Attacking midfielders are the highest grade are like gold dust in modern football.
While systems around Europe are starting to phase out the need for a classical attacking ten, there is still the need for creative midfielders to pull strings, whip in free kicks and score the odd banger from distance.
Here are the best 25 attacking midfielders in the world.
25. Charles De Ketelaere
Despite the recent Scudetto win, AC Milan still needed a new attacking midfielder to provide consistent displays.
They got their target in Charles De Ketelaere, who Belgian enjoyed a breakout campaign with Club Brugge last season as he scored 14 times and added six assists in 33 league appearances.
De Ketelaere is a forward by trade, but he can play as an attacking midfielder, and he’ll often be deployed by Pioli as Milan’s #10.
24. Dani Olmo
After starring in Croatia with Dinamo Zagreb, Dani Olmo joined RB Leipzig midway through the 2019/20 season and would play a big role in Die Roten Bullen’s progression into the Champions League semi-finals under Julian Nagelsmann.
Olmo slotted into Nagelsmann’s vertical and fluid system seamlessly as he was used all over the pitch by the German manager.
The Spaniard has since gone on to make 24 caps for the national team and score four times for his country. He’s been a notable contributor for Spain at both the Euros and the Olympics.
Injuries limited his efficacy in 2021/22, but there’s no denying that Olmo is one of the world’s best attacking midfielders on his day. He is a sharpshooter who loves to beat players one-vs-one and create for his teammates in the final third.
23. Matheus Cunha
Matheus Cunha was wise to get out of Hertha Berlin when he did.
The Brazilian was signed by the enriched German club in 2020 as one of the players to spearhead their project, but he’s since moved on to Atletico Madrid where he’s added another dimension to Diego Simeone’s set-up.
Labelled a “genius” by former Hertha boss Pal Dardai, Cunha spearheaded Brazil’s journey to Olympic gold in 2021 and is capable of producing magic with the ball at his feet that very few can replicate.
22. Daichi Kamada
Daichi Kamada ended Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal with a brace in Frankfurt’s 2-1 victory over the Gunners in a Europa League group stage game back in 2019. The Japanese attacking midfielder, though, has proven himself to be a whole lot more than the mere Arsenal slayer.
Kamada is a crafty customer who can be defined as a ‘needle player’. He’s an expert in tight spaces and an astute space invader.
The Frankfurt playmaker is superb at picking the holes in defensive structures and possesses the requisite balance and technical security to evade challenges when they arrive.
21. Piotr Zielinski
The Poland international is one of the world’s most underrated performers. Period. He doesn’t blow you away physically, or even technically, but he’s such a smart footballer who’s produced consistently for Napoli since his arrival in 2016.
Piotr Zielinski has appeared in at least 35 Serie A games every season since his arrival, which is a testament to his availability and importance to Napoli. He primarily functions as a #10, but he’s also adept at dropping in to aid his side’s build-up and contribute to up-back-and-through passing patterns.
20. Emile Smith Rowe
One half of the catchy Arsenal chant, Emile Smith Rowe almost single-handedly ignited the Mikel Arteta project in north London.
The Arsenal boss was under immense pressure when Chelsea came to town on Boxing Day 2020. Arteta opted to give Smith Rowe his first start of the season and the future England international spearheaded a 3-1 victory that gave the Gunners life.
Smith Rowe then enjoyed a prolonged rich vein of form that started to fade during the second half of last season. But his swift rise in an Arsenal shirt culminated in him earning his first England call-up and cap in November 2021.
He is still developing, but he’s already shown how destructive he can be on his day. Smith Rowe is a supreme ball-carrier, relentless runner, and ruthless finisher.
19. Lucas Paqueta
Lucas Paqueta’s profile is tough to distinguish because he’s so versatile. He can play in a myriad of midfield functions, but his forward-thinking nature means we’ve opted to classify him as an attacking midfielder.
