It has not been an easy year to choose favourite footballers; there have been many great players, but also quite varying levels in what has been a long year, with many tournaments and that are hard on the physical and psychological aspects for players. This is my personal list of ten players that have caused an impression on me this year.
10) Lionel Messi: I was close to not putting Messi on the list. That said, he ended a dreadful 2020-21 season for Barcelona as the top-scorer in Spain, and a Copa del Rey. The soap opera of his change to PSG is hardly worth writing about, and the team has not yet been impressive. That said, Messi's great achievement is the Copa America title, where he was finally the experienced leader that Argentina has needed, in a team where he is well-integrated and the entire team is benefiting from his incredible skills.
9) Erling Haaland: One has to be careful about hailing new young stars, but Borussia Dortmund's Haaland was surely on fire, in particular in the first half of the year, when he was averaging two goals per match and reached his 20th Champions League in only 14 matches. He has stayed in Dortmund throughout the year, continuing scoring goals (he remains topscorer in the Bundesliga) at the end of the year, despite interest from all the big clubs. With Norway he missed World Cup qualification, but it will be interesting to follow him next year.
8) Mohammed Salah: Premier League is the best league in the
world, and although Liverpool did not win titles in 2021, their
performance has been impressive, and at the end of 2021 they remain
contenders for the Premier League title with the great Egyptian as
top-scorer with 15 goals, and well on his way to get the title of
top-scorer that he lost to Harry Kane in the 2020-21 season. He only
scored one goal for Egypt in 2021, but is heading to the Africa Cup of
Nations and perhaps the World Cup in 2022.
7) Romelu Lukaku: The great Belgian won the Serie A with Inter Milan with himself as their leading goalscorer (but behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the Serie A). His change to Chelsea for the new season has been more mixed as he reintegrates into the Premier League. With Belgium he was also their main attacking threat, although Belgium disappointed in both the European Championships and the Nations League by not making it (yet again) to their full potential. But Lukaku remains a great players and a gentleman of the game.
6) Marquinhos: A bit of a strange year for Brazil's and PSG's Marquinhos because he did not win many of the titles that seemed at his grasp: with PSG they lost the French league to Lille and lost the Champions League semifinals to Manchester City. With Brazil, Marquinhos lost the Copa America final. That said, throughout the year Marquinhos has been a solid defender who is also a goal-threat with his potential headers.
5) Robert Lewandowski: The great Polish player of Bayern Munich is probably the best striker in the world, and according to Leo Messi himself, when receiving the Balon d'Or, was the rightful winner in 2020. Winning the 2020-21 Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, he scored an incredible 41 goals, the most ever in a season, and beating the record of legendary Gerd Muller. On the Polish national team he remains the leading goalscorer, and although Poland did not impress, he became the first Pole to score in three consecutive European Championships when he scored against Spain in June.
4) Edouard Mendy: There has been a lot of talk about goalkeepers this year; Gianluigi Donnarumma was named best player of the European Championship, and there have been impressive goalkeepers all-round (Emiliano Martinez, Kasper Schmeichel, Keylor Navas), but I think that Edouard Mendy has been the best of them all, being impressive in the European Champions League winners of Chelsea (and the first African goalkeeper in a CL final), and playing a crucial role in both Chelsea's and Senegal's strong defensive record.
2) Alexia Putellas: I did not know Ms. Putella until this year, when I saw her shine in FC Barcelona's Champions League triumph against Chelsea. She crowned a fantastic season with Barcelona (where she also won the league) with almost-certain qualification for the 2023 World Cup, and is undoubtedly the best female footballer in the world right now, as well as certainly one of the best footballers overall in the world.
1) Jorginho: A fantastic year for a fantastic player who is
perhaps the best in the world at the moment (just scoring goals
is usually what gets all the credits, but versatile players like
Jorginho do all the work in a pitch). He was the ever-working player in
the Italian European champions midfield, and was the player who most ran
in the tournament, recoveries, passes and interception. Surely having
Jorginho on the team was like having an extra player, but also an intelligent player who is able to lead the team. And it was not
only for Italy that Jorginho was impressive, but he was also key in Chelsea's Champions League triumph, and as Chelsea continues competing for the Premier and Champions League titles.