THE Guardian top 100 players is always an interesting end-of-year exercise and almost always reflects the shape of the past 12 months. But this year’s top 20 has a very disconcerting look about it – of the 20, seven are over 30 years of age and the first three are well into their fourth decade.
It is not so much that Lewandowski, Messi and Ronaldo have a combined age of 100, but the concern has to be that these outstanding players are at the top at an advanced stage of their careers and are not being challenged by up-and-coming younger talent.
Admittedly, the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are exceptional players whose careers are only just running down now. They’re supremely skilful, very fit and still scoring goals. Robert Lewandowski is an incredibly consistent goal-scorer and is enjoying a late career flourish. He is also the centre forward of the European and German champions. The year 2020 belonged to Bayern Munich and Lewandowski.
Where are the heirs to these iconic players? Kevin De Bruyne is in fourth position, but he is 29, he’s not going to get any better. Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Mo Salah are both 28 and players like Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane are 27. In other words, these are players in their prime, we are seeing, or have seen, the best of them. Kylian Mbappe (22), who was the great hope to assume the role of the world’s number one, dropped in the Guardian list this year, but the big newcomer is the Norwegian Erland Haaland of Borussia Dortmund, who is just 20 and has leapt from 53rd to number six.
In total, 27% of the top 100 are over 30 years of age, with the evergreen Zlatan Ibrahimovic, at 39, the oldest of them all. He’s scoring and AC Milan are riding high at the top of Serie A. Zlatan’s influence is huge in Milan, but even the great Swedish maverick cannot thwart father time and he has become a little injury prone. But to still being among the games best demonstrates just how unique Ibra is. As for the rest of the list, 27% are under 25 and 46% are in their prime years of 25-29.
Liverpool and Bayern Munich are the leading clubs, contributing 12% and 11% respectively to the top 100 and Real Madrid have eight players in the list. Germany is the top nationality, followed by Brazil, France and England. Interestingly, the highest-placed English player is a defender, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Barcelona have just six representatives in the list, highlighting the club’s diminishing influence. In 2019, they had eight, in 2018 nine. Tottenham have also declined, their 2020 presence is just two players (Harry Kane and Son) four fewer than in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, the top five European leagues account for 98% of the top 100, with the Premier League providing 35 players. The Premier League is followed by La Liga (20), Serie A (19) and the Bundesliga (15).
Will the three old-stagers be at the top in 2021? You wouldn’t bet against it, but sooner or later, younger guns will surely be trying to claim their places on the podium.
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