2019 has been a year of returns.
Liverpool returned to the top of the European game by winning their first UEFA Champions League since 2005.
Joe Pesci returned to the big screen for the first since 2010 by starring Martin Scorsese’s instant classic (and not too long, no, that’s a bad opinion, it’s a perfectly cromulent length) The Irishman.
Fleetwood Mac (minus Lindsay Buckingham) went on tour for the first time in, well, forever.
So in keeping with this year of big returns, we at 90min thought that it was about damn time that the European Footballer of the Year award returned too. It’s been gone since the Ballon d’Or went global, and we miss it so much that we’ve decided to bring it back.
And here it is.
50. Romelu Lukaku
After looking incapable of even playing football at times during his final few months at Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku has proved his worth in the second half of 2019 at Inter.
In the first few months of the 2019/20 season he’s struck up a potent partnership with Lautaro Martinez and scored goals for fun. Nice one.
49. Santi Cazorla
Fast forward to December 2019 and Cazorla is a Spain international and one of the very best players in La Liga.
The story of 2019? Probably.
48. Josip Ilicic
Josip Ilicic’s talent was never in doubt.
Even waaayyyyyy back when he first burst onto the scene at Palermo in 2010, it was pretty clear that Ilicic had the ability to become one of the best players in Serie A.
In 2019, after nearly a decade of waiting, Ilicic became just that: one of the Serie A’s best players.
47. Dani Parejo
Put simply, Dani Parejo is a nice footballer to watch, well, play football.
He glides around the pitch rather effortlessly, spraying the ball to his teammates whenever and wherever he wants.
In 2019, he combined this graceful style with some substance too, as he guided Valencia to a shock Copa del Rey triumph over Barcelona.
46. N’Golo Kante
Ok, ok, ok, OK! We get it Chelsea fans – this ranking has annoyed you.
WE GET IT.
We get the fact that N’Golo Kante has, overall, become a better footballer in 2019 due to Maurizio Sarri’s decision to utilise him as a box-to-box midfielder.
WE GET IT.
But, overall, 2019 was a transitional year for Kante, and as such he wasn’t really able to have the impact he usually has on his side’s fortunes.
45. Nicolo Zaniolo
…He is a special talent…
…Like seriously special…
…He already has a flair for the big occasion (see his goals against AC Milan and Napoli)…
…And in 2020 we fully expect him to take Europe by storm…
…Italy’s Euro 2020 opponents: you’ve been warned…
44. James Maddison
He can’t get a game for England to save his life, but there’s no doubt that James Maddison is one of England’s brightest talents.
After making a strong start to the year under Brendan Rodgers, the Balenciaga Baggio has come on leaps and bounds in the second half of 2019; firing Leicester City into the top four while wearing a space bag.
43. Ricardo Pereira
Ricard Pereira is the third best full back in the Premier League and cost £500,000 less than the worst full back in the Premier League.
No prizes for guessing who that is.
42. Miralem Pjanic
It’s been a year of two halves for Juventus’ Miralem Pjanic.
The first half of the year wasn’t…well, it wasn’t particularly great for Pjanic. Sure, he won Serie A – because everyone that ever plays for Juve always does – but individually, the Bosnian regista struggled. He largely ineffective both in and out of possession, and was ripped limb from limb by a Frenkie de Jong led midfield in the UEFA Champions League.
BUT, in the second half of 2019, Pjanic has been absolutely exceptional – becoming the first name on the Juve teamsheet under Maurizio Sarri.
41. Memphis Depay
Supa hot fire: he spits that.
Two and a Half Men: he watches that.
Football: he plays that – he plays that really well.
Really, really, really well.
He’s not a rapper though.
40. Fabian Ruiz
2019 has been a rather, shall we say, topsy turvy year for SSC Napoli.
At times they’ve been brilliant; at times they’ve been a steaming pile of crap.
But while Napoli have been largely inconsistent, Fabian Ruiz hasn’t. Through thick and thin Ruiz has remained, well, Ruiz: a delightful midfielder who can pretty much anything he wants with a football.
39. Marco Verratti
Probably the most underrated midfielder in Europe, and that’s purely because he plays for PSG – ergo, he plays ‘in a farmer’s league against a pile of French farmers. League Two is better than that farmer’s leag…’
Alright, calm down Brexit Bill.
The truth is though – despite its reputation – Ligue 1 is a good league and Verratti is the best midfielder in it; by some distance.
38. David Silva
The hipster’s favourite Premier League footballer of all time.
