Let's not kid ourselves. We all know that the 2010s was a decade dominated by two players; not 20.
Those two footballers are called Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
You've probably heard of them.
In the 2010s, they've scored a combined 1,026 goals (and counting), they've won a combined 41 trophies and eight Ballons d'Or between them (four each, if you're wondering).
However, while Messi and Ronaldo were the footballing protagonists of the decade, and while you probably are just reading this article to see who between them we've named the number one best footballer of the decade, there are plenty of other players on this list - and they're all pretty good.
- We have a footballer who has won more trophies than any other footballer ever.
- A footballer so good he won the Ballon d'Or during CR7 and Messi's decade of dominance.
- A footballer who revolutionised the game, and changed it forever.
And here they all are, ranked by the 90min team from 20-1. So, enjoy...or at least try to.
20) Arjen Robben
You would imagine watching the same magician pull off the same trick for roughly 17 years would become a bit boring by the time of said magician's retirement.
Not Arjen Robben.
The Dutchman captivated audiences around the world with his enigmatic style and wand of a left foot, and fans never tired of watching the winger cut in from the right, work a yard of space, and curl a strike into the top corner with such outrageous power.
Robben succeeded wherever he played, winning league titles in the Netherlands, England, Spain and Germany, and also starred as the Netherlands punched above their weight to secure second and third place finishes in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
19) Mohamed Salah
Iconic simply doesn't cover it for Salah, and his attitude towards the game has not only helped return Liverpool to what many believe they should be, but redefined what is expected of a modern attacker. He bears no arrogance and takes nothing for granted, yet carries himself with the confidence of a forward so cocksure that he could tell you the sky is orange and your first response would be to get your eyes checked.
Having long-since shaken the 'Chelsea reject' tag to become one of the most clinical forwards in the world over the course of the last five years, he will play out the remaining four years on his Liverpool deal, and potentially beyond, with nothing to prove to anyone but himself.
And that's a prospect that may lead a generation of left-backs just not to bother.
18) Sergio Aguero
From his breakthrough years as a teenager at boyhood club Independiente, to his glorious career with Manchester City, Sergio Aguero has been lethal. Goals are his food and drink, with the Argentine often hitting crucial winners for the Sky Blues since arriving from Atletico Madrid for £38m.
None have been more important, more iconic, than that last-gasp effort against QPR in 2012, when Aguero immortalised himself with one swing of his right boot. The striker painted Manchester blue in an instant, bringing to an end the misery of his adoring City supporters. From that moment on, the club has been transformed, and Aguero has been at the forefront of a devastating revolution.
17) Manuel Neuer
By Max Cooper
It wouldn't be a list of the world's greatest players without the man who revolutionised the art of goalkeeping forever. Manuel Neuer was the perfect sweeper-keeper, and the German international became the benchmark for all budding goalkeepers, demonstrating a composure and skill on the ball to match his unbelievable cat-like reactions.
The 2014 World Cup winner was crowned UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year from 2011-2015, as well as lifting seven consecutive Bundesliga titles and a Champions League trophy with Bayern Munich.
Neuer will go down as the greatest goalkeeper of his generation, not only because of his logic-defying saves, but also for the fact that his bold style of goalkeeping changed the way every shot-stopper plays the modern game today.
16) Eden Hazard
By Tom Gott
From ripping it up in Ligue 1 to terrorising Premier League defenders, everything Eden Hazard has done in football has looked easy. The Real Madrid man has made a career out of making the impossible seem well and truly possible. The perfect blend of speed, agility and dribbling, there simply isn't much that Hazard can't do.
Capable of accelerating faster than Manchester United's glory days disappeared, defenders around Europe have struggled to come anywhere close to Hazard when he has the ball at his feet. The Belgian magician had fans of both Lille and Chelsea in tears when he left, which speaks volumes of the impact he had on both clubs.
15) Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Dare to Zlatan. Dare to attempt the unthinkable. Dare to tear up the script and walk your own path. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is more than a mere footballer – he is an inspiration to countless fans, the world over, showing people that they do not need to conform to achieve success.
