ESPN

Welcome to the ESPN FC 100. Debating the best players and managers in the world is a timeless exercise that always sparks conversation. So we've taken our ranking to a new level this year. Whether you're new to the sport or a die-hard fan, these are the 100 best men's players and managers in football that you need to know. With more than 60 ESPN voters spanning regions around the world, we've broken down the game's top players by position for the most authoritative and comprehensive list yet. We know, some players are so versatile that they often defy classification, but we've tried to bring some order to the chaos that is modern football. The greatest thrill of 2017's list is the sheer volume of new talent that has emerged over the past year. While the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos remain a constant, there's room for youngsters such as Kylian Mbappe, Leroy Sane and Marco Asensio. We've also included a brand-new metric, "Player Value," compiled by Football Whispers. Based on player performance, age and position, its algorithm hopes to settle the debate once and for all: How much should a player sell for? So dig in, browse around and see who ranks where.

GK

Goalkeeper

RB

Right-Back

CB

Center-Back

LB

Left-Back

CM

Central-Mid

AM

Attacking-Mid

WF

Wide Forward

F

Forward

S

Striker

M

Manager

Goalkeeper

The modern goalkeeper isn't just there to stop shots. One of their most important jobs is to start attacks from the back, whether with a long throw or a clever pass. Agility and reflexes are a given but confidence, vision and assertive play are what make the best stand out.

Manuel Neuer

BAYERN MUNICH (GERMANY) | Age: 31 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £80m

The year 2017 hasn't been kind to Germany's No. 1. Neuer broke his foot in the Champions League quarterfinal defeat by Real Madrid in April and suffered a recurrence of the same injury just three games into this season. Nevertheless, his enduring excellence and role-redefining "keepero" style has remained hugely influential well beyond the confines of the Allianz Arena. His broad frame and ice-cool demeanour mark him out as football's most daunting goalkeeper in an age where more acrobatic versions are coming to the fore. - RH

David De Gea

MANCHESTER UNITED (SPAIN) | Age: 26 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £70m

It's hard to believe now that he was once considered a flop. The willowy youngster endured a nightmare debut at Wembley in the Community Shield in 2011 and the slip-ups just kept coming. One reporter described him as "a kid who'd won a competition to play in goal for United." Now, of course, he's one of the greatest goalkeepers on the planet, blessed with supernatural reflexes and a reach like Stretch Armstrong. On balance, his critics may have been a little hasty. - IM

Gianluigi Buffon

JUVENTUS (ITALY) | Age: 39 | 2016 Rank: 3

Football Whispers' Player Value: £5m

Upon receiving the award for top goalkeeper at FIFA's "The Best" ceremony in London last month, Buffon more than once referred to the joy of achieving such recognition "at my age." It was a humble statement, acknowledging the fortune that has brought him this far over a two-decade career, but it could just as easily have been wonderment at his own continued excellence. Buffon is that rare example of a veteran footballer who seems to get better with age, and it will be a huge loss to the game if he retires after the World Cup. Buffon, a wonderful player and ambassador for the sport, is one of football's genuine treasures. - NA

Thibaut Courtois

CHELSEA (BELGIUM) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: 5

Football Whispers' Player Value: £65m

It was never going to be easy to replace Petr Cech at Chelsea but Thibaut Courtois made it look as though it was. The enormous Belgium international had been the Blues' worst-kept secret: a young goalkeeper so good that he was on loan at arguably a more successful club. Atletico Madrid wanted to keep him, but Chelsea were ready to act given Courtois' record: He's one of only four goalkeepers in Europe's top five leagues with more than 90 clean sheets since 2011. Out went club legend Cech, in came Courtois. Oddly enough, they won the title that season. - IM

video
ESPN FC 100: David De Gea vs. Manuel Neuer

The ESPN FC crew make a case that David De Gea, not Manuel Neuer, should be the top goalkeeper on the ESPN FC 100.ESPN

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: The ESPN FC crew make a case that David De Gea, not Manuel Neuer, should be the top goalkeeper.

Jan Oblak

ATLETICO MADRID (SLOVENIA) | Age: 24 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £65m

Few neutrals or Atletico Madrid fans knew very much about Oblak when he joined from Benfica for €16 million in 2014. Coach Diego Simeone also took some convincing, but not anymore. In his first 125 games for the club, Oblak conceded fewer goals per game (0.64) and kept more clean sheets (71) than predecessor Thibaut Courtois, now at Chelsea. The 24-year-old Slovenia international has also saved six of the 10 penalties he's faced in open play during his time at Atletico. Had he saved at least one spot-kick in 2016's Champions League final shootout against Real Madrid, his standing would be even higher. - DC

Hugo Lloris

TOTTENHAM (FRANCE) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: 6

Football Whispers' Player Value: £40m

It was a good thing that Tottenham stepped up and consolidated their status as regular title challengers, because for a long time it seemed that Hugo Lloris was far too good for them. A goalkeeper of unimpeachable credentials, combining world class shot-stopping with the intelligence and speed to play off his line, he must go down as one of the club's best signings in recent years. Had he wanted to cause trouble, he could have forced a move to anywhere in Europe. Perhaps his loyalty will soon be rewarded with silverware. - IM

Keylor Navas

REAL MADRID (COSTA RICA) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: 7

Football Whispers' Player Value: £35m

Costa Rica international Keylor Navas has certainly taken the road less travelled to reach the top of the game. He was almost 24 when he left his home country for Spain's second tier in 2010. It took three more years before he established himself in the top flight with Levante. An outstanding 2013-14 season, and phenomenal 2014 World Cup with his country brought a move to giants Madrid, where he succeeded in replacing longtime No. 1 Iker Casillas. This uplifting tale is being told in a new film called 'Hombre de Fe," which also features his devout Christian faith and is to be released on Christmas Day 2017. - DC

Marc-Andre ter Stegen

BARCELONA (GERMANY) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: 10

Football Whispers' Player Value: £35m

Ter Stegen has always been nifty with his feet, but this season he's showing that he's not bad with his hands, either, which is what's important for a goalkeeper. Now Barcelona's undisputed No. 1 after spending his first two years at the club battling Claudio Bravo for the job, he's not only more mature but more confident, too: since taking over that starting role he's got the highest save percentage across Europe's top five leagues. There's no reason he can't stick around at Camp Nou for the next decade while also turning his attention to wrestling Manuel Neuer out of the Germany job. - SM

Gianluigi Donnarumma

AC MILAN (ITALY) | Age: 18 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £40m

It seems remarkable that Donnarumma, who is already closing in on his 100th senior appearance for AC Milan, doesn't turn 19 until February. He could break all kinds of records during his career if he keeps this up, and there's little surprise that Buffon, from whom he will almost certainly inherit Italy's No. 1 spot next season, views him as a young man with "extraordinary skills." Donnarumma was strongly linked with a move away from San Siro during the summer, and although he eventually signed a new contract, Milan will find it tough to hold onto him if their domestic form does not improve. It is some thought that Donnarumma, such an imposing and mature figure between the posts already, will only get better and better given the right environment. - NA

Petr Cech

ARSENAL (CZECH REPUBLIC) | Age: 35 | 2016 Rank: 8

Football Whispers' Player Value: £5m

There was a theory once that the terrible head injury he suffered in 2006 had left him a reduced figure between the posts, timid and traumatised. It was a very popular theory, particularly with people who didn't watch him play very often, although it grew less popular as Cech's honours piled up year after year. Even with a steel plate holding his skull together, Cech was still racing out and throwing himself at the feet of opposing strikers. As one of the league's elder statesmen, we can finally acknowledge that he is not quite the goalkeeper he was once, but he's still better than most in England's top flight. - IM

Right-Back

At one point, right-backs were considered the least skilled players on the pitch but the next generation brings a boldness and unpredictability to the flank. Positional awareness, pinpoint crossing and breakneck pace separate the elite from the rest of the pack, as does the deft transition to playing as more advanced wing-backs in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3.