David Silva has been one of the most enduringly brilliant midfielders to ever grace the Premier League, and he proved as much during 2019, winning the domestic treble with Manchester City.
37. Marcus Rashford
The amount of abuse that Marcus Rashford gets is a bit weird, isn’t it?
Obviously he’s not a natural goalscorer.
Obviously he should probably take less free kicks.
Obviously Manchester United are pretty sh-t.
BUT, Marcus Rashford is so obviously brilliant at a lot of other things and in 2019 he proved that by becoming Man Utd’s star man.
36. Jordi Alba
Lionel Messi’s mate makes this list because he is one of the very few players to realise that the only way to actually play with Messi is to pass him the ball every single time you have possession of said ball.
He does it; and it works.
35. Antoine Griezmann
Talent wise, there 100% definitely aren’t 34 better European footballers than Antoine Griezmann.
2019 form wise, there 100% definitely were.
And that’s not to say Griezmann didn’t have a solid year – he did, he signed for Barcelona and has played pretty well since that move. BUT, we fully expect a lot more from the French forward in 2020.
34. Gerard Pique
Like Pjanic, 2019 has been a year of two halves for Gerard Pique.
In the second half of the year he’s been fairly average, but in the first half of the year he was one of the very best central defenders in Europe; leading Barca to yet another La Liga title.
33. Wojciech Szczesny
Remember when Wojciech Szczesny was deemed not good enough to play for Arsenal? The Arsenal who currently sit tenth in the Premier League table? The Arsenal who haven’t won a league title since 2004?
Yeah, me too.
And, as you can guess by the fact that we at 90min have ranked Wojciech Szczesny as the 33rd best European player in 2019, that was a pretty bad decision.
32. Joao Felix
31st may seem a bit low for the Golden Boy award winner, but like Pique and Pjanic is was a year of two…oh, you get the picture.
Joao Felix was absolutely lights out at Benfica in the second half of last season, scoring goals at a rate that shouldn’t actually be possible for a five-year-old. His move to Atletico Madrid hasn’t really gone to plan yet, but he’s only five, he has plenty of time to improve.
31. Donny van de Beek
One of the very, very, verrrrrryyy few players who didn’t leave Ajax in the summer, Donny van de Beek has continued to shine for the Eredivise champions this season after scoring in pretty much every big game of last season.
A man for the big occasion, don’t expect the midfielder to be in Amsterdam for too much longer.
30. Erling Haland
The spawn of Ivan Drago, Erling Haland is a goalscoring machine.
He shouted ‘you will lose’ at every team RB Salzburg have faced this season, and made sure they did by scoring 24 goals before Christmas.
He’s not human. He’s like a piece of iron.
29. Marco Reus
Do you know what’s nice? Marco Reus being fully fit.
It’s just nice.
Do you know what’s really nice? How good Marco Reus has been in 2019.
It’s just really nice.
He’s back to his very best.
28. Serge Gnabry
Remember when Serge Gnabry was deemed not good enough to play for Arsenal? The Arsenal who currently sit tenth in the Premier League table? The Arsenal who haven’t won a league title since 2004?
Yeah, me too.
And, as you can guess by the fact that we at 90min have ranked Serge Gnabry as the 28th best European player in 2019, that was a pretty bad decision.
27. Joshua Kimmich
Joshua Kimmich is one of the best full backs in the world.
Joshua Kimmich is one of the best central midfielders in the world.
Joshua Kimmich is one of the best centre backs in the world.
Joshua Kimmich is one of the best wingers in the world.
Joshua Kimmich is one of the best strikers in the world.
Joshua Kimmich is one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
26. Kai Havertz
Kai Havertz has got ‘it’.
And I don’t really know what ‘it’ is, but whatever ‘it’ is, it’s meant Havertz is one of the best prospects in world football.
At the age of 19, the Bayer Leverkusen attacker scored 17 goals last season – including five goals in the last six games to give Bayer some unlikely Champions League football – which is the most any teenager has ever scored in the Bundesliga.
He’s got ‘it’.
25. Ciro Immobile
Ciro Immobile is the 25th best European footballer of 2019 for one simple reason:
He scores goals.
He scores A LOT of goals.
The Italian forward has already scored five more goals than any other footballer on the peninsula this season, and has been the star of the show for Serie A’s most consistently brilliant team of 2019 (Lazio…weirdly).
24. Aymeric Laporte
Aymeric Laporte has barely kicked a football in the last six months – yet he’s still 24th on this list.
THAT’S HOW GOOD HE WAS LAST SEASON.
