Europe's 50 Best Footballers of the Season
The 2012-13 season is at an end at the top European club level, with all the major trophies having been handed out, including domestic league titles and Continental honours.
So which players had the biggest seasons and made the best contributions to their teams? Treble-winning Bayern Munich predictably contribute several star names to the best 50 players of the season, while world-beaters Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo also figure.
Find out who else made the cut, and leave your thoughts below on who deserved to be in—and who didn't.
Honourable Mentions...too Many to List
It's a happy fact of footballing life that there are more than 50 fantastic players operating in the European game right now.
Many a club who did not perform too well had a standout name, and plenty of great teams had many excellent performers. But not all make this list.
Carlos Vela, Blaise Matuidi, Steven Gerrard, Bernd Leno, Kevin de Bruyne, David de Gea, Michu, Hugo Campagnaro, Mesut Ozil...any or all, and many more besides, would rightfully fit in along with the 50 names to come after the seasons they've had.
Don't be disheartened or offended if your favourite doesn't appear on the list; comment below on who you thought deserved a top-50 spot and why, and let the debate do the rest!
50. Maxime Gonalons
Defensive midfielder Maxime Gonalons was an impressive and consistent performer in Ligue 1, though his side, Lyon, have fallen from their title-winning days of the early 2000s and came a distant third this year, 16 points behind PSG.
Gonalons is the defensive shield for his back line and made huge numbers of tackles and interceptions, ranking in the top 10 of Ligue 1 for both. Also a talented distributor of the ball, he set the pace for his team's play, and only two players in the league made more passes per game than Gonalons.
49. Leighton Baines
It's not often that a full-back might be seen as one of the most creative players in a league, but with five assists and more than three key passes each game on average, that's exactly what Leighton Baines has been for Everton. Only David Silva registered more key passes per game than the left-back.
Baines also added five goals of his own and was impressive defensively, part of a back-line which conceded the fourth-fewest in the entire Premier League.
48. Stephan El Shaarawy
Staying with exciting attacking players in Serie A, Stephan El Shaarawy played in all but one of AC Milan's league fixtures this term, coming of age with a series of impressive and important performances.
He scored 16 goals from his left-sided position in the Milan attack, and his ability to link up with midfield and fellow attackers has become a big part of his game to go with his individual skills. Expect much more to come from the Italian international, but this year he has already proven himself a top talent.
47. Hugo Lloris
The Tottenham No. 1 has changed since the start of the season; Hugo Lloris taking over from Brad Friedel caused more than a few raised eyebrows since the veteran American had done nothing wrong, but Lloris has shown he is one of the best in the world with his displays this season.
Lloris has everything a modern goalkeeper requires: agility, good reading of the game, excellent starting positions, good distribution and an ability to dominate his penalty area aerially. For £10 million or so, he's been an excellent signing for the present and the future.
Over to Portugal now and to the top midfielder for league champions Porto, and Brazilian, Fernando.
The 25-year-old pulls no punches in protecting his back line, but is a classy and elegant passer of the ball too. He featured in 24 of Porto's league matches and started the all-important victory over Benfica near the last day of the season.
45. Samir Handanovic
In a season of mediocrity for Inter Milan, goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was one of the few impressive performers. His penalty-saving heroics have quickly earned him fan favourite status at Inter just one season after signing, and though Inter only finished ninth in Serie A this season, Handanovic staying at the club will give them reason to hope to rebuild.
44. Eden Hazard
Along with Juan Mata, the other half of Chelsea's live-wire attacking play was Belgian starlet Eden Hazard.
Another debutant enjoying a wonderful first season in a new league, Hazard's trickery and pace troubled every defence he came up against, and he ended the season with nine goals and 11 assists.
43. Andrea Barzagli
Back to Serie A now and another member of Juventus' three-man back line, Andrea Barzagli.
