In the second edition of this annual feature, we at Outside of the Boot aim to unearth the best performing footballers from each of the 5 primary Confederations. Rebranded as ‘The Best Series’, we champion football’s top individuals based on performances in the past calendar year.
10. LUKA MODRIC
31 // Croatia // Real Madrid
For me, you can keep the likes of Iniesta, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio etc etc. Luka Modric, in my opinion, is the best centre midfielder in the world. The Croatian sensation continued with another impressive year at Real Madrid, winning another trophy.
Fitness has always been an issue for the former Tottenham talisman, however, 2016 has been a year that we’ve been gifted many more opportunities to watch Modric.
Although the statistics of goals and assists (2 goals, 1 assist) for the second half of the 2015/16 season aren’t mind-blowing, Modric is not in the side for these reasons.
Modric provided Real Madrid the industrial feel in a Los Blancos side lacking a class defensive-midfielder, however, also provided an offensive incisiveness which the likes of the BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo) can feed off during every 90 minutes.
Modric helped an impressive Croatia side top their Euro 2016 group, which included a very impressive 2-1 win over reigning champions Spain. Unfortunately though, Croatia faltered against the ‘would-be champions’ Portugal – losing 1-0 in extra time.
Modric has featured in just over half of Real’s matches this season, a knee injury meant the Croat missed 4 league games and 2 Champions League games and has scored 1 goal so far.
If he can remain fit, he will be imperative to Los Blancos’ hopes of achieving multiple titles this year.
Written by Tom Canton
9. JAMIE VARDY
29 // England // Leicester
It is almost impossible to speak of Leicester City winning the 2015/16 Premier League without mentioning Jamie Vardy, whose “Roy of the Rovers” rise has mirrored that of Leicester. A season that started with Vardy clinching the Premier League record of most consecutive matches (11) scored in ended with an impressive haul – Premier League winners’ medal, Premier League Player of the Season, Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and a place in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year. His electric pace and relentless hunger to excel, allied to a cold ruthlessness in front of goal, resulted in 24 goals and 8 assists in 36 PL games in 2015/16 – tied with Sergio Aguero and just 1 behind top scorer Harry Kane. To go from a £1m signing from non-league football to an England international and Premier League winner is the most unlikely of success stories. He might even have a film made about him. Ladies and gentlemen – Jamie Vardy.
Written by Mark Ooi
8. HUGO LLORIS
29 // France // Tottenham Hotspur
Frenchman Hugo Lloris had a stunning year for both club and country, both of which ended in disappointment for the 29-year-old.
Lloris captained Spurs in an incredible title challenge from the Londoners that saw them eventually conceding defeat to Leicester City before falling behind local rivals Arsenal on the last day of the season. The ex-Lyon man also captained his country at the European Championship, as the hosts impressed from the opening game before falling short to unlikely champions, Portugal.
But while the footballing world was left amazed at both Leicester City and Portugal’s triumphs in 2016, it were sides captained by Lloris that a subset of followers would consider unlucky to have fallen short. Efficient from the get go and controlled by an impressive Lloris, both Spurs and France were commended for their impressive defences. With the added responsibility of captaincy, Lloris has ensured his performances haven’t dipped as the Frenchman continues to be one of the best goalkeepers in World football.
The second half of 2016 showed similar efficiency from Lloris, with Spurs’ defence once again impressing viewers; and while the keeper had some of his finest games in Europe’s premier competition, Spurs were disappointingly knocked out in the group stage. Little blame attached to Lloris though, who continues to lead his side – fighting and battling to remain among the best.
Written by Sami Faizullah
7. GARETH BALE
27 // Wales // Real Madrid
The completion of Gareth Bale’s 2015/16 campaign marked the Welshman’s most successful league season so far at Los Blancos. The Real Madrid winger finished with 19 goals in just 23 league games, during a season plagued with injury. Bale also provided the assist for Sergio Ramos’ header in the Champions League final to set the team on their way to an 11th Champions League triumph.
Bale interspersed his domestic success with an unbelievable run with Wales to the European Championship semi-finals. Bale scored in each of their group matches but couldn’t notch in the knock-out rounds.
Bale’s luck with injury this season has been much improved up until very recently. Bale started 11 of the first 12 matches; missing the away win at Espanyol with a hip problem. However, he suffered an ankle injury that, after surgery, could keep him out of the side for up to 3 months.
Whilst Bale has scored in just 3 matches this season scoring 5 goals, his contribution to the team has been recognised to a much greater extent. So much so Real rewarded the Welshman with a new long-term contract keeping him in the Spanish capital until at least 2022. Although, with Ronaldo signing his own long-term deal, it appears Bale still has a few more years before he becomes Los Blancos’ primary talisman.
Written by Tom Canton
6. N’GOLO KANTE
25 // France // Chelsea & Leicester City
With the underdog story still one of the classics in sport, it came as little surprise when Leicester City’s title charge captured the imagination of the masses. It might have been the Mahrez-Vardy show up top but the rest of the pitch belonged to N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman’s boundless energy was key to Leicester’s whole being greater than the sum of its parts and meant that the Champions could exert control even without having the ball. His constant hassling of the opponents often lead to turnovers in possession, followed more often than not by a swift counter-attack.
The close season saw Chelsea come calling and Kante traded in the blue of Leicester for that of Chelsea. Before that though was a small matter of the European Championship to be held in France. Kante and company had to lick their wounds after falling agonizingly short but the Frenchman had work to do with his new employers. The 25-year-old took his time to get started but has gone from strength to strength, as has the side in recent weeks. Chelsea look real title contenders and it would come as little surprise if Kante was to make it 2 out of 2 in his time in England..
Written by Arnab Ray