario.
As well as three goals, his constant energy is perfect for Chile’s high-pressing style and it earned him the award for the tournament’s outstanding player.
With Juventus interested in his signature, the challenge for Arsenal is to show that it can satisfy a player of such immense ability.
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus, Italy) A key part of a Juventus defense that has won five successive Serie A titles, Bonucci may not have the same rugged physicality of partner Giorgio Chiellini, but he may just be the best ball-playing center-back in the world.
At Euro 2016, with Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti absent, Bonucci took on the role of Italy’s playmaker and performed it superbly.
It is no surprise that Guardiola is so desperate to lure him to Manchester City and why Juventus will demand a huge fee to let him go.
Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich, Germany) Long regarded for his expertise at finding space in the penalty box, Müller had his most prolific season yet last term, scoring 32 goals.
While he endured a disappointing end to the campaign and failed to find the net at Euro 2016, a summer rest should see him back at his best under Carlo Ancelotti next season.
Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium) Eyebrows were raised when Manchester City brought De Bruyne back to the Premier League last summer at a cost of 54 million pounds ($71 million).
Any doubts have now been removed. One of the world’s premier counter-attacking players, it is no coincidence that City’s slump occurred during De Bruyne’s time out injured.
Not always utilized effectively with Belgium, it will be fascinating to see how the 25-year develops next season under Pep Guardiola.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland) Lewandowski’s first season at Bayern Munich was hardly poor, but his second was spectacular.
He plundered 42 goals in all competitions, including famously hitting five goals in nine minutes during a match last September.
It was a major disappointment, then, that he failed to replicate that form at Euro 2016.
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus, Italy) Can it be that at the age of 38, Buffon is still getting better? There is certainly no sign of the sort of decline that has struck the other most renowned goalkeeper of his generation, Iker Casillas.
Last season he broke yet another record, going 973 minutes without conceding a goal in Serie A. There’s no denying he’s one of the all-time greatest goalkeepers.
Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich, Chile) A one-man force of nature in midfield, Vidal can seemingly be everywhere at once, adding physical force in the center of the pitch before driving forward and firing a shot at goal.
He was again vital in helping Chile to its second title in two years at the Copa America Centenario.
Worryingly, though, the 29-year-old’s body has shown signs of faltering under the weight of his playing style and his extensive commitments for club and country.
Sergio Agüero (Manchester City, Argentina) Despite continuing to be hampered by injury, Agüero struck 24 Premier League goals last season to take his tally to 50 in the last two campaigns.
While he didn’t get much of a look in with Argentina at the Copa America, he remains one of the most lethal strikers around and should flourish under Guardiola.
Gerard Pique (Barcelona, Spain) He may get more attention these days for his marriage to Shakira and his habit of riling Real Madrid on social media, but Pique also remains an outstanding center-back.
The decline of four or five years ago is now well behind him and he will be key to Barcelona’s attempts to add a further haul of silverware over the next season.
Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona, Croatia) The Croatian had no easy task taking over in the Barcelona midfield from the legendary Xavi, but, while a very different kind of player, he has fit in seamlessly.
Last season he excelled once again and prevented new signing Arda Turan from getting a look in. Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich, Germany) The improvement in Boateng’s game in the last few seasons has been exceptional.
Arguably not a natural defender, he has developed his decision-making considerably at center-back. And for both club and country, his ability to hit long diagonal balls out of the back it hugely important.
James Rodríguez (Real Madrid, Colombia) Having previously seen his career head in only one direction, following starring displays at the 2014 World Cup and a fine start to life at Real Madrid, James endured a hugely disappointing season last term.
But he again showed in patches in the Copa America Centenario what a dazzling playmaker he can be when given the right setup.
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France) Without going into the unsavory and bizarre reason for his exclusion from the France squad, it was nonetheless disappointing not to see Benzema leading the line for the host at Euro 2016.
He may never be fully appreciated at Real Madrid, but Benzema is a fabulously gifted and unselfish all-round forward who has been crucial to the success of Ronaldo. Last season was his most prolific yet, firing 24 goals in La Liga.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund, Gabon) Having spent much of his first two seasons at Borussia Dortmund playing wide, Aubameyang was a sensation when given the responsibility of leading the attack under Thomas Tuchel last season.
Blessed with searing pace, the 27-year-old, who started his career at Milan, also displayed a clinical touch in front of goal, finding the net 39 times in all competitions.
Diego Godín (Atlético Madrid, Uruguay) He may not be as eye-catching on the ball as many of the other center-backs on this list, but in terms of a pure defender there remains nobody better in the world than the rugged Godín.
The 30-year-old was exceptional as Atlético Madrid reached its second Champions League final in three seasons.
Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund, Germany) Would Germany have gotten past France and added the European Championship to World Cup glory had Reus been fit? It is a question worth asking given he remains one of Europe’s finest attacking midfielders.
David de Gea (Manchester United, Spain) After the absurdity of his failed transfer to Real Madrid last summer, De Gea knuckled down and put in another exceptional season with Manchester United, winning the club’s Player of the Year award for a third successive campaign.
Although he didn’t perform at his best at Euro 2016, he is capable of making saves that are beyond perhaps every other goalkeeper in the world.
Mesut Özil (Arsenal, Germany) After struggling to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League in his first two years, the former Real Madrid playmaker had his most productive season yet at Arsenal.
As well as contributing 19 assists, he broke the Premier League record for chances created.
That his numbers dipped markedly in the second half of the season, though, just reinforces that he needs to more consistently bring his immense ability to the fore.