Dani Carvajal

REAL MADRID (SPAIN) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: 5

Football Whispers' Player Value: £33m

In May 2004, a slightly chubby 12-year-old youth teamer helped legend Alfredo Di Stefano lay the first stone at Real Madrid's new training ground in Valdebebas. Almost exactly a decade later, that same kid joined Di Stefano as a European Cup winner with Madrid, starting at right-back as the long wait for their "La Decima" was ended against neighbours Atletico Madrid in Lisbon. Although not as high-profile as Cristiano Ronaldo or Sergio Ramos, locally-born Carvajal is symbolic of Madrid's return to the very top in recent years. Probably the best right-back around at the moment, he will also start for Spain at next summer's World Cup. - DC

Dani Alves

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (BRAZIL) | Age: 34 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £5m

Anyone who thought Dani Alves was winding down having left Barcelona for Juventus last season was given the rudest of awakenings when, in the Champions League semifinal against Monaco, he produced a masterclass across both legs. His three assists and spectacular goal effectively booked Juve their place in the final, a fitting microcosm of a career that, now continuing at PSG, continues to delight. Alves was among a clutch of players who reinvented the full-back position in the late 2000s, virtually controlling games on his own from up and down the right flank while at Sevilla and Barca. Despite nearing the typical retirement age, his levels of stamina have hardly tailed off at all. - NA

Kyle Walker

MANCHESTER CITY (ENGLAND) | Age: 27 | 2016 Rank: 9

Football Whispers' Player Value: £30m

Kyle Walker has always attracted more than his fair share of criticism, and the jibes reached a crescendo this summer when he was signed by Manchester City for £54m. But it turns out that Pep Guardiola knows a little more than the critics because Walker has been excellent, fitting perfectly into a fluid, shifting side that was crying out for someone with his pace from full-back. And Walker has his feet on the ground. He carries a tattoo of the deprived housing estate in which he grew up and has offered advice to young players on Twitter. Maybe it's time the trolls found a new target. - IM

Antonio Valencia

MANCHESTER UNITED (ECUADOR) | Age: 32 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £12m

It's a little odd to see a man who arrived at Manchester United as an unlikely addition to the midfield appearing in a list of the best defenders eight years later. As a right winger, Valencia had his moments, but his period in that position was best exemplified by his decision to hand back the hallowed No. 7 shirt at the start of the 2013-14 season, apparently feeling unworthy of the honour as Cristiano Ronaldo's literal replacement. But as a full-back he has excelled, proving himself consistently useful enough for all three of Sir Alex Ferguson's replacements to avoid the transfer list. - IM

video
ESPN FC 100: Manchester United players

The ESPN FC crew assess the rankings of various Man United players that cracked the ESPN FC 100 list.Dave Flanagan

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: Manchester United's Juan Mata discusses his thoughts on his teammates who made the list.

Juanfran

ATLETICO MADRID (SPAIN) | Age: 32 | 2016 Rank: 3

Football Whispers' Player Value: £11m

When Diego Simeone took over as Atletico Madrid coach in December 2011, Juanfran Torres was a back-up winger on the fringes of the squad who had scored just once in 18 months. But Simeone saw something in the slight but determined former Osasuna player, making him a mainstay of the super-organised side that has battled Barcelona and Madrid for prominence in Spain and Europe ever since. He also appeared for Spain at World Cup 2014. Richer clubs, including Arsenal, inquired about him along the way but Juanfran has remained at Atletico, showing loyalty and persistence that means Simeone keeps picking him even at 32. - DC

Fabinho

AS MONACO (BRAZIL) | Age: 24 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £26m

Monaco's summer exodus had to stop somewhere, and they refused to entertain interest in Fabinho, who was in the sights of both Manchester United and PSG. "I was frustrated at the end of the window, but I have turned the page," he said recently. His suitors doubtless felt the same way: although he's primarily become a defensive midfielder than right-back in recent seasons, Fabinho can operate to fine effect in both roles and has never let that versatility become a curse. He was excellent in the centre of the park last year, his economical distribution and positional sense providing a perfect counterbalance to his teammates' buccaneering instincts. Fabinho is the kind of on-pitch lieutenant a manager might dream of -- instrumental in binding a new-look Monaco together in 2017. - NA

Hector Bellerin

ARSENAL (SPAIN) | Age: 22 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £25m

Barcelona didn't want to lose Hector Bellerin and although Xavi once suggested it shouldn't be allowed, they'd probably quite like him back at some point. Xavi is a loyalist and doesn't understand why anyone would leave Barca, but it's hard to argue that Bellerin didn't make the most of his move. When he was given his chance in the first team by Arsene Wenger, he took it with both hands. He's already one of the league's most dangerous full-backs and you suspect he could get even better. - IM

Serge Aurier

TOTTENHAM (IVORY COAST) | Age: 24 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £25m

After his off-field transgressions dominated talk of the Ivory Coast defender last season, he's letting his play do the talking for Tottenham in 2017-18. Aurier has never struggled on the pitch. He's fast but works hard, too. He can play on either side, although he's best on the right, and has quite the cross on him. If he can eradicate his bad decisions on and off the pitch, he could be world-class. - IM

Nelson Semedo

BARCELONA (PORTUGAL) | Age: 23 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £24m

It didn't take Barcelona's players long to come up with a nickname for Nelson Semedo, the club's €30 million summer signing from Benfica. His foraging runs up the right flank and his sprints back into position have earned him the moniker "The Motorcyclist." Coach Ernesto Valverde is managing his minutes carefully so far, but it's already easy to see why Barca were prepared to spend so much money on him. There's real hope at Camp Nou among supporters that they've found the long-term heir to Dani Alves. - SM

Victor Moses

CHELSEA (NIGERIA) | Age: 26 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £30m

There were raised eyebrows aplenty when Victor Moses signed a new contract with Chelsea in 2015 shortly before setting off for a season loan with West Ham. After all, he'd spent the past two seasons on loan at Liverpool and Stoke. It was like watching a nice saloon car sign away the best mileage of its life to an airport hire firm but when Antonio Conte arrived, he saw things he liked. Pace. Stamina. Courage. Versatility. And when he switched to a back three, Moses came into the team as a wing-back and never came out again. He signed another contract in March, 2017. This time, it felt right. - IM

Center-Back

Being a great central defender isn't just about size and strength anymore. While those attributes matter, it's also about being as cultured on the ball as it is forceful in the tackle. The best centre-backs fuse timing and power with elegance and poise under pressure.

Sergio Ramos

REAL MADRID (SPAIN) | Age: 31 | 2016 Rank: 5

Football Whispers' Player Value: £40m

Few players divide opinion like Sergio Ramos. The Spain and Madrid captain is a hero at the Bernabeu, in no small part thanks to a series of crucial headed goals starting with his 93rd minute equaliser in the 2014 Champions League final. Other observers point to his at times reckless defending (and club record 23 red cards) but it's difficult to argue with Ramos' club and country trophy haul, plus he has been named eight times in the FIFPRO World XI, more than any other defender in history. His own view is pretty clear as he has more than once suggested himself as a potential Ballon d'Or winner. Ramos' blunt personality has also caused tension with former Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, and even current president Florentino Perez, but the Andalusian always comes out smiling in the end. - DC

Leonardo Bonucci

AC MILAN (ITALY) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £35m

It caused shockwaves when Bonucci, one of the lynchpins of a Juventus team whose star still appeared to be rising, left for AC Milan in a €42m move last July. In the modern market, it was a no-brainer for that fee: Bonucci is that perfect centre-back blend of no-nonsense aggression and 20/20 vision on the ball, tightening up his defensive unit while setting attacking moves in progress from the back. The latter was evident in the 2017 Champions League final when his raking, 60-yard ball for Alex Sandro began the move from which Mario Mandzukic scored a memorable goal. Although they were not quite as solid further back that night, Bonucci, whose early months at Milan have been difficult, is sorely missed now. - NA

Giorgio Chiellini

JUVENTUS (ITALY) | Age: 33 | 2016 Rank: 7

Football Whispers' Player Value: £10m

There are few defenders quite like Chiellini these days. He's an Italian centre-back of the old school, which generally points to an obsession with keeping the ball out of the net; if Juventus's dominance of Serie A this decade has been founded on a watertight back line, it owes much to Chiellini's formidable consistency. But he can do a little bit of playmaking, too, although not to the extent of his former teammate Bonucci. He and Juve have struggled slightly since last season's defensive unit was broken up, and it will take considerable effort to overhaul the likes of Napoli and get back on their perch. Fortunately, hard work is a quality Chiellini instils in everyone around him. - NA

Diego Godin

ATLETICO MADRID (URUGUAY) | Age: 31 | 2016 Rank: 3

Football Whispers' Player Value: £33m

Perhaps along with Gabi, Diego Godin is the player who most typifies Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid side. The Uruguay international has been a constant since he joined the club in 2010 and has become known for his "Braveheart"-like performances -- and the goal which won La Liga in 2014. Simeone has even joked that he would like to "clone" Godin, who has made more appearances for Atletico than any other non-Spanish player. - SM

video
ESPN FC 100: Top Centre-Backs

The ESPN FC crew all have varying opinions as to who claims top spot in the ESPN FC 100 list of centre-backs.ESPN

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: The ESPN FC crew all have varying opinions as to who claims top spot in the ESPN FC 100 list of centre-backs.