Laporte is literally the only defender at Manchester City who can actually defend. When he was fit, City won the domestic treble; when he’s not, City are 11 points adrift of Liverpool in the Premier League table.
THAT’S HOW GOOD HE IS.
23. Jan Oblak
Jan Oblak may not be the flashiest goalkeeper in the world, but he is certainly one of the best.
The big massive Slovenian keeps more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in Europe and it’s not even close. In 2019, he continued to be his infallible self, saving basically every shot taken in the world ever.
22. Eden Hazard
Bah gawd! It’s another one!
Another footballer who has been fairly useless at the start of this season, but was absolutely incredible at the tail end of the last.
Eden Hazard hasn’t exactly hit the ground running at Real Madrid…because he can’t really run because he’s put on so much weight. In the final few months of his longer-than-expected Chelsea career however, Hazard was quite literally the only player on the Blues books who looked capable of playing football.
He. Was. Amazing.
21. Bruno Fernandes
Remember that time in FIFA 12 career mode when you managed to sign Neymar for Colchester United and proceeded to feed him the ball at the literally every opportunity? And because of this, he scored 35 goals and bagged 30 assists?
That’s basically what Bruno Fernandes and Sporting CP’s 2019 has been.
20. Timo Werner
No player on this list has ended 2019 in better form than Timo Werner.
In his last eight games for RB Leipzig, Werner has scored nine goals and assisted a further three as the club end the decade atop of the Bundesliga table.
And yes, as such, the club you support has been linked with a move for him.
19. Jordan Henderson
From flop signing to Champions League-lifting club captain; let’s just say it’s been a surprising rise to the top of the game for Jordan Henderson.
Sure, he has his flaws as a footballer, but there’s no denying how imperious his form was in 2019 as the heart of Liverpool’s best team in over 30 years.
18. Karim Benzema
While Real Madrid have undoubtedly suffered since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus, Karim Benzema has thrived.
No longer the ‘guy who gets out of the way for Ronaldo’, Benz has shone in 2019 and become Los Blancos’ very best player. Only Lionel Messi has scored more La Liga goals than him this season – that’s impressive.
17. Kevin De Bruyne
I can see the Twitter replies and Facebook comments already:
‘Kevin De Bruyne is a baller with a capital b, 90min are a disgrace with a capital d!’
‘Whoever voted for this knows absolutely nothing about football! I’m 15 years old and I know everything about football because I was Match of the Day 1 and 2 every week.’
Look, when you consider the fact that De Bruyne was injured for the main, most important part, of the 2019 football calendar, 17th is actually quite a fair spot for the midfielder to be. And while he was injured, other footballers were playing really well.
So stop your crying.
16. Jamie Vardy
Hands up who thought Vardy would find his 2015/16 form again?
Put your hands down. Of course you didn’t.
No one thought that possible – not least when the number nine is 32 years old.
But, Big Brendy Baps has really gotten Jamie Vardy firing on all cylinders this year – so much so that the English forward is the top scorer in the Premier League.
It’s a miracle; it really is.
15. Marc Andre ter Stegen
Here he is: the best European goalkeeper…
…and he’s not even the Germany number one…no we’re not sure why he’s not either.
Put simply, Marc Andre ter Stegen was Barcelona’s second best player of 2019 (behind Lionel Messi). He save La Blaugrana time and time and time again over the past year, and is more than deserving of his place among Europe’s very, very best.
14. Gini Wijnaldum
A rock in middle of Liverpool’s European and World Club Cup winning midfield, and a potent goalscorer at international level; it’s fair to say the Gini Wijnaldum has done it all in 2019.
The Dutch international is fairly perfect footballer; in the sense that he can do absolutely anything he is ever asked to do by a manager.
13. Harry Kane
It’s been a weird year for Tottenham Hotspur.
They’ve been fairly sh-t all year round, but found themselves in the UEFA Champions League final.
It’s been a weird year for Harry Kane too.
He’s been fairly brilliant, scoring goals at an unreal rate, yet found himself getting slagged off by half of England.
12. Cristiano Ronaldo
Ok. Right. Ok.
This is a difficult one.
Cristiano Ronaldo has, at times in 2019, been more trouble than he’s worth for Juventus football club. He costs €30m per year, he threw a massive childish strop after being subbed off in the AC Milan game, and his insistence at standing at the back post and doing very little has proved troublesome for Maurizio Sarri.
There were other times in 2019 in which CR7 has been outstanding: the hat-trick against Atletico Madrid and the big mad header against Sampdoria being prime examples.