Paqueta recently joined West Ham in a big-money deal after reviving his career in Ligue 1 with Lyon. The Brazilian flattered to deceive at AC Milan, but he felt right at home in the south of France, even if his side weren’t competing for lucrative honours.
Hammers fans will soon fall in love with their new Brazilian playmaker, that’s for sure. He’s so crafty between the lines and he certainly isn’t afraid to show off some samba silk with the ball at his feet.
18. Pedro Goncalves
Pote, as he’s widely known, spearheaded Sporting CP’s first league title-winning campaign since 2002 in 2020/21 with 23 goals. He’s an output machine and has evolved into more of a creator.
Goncalves has drawn lazy comparisons to former Sporting star Bruno Fernandes but, while the pair did enjoy similar breakout seasons, their technical profiles do differ.
Pote isn’t the most aesthetic of playmakers and he’s instead a player who relies a ton on instinct and intuition. Still, he’s a menace in and around the box with his skill set being well-balanced.
Crucially, he is a player who doesn’t need many touches to have an impact on matches – an attribute that some of the world’s best midfielders boast.
17. Hakan Calhanoglu
Dead-ball specialist Hakan Calhanoglu was brought to life by Stefano Pioli at AC Milan before he opted to cross the Derby della Madonnina divide in 2021.
The Turkey international started brilliantly at Inter and was regarded by many as the star of the first half of the 2021/22 Serie A season. Calhanoglu aptly replaced Christian Eriksen in the Nerazzurri’s excellent midfield three and had emerged as one of Europe’s most productive attacking midfielders.
However, his levels of performance did slide down the stretch last season as Inter lost their Scudetto crown to Milan.
16. Dimitri Payet
The enigmatic Dimitri Payet is one of the sport’s last great entertainers. He may boast the attitude of a grouchy teenager and not exactly be the consummate professional, but boy can he play football.
His spell at West Ham has been etched in the memories of Premier League lovers for eternity, and his talent has failed to dissipate since he returned to France with Marseille in 2017.
The Frenchman is one of the world’s finest technicians, though the arrival of Italian disciplinarian Igor Tudor at Marseille has negatively affected his game time and performances.
15. Florian Wirtz
When the Bundesliga pioneered the return of football in 2020 following a lengthy COVID-induced break, Peter Bosz’s Bayer Leverkusen were one of the sides that desperate football lovers were keen to see.
Kai Havertz was the name on the tip of everybody’s tongues, but it was Florian Wirtz who raised an eyebrow or two. It took some time for the young German to produce regularly for Die Werkself but by the time he suffered a devastating ACL rupture in March 2022, Wirtz had established himself as one of the world’s best teenage talents.
He took the mantle from Havertz with both hands and quickly emerged as Leverkusen’s star attacking talent alongside winger Moussa Diaby. Wirtz can just about do it all, and he has all the makings of a world-class attacking midfielder.
Hopefully, he rediscovers his pre-injury form upon his return.
14. Ruslan Malinovskyi
Ruslan Malinovskyi may be a touch too high for some, but his performances for Atalanta over the past three years speak for themselves.
The Ukrainian may well be the best ball-striker in the world. He can conjure magic from thin air as a result of his destructive threat from distance, while his playmaking abilities are distinctly underrated.
He stepped up for La Dea once they parted ways with the hugely influential Papu Gomez and while Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have struggled in the Argentine’s absence, that has little to do with Malinovskyi, who’s been their most reliable performer since.
Malinovskyi is a subtle creator who loves to probe opposing defences in the final third with intricate through balls.
13. Mason Mount
Why does Mason Mount polarise opinion as much as he does? It’s hard to fathom. He’s one of the best attacking midfielders in the world.
His rise at Chelsea has been rapid, and Gareth Southgate was quick to entrust the savvy creator in his excellent England team. Southgate once lauded Mount “exceptional” while former teammate Antonio Rudiger described him as “phenomenal” before departing to Real Madrid.