Mats Hummels

BAYERN MUNICH (GERMANY) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: 6

Football Whispers' Player Value: £46m

Centre-backs don't come much more cultured. Hummels sprays pin-point passes with the outside of his boot in the vein of Franz Beckenbauer and never, ever looks harried even when he spills a hot cup of coffee over himself. His elegance belies deceptively quick feet as well as a willingness to put his body in harm's way. Engaging and honest on social media, Hummels recently said that he saw himself as one of the world's top five central defenders. It's impossible to disagree. - RH

Gerard Pique

BARCELONA (SPAIN) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £45m

Gerard Pique once suggested he'd walk away from the game at 30, but he's still here and he's still enjoying it. And both Barcelona and Spain are still dependent on him. He might not be in the form he was in this time last year, but when the big games roll around, his managers depend on him. It can't always be easy for Pique to keep his focus on the pitch, either. While he's become an unofficial spokesman for the people's right to decide on self-determination in Catalonia, he's also running a business (Kerad Games) and is in talks to create a World Cup-style event in tennis. - SM

Jerome Boateng

BAYERN MUNICH (GERMANY) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £40m

A series of injuries have made it a difficult 12 months for the Berlin-born World Cup winner. His concerns over the training regime of Carlo Ancelotti, as well as the Italian's propensity to overlook him, saw Boateng contemplate a move away from the German champions in the summer, but he has since been restored as one of the team's most important performers under Jupp Heynckes. Boateng has come back into form just in time for the second half of the season - and for Germany's attempt to defend their trophy in Russia. - RH

Toby Alderweireld

TOTTENHAM (BELGIUM) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £37m

If you had to design a template of a centre-back, it would turn out like Toby Alderweireld: he's tall but not unwieldy, muscular but not over-bulky and swift, but not so swift that he's never had to learn timing. And that brain. You hardly ever see Alderweireld panic. Maybe it's his upbringing: he came through the high-pressure ranks at Ajax, after all. Maybe it's because he's generally in the right position early enough to negate the need for panic. Either way, the £11m that Spurs paid for him in 2015 looks like an absolute steal. - IM

Thiago Silva

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (BRAZIL) | Age: 33 | 2016 Rank: 8

Football Whispers' Player Value: £5m

Thiago Silva has his work cut out in keeping a star-studded PSG dressing room together, but there is no doubting the respect he commands. Approaching the end of his career, he still captains both his club and the Brazil national team; both are looking sound bets to take world football's biggest prizes in 2018, the Champions League and the World Cup, and Silva's influence will only help their chances. It was widely held that his suspension for the disastrous World Cup semifinal against Germany was largely responsible for the 7-1 humiliation that resulted. Whatever the truth, the centre-back has ruggedness and calm that inspire confidence and could provide the platform for a 2018, that if successful, would define his career. - NA

Raphael Varane

REAL MADRID (FRANCE) | Age: 24 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £35m

Legend has it that when Zinedine Zidane called and asked him to join Real Madrid in 2011, an 18-year-old Raphael Varane asked the former galactico to call back later as he was studying for an exam. Such precociousness and seriousness has been characteristic of Varane's career. Just 18 months later he was scoring in a Clasico against Barcelona and supplanting the more experienced Pepe in Madrid's first team. By 2014 he was starting at the World Cup finals; later that year, he became the youngest-ever French national team captain in 2014. Regular injuries have been an issue, but when fit, there are few physically or technically better defenders than Varane. - DC

Left-Back

Players with a good left foot aren't that common, but those blessed with pace and precision on the ball are a precious resource. Top left-backs are as comfortable locking down an opposing winger as they are turning into one when their teams are on the attack. With more teams using a back three, these players have the ability to adjust to a more demanding role.

Marcelo

REAL MADRID (BRAZIL) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 3

Football Whispers' Player Value: £41m

"Until I was 16 years old, I didn't even know there was a Champions League," Marcelo wrote on the Players Tribune this year. Such apparent innocence fits with the idea of the happy-go-lucky left back, whose love of attacking -- he's created 287 scoring chances over the past eight seasons -- is sometimes undercut by a lack of defensive awareness. But that is to underestimate a player who has matured through the seasons. Now a vice-captain at Madrid and one of the senior figures in the dressing room, Marcelo is unafraid to call out his big-name colleagues when the team suffers a bad result. His all-round game has been recognised by selections to the FIFPro world XI in each of the past three years. - DC

David Alaba

BAYERN MUNICH (AUSTRIA) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £36m

After moonlighting as a centre-back for Pep Guardiola at Bayern, Alaba's performance levels dropped markedly last season. The Austria international failed to inspire the national team in midfield at the World Cup qualifiers but has recently looked much more like the David Alaba of old on Bayern Munich's left flank. Four-and-a-half years since winning the treble with the Bavarians, he has begun to reassert himself as one of the game's most athletic and intelligent full-backs, masterminded by veteran coach Jupp Heynckes. - RH

Jordi Alba

BARCELONA (SPAIN) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £42m

Luis Enrique's switch to a back three didn't favour Jordi Alba, who missed a number of big games last season including the famous 6-1 win against Paris Saint-Germain. But the left-back has been reborn under new manager Ernesto Valverde and has not been shy when it's come to talking about it, either. Given half a chance, Alba's purred to the media about his new coach and what it's meant for his form. With Neymar gone, too, there's more room for him to roam on the left wing and he's responded by setting up a number of goals for Lionel Messi. - SM

Alex Sandro

JUVENTUS (BRAZIL) | Age: 26 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £30m

Had Chelsea's interest materialised into something more concrete during the summer, Sandro would be plying his trade in the Premier League. He would be well suited to the English game, too: the 5-foot-11 Brazilian is a rangy, energetic customer who provides a consistent attacking threat from left-back while staying defensively sound, too -- not that he has a choice in the latter with the likes of Chiellini and Buffon on hand to issue reminders. Now operating at his peak, the Brazil international is a good bet to travel to Russia as Marcelo's understudy at the World Cup. - NA

video
ESPN FC 100: Top 10 Left-Backs

Craig Burley assesses the top 10 left-backs on the ESPN FC 100 list.ESPN

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: Former Liverpool defender Stevie Nicol assesses the top 10 left-backs on the ESPN FC 100 list.

Cesar Azpilicueta

CHELSEA (SPAIN) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: 5

Football Whispers' Player Value: £39m

Of all the Chelsea signings in the Abramovich era, few can be less ostentatious than Cesar "Dave" Azpilicueta. He was named "Dave" by his teammates because they found his real name too hard to pronounce at first but commentators have been saying it for so long, and in terms of such glowing admiration, that few have problems saying it now. Whether he's at right-back, left-back or in the middle of a defensive three -- he's become more of a central defender under Antonio Conte -- Azpilicueta will always offer a conscientious, considered and consistent performance. Add his remarkable durability (162 starts in 169 matches since entering the Premier League in 2012) and he's the perfect team player. - IM

Benjamin Mendy

MANCHESTER CITY (FRANCE) | Age: 23 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £26m

Benjamin Mendy made his debut for Manchester City against Bournemouth in August. For 97 minutes, he tore up and down the left flank, fizzing in crosses that stretched and tormented the Cherries' defence. He was a constant menace but also diligent enough to handle his defensive responsibilities and a number of reporters at the Vitality Stadium considered him a contender for the man of the match award. And he wasn't even fit. That was a reduced-power Mendy. Unfortunately, a serious knee injury truncated his promising start to life in England but imagine how good he'll be when he recovers. - IM

