Top 50 Soccer Players of 2012
Bleacher Report brings you the Top 50 Soccer Players of 2012—a prestigious achievement for any professional that certainly belongs in the trophy cabinet.
The top 10 players are ranked, while the other 40 are approximately placed. This list is incredibly subjective so we welcome you to draw up your top 10, or even rank the lot.
We've also included a lengthy honourable mentions list, so hopefully, we've covered all your favourite players.
Someone missing? Be sure to recommend your chart-toppers from this year in the comments, but be sure that they've performed throughout the season—we only considered those who were excellent all year long.
Enjoy the slideshow!
Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart
Wonderful performances early this year in securing Manchester City the title, but the Citizens defence sloped off alarming toward the end of 2012.
After a blistering start to life in the English Premier League, the Belgian has levelled out a little.
He was tearing it up at Rayo Vallecano before anyone knew his name, but he just misses out this year.
Finally settled at Galatasary, Yilmaz is finally the dominant poacher everyone knew he'd become if he just picked a club and stayed there.
The seemingly immortal Totti continues to impress for Roma despite constant managerial changes. Class.
It's just not been his year. The collarbone, the ankle, playing through the pain barrier at Euro 2012. Excellent performances this season land him an honourable mention.
It was only a matter of time before he went from unsung to sung, wasn't it?
Stephan El Shaarawy
He has been unbelievable this season, and had he shown this form last campaign, he'd be in the top 15.
Proving everyone wrong by leaving North America and scoring hatfuls. Well done, Jackson.
A strong performer in the Brasileiro Serie A with Internacional, the time where a European side bites is drawing ever closer.
If luck was the main reason Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League this year, Cech was the second. What an important penalty save from Arjen Robben and great overall tournament the goalkeeper had.
The Kenyan is, at most, one year away from fixing a top club's midfield for the next 10 years.
The only reason he's not at the lower end of this list is his failure to show up at Euro 2012.
A really impressive, creative force for Atletico Madrid throughout 2012.
Another solid year for Neuer, who is well and truly over his Bayern blips.
Improving every month, we're certain he'll be on the 2013 version of this list.
One of Shakhtar Donetsk's many attacking talents, the Brazilian just missed out here.
Timeless, ageless. Clear of injuries, he's among the best.
The hero in blue took the headlines from winning the UCL, but he's fallen off the map a little in China.
No Liverpool player played particularly well in 2012 until Brendan Rodgers, but the best from last season has positively exploded this season.
A resurrected career in Brazil has seen the 32 year old score 10 and assist 15 goals in the Brasileiro Serie A this season. Impressive.
Bernd Leno—wow, what a find.
Imagine the horror of the manager when Rene Adler tore his ACL in preseason. Then imagine the relief when this kid came along.
Despite a bit of a nightmare game in which Lionel Messi set the record for most goals in a single UEFA Champions League game, Leno was able to secure the starting job at Bayer Leverkusen and impress everyone in the Bundesliga.
Dante was the nexus of an incredibly stingy back line at Borussia Moenchengladbach—as a unit, they possessed one of the best average-goals-conceded-per-game ratios in world football last season.
He's moved on to bigger and better things now, anchoring a record-breaking Bayern Munich defence and putting his huge frame to good use in the UEFA Champions League.
Stefan Kiessling is on a roll. No, not a Lionel Messi standard roll, but he's breached the 25-goal mark in 2012 and sits pretty with 10 from 16 games so far this season.
Some have even asked whether Bayer Leverkusen are contenders for the Bundesliga title after some wonderful early-season form.
The German poacher has scored more goals in the league than any other player in 2012.
It's only this season that Leighton Baines is being recognised as one of the world's premier left-backs, but he's been performing at an elite level for a number of years already.
His start to this season in particular has impressed the floating voters, with many now moving him above Ashley Cole in the English Premier League fullback power rankings.
He's Europe's third-most accurate crosser so far this season.
If Radamel Falcao is the No. 1 striker on everyone's Christmas shopping list, then Edinson Cavani is the long-term No. 2.
Another impressive season from the Uruguyan so far has seen him bag an insane 19 goals from 17 starts—the UEFA Europa League may be being kind to him, but you can only score against what's put in front of you.
The Cavani spares no one.
Javi Martinez has been eased into Bundesliga life after Bayern Munich broke the league record to sign him (via Goal.com).
His appearances for die Bayern have been excellent so far, while no one can forget what a standout season he had under Marcelo Bielsa in 2011-12.
He came so close to a winner's medal with Athletic Bilbao twice, Euro 2012 must have felt like third time lucky.
Mikel Arteta is well on his way to becoming one of the premier defensive midfielders in world football.
Formely a No. 10 with Everton, Arsene Wenger has settled the Spaniard into a deeper role to utilise his near-perfect reading of the game, yielding tackles and interceptions aplenty.