Mount’s a likeable character who certainly knows how to perform a creative midfield function to a very high level. His movement is excellent, while his ball-striking stands out as an impressive attribute. He notched double-digit goal and assist hauls in the Premier League last season, yet some people still don’t think he’s any good.
12. Lorenzo Pellegrini
The standout domestic highlight of Jose Mourinho’s debut season in Rome was the Giallorossi’s 3-0 Derby della Capitale triumph over bitter rivals Lazio, and it was skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini who led the way.
The Italian’s free-kick was one of the Serie A goals of the season, and it was one of the many times when Pellegrini produced from a set piece. He’s much more than a dead ball merchant, however.
Pellegrini is a versatile midfielder who can play in a double pivot, a midfield three and the front three. Much of his best work last season came in a more advanced role where he can wreak havoc between the lines, combine with teammates, and create in and around the box.
11. James Maddison
Leicester’s dismal start to the 2022/23 season shouldn’t undermine just how good a footballer their chief creator, James Maddison, is.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Maddison at the King Power, with Brendan Rodgers happy to underutilise the Englishman due to his lack of defensive nous and sub-par work rate. However, he has evolved in these regards over the past couple of years to emerge as one of the Premier League’s most efficient playmakers.
He’s a risk-taker in possession; a player that gets the crowd on their feet every time he receives possession in the attacking third. Something special could happen at any given moment.
10. Dominik Szoboszlai
Hungarian star Dominik Szoboszlai's ball-striking is among the very best in the world, and his knack for pulling off the spectacular could easily see him emerge as a compilation merchant. However, the Hungarian sensation is much, much more than that.
He’s an elegant playmaker who relishes the battle. His vision and technique mean he stands out from a playmaking perspective and he’s put-up impressive assist tallies throughout his senior career thus far.
There’s plenty more to come from Szoboszlai but he’s already one of the most talented attacking midfielders in the world.
9. Marco Reus
If only William Shakespeare was alive and kicking in the 21st century. The Tragedy of Marco Reus was right there for him to write!
Oh, Marco. The indefinitely injured Marco. How brilliant you are at the game we adore, but his legacy has undoubtedly been diminished by his lack of ‘big’ moments on the grandest of stages. Injuries have come at the worst of times for the German.
However, Reus continues to mesmerise when he’s fit enough to don Borussia Dortmund’s #11 shirt.
While superstars have come and gone at Signal Iduna Park, Reus has forever been BVB’s scintillating creative hub. There’s a subtlety to his game that emanates beauty, and he’s a player that you simply have no choice but to fall in love with when you see him strut his stuff.
8. Paulo Dybala
Injuries have hamstrung Paulo Dybala over the past 18 months, but the Argentine is nothing short of joyous to watch in full cry.
The aptly named La Joya is a throwback playmaker who plays the game at his own pace. He likes to drift infield from the right and create with that wand of a left foot of his. However, Dybala is more of a goalscorer than he is a creator and despite suffering numerous injuries he still puts out good numbers.
His status as an outright superstar has been thrust into considerable doubt over the past few years, and perhaps his move to AS Roma – who finished seventh in the league last season – is an indication of his relative decline at the highest level.
For all his talent, Dybala simply isn’t a player that aligns with the ideals of progressive, modern-day managers. Perhaps he was born a generation too late.
7. Martin Odegaard
Former Real Madrid wonderkid Martin Odegaard has matured into quite the character. He is already the captain of Norway, and he was announced as Arsenal’s skipper before the start of the 2022/23 season.
While his hesitancy in front of goal can frustrate supporters, his playmaking capacity has to be considered among the very best in the world. Odegaard is blessed with a tidy left foot, and he’s one of those players who boasts a wonderful ‘feel’ for the game. He understands timing and can pull off almost every pass in the book.