Filipe Luis

ATLETICO MADRID (BRAZIL) | Age: 32 | 2016 Rank: 10

Football Whispers' Player Value: £20m

In a recent interview with El Mundo, Filipe Luis admitted he struggled to fulfill his early potential because he went out drinking "more than I should have." However, with the help of Diego Simeone (and by replacing nights out with an interest in astrophysics) the Brazil left-back has become one of the world's best in his position. After an up-and-down year with Chelsea, he returned to Atletico in 2015 and picked up exactly where he left off. Now, though, he will have to respond to the same doubts that all players face as they head towards their mid-30s. - SM

Danny Rose

TOTTENHAM (ENGLAND) | Age: 27 | 2016 Rank: 9

Football Whispers' Player Value: £29m

Danny Rose angered Tottenham's supporters when he called for signings that he didn't have to Google and it was a shame for so many reasons, mostly because he'd had to work so hard to get them on board in the first place. Rose had struggled to prove his worth when he first broke into the Spurs team and only hit his stride on loan at Sunderland. After that, there was no holding him back. He became so important to Spurs' game that one London newspaper voted him into their team of the week even though he'd missed the game in question with injury. - IM

Ricardo Rodriguez

AC MILAN (SWITZERLAND) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: 7

Football Whispers' Player Value: £17m

Rodriguez was one of the first arrivals in AC Milan's summer overhaul and the move made perfect sense: widely regarded as the best left-back in the Bundesliga during his time with Wolfsburg, he is far more than an orthodox defender, and his left foot is one of the sweetest around. He is a set-piece specialist whose path through football perhaps goes some way towards explaining his technical quality. "Italian football is very difficult... in Germany you play more openly," he said last month amid what has been a sub-par start to the season for the Rossoneri. Few who know a man dubbed back home as the "silent phenomenon" would doubt his power to adapt. - NA

Raphael Guerreiro

BORUSSIA DORTMUND (PORTUGAL | Age: 23 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £25m

Guerreiro was one of the most reliable performers in Dortmund's DFB Pokal-winning 2016-17 campaign albeit in central midfield, where coach Thomas Tuchel most valued his calmness on the ball and strategic vision. A nasty ankle injury at the Confederations Cup has seen him miss most of this season but he's come back strongly of late in his traditional role on the left flank. Still young and improving, Guerreiro's adaptability marks him out as one of the most exciting wide defenders in European football. - RH

Central Midfield

Tempo, tempo, tempo. The key to playing central midfield is a good sense of rhythm: knowing when to speed up the transition from defence to attack and when to slow an opponent down. There are many forms, too: the tough-tackler, box-to-box machine and the nimble playmaker. It's about seeing the whole field in a flash and being able to exploit it to your advantage.

Luka Modric

REAL MADRID (CROATIA) | Age: 32 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £35m

In January 2013, Spanish sports newspaper Marca called Real Madrid's €30 million purchase from Tottenham the worst signing of the entire season. Modric did not react at the time but a few weeks later he hammered home a crucial Champions League goal at Manchester United. The rest is literally history as his passing and invention set the pace and direction of many games on Los Blancos' march to dominating Europe. Modric may not have the global galactico status of some of his teammates, but nobody questions the slight and quietly spoken Croatia international who could now be the world's best pound-for-pound midfielder. - DC

Toni Kroos

REAL MADRID (GERMANY) | Age: 27 | 2016 Rank: 3

Football Whispers' Player Value: £69m

In 2014, Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge reportedly told the team's homegrown midfielder Toni Kroos, then 23, that his wage demands were excessive "because you're not a world-class player." Kroos is not afraid to buck convention -- see his liking for unfashionable popstar Robbie Williams and insistence on wearing the same old battered boots each game -- but he knows his own worth. Refusing to re-sign with Bayern resulted in his cut-price €25 million move to Real Madrid. The former No. 10 was given a deeper role at the Bernabeu but has adapted his game without complaint. A quiet galactico who rarely misplaces a pass, nobody questions Kroos' status now. - DC

N'Golo Kante

CHELSEA (FRANCE) | Age: 26 | 2016 Rank: 10

Football Whispers' Player Value: £53m

Nuclear-powered, steel-lunged N'Golo Kante is the ultimate, all-purpose midfielder. He moves so swiftly and so smartly that there seem to be at least two of him on the pitch at any given time. He tackles so firmly that he can single-handedly shut down a team. He passes so well that he can create with the same ease with which he destroys. There is no team in the world that wouldn't be improved by his presence -- so much so that he won the Premier League with two different teams (Leicester and Chelsea) in consecutive seasons. Just think: three-and-a-half years ago, he was in the French second division.- IM

Paul Pogba

MANCHESTER UNITED (FRANCE) | Age: 24 | 2016 Rank: 5

Football Whispers' Player Value: £147m

In his first season back at Manchester United, plenty of pundits moaned that Paul Pogba was a waste of money at €105 million. In his second season, his injury was pinpointed by those same people as the reason for United's failure to keep up with Manchester City. How things change. The truth is that Pogba just needed to find his role in Jose Mourinho's team -- and how he found it. Underneath the hyperbole, the hair and the emoji is a supremely gifted midfielder who combines exceptional talent with the highest physical attributes. The terrifying thing is that he can still get better. - IM

video
All Access with Paul Pogba

ESPN FC's Layla Anna-Lee lives a day in the life of Paul Pogba, as she spends the day with him in Monte Carlo.ESPN

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: ESPN FC's Layla Anna-Lee lives a day in the life of Paul Pogba, as she spends the day with him in Monte Carlo.

Marek Hamsik

NAPOLI (SLOVAKIA) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £55m

It says something that in a Napoli side so full of vim and sparkle, Hamsik almost counts as an unsung hero to fans beyond Serie A. Yet the Slovakia playmaker cannot be taken for granted: he's been the eyes and ears of their attacking play for a full decade now, bringing a level of creativity and perception from midfield that would be near-impossible to replace. He cuts an unmistakable figure with his Mohawk and No. 17 shirt, too. Although a dip in form during Rafa Benitez's tenure raised fears for his future in Naples, he's been back to his best under Maurizio Sarri, and at the time of writing, stood just one goal short of Diego Maradona's club record 115 goals. Few can come close to equalling "El Pibe de Oro's" hero status at the club, but Hamsik is well on his way to a similar level of affection. - NA

Sergio Busquets

BARCELONA (SPAIN) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £55m

Few players are more of an acquired taste than Sergio Busquets. You either hate him or you love him but luckily for the Spain midfielder, Barcelona managers have constantly fallen into the latter category. Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde have all raved about him and used him as much as he could handle in that deep-lying playmaker role. When Busquets is at his best (which is more often than not) Barca are as well. He's also a key figure for Spain and will hope to help his country win a second World Cup in Russia next summer. - SM

Arturo Vidal

BAYERN MUNICH (CHILE) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: 7

Football Whispers' Player Value: £40m

On his best days, the imposing Chile star isn't just a midfielder but an entire midfield: ball-winner, box-to-box dynamo and sharpshooter all rolled into one. His awe-inspiring physicality knows few equals in the Bundesliga and beyond. "Vidal's resistance to pain is legendary," said VfB sporting director Michael Reschke, who signed him for Bayer Leverkusen in 2007. He would undoubtedly be ranked even higher if it wasn't for an unfortunate propensity to lose his head in key games, such as in Bayern's quarterfinal defeat by Real Madrid this spring. - RH

Casemiro

REAL MADRID (BRAZIL) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £27m

A U-20 World Cup winner with Brazil in 2011, Casemiro's senior career took a long time to take off even after he joined Real Madrid's youth side three years later. But since his former Castilla coach Zidane took charge of Madrid's first team in January 2016, the rugged holding midfielder has been a mainstay. He even scored a rare goal in 2017 as he won a second consecutive Champions League medal, and took turns captaining a Brazil side as they successfully qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Not the most technically talented player for club or country, his ambition, combativeness and tactical awareness have made Casemiro a key figure for both. - DC

Thiago Alcantara

BAYERN MUNICH (SPAIN) | Age: 26 | 2016 Rank: 9

Football Whispers' Player Value: £56m

To see the graduate of Barcelona's La Masia youth academy caress the ball is to see football in all its ethereal beauty. Thiago, son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, floats around the pitch and past opponents with the insouciance of a butterfly in July. Only in his mid-20s, the Spain international is still growing into the playmaker role, honing his decision-making and ability to set the pace of a match. But as raw technical talent goes, Thiago has enough of it to become the legitimate heir to Xavi and Andres Iniesta before too long. - RH

Ivan Rakitic

BARCELONA (CROATIA) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £41m

Maybe the best word to describe Ivan Rakitic's time at Barcelona so far is "sacrifice." The Croatia international was at times a flair player at Sevilla, someone capable of flicking the ball over Pepe's head and launching a counter-attack that would ultimately help defeat Real Madrid. At Barca, his role is different, and he knows it. He's regularly spoken of being prepared to run all day if it means Lionel Messi is at his best, and that's often what he does. It doesn't always earn him rave reviews from supporters but it's earned him the respect of his teammates. - SM

Attacking Midfield

The best attacking midfielders have a sense of mischief, capable of cracking a robust defensive set with a bit of improvisation or magic. They're as comfortable surging into the box to finish a flowing move as they are to set up an assist for others. Great No. 10s make the most of their free roles to entertain, create and convert.