The 32-year-old played 34 times in the league and nine times in the Champions League, and was a real colossus at the back for his side. Often playing on the right of the three at the back, Barzagli showed his ability to move the ball out of defence and into midfield from that role, and completed more than 90 percent of his passes throughout the season, though it was in his defensive abilities where his talent shone through most.
42. Santi Cazorla
Sticking in the Premier League, Arsenal's Santi Cazorla enjoyed a very productive first season in English football.
Cazorla hit 12 goals during the season and claimed a further 11 assists, playing either from the centre or the left of Arsenal's attacking midfield trio. Skilful, agile and blessed with great vision, Cazorla has been a real success story of the season for the Gunners.
41. Jan Vertonghen
Playing on the left and in the centre of Tottenham's back line, Jan Vertonghen was one of the top defenders in the league and indeed in Europe.
He ranked in the top 20 in the Premier League for tackles made, interceptions made and clearances, and proved himself just as important at the other end of the pitch too, chipping in with an impressive four goals and three assists.
40. Michael Carrick
Michael Carrick has had a stellar season at the heart of Manchester United's midfield, as he continues to improve and impress as he ages. United won the Premier League at a bit of a stroll, and with Carrick dominating many of the 36 games he played, it's little wonder.
He averaged the third-highest passes per game in the entire division, completing 88 percent of his 77 attempts.
39. Jackson Martinez
Over to Portugal now and striker Jackson Martinez, who had a terrific debut season in Europe, netting 26 goals in 30 games to fire Porto to a dramatic title victory.
Martinez has excelled in the centre-forward role supported by the likes of the now-departed James Rodriguez, and scored 37 percent of all his team's goals for the campaign. He added another three in the Champions League for good measure.
38. Sergio Busquets
Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets brings to a close our list, having enjoyed another great season in his holding midfield role at the Camp Nou.
Busquets' ability to read the game and his fine positional sense mean he is an important defensive member of the team, where he made the most tackles per match in the squad this season. As always, Busquets' ball retention and consistency made him a vital part of his team's style of play. Only team mate Xavi made more passes per game than Busquets this season in the entire Spanish league.
37. Erik Lamela
Still in Serie A, arguably the most talented young player in the league now with Roma's Erik Lamela.
Playing mainly from the right of the front three for Roma, only four players managed to score more goals than the talented Argentine, one of course being Cavani. Lamela scored 15 all told, with his dribbling and vision equally important for his team.
36. Henrik Mkhitaryan
Armenian attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career so far with Shakhtar Donetsk, showing great quality in league play and in Europe.
An attacking midfielder, Mkhitaryan works extremely hard for his team with his vertical movement, but also offers a real threat in the penalty area. He scored twice in the Champions League before his side exited the competition, and also hit 25 in 29 games in the Ukrainian league from midfield.
35. Sergio Ramos
While Real Madrid weren't at their best this season as a club until it was too late, Sergio Ramos was a constantly impressive presence in the defence. A real leader of the team, he played out the campaign as captain in the absence of Iker Casillas, and shows confidence, aerial ability and a commitment to the cause to match his technical prowess.
34. Diego Godin
If you want to score against Atletico Madrid, you have to get past Diego Godin first.
Atleti had the best defensive record in La Liga this season, conceding only 31 goals in all, nine better than their nearest rivals. Uruguayan centre-back Godin was a huge figure in that defence, playing all but three matches and providing a reliability and an organisation at the back which was of paramount importance.
A Copa del Rey victory at the end of the season was just rewards for his efforts.
33. Stefan Kiessling
Amazingly, the top scorer in the German Bundesliga is indeed German, but cannot break into his national team's squad.
Stefan Kiessling scored 25 times for Bayer Leverkusen this season, helping them to a third-place finish and Champions League football next season. He also recorded a 21 percent shot conversion rate, an impressive statistic. Kiessling's power and height allow him to secure an aerial advantage—he scored eight headers in the league this season—but he's also a very good technical footballer and a hard worker for his team.
