Europe top 10 players of the decade


Three World Cups, six different Champions League winners, and countless memorable matches and performances. The 2010s have been a decade littered with footballing brilliance.

As the decade comes to a close, Sportsmail asked our team of reporters: who have been their players of the 2010s? The results, formed of 27 responses tallied up to make up a top 10 players have been released over the last five days.

The big questions were can Cristiano Ronaldo’s four European Cup wins and international success propel him above the mercurial brilliance of Lionel Messi? Which Premier League stars will mix it with the best from LaLiga? And where will the World Cup winners rank compared to the stars of the Champions League?

In the concluding installment, the top 10 in Sportsmail’s eyes are revealed and along with  Ronaldo and Messi, there is room for a free-scoring Polish striker, a Welsh Galactico and the man who broke the Ballon d’Or’s decade of dominance.

  1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona, Argentina

It just had to be, didn’t it? The crafty Argentine has not done too badly for himself in the 2010s, that much is certain.

Just look at the numbers. Messi has scored 50 or more goals for club and country in nine of the past 10 years.

He scored 91 GOALS in 2012. 91 goals. Not a typing error. Messi is like nothing anybody has seen before – or will see again.

Toasting a new decade, Messi can reflect on 579 goals for Barcelona and Argentina in the period and 23 trophies to go along with them.

In Europe’s top five leagues, no player has more assists than Messi in the 2010s with the Barcelona superstar registering 136. His closest challenger was Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, who boasts 111.

More Messi statistical madness. 

He has lifted six European Golden shoes – for the top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues – and finished as top scorer in LaLiga on the same number of occasions, equalling a record set in the 1950s.

In fact, nobody won more games across Europe’s top five leagues in the decade than Messi.

The Barcelona captain went on to win 260 games and the runner-up was a team-mate of his, Sergio Busquets.

For the sake of everyone else on the list, it is wise to wind-up Messi’s scroll of honours there. But undeniably, the Argentine is an outstanding choice as the player of the decade.

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid, Juventus, Portugal

This was always going to be tough to call. The age-old Ronaldo-Messi debate is enough to bring some groups of fans on the brink of a civil war.

Both are sensational, two of the finest to ever play the game. But one had to come second and Sportsmail’s reporters have voted the Portuguese in as the runner-up.

The biggest testament to Ronaldo is he has done it right across the continent.

He was a goal-scoring supremo at Real Madrid, winning three straight Champions League titles to make it five in total across his career, before making the move to Juventus where he continued their domestic dominance to lift Serie A last season.

One of the biggest differentials that fans of Ronaldo use to edge out Messi is international honours and there is no competition in that department.

Ronaldo provided Portugual with the belief that they can achieve greatness and he has played a starring role in helping deliver Euro 2016 and the Nations League in the summer.

Having scored more than 500 goals across all competitions this decade, Ronaldo’s numbers are no joke.

He ages – apparently – but continues to defy gravity (see his header against Sampdoria recently) and it would be foolish to bet against him reasserting himself as the best in the business if he goes and ends Juventus’ Champions League drought before he is done in Turin.

The 34-year-old has an airport named after him, is chasing down an international scoring record, has won every accolade you can ever think of and is the most marketable sports star on the planet. His case for a top spot makes itself.

Nobody is underestimating his greatness, but it might not be until he retires that people really get just how incredible a career Ronaldo has had.

  1. Andres Iniesta – Barcelona, Spain

Without a doubt, one of the most gifted midfielders of all time.

The La Masia graduate emerged as a playmaker with immense technique and alongside Xavi, he played with a telepathy few players will ever come close to achieving.

So good was he in his prime at Barcelona, Iniesta looked to play the game at his own pace, dictating what happens when.

But his No 3 ranking comes as Iniesta has played a starring role for Barcelona and for Spain. He stepped up to be the hero with the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final, took over the 2011 and 2015 Champions League finals and was integral to winning Euro 2012.

Fernando Torres famously said he could not remember Iniesta ‘ever playing badly’ and that assessment feels pretty close to the truth. As he winds down his career in Japan, Iniesta can reflect on a decade where he cemented himself among the pantheon of greatest ever midfielders.

  1. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid, Spain

Sergio Ramos is the player opposition fans love to hate but would do anything to have on their own side.

Some may call him a bully; others will say he has an insatiable appetite to win by any means.

It is a testament that no-one has even come close to knocking him off his perch in the last 15 years at the Bernabeu. He is the bedrock of the side and shows no signs of slowing down, even at 33.

Take this decade’s body of work: four UEFA Champions League, four FIFA Club World Cups, two LaLiga titles, two Copa del Rey, two Spanish Super Cups, two European championships and the 2010 World Cup to cap it off.

He is one of Real Madrid’s greatest ever captains, is Spain’s all-time record appearance maker and will go down as a great – just don’t ask Liverpool fans about that tackle on Mohamed Salah in Kiev.