Kevin De Bruyne

MANCHESTER CITY (BELGIUM) | Age: 26 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £73m

Kevin de Bruyne's talents have been obvious for some time, at least to everyone except Jose Mourinho, who sold him while manager of Chelsea. What wasn't obvious was his ideal role. With that dexterous touch on the ball, was he a No. 10? He's two-footed and quick, so was he better out on the flanks? At the start of the 2017-18 season, Pep Guardiola gave him an extended run in the heart of midfield and the debate was over. De Bruyne hit player of the year form almost instantly, directing everything that City do. - IM

Isco

REAL MADRID (SPAIN) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £42m

Real's best player so far in 2017-18 has been someone who appeared to be on his way out of the club this time last year. Isco was even whistled and jeered by the Bernabeu after a poor showing in October 2016. But he forced his way into the first XI with a string of excellent performances as the team finished the season with a La Liga/Champions League double. That also brought a bumper new contract with a reported €700 million release clause. On the national team front, two excellent goals in September's 3-0 World Cup qualifier win over Italy likely secured his starting spot for Spain in Russia next summer. - DC

David Silva

MANCHESTER CITY (SPAIN) | Age: 31 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £50m

The shaven head may be a new look but his playing style never changes. David Silva is the classic Iberian attacking midfielder; 5-foot-8 in bare feet, ludicrously gifted, faintly ethereal and capable of playing anywhere beyond the halfway line. Great players come and go and reputations rise and fall at City, but he remains a constant, flitting and zipping between the lines, creating and completing moves like a kid in the playground. - IM

Andres Iniesta

BARCELONA (SPAIN) | Age: 33 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £18m

In an unprecedented move earlier this year, Barcelona handed Andres Iniesta a lifetime contract. To be fair, if anyone deserves it, it's him. Basically, it means the midfielder has a deal at the club until he decides it's time to leave and upon retirement, there will be a job waiting for him behind the scenes. Literally any job he wants. He's not thinking about that yet, though, and believes he has a few more years left at the top level. Ernesto Valverde agrees, and injuries permitting, he's opted to use Iniesta as much as possible since taking over. As ever, Barca look better when the veteran is on the pitch. - SM

video
ESPN FC 100: De Bruyne discusses his ranking

Kevin de Bruyne discusses his ESPN FC 100 ranking and explains what Pep Guardiola has done to Manchester City.ESPN

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: Kevin De Bruyne discussed his FC 100 ranking and what Pep Guardiola is doing at Manchester City.

Philippe Coutinho

LIVERPOOL (BRAZIL) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: 8

Football Whispers' Player Value: £75m

Philippe Coutinho isn't just Liverpool's best attacking threat, he's their Superman. When everything else has failed and there seems like they have no hope left, Coutinho is the only one who can save the day -- usually by taking a touch to make space 30 yards out and then sending the ball whistling into the top corner. Barcelona moved heaven and earth to land the Brazil international in the summer, but Liverpool wouldn't budge. It's an impressive rise for a player who was considered far too skinny and frail to succeed in an unhappy spell at Inter Milan. - IM

Dele Alli

TOTTENHAM (ENGLAND) | Age: 21 | 2016 Rank: 9

Football Whispers' Player Value: £64m

There was a plan in place for Dele Alli when he arrived at Tottenham in 2015. Still only 19, he was supposed to be used sparingly at first because while his achievements at lower league MK Dons were all very impressive, the Premier League is a different level. Not for Alli, it wasn't. He hit the ground running, tackling, passing and scoring goals as if he'd played at there for years. He was in the England team three months later; naturally, he scored in his first start. He might just be the best all-round talent England has generated in the past decade. - IM

Christian Eriksen

TOTTENHAM (DENMARK) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £66m

Christian Eriksen had been on the radar of so many big clubs for so long that when he signed for Tottenham in 2013 instead of Manchester United or Barcelona, the assumption was that there must be something wrong. This is now his fifth season with Spurs and the only logical conclusion is that there must be something wrong with the big clubs who ignored him instead. He's the creative heartbeat of the finest Spurs side since Bill Nicholson left, and thanks in no small part to the Denmark international's efforts, Spurs can now be considered a big club in their own right. - IM

Marco Asensio

REAL MADRID (SPAIN) | Age: 21 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £28m

Few players have ever settled so quickly at Real Madrid as Marco Asensio, who in his first 12 months at the club made history by scoring on his debut in five different competitions. These were not just any goals, either: he made his mark with long-range stunners in the European Supercup against Sevilla and Spanish Supercopa vs. Barcelona. His first season at the Bernabeu also brought a Champions League final goal, as he netted off the bench against Juventus in Cardiff. Asensio isn't yet an automatic choice in Real's first XI, but the left-footer's quiet confidence and ability to grab an opportunity have him set for the very top. - DC

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

MANCHESTER UNITED (ARMENIA) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £43m

Like Shinji Kagawa before him, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has found life at Manchester United far harder than life at Borussia Dortmund. But there have been repeated flashes of the player who dominated the Bundesliga with his eye for an incisive pass and it is to be hoped that he settles in soon. He had a poor spell there, too, of course, but was inspired back to form when his manager Thomas Tuchel gave him "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Timothy Gallwey for his bedtime reading. Expect to see Jose Mourinho at the Manchester Library before too long. - IM

Koke

ATLETICO MADRID (SPAIN) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: 7

Football Whispers' Player Value: £52m

Probably the most loved player among Atletico Madrid fans, homegrown utility player Jorge Resurreccion Merodio symbolises the relentless spirit and often underrated technical quality that's kept Diego Simeone's side punching above their weight in recent seasons. Known as Koke since he was cleaning Fernando Torres' boots in the Atletico youth system a decade ago, the working-class hero has regularly turned down offers to join richer and more glamorous clubs. "I was born at Atletico," he has said, many times. Barring a change in fortunes, Koke will be the club captain soon, and could well break the Rojiblancos' all-time appearances record. - DC

Wide Forward

Wingers still have a role to play in the modern era, especially as more teams play a 3-5-2, 3-4-3, or 4-3-3 in which width is a virtue. Their pace and persistence on the flanks give their teams another angle of attack; their ability to cut infield and shoot adds a dimension too.

