2016 has been a fascinating year for football. From Leicester City’s league title triumph at odds of 5000/1, to Portugal‘s shock victory in the Euro 2016 final, to the bizarre rise of Will Grigg on and off the field, the last 12 months have not been short of entertainment. This five-part series looks at 50 of the most captivating footballers of 2016. For part 1, click here.
50 Most Captivating Footballers of 2016: Part 2
By Kevin Brown
Christian Pulisic burst onto the scene at just 17 years of age after becoming the youngest player ever to score a brace in a Borussia Dortmund shirt back in April. Since then, the young American has starred against Real Madrid in the Champions League, donned the number 10 jersey for the USMNT in World Cup qualifying, and signed a lucrative contract with Nike until 2022.
The right-winger has attracted lots of interest from top clubs all over Europe, along with interest from American fans hoping for their national team’s best prospect since Landon Donovan. This type of excitement and hopefulness has been unrivalled for recent American starlets, and it looks like that pressure will not get to Pulisic’s fearless attitude.
By Hugo Jennings
Be it through humorous goal celebrations, mad off-field antics or simply good football, Mario Balotelli has always had a talent for captivating people. This year, his story has continued with the usual twists and turns and—whisper it—the start of what could be a happy ending.
Following a disappointing loan spell at former club Milan, it looked like Balotelli’s career had hit a standstill. No longer in Jürgen Klopp’s plans at Liverpool, he was desperately looking for a new club at the end of August, eventually joining OGC Nice on a free transfer. Few could have predicted the success his move would yield.
A brace on his debut against Marseille, followed by another double against Monaco ten days later, were part of a dream start to life in France for the Italian. He has already scored eight league goals this season, averaging a goal every 77 minutes.
Nice currently sit four points clear at the top of Ligue 1, ahead of Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. If Balotelli can continue this stunning form next year, he could well lead his side to what would be a miraculous league title.
By Noah Sobel-Pressman
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has continued his scintillating form from last season into this season with 20 goals in 21 appearances. The Congolese striker uses his speed and clinical finishing to devastate opposition defences, with a plethora of talented wingers in the Borussia Dortmund side to support him.
Despite picking up a one-match ban for breaking team rules, the 27-year-old has grown as a player tremendously this season: his winner against Bayern Munich and captaining his side for the first team have been two particular highlights. As he enters the prime of his career, there is no doubt that he will build on an impressive year.
By Sam Davies
Gianluigi Donnarumma’s emergence, and then endurance, has arguably been one of the most compelling recent breakthroughs in Europe this year. Not least because goalkeepers rarely make 47 league appearances for a club of Milan’s stature before their 18th birthday.
The Italian made his Rossoneri debut late last year. Few would have expected a then 16-year-old to be kept on as the club’s first-choice ‘keeper throughout 2016.
At the end of the 2015-16 season, Donnarumma started in the Coppa Italia Final – a 1-0 defeat to Juventus. On the opening day of the following season, the 6ft 5in teenager saved the first penalty of his professional career in a 3-2 win over Torino, preventing Andrea Belotti from earning a point in the last minute. Despite failing to make Antonio Conte’s Euro 2016 Italian squad, he did become the youngest goalkeeper ever to play for Italy in a friendly vs France, replacing Gianluigi Buffon at half time.
By Zaher Ali
In recent years, Valencia has been the poster club for turmoil. In 2016 specifically, results have been poor and managers have come and gone. That said, the club has always had one glaring positive during all of this—Diego Alves.
The Brazilian ‘keeper, as well as being an ever-present between the posts, also boasts an impressive penalty-saving record. He equalled the record number of penalties saved in the Spanish top flight during the 2014-15 season (16), drawing level with Andoni Zubizarreta. In 2016, however, he went on to claim it outright with a penalty stop against CD Leganés. Taking his tally to 17 saved, he solidified his place in history the following week, saving two penalties against Atlético Madrid, from both Gabi and Antoine Griezmann.