The truth is, those fleeting moments aren’t enough for Juve, and they’re certainly not enough for someone to break into the top 10 European players of the year.
11. Dusan Tadic
Southampton sold Dusan Tadic for £10m.
The Dusan Tadic that scored a hat trick at the Santiago Bernabeu. The Dusan Tadic who has accumulated 17 assists this season already. The Dusan Tadic who led Ajax to the UEFA Champions League semi finals.
Yes that Dusan Tadic.
Sold by Southampton – for £10m.
10. Jadon Sancho
Because Jadon Sancho plies his trade in Germany, English football fans may slightly underestimate just how good the kid is.
Put simply, he is the best footballer England have produced since Wayne Rooney; and even that might be an underestimation of his talents.
His natural ability to weigh a pass is Michel Platini-esque, and everything else he does is pretty exceptional as well.
A game changer.
9. Andrew Robertson
Andy Robertson is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most complete full back in world football.
Can he cross the ball? Yes, he assisted 11 goals last season.
Can he tackle? Yes.
Is he a leader? Yes, he’s the Scotland captain (stop laughing in the back).
Is he fast? Yes.
Is he a winner? Yes, he won the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup in 2019.
Robertson is the perfect full back; a mix of old defensive nuance and new offensive flair that is so rare in today’s game.
8. Frenkie de Jong
Frenkie de Jong is what I imagine Tottenham Hotspur fans think Harry Winks is – a number six capable of turning out of danger and feeding the ball through to his side’s offensive players.
Tottenham fans are delusional, of course, as Winks can’t do any of those things; but De Jong most certainly can.
And he proved it in 2019, when he bossed Luka Modric, bossed Miralem Pjanic among others in an extraordinary calendar year for the Dutch midfielder.
7. Bernardo Silva
Bernardo Silva hasn’t been seen too often of late at the Etihad Stadium, which is somewhat surprising considering he was arguably the best player in Europe during the 2018/19 season.
The ‘bubblegum footballer’ was mesmeric throughout the 2018/19 campaign, finding his Monaco form to become a linchpin in City’s historic domestic treble winning side.
6. Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold might not be able to defend as well as Andy Robertson, but OH MY GOD can he cross a football.
TAA is quite literally the best crosser of the ball that football fans have borne witness to this decade.
When Liverpool need a goal, their Trent is usually the man who steps up to create it.
He did it in the UEFA Champions League semi final. He did it in the FIFA Club World Cup semi final. He does it whenever the f–k he wants and there’s no one that can stop him.
5. Matthijs de Ligt
THE BEST DEFENSIVE PROSPECT SINCE ALESSANDRO NESTA.
That’s it. That’s the headline for Matthijs de Ligt.
He is a generational talent – a defender destined to win every team and individual accolade in the game (including the Ballon d’Or).
In 2019 he proved it. He is a natural-born world shaker.
4. Kylian Mbappe
THE BEST FOOTBALLING PROSPECT SINCE LIONEL MESSI.
That’s it. That’s the headline for Kylian Mbappe.
But you knew that already.
Everyone knows how good Mbappe is, as he continues to prove it week in, week out. No matter who the opposition, Mbappe steps up.
Last season, he scored 40 goals and assisted a further 13.
This season, he’s scored 20 and assisted 10 in 23 games.
Unbelievably, he’s getting better and better and better.
3. Raheem Sterling
No footballer has improved more than Raheem Sterling over the past two years.
That’s a fact.
In 2018, he was great; in 2019, he was absolutely exceptional, scoring the biggest goals in the biggest games for both club and country.
The English forward is as important on the pitch for Man City and England as he is off of it as spokesperson for the downtrodden.
A national treasure.
2. Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski is the second best European footballer of 2019 for one simple reason:
No other European footballer can score goals the way Lewa does; he scores every conceivable type of goal and converts basically every single chance that falls to him.
2019 saw the Bayern Munich forward scored 54 goals in just 58 appearances. That. Is. Astonishing.
1. Virgil van Dijk
It was always going to be Virgil van Dijk, wasn’t it?
Let’s face it, no other football in Europe has had anywhere close to the impact Van Dijk has had over the past year. By signing the defender, Liverpool have become virtually unbeatable.
The Reds sit atop of the Premier League having not lost any of their last 34 league games – and having only dropped two points this season – and they won both the Champions League and Club World Cup this year.
None of these successes would’ve been possible without VVD. He is the best player at the club, the best player in England, the best player in Europe.