32. Juan Mata
Arguably the second-best attacking midfielder in the Premier League this season after the aforementioned Bale, Juan Mata of Chelsea was a leading player for his team as they ended third in the league and won the UEFA Europa League.
His movement and ability to link up with his fellow attackers was at the fore all season long, as he claimed 12 goals and 12 assists, the latter the highest score in the league.
Barcelona might have tailed off over the final third of the season or so, but they had a phenomenal start and sealed the league title with plenty of time to spare. Central to their best performances once again was midfielder Xavi Hernandez.
Xavi recorded the best pass completion rate in any of Europe's top five leagues, with his 2,886 passes finding their mark 94.8 percent of the time.
30. Mario Mandzukic
We'll kick off with one of the most important members of Bayern's treble-winning side, centre-forward Mario Mandzukic.
The Croatian striker scored 15 goals in 24 Bundesliga games, and added three more in the Champions League. His hard-working approach, defending from the front, was the starting point for much of Bayern's success. Not a bad debut season for the No. 9.
29. Marek Hamsik
Marek Hamsik has been back to his best this term, providing a string of chances for the likes of Edinson Cavani from his roving attacking midfield role.
Hamsik claimed 14 assists for Napoli this season, comfortably the highest in all of Serie A, and added 11 goals of his own, too. In the entire league, only experienced duo Francesco Totti and Andrea Pirlo provided more key passes per game than Hamsik, testament to his creativity and ability in the final third.
28. Andres Iniesta
Another who, like Xavi, seemed to tail off toward the end of the season, Andres Iniesta nevertheless had a great first half of the season when Barcelona were showing their best form of all in the middle and final thirds of the pitch.
Iniesta managed better than an assist every other game in the league, totalling 16 in all, the highest in Spain.
27. Arturo Vidal
Chilean midfield enforcer Arturo Vidal was in splendid form all year long. Powering forward from the centre and excelling at both the offensive and defensive sides of his role, Vidal was a huge part of Juventus' title-winning team in Serie A.
He scored 10 goals in 31 matches and added a further eight assists.
26. Thiago Silva
PSG's captain Thiago Silva had a fine season at the back for the French side, though he only featured 22 times because of injury. Silva's leadership and expertise were valuable traits in a much-changed side, and under his guidance, PSG conceded only 23 goals all season.
25. Andrea Pirlo
Italy's midfield maestro continues to excel at the age of almost 35, passing and setting the tempo for Juventus' play from his deep role in the centre.
Pirlo featured in 32 Serie A games this season, made more key passes per game than anyone else in the league and generally showed that the younger generation of midfielders in the top flight have some way still to go to match his levels of ability.
And then there's his beard.
24. Radamel Falcao
Outside of the usual big two, Radamel Falcao was the standout attacker in La Liga this season, with the Colombian smacking in 28 goals in 34 games for Atletico Madrid, and helping them to a third-place finish and the Copa del Rey trophy.
Falcao combined his finishing skills with physical prowess and Atleti's fast attacks to great effect, but he won't be playing in the Champions League with them next season after agreeing a move to newly promoted French Ligue 1 side Monaco.
23. Thomas Muller
Another Bayern treble-winner now and Thomas Muller, usually Bayern's right-sided attacking midfielder.
Muller provides width when Bayern need it, he is technically excellent and is certainly hard-working off the ball, yet his most impressive trait is his ability to pop up with match-winning goals and assists so regularly.
Between the Bundesliga and Champions League, Muller totalled 21 goals and 13 assists this season.
22. Mats Hummels
Much of Dortmund's success comes from their attacking abilities, but there are two or three players who are charged with protecting the leads they build. Mats Hummels is one of them, and has steadily improved over the past three or four seasons to become one of the game's leading central defenders.
Powerful, fast and composed in possession, Hummels is a leader of the group as well as a top technical defender.
21. Javi Martinez
He's had a good season all-round, but over the second half of the campaign, Javi Martinez has arguably been one of the top two or three midfielders in all of Europe.
