Three World Cups, six different Champions League winners and countless memorable matches and performances. The 2010s have been a decade littered with footballing brilliance.
As the decade comes to a close, Sportsmail asked our team of reporters: who have been to see their fair share of players of the 2010s? The results, formed of 27 responses tallied up to make up a top 50 players, will be published over the next five days.
Can Cristiano Ronaldo’s four European Cup wins and international success propel him above the mercurial brilliance of Lionel Messi? Which Premier League stars will mix it with the best from LaLiga? And where will the World Cup winners rank compared to the stars of the Champions League?
Friday’s first raft of names, from 50-41, features two current world champions and five men who have starred in the Premier League. Keep checking back on MailOnline across the next five days for the full list of the decade.
50. Miroslav Klose – Bayern Munich, Lazio, Germany
Despite being retired for almost half the decade, it would be remiss of us to exclude Miroslav Klose from the top 50 players of the past 10 years.
Not only did the former Bayern Munich and Lazio striker leave Brazil in 2014 with a World Cup winner’s medal around his neck, but he did so with a personal record to boot.
The German striker broke the all-time record for goals scored at the World Cup, surpassing Ronaldo’s tally of 15 goals against the Brazilian’s countrymen during the famous 7-1 rout in the semi-final in Belo Horizonte.
Klose was one of those players that performed better for his country than his club. His 75 goals in 237 games for Bayern and Lazio this decade is clouded by his outstanding record of 71 goals in 137 games for his country.
Miroslav Klose’s strike in the 7-1 rout of Brazil made him the World Cup’s all-time top scorer
The German striker enjoyed a fantastic summer as his country lifted the World Cup in 2014
49. Edinson Cavani – Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain, Uruguay
When looking back on his career Edinson Cavani may be left to feel his record hasn’t been truly appreciated.
The unfathomable excellence of the two that shall not be named has served to overshadow the performances of some outstanding players across Europe.
Two hundred and eighty four goals in 380 games for Napoli and PSG is a simply breathtaking goals tally, and Cavani has matched his individual contributions with an impressive trophy haul this decade.
The 32-year-old has won five Ligue 1 titles, five French League Cups, four French Cups, an Italian Cup and the Copa America with his country in the past 10 years.
And, after seven seasons with the all-conquering French side, Cavani is set to enjoy new pastures in 2020, with a move to Atletico Madrid looking likely.
Edinson Cavani’s goal record is incredible, with 284 goals in 380 games for Napoli and PSG
48. Antoine Griezmann – Real Sociedad, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, France
The 2010s have seen Atletico Madrid display a proven track record for developing some of the world’s most exciting talents, and Antoine Griezmann arguably stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The Frenchman has enjoyed a fantastic decade in Spain, which began as an exciting academy product with Real Sociedad.
Fifty two goals in 202 appearances was enough to convince Diego Simeone to take a chance on the striker, agreeing a £24million deal to bring him to the Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Antoine Griezmann’s performances at Atletico earned him a mega-money move to Barcelona
And Griezmann quickly became the star man for Simeone’s side, firing an impressive 133 goals in 257 games for Los Colchoneros, as Atleti won the Europa League, Spanish Cup and UEFA Super Cup along the way.
The 28-year-old’s success with Atleti was intertwined with international glory, as Griezmann played a starring role in France’s World Cup triumph in Russia in 2018, to make up for his country’s disappointment in missing out on victory at the Euros two years earlier, in which Griezmann won the Golden Boot.
A mega-money £108million move to rivals Barcelona followed in the summer of 2019, with the Frenchman scoring eight goals in 23 appearances so far this season.
The striker led the line alongside Kylian Mbappe as France won the World Cup in 2018
47. Paul Pogba – Juventus, Manchester United, France
Another World Cup winner with France to make the list, Paul Pogba has seen his stock rise enormously over the course of the past decade.
The Frenchman left Manchester United with his tail between his legs in 2012 as the midfielder grew tired with a lack of first-team opportunities from famed manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
A free transfer to Juventus turned out to be one of the best pieces of business of the last 10 years, with Pogba flourishing in Turin to become one of the most sought-after talents on the planet. Pogba won a host of silverware with Juve, including the Scudetto, Italian Cup and Italian Super Cup.
Juventus’ acquisition of Paul Pogba on a free was perhaps the best transfer of the decade
The Frenchman played a starring role in his country’s World Cup triumph in Russia last summer
But United came calling the loudest, with former manager Jose Mourinho pulling out all the stops to secure an Old Trafford reunion. Pogba would return for a then world record fee of £100million.
Under Mourinho, Pogba helped United lift the League Cup and Europa League. Pogba also scored in the World Cup final as France romped to victory over Croatia. His future at United in 2020, however, remains unclear.
Manchester United will be hoping to hold onto Pogba, whose future remains uncertain
46. Iker Casillas – Real Madrid, Porto, Spain
Where do you begin with Iker Casillas? The Spaniard will most definitely be looked back on as one of the greatest goalkeepers to step between the sticks, having kept for arguably the greatest international team ever in Spain, as well as reigning supreme as Real Madrid’s No 1.
Casillas began the decade a World Cup winner in South Africa, where he also won the Golden Glove, having conceded just two goals during the tournament.
Two years later he became a two-time European champion as Spain won back-to-back Euros in Ukraine.
Iker Casillas has had a marvellous decade, winning a glut of silverware along the way
The goalkeeper won the World Cup and Champions League before leaving Real Madrid in 2015
The 38-year-old lifted the Champions League trophy for the third time in 2013-14, before leaving his beloved club on acrimonious terms in the summer of 2015, with his parents claiming that he had been forced out by club president Florentino Perez.
