Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich and France) 37 games, 10 goals ***
Even among Bayern Munich’s stellar cast there was a stand out performer this year. The class of Ribery, his ability to beat a man and to deliver a cross or pass of exceptional accuracy was integral to the team’s all conquering campaign. In delivering such a series of performances the Frenchman confirmed his place as the world’s top winger as well as one of the most widely underrated players in the game.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham and Wales) 33 games, 21 goals ***
In previous years Bale flatted to deceive, showing flashes of brilliance but lacking the consistency to fully merit much of the hype surrounding him. In 2012-3 the Welshman proved time and again that he is a matchwinner of undoubted quality, unleashing some exceptional strikes from the edge of the box to carry Spurs so close to the Champions League. Given the expected interest from Europe’s top teams it is no wonder that Daniel Levy has moved quickly to try and tie his most prized asset to a lucrative long term contract.
Dimitri Payet (Lille and France) 38 games, 12 goals **
After two excellent years Lille never looked likely to challenge for the Ligue 1 title after the departure of Eden Hazard. However, while the team didn’t hit the heights one player who did deliver was Dimitri Payet. Featuring in every match in the league he supplied 12 goals and 13 assists to ensure that they absence of the Belgian winger was not as acutely felt as it might have been.
Jakub Blaszczykowski (Borussia Dortmund and Poland) 27 games, 11 goals **
A hive of energy and industry in the Dortmund midfield, the importance of the Polish winger grew as the season wore on. Providing 10 assists in the Bundesliga in addition to his 11 goals was evidence of his ability to deliver but he is also unusually diligent for a wide player, tracking back and offering compatriot Piszczek with ample cover. The departure of Dortmund’s stars shouldn’t trouble Blaszczykowski who has got better and better over the course of recent seasons.
Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad and Mexico) 35 games, 14 goals **
The troubles that Vela had in establishing himself at Arsenal are a distant memory now. The Mexican starlet underlined his versatility and ability in a superb season in which he stood out as the key attacking cog in Sociedad’s well oiled machine. The Basque club enjoyed a remarkable year
Piti (Rayo Vallecano and Spain) 35 games, 18 goals *
Certainly not among the most well known names in La Liga, Piti has nevertheless been one of the most consistently outstanding figures this season. The goals that he has offered have powered Rayo Vallecano’s encouraging campaign and without his promptings from attacking midfield their league position might have looked very different. Admittedly he can be wasteful of possession but with that number of goals not many complaints can be voiced.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium) 34 games, 9 goals *
A season that started and ended particularly brightly but dipped in the middle was one that can bring some satisfaction to Hazard. His nomination for PFA Player of the Year was an aberration but he looked excellent at times and should certainly provide value for the considerable sum Chelsea spent on the winger. Next year he needs to focus again on the simpler things but after a season of acclimatization in the league don’t bet against him recreating his Lille heroics in the future.
James Rodriguez (Porto and Colombia) 24 games, 10 goals *
Now set to join Monaco for next season it has been another period of progress for the young Colombian. Frequently deployed behind his compatriot Jackson Martinez in a central role rather than wide on the flank he now seems to have gained the maturity necessary to play in the middle of the pitch. The move to Ligue 1 should only prove a gentle step up from the Portuguese Superliga and it would be no surprise to see a player of such talents on the move again in the near future.
Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina and Colombia) 36 games, 5 goals *
In an era where inverted wingers are the norm Cuadrado’s willingness to take on an opposing defender is refreshing. Although ostensibly a wing-back for Fiorentina he loves to get forward when offered the opportunity and he provides an interesting balance to the more defensively adept Manuel Pasqual in the Fiorentina midfield. Part of an excellent generation of Colombian stars it’s easy to see why many people are tipping them as dark horses for next summer’s World Cup.
Dries Mertens (PSV Eindhoven and Belgium) 29 games, 16 goals *
Surely now it is only a matter of time before someone takes a chance on Mertens. Not that it will be much of a gamble given that he provided 17 assists to go along with his 16 goals in the Eredivisie. At 26 the overwhelming majority of players of this class have long flown the Dutch nest and the completeness of his game plus his notable ability at set-pieces means that he should be able to cope in a more challenging league.
Willian (Shakhtar Donestsk/Anzhi and Brazil) 21 games, 3 goals *
A January move to arguably the world’s richest team spoke volumes for the performances that Willian had delivered during his time at Shakhtar. If anything was a surprise it was the Brazilian’s willingness to move to Dagestan rather than wait and see if a more glamourous move arose in the summer. There’s no doubting that on form he is a magical player to watch, nimble footed and possessing a fabulous array of gifts. Yet to set the world alight in Russia, the team will be hoping for better than third place next season.
Romain Alessandrini (Rennes and France)
Andre Ayew (Marseille and Ghana)
Eric Bautheac (Nice and France)
Mbark Boussoufa (Anzhi and Morocco)
Daniel Caligiuri (Freiburg and Germany)
Antonio Candreva (Lazio and Italy)
Alessio Cerci (Torino and Italy)
Gael Danic (Valenciennes and France)
Julian Draxler (Schalke and Germany)
Patrick Ebert (Valladolid and Germany)
Jefferson Farfan (Schalke 04 and Peru)
Joaquin (Malaga and Spain)
Lica (Estoril and Portugal)
Ricardo (Guimaraes and Portugal)
Markel Susaeta (Athletic Bilbao and Spain)
Florian Thauvin (Bastia and France)
Arda Turan (Atletico Madrid and Turkey)