Forging a phenomenally strong, tactically and physically, partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger in the centre of midfield, Martinez was one of the key components of the side, which marched to treble glory this season for Bayern Munich. A monster of a player.
20. Giorgio Chiellini
Over to Italy now and one of the country's best defenders, Giorgio Chiellini.
Juventus won the league by some distance this season and had the best defensive record, conceding just 24 goals in 38 games, and Chiellini was a big part of the reason why. More than three tackles, three interceptions and six clearances a game mark him out as a formidable opponent in Juve's back three, and the fact he so rarely gives the ball away (better than a 90 percent pass completion rate this season) enables his team to quickly build from the back.
19. David Alaba
Possibly the best left-back in Europe this season, Bayern Munich's David Alaba is just 20 years old, but he's already won everything domestically and the Champions League title as a regular starter for his side.
Alaba missed the opening eight matches of the season through injury, but after coming into Bayern's team in late October, he missed just four league games, one in the cup and none at all in Europe. At that age, playing in a team that good and with such a good defensive record, that is amazing consistency and ability.
18. Ilkay Gundogan
Another hub of Dortmund's side, Ilkay Gundogan provides defensive cover and attacking thrust through the centre from his midfield position.
A real athlete and a consistent passer of the ball, Gundogan is a well-rounded midfielder who can pretty much perform any tactical role needed of him. His performance, in amongst that of his team's, against Real Madrid in the semifinal first leg was one of the finest individual midfield displays of the season.
17. Edinson Cavani
From the top defender of the league to the top striker now, and Napoli's Edinson Cavani.
Cavani was the top scorer of Serie A with 29 goals in 34 games, and he helped Napoli to a thoroughly impressive second-place finish. His attacking prowess allowed him to register more shots per game than anybody else in the league, and his huge strength and mobility make him a difficult opponent to defend against.
16. Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos unfortunately missed the final two months of the season with an injury sustained during the Champions League run, meaning he missed the final itself and the German Cup final.
However, he had already played a huge part in the team's success from his central attacking midfield position, scoring and creating goals with regularity. However, it was perhaps in his ability to press high and hard, not allowing opposition playmakers any time on the ball in deep areas, which was his greatest value to Bayern.
15. Dani Carvajal
Real Madrid have already agreed their first signing of the summer, bringing back former Castilla player Dani Carvajal from Bayer Leverkusen after just one season in the Bundesliga.
The right-back enjoyed a terrific campaign in Germany at right-back, where his ability to break from deep and make raiding runs down the flank earned him many admirers and favourable reviews. Defensively he was also strong in a solid Leverkusen defence, which was second-best in the league after only title winners Bayern Munich.
14. Marco Reus
24-year-old Marco Reus was a star for Borussia Dortmund this season, having signed from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer.
Operating anywhere across the line of attacking midfield, Reus is a huge threat in the final third and scored 14 goals in the Bundesliga this season. An economical and intelligent player with his through-balls, he also claimed nine assists from only 59 key passes.
13. Robert Lewandowski
Just one goal behind Kiessling in the standings was Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski. He also played three games fewer during the league season.
Lewandowski has proven himself an elite striker in Europe, also scoring 10 in 13 in the Champions League, including that famous four-goal haul against Real Madrid in the semifinal first leg. Great agility and a fine first touch allow Lewandowski to find the space to do his best work of all—finishing.
12. Mario Gotze
Mario Gotze has caused a commotion by agreeing to leave Dortmund for Bayern Munich this summer as the most expensive German player ever, but he certainly had the season to back up that valuation.
From his usual central attacking midfield role, Gotze managed nine assists and 10 goals for Dortmund, while he also ranked in the top 10 of the league for key passes and dribbles per game. Gotze's talent is undeniable, though there may always remain questions about whether or not he could have made the difference in the recent Champions League final between his current and future clubs, which he missed through injury.