Casillas would move across the border to Porto, where he won the league title in 2017-18. A heart attack in May this year has sidelined the veteran keeper, and it is unknown whether we will see him between the sticks again.
A heart attack in May this year has kept the veteran keeper, who plays for Porto, out of action
45. David de Gea – Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, Spain
Casillas’ successor hasn’t had a bad decade himself. David de Gea swiftly became one of the best goalkeepers the Premier League had seen with Manchester United.
Although it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the 29-year-old, who was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson from Atletico Madrid in 2011 for around £18million.
De Gea fielded criticism for being lightweight and a liability for United, but hard work in the gym has seen the Spaniard excel at Old Trafford.
David de Gea has been the standout goalkeeper in the Premier League this decade
Among the swathes of accolades the keeper has won this decade, including numerous selections in the Premier League team of the year, the strongest indication of De Gea’s importance to United can be shown by his winning of the club’s player of the season award for four seasons straight.
One Premier League title, an FA Cup, League Cup and two Europa Leagues (with United and Atletico Madrid) suggest it has been a very good decade for the Spaniard.
The Spaniard has developed hugely from the 11 stone youngster who joined United in 2011
44. John Terry – Chelsea, Aston Villa, England
Under Roman Abramovich’s ownership, the revolving door at Stamford Bridge was in full swing, but one man largely remained at the heart of all of Chelsea’s modern success.
It hasn’t been a bad 10 years for John Terry. Three Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a League Cup, Europa League and Champions League trophy to boot, the Englishman won it all at Stamford Bridge.
Throughout the revolving door that is Chelsea, John Terry was one of the few constants
Terry was at the heart of the club’s greatest ever era, and won Champions League this decade
His departure for Aston Villa in the summer of 2017 was a tough pill to swallow for the Chelsea faithful, who waved him off in bizarre circumstances when former boss Antonio Conte substituted the 39-year-old on the 26th minute, with opponents Sunderland agreeing to kick the ball out to allow it to happen.
Terry was unable to go out on a high though, with his new side Aston Villa falling to a heartbreaking defeat to Fulham at Wembley in the Championship play-off final.
He would return a year later to triumph second time around, albeit in the dugout with Dean Smith, with whom he is working as an assistant coach.
Terry played one season with Aston Villa before retiring, in which they lost out on promotion
He returned to Wembley a year later as an assistant coach as Villa triumphed over Derby
43. Son Heung-min – Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Spurs, South Korea
We couldn’t leave out Son Heung-min from our countdown of the world’s best players over the last decade. The South Korea star has dazzled since joining Spurs from Bayer Leverkusen for £21.9million in 2015.
Son’s performances in north London have continued to step up a level season upon season, to the point where he is the second name on the teamsheet, behind goalscoring machine Harry Kane of course.
The 27-year-old’s electric pace and ability to score with either foot has made him a constant thorn in the side of many a Premier League outfit, and his magical goal against Burnley earlier this month showcased the forward’s astounding talent.
Son Heung-min has set the Premier League alight with electrifying displays for Spurs
Son has also shown the ability to perform under intense pressure. Spurs chiefs were sent into disarray in 2018 when their star man was called to serve in the army back home in South Korea, with his only escape option being to win the Asian Games.
And Son delivered, scoring both goals as South Korea overcame Japan 2-1 in the final to secure himself, and his team-mates, mandatory exemption from military service.
The South Korean star won the Asian Games last year to rule him out of military service
42. Steven Gerrard – Liverpool, LA Galaxy, England
Despite their current on-field success and the likelihood of lifting their first ever Premier League title come May, Liverpool still very much miss the man who brought so much hope to a city dreaming of returning to former glories.
For Steven Gerrard watching on from Scotland, it is simply a case of bad timing. The Liverpudlian pledged his career to his boyhood club at a time where loyalty is an anomaly in the modern game.
Steven Gerrard inspired Liverpool fans to dream of returning to the days of past glories
The midfielder only won one League Cup this decade but gave football so much more
Gerrard deprived himself of the trophy haul his talent well and truly deserved. The past decade has seen the dynamic midfielder win a solitary League Cup title before calling time on a marvellous career. He also led England as captain during the disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil.
And who can forget that title chase in the 2013-14 season, when Gerrard and Luis Suarez were at the forefront of their title bid, only to be pipped by Manchester City. Gerrard’s slip during the home loss to Chelsea was seen as a turning point that moved City closer to winning the league.
Undoubtedly Gerrard, who is now in charge of Rangers, will be watching on in delight in May if Jordan Henderson lifts the coveted Premier League trophy. Had he been five years younger, though, he’d surely be reaping the rewards of the faith he showed.
He went so close to lifting the Premier League title in 2014 but fell at the final hurdle
41. Karim Benzema – Real Madrid, France
His goal record (304 in 636 games) may not be in the same stratosphere as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, nor Edinson Cavani, but Karim Benzema has been integral to the overwhelming success of Real Madrid this decade.
The Frenchman has survived constant change at a club that very much embraces the rollercoaster culture it brings upon itself.
His selection as the starting striker under seven different managers speaks volumes of the level of quality he brings.
Karim Benzema has been integral to the overwhelming success of Real Madrid in the 2010s
And the trophy record speaks for itself. Benzema has scooped four Champions Leagues, two LaLigas, two Copa del Reys, four Club World Cups, three UEFA Super Cups and two Spanish Super Cups this decade.
But perhaps the accolade that truly demonstrates the 32-year-old’s importance to Real Madrid’s success is the player of the season award, a gong he has picked up on three occasions these past 10 years.
A bust up with the France national team left Benzema a spectator as he watched his countrymen be crowned world champions in Russia last summer, the only blemish on what has been an outstanding decade of football for the striker.
Benzema (R) provided a platform for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo (C) and Gareth Bale to thrive