Alexis Sanchez

ARSENAL (CHILE) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £83m

Whatever happens with Alexis Sanchez (he's out of contract at the Emirates in 2018 and nearly moved to Man City in the summer) let's hope it happens soon. The world needs a happy Sanchez, a fiery Sanchez and unstoppable Sanchez. That's the player who burst into the mainstream at the 2010 World Cup, the pocket battleship fearlessly steaming into battle. Is he a striker? Is he a winger? At the top of his game, labelling Sanchez is as useful as labelling a noise disturbance. While he's not at his best right now, he'll be back. - IM

Sadio Mane

LIVERPOOL (SENEGAL) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £57m

Sadio Mane always seems to make the biggest impact on Liverpool when he's not there. With him, they are a coruscating explosion of red, a rapid-fire blur of one-touch passing and devastating running. Without him, they can look a bit stodgy, as if they've all eaten too much pasta and they'll think about a breakneck counterattack after they've had a bit of a sit-down. Of all of Liverpool's many imports from Southampton in recent years, Mane might just be the best. - IM

Dries Mertens

NAPOLI (BELGIUM) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £59m

The turnaround in Mertens' career is one of the most remarkable stories in top-level European football. He was seen as a competent winger, primarily a stand-in for Lorenzo Insigne, until an injury to Arkadiusz Milik gave him his chance up front last autumn. He has not looked back since. His scoring record (34 in all competitions last term and already in double figures during the current campaign) has been little short of sensational, and he forms the cutting edge of a Napoli team whose speed and style have few parallels across the continent. The Belgium international has been in football for more than two decades and this transformation will not last forever, but Maurizio Sarri & Co. are thankful they tapped into his voracious hunger for goals before it was too late. - NA

Ousmane Dembele

BARCELONA (FRANCE) | Age: 20 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £60m

Arsene Wenger says Ousmane Dembele is a future Ballon d'Or winner. At €105m (potentially rising to €145m), you'd hope so. That's how much Barcelona paid to sign the France international from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, even though the youngster had only joined the German club last year for €15m. Unfortunately, a promising start to life at Camp Nou was cut down in its tracks when he ruptured a tendon in his third appearance for the club. Luckily, he has time on his side and Barca will hope to tap into that potential when he returns in 2018. - SM

video
ESPN FC 100: Mata: Zlatan and Pogba bring personality to United

Speaking exclusively to ESPN, Juan Mata discusses the monumental boost that Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba bring to Manchester United.Dave Flanagan

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: Speaking exclusively to ESPN, Juan Mata discusses what Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba bring to Manchester United.

Marco Reus

BORUSSIA DORTMUND (GERMANY) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £69m

Reus hasn't had luck on his side since making the move from Borussia Monchengladbach to the Black and Yellows in 2012. A series of injuries have hindered his progress as one of Europe's most gifted wingers. The DFB Cup final this past May finally brought the first meaningful trophy of his career, albeit at a terrible personal cost: Reus tore his cruciate ligament and has been out of commission ever since. Both BVB manager Peter Bosz and Germany boss Joachim Low hope that he will return playing as well as he had done in the first half of 2017. - RH

Leroy Sane

MANCHESTER CITY (GERMANY) | Age: 21 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £47m

There are so many big-money players at Manchester City that Leroy Sane has been spared the worst of the expectation that weighs heavily on young stars' shoulders. But you get the impression that even if Sane was City's first transfer in a decade, he'd take it all in his stride. And what a stride it is! The son of a gymnast and an Olympic sprinter, Sane has electric pace. He also has a delicate touch and the brain to use it. Watching him develop under Pep Guardiola is a constant joy. - IM

Mohamed Salah

LIVERPOOL (EGYPT) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £67m

Last season, Liverpool missed Sadio Mane so much that they were forced to bring in someone as quick as him to make sure they never lacked pace in the final third. Mohamed Salah is that man and while he initially built a reputation for eye-popping misses in front of goal, he creates and converts so many other chances that it doesn't seem to matter. He just keeps on thundering away, never letting his head drop, never giving up. His flurry of goals already for the Reds speaks to his persistence. - IM

Willian

CHELSEA (BRAZIL) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £31m

Willian's performances for Chelsea in the desperate 2015-16 campaign were the stuff of legend. While his teammates seemingly struggled after the exit of Jose Mourinho, the Brazil international alone continued to excel. Thibaut Courtois was too easily beaten. Branislav Ivanovic's powers faded. Nemanja Matic was a sad ghost, powerless to stop anyone. But Willian was always there, skipping away with the ball or smashing free-kicks home from distance. And you suspect that whatever happens to him now or wherever he goes, Chelsea fans will always love him for it. - IM

Angel Di Maria

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (ARGENTINA) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £41m

How do you solve a problem like Di Maria? The Argentina international is such a beguiling talent and has shown it regularly during two-and-a-half years with PSG; the question is where exactly he fits in now that Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have arrived in the French capital. Di Maria should still get plenty of games; less certain is his precise role, and a player who turns 30 in November, while remaining a dazzling creative force, may find his talents are better appreciated elsewhere. - NA

Franck Ribery

BAYERN MUNICH (FRANCE) | Age: 34 | 2016 Rank: 5

Football Whispers' Player Value: £7m

His powers might be waning a little bit but the France international still relishes the chance to attack wide spaces with the ball at his feet. Ribery's pace has hardly decreased over the years, and the sight of him running at opposition players remains one of the most thrilling spectacles in the German top division. As one of the game's last few great anarchists, Ribery has actually become much less selfish in recent years, happy to help out his left-back and turn provider for Robert Lewandowski in front of goal. - RH

Forward

The best players in the game seem to have positions as hard to define as their individual talents. They're a potent mix of attacking midfield, winger and centre-forward, but also have the intelligence and quick thinking to know where to be when their teams need them most.

Lionel Messi

BARCELONA (ARGENTINA) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £200m

Pep Guardiola was spot-on when he urged people to stop writing about Lionel Messi. "Just watch him," he said. If you'd have taken Guardiola's advice, you'd have seen Messi score the hat trick that hauled Argentina to the World Cup in October, score four goals in one game in September and more recently, bag his 100th European goal. But while goals (and heaps of them) are a large part of his game, he offers much more: playmaking from deep, assists and slaloming runs. The sad thing is the realization that he won't be around forever. After turning 30 in the summer, the bets are on for when (or if) the decline begins. - SM

Cristiano Ronaldo

REAL MADRID (PORTUGAL) | Age: 32 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £145m

"I've spent 11 years climbing to receive awards for my talent, hard work and a lot of dedication," said Cristiano Ronaldo in October when he picked up FIFA's Best player of 2017 award. Ronaldo has always boasted natural talent but the way his career has progressed shows that talk of hard work and dedication is no cliche. Even among Madrid's star-filled squad, he stands out for his professionalism and devotion to training. (His Twitter feed shows his commitment to his body, too.) The skinny teenage winger has evolved over time into a predatory finisher. Despite his age, he remains as valuable to his team, particularly in the big moments when a trophy is on the line. -DC

Neymar

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (BRAZIL) | Age: 25 | 2016 Rank: 3

Football Whispers' Player Value: £146m

A world record £196m transfer fee could be too much stress for some shoulders but Neymar keeps on delivering, and the signs are that he may be able to lift PSG to the level to which they aspire. He's been on electric form early on for the French champions, particularly in a Champions League campaign that's seen them demolish their group stage opponents. The only danger is that, as evidenced in his fallout with Edinson Cavani over a penalty against Lyon in September, his superstar status may cause problems in a dressing room full of strong personalities. Neymar's brilliance is clearer than ever before; victory in Europe for PSG would underline it. - NA

Eden Hazard

CHELSEA (BELGIUM) | Age: 26 | 2016 Rank: 7

Football Whispers' Player Value: £121m

Few players can claim to be in the class of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but Eden Hazard is about as close as you can get. He was a teenage prodigy with the good fortune to have been developed by managers as disparate as Jose Mourinho, Roberto Martinez, Rudi Garcia and Rafa Benitez. As a result, he is not only technically brilliant but also strategically versatile. In Chelsea's title-winning season of 2014-15, he didn't just attack; he provided cover for his full-back, too. Mourinho was the manager then, of course. Now under Antonio Conte, he has a freer role and seems to love it. The next couple of years should see him peak. - IM

video
ESPN FC 100: Top 10 Forwards

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti breaks down the top 10 forwards according to the ESPN FC 100 list. Will Messi or Ronaldo take top spot?

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: ESPN's Gab Marcotti breaks down the top 10 forwards according to the ESPN FC 100 list.