The Swede has collected over 500 goals, 13 league titles, and nine Ballon d’Or nominations in a marvellous, record-breaking career. Representing clubs from across Europe - plus LA Galaxy in the States - Zlatan has gained a reputation as a traveller who comes to visit, looks around, and conquers all before him.
14) Toni Kroos
Rejection, injury and being criminally underrated have had virtually zero impact on Kroos' trajectory. For the last ten years, Kroos has continued to play with an unwavering assurance in midfield, whether further forward or from deep. His clinical, low-profile style, ironically, has made him stand out in Galactico-studded teams, while helping him to a trophy cabinet with enough precious metal to match the GDP of some countries.
Consistently topping assist and passing accuracies charts; at pretty much any point in the last ten years if someone asked you to name the best central midfielders in the world, chances are Toni Kroos would've been in your top three answers.
13) Giorgio Chiellini
By Jack Gallagher
Giorgio Chiellini, above any other player of the past ten years, proved time and time again that he can, and will, do everything in his power to win.
Throw his body in front of every venomous shot? Check.
Head anything that comes within 20 yards of the penalty box? Check.
Leap into a 50/50 that he was 100/100 going to come out of feeling worse for wear? Check.
You name it, if it meant that Juventus or Italy would win, he would do it.
In an exorbitant number of the 507 games he has played for Juventus, Chiellini has busted his head wide open, broke his nose, turned his knee, rolled his ankle, had abdominal influenza (yes, the sh*ts), and STILL played on. STILL performed at the highest level. STILL dragged his team to famous win...after famous win...after famous win.
That's why Chiellini makes this list. He's a winner, through and through.
Tasked with assuming the slot left for him by the legendary Roberto Carlos, few could have expected Marcelo would take ownership of that role as impressively as he has done.
An ever-present in the Real Madrid side, his consistency and tenacity were pivotal in his side's domination of a competition that would become his niche. His predecessor claimed 'just' a trio of Champions League titles, while Marcelo's boundless energy and Brazilian flair saw him accumulate that in just three seasons.
Taking into account the countless club successes and individual accolades that have glittered Marcelo's career, the fact he is the only left-back on this list speaks for itself.
11) Robert Lewandowski
By Ben Carter
He might not have made it into 90min’s Definitive All-Decade XI, but Robert Lewandowski could have thrived in any team in history.
Poland’s best-ever player has the perfect balance of pace, power and technique, and Lewandowski is ageing like a fine wine, with his best years looking like they’re still to come.
The Bundesliga’s most prolific foreigner is among the most underrated players in football history and is deserving of a seat at the table in discussions over the who is the best striker of all time.
10) Neymar Jr.
By Ben Carter
A global icon with limitless talent, Neymar was unsurprisingly tipped to succeed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on world football’s throne throughout the early stages of his career.
The Brazilian has single-handedly produced some of the most iconic footballing moments of the 21st century and is even responsible for the greatest comeback in Champions League history.
Neymar’s career is far from over but he has a cloud hanging over him, unlike any other Ballon d’Or contender before him, with many still waiting for the Brazilian to put his unparalleled ability to use by reaching the pinnacle of the beautiful game
9) Gareth Bale
Incredibly, Gareth Bale was once considered ‘cursed’ and a ‘jinx’ at Tottenham because he wasn’t on the winning side in a Premier League game in his first two years at the club. But he set himself on a path to superstardom with a famous Champions League hat-trick against Inter in 2010, utterly tormenting Maicon that night, and was soon the most expensive player in the world.
At Real Madrid, he has suffered with injuries and has had to battle sky high expectations, but a personal haul of four Champions League titles speaks for itself. What’s more, Bale was certainly not a passenger in those triumphs; as he played crucial roles in the final in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
8) Dani Alves
Dani Alves, with eyes that could stare through your soul and enough gold medals to make a dragon's eyes water with jealousy. Dani Alves, who's won 25 club titles in this decade alone. Dani Alves? Dani Alves.
The two-time Copa America winner should've been past his peak halfway through this decade, if that. Full-backing is a young, quick man's game – especially in the modern era. Except Dani Alves has never played the traditional full-back game, because Dani Alves is better than other full-backs, all other full-backs, always, forever.
