FIFA FIFPro World XI: Which players merit selection?
In the footballing galaxy, September is defined by three events; international window, Champions League and FIFA Best Awards. Of the trio, it can be argued the latter is most eagerly anticipated.
Over the past decade, attempting to oust Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi from individual honour has proven an impossible task. Few who tried failed. Instead, the others have had to contend for a spot in FIFPro World XI.
On Monday, the worldwide players' union, along with FIFA, announced the 55 names in contention for 2018. On the list are 5 goalkeepers, 20 defenders, 15 midfielders and 15 attackers. Real Madrid and France are the most-represented club and country.
Although the players themselves will do the selecting, they could make use of a guide. We have pre-empted the possible outcome based on individual contribution to team's success during the last year.
Here's our FIFA FIFPro World XI.
Navas slightly edges his Real Madrid rival, Thibaut Courtois, due to team accolade. With his influence, Los Blancos clinched the UEFA Champions League and Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. Although not the most revered custodian, even in Spain's capital, the Costa Rican showcased calmness, agility and superb reflexes.
Trailing the path of an iconic figure is daunting. Kimmich, however, has proven otherwise by effortlessly filling Philipp Lahm's huge boots. Energetic and composed, he powered Bayern Munich to another Bundesliga title as well as Champions League semi-final. The German's contribution in the final third was priceless - recording a combined 25 goals and assists in all competitions.
There’s no competition here. Not even Jordi Alba. After another impressive 12 months, Real's Marcelo holds the left-back spot. He's done so three times in the past five years. On those two occasions where he didn't, the Brazilian was spared to unwind on the bench.
What an incredible year Varane has experienced. He capped a grand campaign at club level by lifting the World Cup in Russia. Not in the physical league as Diego Godin nor blessed with the technical ability of Mats Hummels, the Frenchman simply knows how to shut down defences.
Despite a forgettable summer with Spain, Ramos earns a spot in this team. Nominated for the 12th consecutive time, he equals the record for defenders held by Lahm. Captain, talisman and aerial predator, the Spaniard went the extra mile for Madrid. Sometimes too far, though, according to Liverpool and Mohamed Salah.
Casemiro, Fernandinho and Sergio Busquets all starred at the World Cup. However, none had as much effect as Kante. In Didier Deschamps' supremely talented French side, the Chelsea midfielder provided balance. His tireless work, as witnessed in winning back-to-back Premier League titles, was pivotal.
Modric sustains Real Madrid hegemony. He proved ingenuity for both club and country. The diminutive yet crafty Croat pulled the strings to Zinedine Zidane’s rhythm in the Champions League. In Russia, it was almost a solo rendition. As the World Cup Golden Ball and UEFA award holder, his place in this team is assured.
An excellent domestic campaign with Manchester City followed by above-average World cup is enough for De Bryune to edge Paul Pogba. The Belgian's numbers are quite frightening. Atop for assists with 16, only Lionel Messi created more than his 106 chances in Europe’s big five leagues.
Salah is one of ten players in contention for FIFA’s most prestigious award. That's no surprise. Last season, he broke new ground with 32 goals in 38 matches for Liverpool. In the Champions League, the Egyptian struck ten times. Even though it counted for little as his side ultimately fell to Real.
Ronaldo's dominance is under serious threat. Only he and Gianluigi Buffon have appeared on every FIFPro World XI shortlist since inception. Kylian Mbappe is now waiting to pounce. However, last season’s Champions League feat – finishing as top scorer for the sixth successive season - bought the Portuguese some extra time.
Messi's goal-scoring exploits have become so common that praise is rarely given. Although he lost way in crucial moments on all fronts, the Argentine recovered to rack up 45 goals in 54 matches. No other player in Europe's top five leagues reached such figures.