Kylian Mbappe

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (FRANCE) | Age: 18 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £67m

It would be wise not to bestow too much hype upon Mbappe too soon, but the early signs are tantalising. The teenager's frightening speed and finishing ability (not to mention his humble development at Monaco) have drawn comparisons to a young Thierry Henry, but he stands out in other ways, too. "He thinks when he plays and that, for me, is the most important thing in a player," Henry himself said earlier this year. Those who know Mbappe speak glowingly of the strong head on his shoulders, both on and off the pitch. He'll need it at PSG, where he has had the kind of mixed start that is natural for a player his age. With his blend of intelligence and ability, consistency will surely come. - NA

Gareth Bale

REAL MADRID (WALES) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £72m

Often during his four-plus years at Real Madrid, Gareth Bale could have taken the easy way out and gone back to the Premier League. Persistent injury issues have seriously hampered the €100 million galactico's ability to win over a Bernabeu crowd, which also has issues with his unwillingness to speak Spanish in public and his inability to embrace their love of golf. But on signing a new Madrid contract in October, Bale was clear: "It takes more character to stay here, fight and make things work." When fit, Bale remains a key part of the Madrid side. You could argue that his determination to overcome all the challenges he has faced in Spain makes his 10-trophy haul even more impressive. - DC

Arjen Robben

BAYERN MUNICH (NETHERLANDS) | Age: 33 | 2016 Rank: 6

Football Whispers' Player Value: £19m

Though he's turning 34 in January, Arjen Robben is a bit of a miracle in football: a winger who doesn't get any worse with age. The "flying Dutchman" continues to set the benchmark in the Bundesliga for creative, incisive work on the flanks, employing his favourite trick (the quick cut inside onto his left foot) as devastatingly as he has been doing for more than a decade. After his retirement from the Dutch national team that sadly failed to qualify for Russia, Robben is set to torment defenders a little bit longer. On current form, Bayern Munich would be crazy not to renew his contract for another season. - RH

Gabriel Jesus

MANCHESTER CITY (BRAZIL) | Age: 20 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £54m

Gabriel Jesus' transfer to Manchester City was announced several months before it was completed, which really should have been a problem. A young man, a new country, a different culture, a massive price tag and a steady build-up of hype is a recipe for disaster... unless you're Gabriel Jesus, of course. The young Brazil international has shrugged off such stress as easily as he sheds the close, aggressive attentions of Premier League defenders. In talent and in application, Jesus is as exciting a talent as England has seen in years. - IM

Thomas Muller

BAYERN MUNICH (GERMANY) | Age: 28 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £51m

By his own exalted standards, Muller has had one of his least successful years as he's struggled to find the form that he showed before his traumatic penalty miss against Atletico Madrid in the 2016 Champions League semifinal. A rare muscle injury, the first midterm absence of his career, in October hasn't helped matters but a Muller not quite at his best is still a force to be reckoned with. The German forward is still a stealthy, incredibly intelligent mover between the lines and equally as comfortable finishing as he is when selflessly creating space for others. Come Russia 2018, you'd expect him to be at the top of the world once more. - RH

Marcus Rashford

MANCHESTER UNITED (ENGLAND) | Age: 20 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £30m

Scientists have proved beyond doubt that it is physically impossible to dislike Marcus Rashford. (Except for Swansea fans, perhaps, after his dive last season.) He's a local boy who's forced his way into the reckoning, taking every chance given to him and proving himself to two of the most demanding managers in the game, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal. Rashford never gives less than his all and never complains if he's shuffled around to facilitate bigger names, whether at Old Trafford or with the England team. He's Marcus Rashford. And he seems quite nice. - IM

Striker

Around the penalty area, the striker is king. The "classic" No. 9 will score against anyone, at any time, from anywhere. They're the proverbial cherry on the ice cream sundae. While all great strikers have that ruthless determination to seize every scoring opportunity for themselves, the truly great will know when to cede the spotlight to a better-placed teammate. They'll also be as adept at linking play as they are finishing it.

Robert Lewandowski

BAYERN MUNICH (POLAND) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 3

Football Whispers' Player Value: £122m

It's been another superlative year for Lewandowski at both the club and international level. Bayern Munich have never been more dependent on his immense work rate and frighteningly efficient finishing. In the meantime, he has set a new European record in World Cup qualifiers, scoring 16 goals for Poland. "Lewy" is a striker at the very top of his game, supremely confident in his own ability to make the right run at the right time and apply the perfect finishing touch. Strong in the air and accurate with his left and right feet, he's simply in a league of his own as far as out-and-out goal-getters are concerned. - RH

Luis Suarez

BARCELONA (URUGUAY) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: 1

Football Whispers' Player Value: £153m

It took Luis Suarez 120 games to reach 100 goals for Barcelona. And to think, as ex-Barcelona manager Luis Enrique pointed out when the Uruguay international brought up his century earlier this year, he'd been written off as overweight in some quarters after making a slow start since arriving at Camp Nou. But perhaps Suarez's biggest achievement in Catalonia is the relationship he's struck up with Lionel Messi. Drinks of mate off the pitch have blossomed into goals on it, much to the delight of the fans and the chagrin of those who said that too many cooks would spoil the broth. - SM

Sergio Aguero

MANCHESTER CITY (ARGENTINA) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 2

Football Whispers' Player Value: £131m

Manchester City's all-time leading scorer (180 goals) is one of the shrewdest predators in the business. He's deadly in front of goal and he never gives up, as Manchester United fans learned the hard way in 2012. When he signed for City in 2011, £38m seemed an extraordinary fee, the sort of fee that it would take extraordinary feats to repay. Aguero, of course, delivered first with one title, then another. And this season promises to be the best of them all. - IM

Harry Kane

TOTTENHAM (ENGLAND) | Age: 24 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £74m

When Harry Kane first appeared at White Hart Lane, with Tottenham in the twilight of the Andre Villas-Boas reign, he looked little more than a bustling, old-fashioned English centre-forward. Oh, he put some effort in, but was he really anything more than a likeable big lad? Yes. Yes, he was. Kane soon proved there was much more to him than mere physicality. Having done little to catch the eye on a string of loan spells at lower league clubs, he blossomed in the top flight, and the goals flowed thick and fast (except in August), with 27 league goals in 2017 second only to Messi in La Liga (36). Now he's invaluable to Spurs and they wouldn't sell him for £200m. Kane is a testament to the things that can happen when you give youth a chance. - IM

video
WATCH: Lukaku sits down with ESPN FC

Check out Romelu Lukaku's full interview with ESPN FC's Alexis Nunes on the Belgium striker's move to Manchester United.Dave Flanagan

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: Check out Romelu Lukaku's full interview with ESPN FC's Alexis Nunes on his move to Manchester United.

Antoine Griezmann

ATLETICO MADRID (FRANCE) | Age: 26 | 2016 Rank: 4

Football Whispers' Player Value: £100m

Antoine Griezmann is many things to many people: honourary Basque at former club Real Sociedad, one of the Uruguay clique at his current side Atletico Madrid, a bad boy in France after he was banned for a year for partying with his national U-21 side. In 2016, Griezmann was the third-best player in the world, with his achievements for club and country getting him nominated for a Ballon d'Or. Then, 2017 saw him show his loyalty to Atletico (in the midst of a transfer ban preventing them signing a replacement) when Manchester United came calling. As a player Griezmann is as difficult to pin down, something that defenders trying to combat his mix of pace, intelligence and work rate continue to discover. - DC

Paulo Dybala

JUVENTUS (ARGENTINA) | Age: 23 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £90m

Rumour has it that Juventus are to insert a new release clause in Dybala's contract that, if triggered, would make him the most expensive footballer in the world. He's not at Neymar's level yet but he's not far behind, either. Dybala can score prolifically but is at his best when buzzing around in pockets between midfield and the opposition defence, allowing his twinkle-toed dribbling and razor-sharp mind to create havoc. Next summer's World Cup could be tailor-made for him after Argentina secured a nervy qualification although their coach, Jorge Sampaoli, must work out how to get the best out of both Dybala and Lionel Messi. It is not a terrible problem to have; it also says everything about Dybala that the two can be compared. - NA

Romelu Lukaku

MANCHESTER UNITED (BELGIUM) | Age: 24 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £67m

A rare example of the much vaunted "wonderkid" who actually fulfils his potential, Romelu Lukaku is very nearly the perfect striker. He's quick, he's strong, he's smart, he's brave and he's nerveless in front of goal. Lukaku has lived his entire adult life under scrutiny but has dealt with it in superb fashion. Having shrewdly chosen regular football at West Bromwich Albion and then Everton rather than languishing on the bench of a bigger club, he's developed into one of Europe's most feared strikers. Lukaku is also one of just three to hit 50 league goals in the past three seasons, along with Kane (60) and Aguero (51). And he hasn't peaked yet. - IM

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

BORUSSIA DORTMUND (GABON) | Age: 28 | " 2016 Rank: 8

Football Whispers' Player Value: £93m

Germany's leading goal-scorer in 2016-17 (31 goals) hasn't quite the same heights in the latter part of the year, but that lean spell can't detract from his extraordinary ability to burst past defenders in the final thirds in short, sharp diagonal runs and find the net regularly. The Gabon international, famously faster over the few first yards than Olympian sprinter Usain Bolt, has reached a whole new level of excellence since converting from a winger to a central striker, and it seems like only a matter of time before he'll show his skills for one of the world's biggest clubs. - RH