He ends this decade at the age of 36, playing back in Brazil after winning seven league titles in three different 'top five' leagues in the 2010s. He was, as a free agent, at 36, the player of the tournament at the Copa America 2019. Dani Alves is eternal. All hail Dani Alves.
7) Franck Ribery
By Max Cooper
Franck Ribéry is one of the Bundesliga's most decorated servants, and his time at Bayern Munich will be remembered for his majestic grace on the ball, his tormenting of desperate full-backs and a consistent end product.
Ribéry was the star of Bayern's left flank for 12 years, and won the Bundesliga title an unbelievable nine times. He also lifted the Champions League and reached a World Cup final with France in 2006.
Despite his advancing years, the diminutive Frenchman continues to light up the footballing stage, and is now the key player in an exciting Fiorentina side. The fun never stops with Franck.
6) Luis Suarez
By Wilf Dutton
Reserves of emotion are what make Suarez Suarez. They are what separate him from the other preeminent - and non-Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo - striker of his generation: Robert Lewandowski.
Where the Pole is all freakish efficiency, eastern European stoicism and mechanical majesty - yes, in this case ladies and gents, the international stereotypes really do ring true - Suarez is pent up South American passion.
Sometimes it's controlled, sometimes it overflows with dire consequences, but it's always there, pumping his blood, pervading his being, providing his motivation, pushing his talent to the edge.
It's why he's here. And it's why he'll stand the test of time.
5) Andres Iniesta
When he was 15 years old, Andres Iniesta impressed Pep Guardiola so much that the Man City manager (then a mere Barcelona player) turned to Xavi and said: “You will retire me, but this kid will retire us both.”
He was right, on both accounts.
Iniesta may not have been as flashy as some of the other members of this list but he was one of the best. The midfielder made the sublime look simple and impossible look even simpler. The enigmatic architect behind the best Barcelona team of all time, no wonder there were tears when he departed the Camp Nou pitch for the final time.
4) Sergio Ramos
Since the turn of the decade, Ramos has won two La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, four World Club Cups, the Copa del Rey twice (dropping one off a bus), the Euros and the World Cup.
For all his flaws and controversy, he will enter 2020 still at the pinnacle of football, named in FIFPro's World Team of the Year - somewhat questionably mind you, but still there.
The hair has changed, the teeth have been whitened, the beard styled and the tattoos added but Ramos is still the apex predator, still the box-office centre-back, still football's Big Bad, still one of the best around.
At the beginning of episode one in El Corazón de Sergio Ramos, there is also some B-roll of Madrid's famous Puerta del Sol square, and the plaque that marks 'Km.0' (kilometre zero) from which all roads in Spain are measured. Ramos, for whatever else he might be, is 'kilometre zero' when comparing all other defenders, captains, villains and heroes.
3) Luka Modric
You already know the reason Luka Modric is number three on the list of the greatest footballers of the past decade.
Luka Modric is number three on 90min's list of the top 20 greatest footballers of the decade because he is one of three players during said decade to win the Ballon d'Or.
2) Cristiano Ronaldo
What more can you actually say about Cristiano Ronaldo that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over? This is a man with five Ballons d’Or, five Champions League titles and nearly 700 career goals for club and country, yet who is never truly satisfied and works harder than anyone to ensure he achieves his ever-higher targets.
Talent alone will only get a player so far and Ronaldo understood that from an early age. His utter dedication to his craft is second to none, while the incredible attention to detail he puts into looking after himself is what has kept him at such a high level for more than a decade. Most players never reach his level – certainly none can sustain it for long – bar just one other…
1) Lionel Messi
By Wilf Dutton
There is no current footballer comparable to Lionel Messi. Not one. Which is pretty incredible, not just because Cristiano Ronaldo exists, but also because – since his breakout all those years ago – the number of players that have attempted to emulate him has been staggering.
Every country across every continent has their own punditry-patented 'Messi' - the German Messi (Marko Marin, RIP), the Scottish Messi (Ryan *checks notes* Gauld?), the North Korean Messi (Jong Il-Gwan) etc etc - some of which we've been foolish enough to pledge our faith in. But these are all imitators, fakes, FRAUDS.
They pale in comparison to the pasty champ. Because, when it's all said and done, this world's only big enough for one growth hormone-treated 5'7 footballer. And he needs no national prefix.