His combination play with Abou Diaby at the start of the season was unrivalled across the English Premier League.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic once said (via Goal.com):
"...the best defender in the world, his name is Thiago Silva. Maybe he is not so well-known yet, but trust me… I have played with many defenders, like Thuram, Cannavaro, Pique, Puyol, I have played with many fantastic central defenders, but this player is like all of them put together."
Silva cost Paris Saint-Germain €42 million, and the Brazilian has not let the price tag alter his performances. They are of consistent high quality, even next to the then-underperforming Juan Jesus in the London 2012 Olympics.
According to B/R's La Liga expert Michael Cerna, Luis Filipe has been the best left-back in Spain over the course of 2012.
He was the key defender in Atletico Madrid's Europa League winning run last season and continues to perform at the highest level on a consistent basis.
His defending has improved in significant chunks over the past 12 months, making him a complete package. Great for Diego Simeone; not so great for everyone else.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Marc-Andre ter Stegen burst onto the scene very quickly and assumed full command of an ailing Borussia Moenchengladbach defence.
He helped them go from relegation escapees (via the playoffs) to unlikely title contenders, securing over 15 clean sheets as the season came to a close.
He's been phenomenal as usual so far this season, with the only blip being him missing out on Joachim Low's Euro 2012 squad.
Sepp Maier thinks he's as good as Manuel Neuer (via ESPNStar.com).
Claudio Marchisio will forever be loved by Juventus fans, as he stayed with the Old Lady through one if its toughest periods in history.
It's the rest of the world he's had trouble winning over, but he's quickly seeing to that by putting in some wonderful performances for the Bianconeri.
He's full of energy and commits to every game. While he's not quite the superstar his midfield colleagues are, he's an integral part of Antonio Conte's team all the same.
Sergio Busquets gets a bad wrap for his antics and diving, but there are few players more integral to their side than he is.
Remove Lionel Messi from Barcelona, and you're probably looking at this man as the glue that holds it all together. He was solid, if unspectacular, at Euro 2012, but still came home with a winner's medal.
James Rodriguez is a phenomenal talent, which is why world football aficionados are hoping he chooses his next move carefully.
His skill, trickery and raw ability either on the left wing or in the No. 10 slot is borderline unrivalled among his age group, making him one of the premier young talents to grace European football.
He's seen former teammates leave FC Porto for almost every corner of the earth. Please, don't let this talent go to waste in Russia.
Gareth Bale divides opinion, but it's difficult to deny that he's close to his very best at this point in time.
Andre Villas-Boas has unlocked any last remnants of potential hiding away in the Welshman's locker and allowed him a free run of the midfield.
He combines searing pace with surprising, Cristiano Ronaldo-esque lean strength to make a truly fearsome opponent.
Is he best in his current role or the pure wide man role Harry Redknapp played him in?
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has enjoyed a very prolific 12 months while simultaneously dodging any blame for a shocking Netherlands performance during Euro 2012.
He's one of the hottest free-agent acquisitions surfacing in January, so get your bids ready and clear some space on your wage bill.
Iker Casillas didn't have his usual busy season in goal, as each team he played in won major honours at a canter.
He captained Real Madrid to La Liga glory and subsequently broke Barcelona's strangehold on the competition, while he was reliable if rarely called upon during Spain's Euro 2012 win.
Cesc Fabregas' form was not at an elite level during the run-in for last season's campaign, but even still, he continued to tuck away the honours.
He was used out of position as a false-nine at Euro 2012 and did his level best despite not being suited to the role, but it's his form this season that's really caught the eye.
Mesut Ozil was a little patchy for Real Madrid toward the end of last season, but has cleaned up his act considerably over the last few months.
He's back scoring important goals for Los Merengues at pivotal moments, and of course, he still remains the No. 1 provider to Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of assists.
He was one of the better performers at Euro 2012 for Germany.
Shakhtar Donetsk have had an unbelievable 2012, losing just a handful of games on their way to dominating almost every team in their path.
Their home record is truly ridiculous, and Juventus' win at the Donbass Arena was a genuine anomaly, but despite all their attacking talent, Fernandinho is a standout performer in the midfield.
He's headed to Manchester (via The Daily Mail), and if it's Sir Alex Ferguson who's secured his signature, the Red Devils could be laughing their way to the title with his help.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, also known as Armenia's only footballing hope, is surely the next big acquisition out of Ukraine after Fernandinho moves on.
He was voted Shakhtar Donetsk's Player of the Season at the close of the 2011-12 season (via Shakhtar.com) and continues to grab headlines in the new campaign.
He's a goal-scoring machine mixed with a touch of playmaking finesse—the ideal No. 10 suited to the modern game.
Another year, another cluster of near moves for Neymar.