Karim Benzema

REAL MADRID (FRANCE) | Age: 29 | 2016 Rank: 9

Football Whispers' Player Value: £55m

Karim Benzema is seventh on Real Madrid's all-time top scorer list, wedged between legends Paco Gento and Hugo Sanchez with 199 goals, even while pundits debate if he's really a world-class centre-forward. Ex-Barcelona and England forward Gary Lineker even weighed in recently. What cannot really be argued is that Benzema's intelligence and movement have made him the perfect foil for Madrid's record scorer, Ronaldo. And that over 180 goals for Los Blancos (plus more than 100 assists) show he's much, much more than just a traditional No. 9. - DC

Edinson Cavani

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN (URUGUAY) | Age: 30 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Football Whispers' Player Value: £41m

The received wisdom about Cavani is that he misses too many chances and is as likely to cost you a big game as win you one. It's a harsh reading of his ability to say the least: he stepped up to the plate decisively after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's departure from PSG and scored in seven consecutive Champions League games between November 2016 and October 2017. Last season he scored 35 goals in 36 Ligue 1 games and is on course for an even better return, looking firmly at home in a front three with high-profile signings Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. He occasionally looks ungainly and has his detractors, but the bottom line is that if Cavani was not a top-class operator, he wouldn't be such a vital part of PSG's modern-day first XI. - NA

Manager

Football can look a lot like chaos but top managers are able to see the bigger picture at all times and, above all, they won't panic when Plan A doesn't work. After all, they've got Plans B, C and D already lined up. Top coaches can ease their big-ego, big-talent squads through the emotional ups and downs of competing in multiple competitions while keeping everyone happy, harmonious and fully committed to the cause.

Zinedine Zidane

REAL MADRID | Age: 45 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Nobody quite knew what to expect when former galactico player turned rookie coach Zinedine Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez as coach in January 2016. The next 18 months brought an unprecedented seven trophies and Zidane's side also became the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues in the modern era, with the fledgling manager showing an outstanding ability to manage a squad filled with all-world talent and stratospheric egos. After being recognised as FIFA's Best coach of 2017, Zidane coolly suggested he still had plenty of room for improvement in his second career. "I was a better player as I played for 35 years," he replied. "I've just been a coach 18 months. That is the difference." - DC

Antonio Conte

CHELSEA | Age: 48 | 2016 Rank: 9

OSome managers are utterly inscrutable. Sven Goran Eriksson, for example: you could never really tell what he was thinking. We don't really have that problem with Antonio Conte. The Chelsea manager is so demonstrative on the touchline that he can often be more interesting than his team's games. The former Juventus manager demands complete application from his players but he's more than a taskmaster. His decision to rip up the 4-2-3-1 formation (or variants thereof) that had won Chelsea every trophy going was a masterstroke. But how long will he stay in England? - IM

Pep Guardiola

MANCHESTER CITY | Age: 46 | 2016 Rank: 1

It is still a source of some amusement that there are those who believe Pep Guardiola is a fraud, as if he was just a steady hand on the tiller of an already wildly successful Barcelona team, not a rookie manager walking into a disintegrating dressing room of big name party animals and transforming the entire club into an unstoppable winning machine. As if he isn't constantly tweaking and flexing his teams in a vain search for footballing perfection, never quite satisfying himself, but winning piles of silver in the process. Will those people give him the credit he deserves if he transforms Manchester City too? Probably not. But it's their loss. - IM

Diego Simeone

ATLETICO MADRID | Age: 47 | 2016 Rank: 2

What Diego Simeone has done at Atletico Madrid in taking them to consecutive Champions League finals and pipping Barcelona and Real to a La Liga title in 2013-14, on a fraction of the budget, is one of the finest pieces of football management in the 21st century. However, he's now approaching a crossroads. Despite leading Atletico into their new home, the Wanda Metropolitano, and agreeing to extend his deal until 2020, there's still an element of uncertainty about what he does next. With the new stadium, increased finances and higher expectations, he may even become a victim of his own success in Madrid. Meanwhile, Inter Milan and Premier League clubs will be watching closely for his next move. - SM

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ESPN FC 100: Top 10 Managers

ESPN's Gab Marcotti delves into the managers that cracked the ESPN FC 100 Top 10.Dave Flanagan

CLICK ABOVE AND WATCH: ESPN's Gab Marcotti delves into the managers that cracked the ESPN FC 100 Top 10.

Jose Mourinho

MANCHESTER UNITED | Age: 54 | 2016 Rank: 7

Jose Mourinho is the most ruthless manager the Premier League has ever seen. A skilled tactician, he has the ability to spot a weakness in any opposition team and the resolve to do what has to be done to exploit it; even if it means upsetting the purists who believe that football should primarily be a source of entertainment. Mourinho scoffs at that sort of aesthetic thinking. He will use any trick he can to gain an advantage, from misdirection to intimidation to flattery to hiding in a laundry basket to skirt a UEFA stadium ban. - IM

Massimiliano Allegri

JUVENTUS | Age: 50 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Last summer, Allegri asked himself whether he had taken Juventus as far as he could. "Is this the end of the road?" he pondered. Allegri considered resigning the Monday after their 4-1 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid but ultimately opted to stay on. Juve can only be thankful: that they have returned to Europe's summit owes so much to Allegri, whose tactical flexibility has paid rich dividends. One example is the semifinal first leg at Monaco, where he switched to a three-man central defence and was rewarded with a near-perfect 2-0 win. Allegri is a deep thinker and a dedicated teacher to his players: taking that final step will be a tall order but Juve could not be in better hands. - NA

Joachim Low

GERMANY NATIONAL TEAM | Age: 57 | 2016 Rank: N/R

Success at the Confederations Cup with a "B team" and a perfect record in the World Cup qualifying campaign (10 wins in 10 games) underlined the Germany manager's great skill in managing the abundance of riches at his disposal. Regardless of the formation and personnel, Die Nationalmannschaft tend to win, invariably playing impressive football in the process. Low's quiet, unassuming style at the helm will only be truly appreciated once he makes way for a new coach, probably after the World Cup in Russia. - RH

Mauricio Pochettino

TOTTENHAM | Age: 45 | 2016 Rank: 6

Mauricio Pochettino was Tottenham's fourth manager in just over two years when he arrived in 2014 and his prospects initially looked bleak. His abilities weren't in doubt, it was just that neither Andre Villas-Boas nor Tim Sherwood had been given the time to match Harry Redknapp's achievements in taking Spurs to the Champions League. Pochettino surpassed them and for the first time in the Premier League era, he even turned Spurs into genuine title challengers. The next step is to actually win something, of course, but never forget that Pochettino has achieved simply by lifting Spurs to this point, already doing what an entire generation thought impossible. - IM

Carlo Ancelotti

UNATTACHED | Age: 58 | 2016 Rank: 4

Until his recent setback at Bayern Munich, Carlo Ancelotti was the undisputed go-to guy for Europe's troubled elite. Got a big club? A squad of surly, under-performing millionaire man-children? Still can't win the title? Ancelotti was your man. By smoothly managing up and down, the Italian could placate and settle any team, winning silverware at every club since he returned to AC Milan in 2001. The only problem was that the appeal of laissez-faire (French for "let 'em get on with it, we'll see what happens, eh?") management always wore off. Owners these days love a project and Ancelotti is not one for projects. - IM

Leonardo Jardim

AS MONACO | Age: 43 | 2016 Rank: N/R

In some ways you could say Jardim has one of the toughest jobs in top-level football. Monaco develop wave after wave of outstanding young players and the vast majority are inevitably sold upon any consistent glimpse of their ability. It takes exceptional quality to remodel a team as Jardim has done, first in creating the breathtaking French title winners and Champions League semifinalists who thrilled Europe last season. Now, he's tasked with moulding a successor that sits second in Ligue 1 and whose potential could be equally great. Jardim took his first senior managerial role at the age of 27; he's since proven himself at the highest level, and it is surely a matter of time before he's also given the opportunity to join one of Europe's giants. - NA