Unfortunately, this feat has gone somewhat unnoticed due to the mixed results Valencia have been experiencing. But on a personal note, Alves will remember 2016 fondly. At only 31 years old and with a record of 22 penalties saved from 45 faced, that number may continue to grow.
By Karan Tejwani
About 18 months ago, Joshua Kimmich was barely heard of amongst German and worldwide football fans. Now, he’s one of the most popular players in the Bundesliga and a man the fans are really looking forward to watching develop.
Just 21 years old, Kimmich has had an impressive 2016 under Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and national team boss Joachim Löw, who have used his skill and talent in a variety of positions ranging from centre-half in the second-half of the 2015-16 campaign, right-back in Germany’s run to the semi-finals of the European Championship in France and in central midfield, as a deep lying playmaker under Ancelotti.
He’s also picked up a few medals this year, winning the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal as well as being named in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament for Euro 2016. And he’s getting goals to his name, racking up seven so far in the 2016-17 season. A man to watch out for in the coming years, Kimmich has shown a lot of his talent in his breakthrough year as a professional footballer.
By Mike Taylor
Antoine Griezmann suffered disappointment in both the Champions League and Euro 2016 finals, but it has been another stand-out year for the Atlético Madrid player. A quick-footed, intelligent forward, the 25-year-old has proven himself as a game-changer in key games for club and country, scoring important goals against Bayern Munich and Barcelona en route to the Champions League final. Playing a key role in France’s Euro 2016 campaign, Griezmann was rewarded for his six goals and two assists with the tournament’s Golden Boot and the Player of the Tournament award.
Scoring 35 goals in 2016, he rounded off a career-defining year with third place in tje Ballon d’Or behind usual suspects Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Whilst Atlético have struggled to regain their impressive La Liga form this season, Griezmann has maintained his world-class form throughout their league campaign and helped his side finish top of their Champions League group ahead of Bayern Munich.
By Kevin Brown
N’Golo Kanté had a huge impact on Leicester’s title triumph last season. His hard work, high work rate, and direct play are some of the values that reflects his quality. His ability to win balls all over the pitch all game long is unrivalled amongst the world’s midfielders.
Kanté had tremendous success at Leicester, and their current struggles without him show just how important he was. He was also a key component to France’s run to the final at Euro 2016, landing him a transfer to Chelsea. The Blues’ place at the top of the Premier League is testament to the contagious work ethic that he has brought to the starting eleven. The Frenchman has shown that substance can trump style when it comes to winning trophies.
By Zaher Ali
Adam Lallana is a player best known for his technique, touch, and seemingly immaculate Cruyff turns. 2016, however, has been a major step forward for him as an all-round player.
With it not having quite worked out under previous manager Brendan Rodgers, Lallana has come on leaps and bounds since current boss Jürgen Klopp took over at Liverpool in October 2015. The Englishman has added more productivity to his game with six goals and six assists in his 15 league appearances this season. And his club is not the only team to benefit. In ten appearances, Lallana has finally found the net internationally, and his overall performance has improved drastically for England.
The last 12 months have been a huge step forward in the 28-year-old’s career, be it thanks to the new manager or other factors, and 2017 could be a huge opportunity for him to push on and make it to the elite level in football.
By Roy Emanuel
Luis Suárez arrived at the Nou Camp in the summer of 2014 and has seemingly not stopped scoring goals since taking the pitch for Barcelona. Alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar, the former Liverpool striker forms arguably the greatest front-line in world football.
Suárez’s movements in attack and excellent control of the ball helped to bring plenty of success for the Blaugrana last season. The Uruguayan international scored 59 goals across all competitions for his club in 2015-16.
But controversy does not seem to stray too far away from the forward also. Uruguay’s surprising group stage exit at the Copa America Centenario featured a petulant Suárez throwing a tantrum on the side-lines.
With his home country in the midst of 2018 World Cup qualifying and Barcelona gaining ground on Real Madrid in La Liga, 2017 is set to be another fascinating year for the 29-year-old.