The constant speculation linking him to Real Madrid and Barcelona often takes away from what a fantastic year he's had, scoring 31 goals and providing 15 assists back in Brazilian football for Santos.
He had a solid London 2012 Olympics during the summer, scoring some great goals and grabbing a silver medal.
B/R's Michael Cerna believes that Pepe-Sergio Ramos was the best central defensive partnership in Spain this year, while the Portuguese international's efforts during Euro 2012 were more pivotal than Cristiano Ronaldo's goals.
He's still feisty, angry and a little uncontrollable, but his improved temperament has been integral to Real Madrid closing the gap on Barcelona.
Both Italy's and Juventus' stingy defences source themselves, first and foremost, in Giorgio Chiellini.
He's a strong, physical presence who's mobile enough to play in his former position of left-back still, adding steel and determination to the Old Lady's back line.
He's shown that he's comfortable in three- or four-man systems at both domestic and international level.
Juan Manuel Mata
No matter who's in charge, what's going on or what competition Chelsea are in, you can bank on one certifiable constant—Juan Manuel Mata is consistently brilliant.
The Spanish maestro dazzles us on a weekly basis and scores a bucket load of goals no matter what shirt he's wearing, even coming on in the closing stages of the Euro 2012 final to grab a glory goal.
Kwadwo Asamoah is a remarkable football player.
He excelled last season for Udinese, moving from defensive midfield through the box-to-box phase and into an attacking midfield slot.
He showed superb ability in all three to earn a big move to reigning Serie A champions Juventus, only for them to stick him at left-wing-back.
No matter; this is Asamoah we're talking about. Of course he bossed it.
Jakub Blaszczykowski has it all.
He's quick, strong, committed, technically skilled and remains an excellent on-pitch leader. His performances at Euro 2012 for Poland were full of heart, while his combination play with Lukasz Piszczek for club and country makes them one of the best right-sided tandems in the world.
He would almost certainly get more praise worldwide if his name wasn't so difficult to spell.
Santi Cazorla was the standout performer in a Malaga side that clinched UEFA Champions League, and only financial irresponsibility saw him sold at a cut-price to Arsenal in the summer (via Arsenal.com).
If he can improve his durability and avoid fading in English Premier League games, he's well on his way to becoming one of the best players to grace the league.
He was, unfortunately, underused at Euro 2012.
Wayne Rooney has undergone some borderline surgical changes to his game over the past 12 months, but he's coped extremely well.
A poor European Championships (again) firmly behind him, he's adapted to the presence of Robin van Persie superbly and reinstated goals to his game over the past month.
He was the Red Devils' top scorer last season, reliably turning in 27 English Premier League strikes.
Sergio Ramos had a remarkable 2012 despite switching positions.
It's a testament to his footballing brain and natural ability that he took on his new role at centre-back so quickly, going on to form a previously unthinkable partnership with Barcelona man Gerard Pique to win Euro 2012 for Spain.
He even scored a penalty.
A moment many will never forget.
Sergio Aguero is one of the best strikers to have graced the English Premier League. He's the standout forward among Manchester City's ranks this season and scored buckets of goals to keep their title charge alive last season.
What a way to repay the £35 million he cost (via The Telegraph).
Franck Ribery is finally the player we wanted him to be. It took him around nine years, but he's transformed into a responsible adult who's not infuriating to play with.
Jupp Heynckes has done an excellent job converting his attitude, making him work for the team, hungry for the ball and integral to the system despite playing on the wing.
Heynckes wins where so many have fallen before.
Who's the central defender Manchester City and Barcelona fans crave for to shore up their defence?
The Borussia Dortmund centre-back is the complete package. Strong in the air, good on the ball, loves to surge forward and even takes a mean penalty. What else can you ask for?
A remarkable year for German international.
David Silva may have sloped off a little this season statistically, but he still remains his usual threatening self.
It's difficult to think of a single player who executes the reverse pass as well as this little wizard, and if you factor in a very impressive Euro 2012 campaign, you've got yourself one of the best performers in 2012.
His trophy cabinet looks much better for it at least.
For the first time in a long time, Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to pull in a domestic title in 2012—not that it was at all his fault.
He was awesome, as usual, for Milan despite them losing out to Juventus in the title race, had a ridiculously good Euro 2012, scored a freak goal against England last month and now plays for French heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain.
It's never quiet when Zlatan is around.
Thomas Mueller went from raw prospect to finished article over the span of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
"The 23-year-old is a rare breed of player whose will to win trumps all external factors, from nerves to technical limitations. Even at the age of 20, he was cool and composed as he became the youngest top scorer at a World Cup since Pele."
He's been sensational so far this season.
Lukasz Piszczek is one of the world's best right-backs, performing superbly on a consistent basis for both club and country.
The Polish international shows immense energy and willingness to get forward without shirking his defensive duties.
He's given some of the best left-backs in the business nightmares while simultaneously shutting down some of the best left wingers with ease.
