It’s been another stand-out season of football on the continent, with Spanish football once again retaining its status as the world’s best league.
Both Barcelona in the Champions League and Sevilla in the Europa League ensured La Liga retained its stranglehold on Europe’s biggest prizes – and underlined the growing chasm between the Premier League’s best and their continental rivals.
But it wasn’t just Spain where club sides – and their stars – shined bright. We also witnessed the Old Lady of Juventus come within a game of the Treble; Bayern once again sweeping all before them in the Bundesliga and a bright young upstart proving that Jose might not be quite as special a judge of player as he likes to think he is.
So, without further ado, let’s reveal your top 5 European players this season.
5. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
Labelled by Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp as “the best goalkeeper of all time”, (really!) Neuer has enjoyed another stand-out season for the Bundesliga kings.
The performance in question which prompted Redknapp’s claim came during their Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat to Barcelona – a match Bayern had lost 3-0. With Bayern operating with a high, three-man backline at the Nou Camp, Barca exposed their formation on numerous occasions, with Neuer keeping them at bay with a display of breathtaking brilliance.
Without going OTT at Neuer’s performance – after all, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Germany’s No 1 – the match did prove a few things. Firstly, there’s no better keeper in the world game right now than Neuer. Second, he’s re-writing the goalkeeper’s manual with his sweeper-keeper exploits, and three, he quite rightly deserves his place in your top five Euro players of the season.
4. Paul Pogba (Juventus)
I was fortunate enough to see Paul Pogba’s debut for Man United – a League Cup tie against Leeds United in a match best remembered for a well-taken double by Michael Owen.
But what stood out for me that day was the power and presence of the young teenager in the heart of the visitors’ midfield that night.
I still find it hard to believe Sir Alex Ferguson allowed one of his brightest-ever young talents to leave, but then the Scot didn’t like to be dictated to, as the Frenchman’s agent attempted to do with Fergie when negotiating his next contract.
United’s loss was very much United’s gain; Pogba underlining his abilities this season by helping his side to both the domestic double and the Champions League final.
Although unable to make his mark in the showpiece, Pogba quite certainly deserves his place in your top five.
3. Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg)
In referencing Ferguson’s mistake with Pogba, you can fire the same accusations towards Jose Mourinho and his handling of De Bruyne – a player he only granted two Premier League starts to before shipping him out to Wolfsburg.
De Bruyne has just enjoyed a stellar season with Wolfsburg, where he was named the best outfield player in the Bundesliga. Some achievement when you consider the avalanche of talent at Bayern.
At just 23, De Bruyne is another player certain to get better and it’s easy to see why the likes of Man City are keen to push through what could amount to a near-£40m deal this summer.
2. Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
His performances last term for Liverpool outlined him as one of the world’s best and his displays in his debut season at Barcelona have comfortably reinforced that. Quite simply, as the campaign has gone on, the better Suarez has got.
His 25 goals and 16 assists pale into slight insignificance next to Lionel Messi, but it’s his running off the ball, movement and vision that have allowed the game of both Messi and Neymar to climb to another level. It’s also the timing of his goals that have been key; key strikes against Real Madrid in La Liga and in the Champions League against PSG and Juventus standing out.
As one of our readers says, “Messi might get more goals, but Suarez has made them the best in the world again”. On the evidence of this season, it’s hard to argue against that.
The worry for the rest of Europe, is that while you feel Messi is at his pinnacle, there’s still another level for Suarez (and Neymar to be fair) to reach. Frightening.
1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Never in doubt, Messi swept the board by taking a staggering 90% of your votes. And looking back at another all-conquering season for Barcelona, it’s obvious why.
It’s easy to run out of superlatives with Messi. His contribution has been nothing short of astonishing (56 goals in 56 games), but it’s his performances in the biggest games and the quality of the goals that he scores that really stand Messi out from the crowd.
This season alone, he’s set a number of records: The most La Liga hat-tricks (24); most hat-tricks for Barcelona (32); first player to score 40+ goals in six different seasons; Champions League record goalscorer (77).
On the back of his brilliance, Barcelona claimed their second Treble in six seasons. But which moments in Messi’s season truly stand out? For me there’s two; the way his wand of a left foot weaved him through several challenges against Bilbao to score a Goal of the Season contender in the Copa del Rey final and his mesmeric second against Bayern in the Champions League semi-final first leg.
Redknapp might have been a little premature in labelling Neuer as the ‘greatest ever’, but it’s a tag many feel Messi deserves and on his displays this season, it’s hard to argue against that.
So well done, senor Messi, our maiden winner of the TEAMtalk Soccers European Player of the Season.