  1. Luka Modric – Tottenham, Real Madrid, Croatia

One of the biggest compliments any fan can bestow on Luka Modric is that the Croatian seems to see passes two or three phases before they arrive.

The diminutive midfielder is well-rounded and mild-mannered, showing elegance, rather than steel, for club and country.

Try as they might, Tottenham, who had him until 2012, simply could not keep hold of a player that was destined to be at Europe’s top table.

Real Madrid came calling and their £30m move now looks an absolute bargain after such a dedicated period of service for the club.

There have been times where Modric’s passing accuracy average over a season has hovered around 90 percent. And nobody can ignore his 2018 Ballon d’Or win, breaking the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo dominance.

  1. Luis Suarez – Ajax, Liverpool, Barcelona, Uruguay

Luis Suarez has not been short of controversy in his career, but such is his profligacy in front of goal, he seems to have got away with it.

Here is a man, a ‘street-fighter’ if you will, who has three sections on his Wikipedia page referring to incidents where he has bitten another opponent – the most famous of which came against Italy at the 2014 World Cup.

Suarez lunged in on Giorgio Chiellini and bit his shoulder – the Italian later showing off the bite marks during his protest. Uruguay went on to win a corner after the foul was not awarded and they scored, sending them to the knockout stages and Italy out.

But back to the pitch and the decade began at Liverpool and ends at Barcelona where his partnership with Lionel Messi is something close to poetry. More than 250 club goals across 10 years tell its own story.

Suarez is one of the finest strikers to ever play the game (even if his teeth can get a bit carried away.)

  1. Sergio Aguero – Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Argentina

The Premier League has been blessed with elite-level strikers since its inception in 1992. There was Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Thierry Henry, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and a number of others.

But whatever happens in the years to come, Sergio Aguero has firmly established himself in the conversation for the Premier League’s greatest ever import.

With 174 league goals to his name, no player recorded more this decade in England’s top flight and Aguero’s ruthlessness since arriving from Atletico Madrid earns him a spot in the top 10.

He delivered perhaps the most dramatic finish in English football history when he netted in stoppage time against QPR for Manchester City’s first league title under Roberto Mancini.

Mancini once described him ‘as a photocopy of Romario’ and that praise is not dished out without merit. No Champions League winners’ medal or success with Argentina is all that holds Aguero back now.

  1. Xavi – Barcelona, Al Sadd, Spain

Try and find someone who has a negative word to say about Xavi. It is a thankless task. The Spaniard departed the Nou Camp as one of the finest players ever to wear Barcelona colours and will forever remain in the club’s history for his years of service.

On talent alone, Xavi arguably merits a higher ranking. But given he left the club for Al Sadd in the Middle East in 2015, it would not be fair if he were to escape a penalty for a half-decade stint at the top.

His coolness in the possession and his ability to find space and dictate the tempo ensures he is remembered as one of the greatest central midfielders of all time.

Thirteen honors with Barcelona in the decade – which includes four LaLiga titles, four UEFA Champions League trophies, and two Copa del Rey wins – coincides with two European Championships and a World Cup as the leader for Spain.

Truly one of sport’s finest and he is the benchmark for any future Barcelona midfielder. That alone shows his imprint on the game.

  1. Gareth Bale – Tottenham, Real Madrid, Wales

Depending on who you ask, Gareth Bale scored the greatest ever goal in a Champions League final a year ago. If they do not go that far, they may at least concede it is one of the goals of the last decade.

For Bale’s overhead kick finish against Liverpool in Kiev to help seal a third successive Champions League title for Real Madrid spoke to the brilliance of a player who has found himself pretty unloved outside of his native Wales in recent years.

It is not like he has flopped since swapping north London for Spain’s sun-soaked capital city. He has produced in the ‘clutch’ moments.

The Copa del Rey final where he RUNS OFF THE PITCH and back on to beat Marc Barta and produce one of the best goals in the competition’s history. Then there was his extra-time header to break Atletico Madrid hearts in the 2014 Champions League final. His goal against Liverpool speaks for itself.

It is easy to deride Bale for his inability to converse in Spanish or his ice-cold demeanor off the pitch. But having delivered a glut of major trophies and helped Wales to their first major tournament since 1958 when they reached Euro 2016, Bale remains one of the decade’s greatest.

  1. Robert Lewandowski – Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Poland

Boiled down to pure numbers, Robert Lewandowski has had an unbelievable decade.

Take his Bundesliga stats in isolation: 221 goals in 307 games. The man just cannot stop scoring and for those in Bavaria – and those in Poland – long may it continue.

At the start of the decade, Lewandowski was on hand to fire Borussia Dortmund to successive titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12 at Bayern’s expense. He went and added the Bundesliga’s golden boot award the season after that.

He makes records evaporate with every passing week, it seems, and who can forget his five-goal blitz against Wolfsburg in September 2015? That memory a bit hazy? Go and dig out the highlights. Truly sublime.

Lewandowski has 30 goals already this season and it is not even January 1. The man is some sort of striking Frankenstein.


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