Xabi Alonso's playing style hasn't changed a jot in six years, and that's not a bad thing either.
He has rare ability on the ball that's consistently put to good use, sharing a midfield with the formidable Sami Khedira and producing one of the world's finest double pivots.
As far as deep-lying playmakers go, there's only one man who's better.
While a drop-off in form has put Yaya Toure's hope to be recognised as the world's best player in embers, his 2012 has been simply ridiculous.
His powerful frame has been bested just once during the calendar year when Marouane Fellaini showed him who's king of the midfield last month, and his forceful, direct style still gives opposing managers nightmares.
He is, for want of a better term, a clutch player.
Real Madrid fans will be quick to tell you how important Sami Khedira is to the side, and his presence provides an immediate upgrade.
He's grown into a positionally superior defensive midfielder who's a perfect fit for Jose Mourinho's 4-2-3-1, anchoring the Madrid's formation and allowing the flair players to express themselves.
That said, he's hardly goal-shy!
It takes a really special player to keep Arjen Robben out of the team, so I guess you can regard Toni Kroos as exactly that.
The young Bayern midfielder has bounced back from a very disappointing Euro 2012 campaign with Germany to star for his domestic side this season, already bagging 10 goals and five assists across all competitions.
10. Robert Lewandowski
The transfer links to English Premier League clubs won't stop surfacing (via The Daily Mail), and that's because Robert Lewandowski won't stop scoring.
He was a little underwhelming during Euro 2012—probably because of the sky-high expectations more than anything else—but continues to tear defences to shreds for Borussia Dortmund.
He's well on his way to breaching the 20-goal mark for the second season running.
9. Radamel Falcao
Radamel Falcao has had some year, and 2013 could be even more rewarding if he moves to Stamford Bridge (via The Daily Mail).
Count one UEFA Europa League trophy and one European Supercup among his list of trophies earned, but he's first player for a decade to score five goals in a single La Liga game (via KuwaitTimes.net) and restored some certifiable pride into Colombian football ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
A good year's work by anyone's standards.
8. Robin Van Persie
In one of the only years Robin van Persie's ankle hasn't given way, it's no surprise to see him turn in consistently excellent performances that place him among the best in the world.
Not a chance. He's got 14 goals in a Red Devils shirt already this season and has guided his side to top of the English Premier League table.
Just when you thought Xavi was leveling out before an eventual decline, he scores more goals in a calendar year than ever before.
The midfield maestro continues to perform at a level high enough to stave off talk of him managing his beloved Barcelona for a good few years yet.
He set a record for pass completions during the summer, too.
6. Marco Reus
Marco Reus fired Borussia Monchengladbach to the cusp of UEFA Champions League football, then left them for Borussia Dortmund.
The Foals have found it impossible to replace such a mercurial talent, with Luuk de Jong severely underwhelming in the German's wake.
Juergen Klopp has gained another star, though, and Reus' partnership with Mario Goetze is blossoming rather nicely.
5. Arturo Vidal
Is there a more complete midfielder in world football? This question crops up every time Arturo Vidal is discussed.
He can do everything, from scoring crucial goals to clocking up the interceptions and tackles. Statistically he's one of the finest players on the planet, but he's also a physical phenomenon like so many of his Juventus teammates.
4. Andrea Pirlo
The maestro himself.
Andrea Pirlo joined Juventus and delivered the Scudetto in his first season, playing in the famous Italian "regista" position that allows timeless players to prosper.
He went on to star at Euro 2012 for Italy in that very same role and is now finally displaying his talents and his newly grown beard in the UEFA Champions League—the competition where they both belong.
3. Andres Iniesta
Andres Iniesta is, according to many, still the best midfielder in the world.
He's the only player outside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who is even talked about for the Ballon d'Or—a marker for just how impressive he is.
His trickery, versatility and determination for the cause continues to serve Barcelona and Spain so, so well.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
With Cristiano Ronaldo at No. 2, it's obvious who's at No. 1.
A record-breaking season for his arch nemesis will detract from what a superb 2012 the Portuguese winger has had himself, so let's make sure we give him an appropriate amount of praise.
Incredibly influential in Real Madrid's quest to wrestle the La Liga title off Barcelona, CR7 netted a phenomenal 46 league goals last season to lead Los Merengues to the trophy.
Fast forward past a summer of awesome showings for his nation in an excellent Euro 2012 campaign, and he's sitting pretty on 19 goals from 22 appearances.
1. Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi just broke Gerd Muller's record for most goals in a calendar year (via SkySports).
The Argentinian wizard has now scored 86 goals in 2012 and has time to add to that tally, making this year a truly unbelievable one.
He's also found form and become the integral player his national side need and want him to be under Alejandro Sabella and his unorthodox system.
There won't be another year like it for quite some time.