11. Philipp Lahm
Of course on any such list, there must be room for a treble-winning captain.
Philipp Lahm continues to show consistency, resilience and quality, affecting games from full-back like few others are able to. His right-back berth at Bayern Munich offers the team plenty of quality going forward without sacrificing anything at all in defence. Somehow, Lahm is also still only 29 years old.
10. Manuel Neuer
The best goalkeeper in Europe this season? It's certainly possible. Manuel Neuer was the last line of defence for Bayern this season, and even though he often didn't have too much work to do, his concentration and ability to make important saves remained vital.
Neuer played 31 times in the league, with Bayern only conceding 18 times all season.
9. Luis Suarez
Liverpool forward Luis Suarez had a case for the Player of the Year award in England, but his less-than-savoury ending to the season put any possibility of that happening on the back burner.
Even so, Suarez single-handedly carried his team in the early part of the season, and then shone after the new year as he hit even greater heights. He scored 23 times altogether and proved himself one of the most dangerous attackers in the world game.
8. Robin Van Persie
Robin van Persie featured in all 38 Premier League games for Manchester United, and hit 26 goals in the process to fire United to the league title.
Another who has enjoyed a great debut season with a new club, van Persie was in superb form at the start and end of the season, with just a minor goalscoring blip in between, though his all-round contribution to the team rarely lets up.
7. Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale's value has rocketed this season after an extraordinary campaign in terms of spectacular goals from outside the penalty box. His surging runs, powerful dribbling technique and ability to play right the way across the attacking midfield line make him a pivotal part of Andre Villas-Boas' Spurs team.
Bale scored 21 goals in 33 games this season in the league.
6. Franck Ribery
Back to Germany and Franck Ribery, who had a campaign to remember with the treble trophy win. On an individual note, he was also at his best level for some time, claiming the most assists in the Bundesliga (14) and scoring 10 goals himself too.
Operating mainly from the left of the attack, Ribery attacked and defended well for his team, and had too much quality too often for opposition defences to deal with.
5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Next up is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish forward enjoyed a wonderful season with Paris Saint-Germain, sealing the Ligue 1 title in his debut season in Paris and scoring 30 goals in 34 matches.
Leading the line for the all-star cast, Zlatan was the standout player in all of the French championship and deservedly added to his already-significant medal haul.
4. Leo Messi
The best player in the world, Leo Messi hit 46 league goals in 32 La Liga matches this season. Only an injury at the end of the campaign prevented him from reaching the 50-goal barrier, when the league title was already sewn up and Barcelona were out of the Champions League.
Messi continues to amaze with every passing campaign, and there will be plenty watching him next term to see if he can continue his amazing scoring record as he heads into the 2014 World Cup in his prime.
Central defender Dante joined Bayern Munich in the summer and quickly set about establishing himself in the first XI after the injury to Holger Badstuber.
He went on to play an integral part in winning the Champions League and the Bundesliga, where his team conceded just 18 goals all season. Dante's leadership, defensive awareness and aggression in the challenge have all been evident this year.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
34 goals in 34 games is enough to keep anybody in the top-50 list, but Cristiano Ronaldo has brought much more than scoring goals to Real Madrid this season.
In a campaign of uncertainty he has been a reliable and consistent performer, winning games for his side and helping Real to a second-place finish, a Copa del Rey final and the semifinals of the Champions League. The only downside was that he ultimately failed to add any silverware to his collection.
1. Bastian Schweinsteiger
There isn't too much that Bastian Schweinsteiger cannot do on a football pitch, and there isn't too much that hasn't already been said about him.
The midfield general bosses game after game, providing huge energy and tactical influence on the pitch to direct the flow of his team's attack. He made more passes per game than anyone else in the Bundesliga, and ranks in the top 10 for pass completion rate too. It was a fantastic season from one of the elite midfielders in the game today, and the best player in Europe this season.
Player and team data from WhoScored, TransferMarkt, Squawka and Statto.com