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.
5. GIANLUIGI BUFFON
38 // Italy // Juventus
It’s rare for a player to be considered among the best across different generations and different decades, but while many of his friends and ex-teammates have taken up managerial roles on the sidelines, Gianluigi Buffon continues to display world-class performances week-in and week-out.
Quality performances are no stranger to Juventus fans who have watched Buffon develop into the world’s best; but in 2016 the Italian goalkeeper broke decade old records that only further cement his existing legendary status in World football. The 38-year-old went 974 minutes without conceding a goal in Italian top-flight football, breaking the previous record set in the 93-94 season; this represented ten consecutive clean-sheets – another record in itself. 2016 also saw Buffon become the first ever goal-keeper to win the Golden Foot award.
Buffon, as ever, was an integral part of the Juventus team, captaining his side to a record-breaking fifth consecutive Serie A title, along with the Coppa Italia title to complete a domestic double. The Italian also captained his country at the 2016 European Championship, managing three cleansheets in the four games that he played as an under-estimated Italy were eventually knocked out by World champions Germany.
Written by Sami Faizullah
4. ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI
28 // Poland // Bayern Munich
The goal scoring machine from Poland, enjoyed his most successful year at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola. Having captained and led his country at the UEFA Euros in France this past summer, where he did not enjoy the best of tournaments, Lewandowski has come back strongly this season, doing what he is best known for, knocking in the goals for Bayern Munich, scoring 14 goals in 17 games across all competitions at the time of writing. Though goals have been drying up for Bayern in the league front, there is nothing short of what is expected of Lewandowski and being the lone striker in Carlo’s system, the Polish hitman is sure to enjoy continued success and will look to win the most number of goals scored title once again. Much is expected of Bayern this season and having not won the UCL group for the first time since 2010, there will be a lot of weight on Lewandowski’s able shoulders to guide them through a tough Round of 16 fixture against Arsenal.
Written by Alankrith Shankar
33 // Portugal // Real Madrid
Pepe. The man who divides more opinions than Arsene Wenger. Brilliant defender, or brilliant fool? In the broad sense of things this question is still unable to be answered solely one side or the other, however, in terms of 2016 Pepe has simply been one of the best central defenders in Europe.
When the Portuguese centre-half puts aside his antics and shows us what he is professionally capable of, we can see his true ability. His performances in the Champions League, on the way to the title, were simply world class.
The attributes of positional awareness, the timing of challenges and strength were the perfect examples for the old age cliché to which children everywhere should examine to improve their own game.
However, what made Pepe’s 2016 so great is that this wasn’t a fleeting moment of form. Pepe was arguably Portugal’s player of the tournament as they went the distance to win European glory.
The 2016/17 season has seen Pepe form a formidable partnership with France’s Raphael Varane and the pair, when fit, have martialled Real into an unbeaten start in the league so far.
Written by Tom Canton
2. ANTOINE GRIEZMANN
25 // France // Atletico Madrid
Griezmann’s 13 goals during the second half of the 2015/16 season took his total league tally up to 22. Although Griezmann was well known by this time, the completion of 2015/16 earned the Frenchman recognition as one of the world’s top players.
This was further assured by his performances during the quarter and semi-finals of the Champions League. His two goals in the 2-0 home-leg victory over Barcelona secured the Madrid side progression to play Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the semi-final. It was here which saw Griezmann produce another class performance and score in the Allianz to take Atleti through to the final on away goals. The former Sociedad forward unfortunately couldn’t emulate his previous showings and missed an important penalty in the final as Real claimed an 11th title.
The summer saw Griezmann guide France to the European Championship Final, forging an unlikely partnership with Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud. However, France were punished for not taking their chances against Portugal in the final and faltered to a 1-0 defeat.
The new season has been an unsure one for Atleti so far. Their perfect run in the Champions League has not been reflected in their league showings. Griezmann’s lack of regular goals has been a factor in Atleti’s fall to 4th in the table, 9 points off their city rivals at the time of writing.
Written by Tom Canton
1. CRISTIANO RONALDO
31 // Portugal // Real Madrid
Another year, another set of accolades for Cristiano. The mercurial Portuguese forward just does not appear to be slowing down, even though he is now the wrong side of 30.
Although a figure which many love to hate and some, like myself, hate to love, Ronaldo has achieved a new championship for the first time in a long time. Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph was a huge achievement which in the end was accomplished without their star man; Ronaldo had to be replaced early on in the final vs France due to a knee injury.
However, the win occurred nonetheless and was celebrated by Ronaldo as if he’d been on the field the whole time; in fairness for most of extra-time he basically was.
2016 has seen Ronaldo claim 31 league goals, 7 Champions League goals and 13 goals for his country.
The international triumph will be a thorn in the side of Barcelona rival Lionel Messi who once again lost at an international final and that could very well have tipped the balance in favour of CR7 when it came to the Ballon d’Or.
Ronaldo, rather surprising, signed a new 5-year-deal and stated he hopes to retire in Madrid. It appears there are plenty more chapters to add to the story of the boy from Lisbon.
Written by Tom Canton