The Norwegian star is playing a key role in Mikel Arteta’s exciting project at Arsenal, and he has all the makings of a modern-day Gunners icon. He’s going from strength to strength.
6. Thomas Muller
The original Raumdeuter.
Thomas Muller’s proficiency at picking gaps meant an entirely new role was created in homage to the slippery German. Muller is a one-of-a-kind footballer.
He can finish off chances like a ruthless number nine, create for others with the utmost subtlety, and interpret space akin to Galileo. Muller certainly isn’t the most aesthetic of attacking midfielders, nor does he excel technically, but he’s so incredibly effective at what he does.
Muller remains a crucial part of a dominant Bayern side and he’s one of the very few footballers to master an utterly unique function.
5. Bruno Fernandes
The pressure that comes with being a big-money Manchester United signing is unrivalled, and so many before Bruno Fernandes succumbed under the spotlight.
The Portuguese creator, though, set the world alight during his first 18 months at the club. After signing in January 2020, Fernandes notched 15 Premier League goal contributions in 14 appearances during the second half of the season before going on to score 18 times in the league the following campaign.
Fernandes has definitely suffered during some of United's more depressing moments of the past few years, but his output since joining has been remarkable.
His ball-striking, vision and risk-taking are admirable traits, but there's no doubt he can be woefully inefficient and infuriating to watch at times. But when you're scoring heaps of goals, who cares?
4. Christopher Nkunku
Julian Nagelsmann helped Christopher Nkunku hone his craft during his time at RB Leipzig and the Frenchman exploded in the wake of the German manager’s departure last summer.
Nkunku is a Swiss army knife. He’s so versatile but much of his production last season came when Domenico Tedesco deployed him in a second-striker position. The discarded PSG youth prospect loves to operate from the left half-space and Tedesco was able to facilitate the most productive season of his career thus far in 2021/22.
His form saw him called up to France's squad for the very first time in March 2022 and he could make a massive impact at that year's World Cup.
3. Jamal Musiala
England and Germany fought it out for the right to have this teenage sensation represent them on the international stage.
Jamal Musiala had played for the Three Lions at various youth levels, but he is German-born and is now poised to play a starring role for Hansi Flick’s side in Qatar later this year.
The teenager has already established himself as a bona fide star in Munich with Bundesliga tyrants Bayern, but he hasn’t quite earned the acclaim of some of his talented young contemporaries.
Musiala can perform multiple roles, but he excels in an attacking midfield position due to his instincts in and around the box. He’s an excellent dribbler, while his movement in the final third is Thomas Muller-esque.
2. Bernardo Silva
Categorising the majestic Bernardo Silva was no easy task and we’re sure that many people would regard the diminutive Portuguese playmaker as the very best attacking or central midfielder in the world.
How many incredible big-game performances has this guy got in his collection, eh? The Chicken Shop Date star seems to always raise his game when Pep Guardiola needs him most.
Silva can do it all. He can create and score by cutting in off the right, combine in the tightest of spaces, bypass pressure with the utmost tranquillity, and hassle opponents into submission. Silva may well be the complete footballer and, pound-for-pound, he has to be regarded as one of the world’s very best when he’s playing week in, week out for the Cityzens.
1. Phil Foden
It was so tight at the top, and arguments could be made for a multitude of players being the best attacking midfielder in the world. But we’ve opted for the precocious Phil Foden.
No, this isn’t ‘English tax’ coming into play either. Foden has earned the right to be considered one of the world’s best.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has hailed the England international’s “special quality” in the past, and the Spaniard has done an excellent job of facilitating Foden’s rise at the Etihad. Foden glides across the pitch before exuding the utmost technical quality with the ball at his feet. He’s a player that you just can’t take your eye off at times, such is his virtuosity.
The two-time PFA Young Player of the Year is gritty and tenacious without the ball, while Pep has used him in a myriad of functions – all of which he performs to the highest level. Not many boast Foden’s positional flexibility.
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