In terms of club football in 2019, the continent of Europe has a pretty firm stronghold over the best footballers on the planet. The top five leagues in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France are where the money, prestige and exposure lie, and as such, they attract the best players from all over the world.
In the past, we’ve seen countries in the Middle East, Asia and North America all try to rival European clubs for top players, with varying degrees of success, and right now that competition is coming from the lucrative Chinese Super League.
That’s why over the last week we have been asked to do videos on the 7 best players outside of Europe and China, and the 7 best paid players outside of Europe and China. I now wish I’d done the latter since this was an incredibly difficult seven to decide upon with real confidence, but if this video absolutely smashes it then we may well look at the best paid another time as well.
Here are our views on the 7 best footballers playing outside of Europe and China:
7. Wayne Rooney
Kicking us off in seventh place is a man who you wouldn’t have backed to make a seven like this when he first arrived at DC United nine months ago. Following a difficult final season at Manchester United, Rooney was unable to make a truly fairytale return to Everton, and although he was the Toffees top scorer for the season, they moved him on after just 12 months - presumably down in no small part to his large salary.
Since arriving in Major League Soccer though, the 33-year-old has been an absolute sensation. DC United were the worst club in the MLS when Rooney arrived, but after making his debut in their first game at the Audi Field stadium, they began to skyrocket up the league table. The former Manchester United man was named club captain after just three games, and his last ditch tackle and match-winning assist against Orlando drew international attention.
In the end, Rooney’s form inspired DC to finish in the MLS play-offs, he was named as the club’s MVP and Golden Boot winner, the MLS Player of the Month for October and he made the 2018 MLS Best XI. In short, it was a memorable debut campaign for England and Manchester United’s all time top scorer, and he recently scored his first hat-trick for the club to get his second season off to a bright start as well.
6. Dario Benedetto
Bruno Guimaraes (L) and Camacho of Athletico PR struggle for the ball with Dario Benedetto of Boca Juniors during a match between Athletico PR and Boca Juniors, as part of Copa CONMEBOL...
Quite often, the star players in South America are brilliant but raw young talent that is just waiting to be snapped up by a European giant. We’re breaking that mould a little bit by including Dario Benedetto, who is 28 years of age, has never played in Europe and doesn’t look likely to do so anytime soon.
Whilst it wouldn’t really be fair to call Benedetto a late bloomer, he was a totally different animal following a 2016 transfer to Boca Juniors. In his first full season back in Argentina’s Primera Division, following four years in Mexico, Benedetto bagged 24 goals in 28 games, and he was tied with Lionel Messi as Argentina’s 2017 Footballer of the Year.
He scored 14 in 17 last season, including one in each leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores final, but he wasn’t included in Argentina’s 2018 World Cup squad. It has to be said that Benedetto isn’t having the best 2018-19 season, and that almost pushed him out of this seven, but ultimately we think sixth place is pretty fair.
Mentioned in a couple of recent videos, experienced centre-back Pedro Geromel is an absolute rock at the back for Gremio. Having spent the majority of his career in Europe, most notably with Vitoria and Koln, Geromel first returned to Brazil on-loan in 2014 and then on a permanent in 2015. Since then, he has been one of the most dependable players in Brazil’s Serie A, and he even won his first caps for the national team in 2017.
Included in Tite’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, Geromel is a really composed centre-back, a calming force at the back who is slick in the tackle and shrewd in possession. He has made the Brazilian Team of the Year for four consecutive seasons from 2015 to 2018, and one wouldn’t bet against him making it five. For our money, he’s the best defender outside of Europe and China right now, although we should acknowledge some honourable mentions later in this video.
4. Carlos Vela
Carlos Vela #10 of Los Angeles FC crosses the ball during Los Angeles FC's MLS match against Real Salt Lake at the Banc of California Stadium on March 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California....
The second MLS player to make this seven, we think Carlos Vela has been the best player in the US since signing for Los Angeles FC in January 2018. The Mexican international arrived in the States having had six mostly very happy years in La Liga with Real Sociedad, and he registered a magnificent 14 goals and 13 assists in just 28 appearances in his debut campaign.
That was enough to secure him a place in the MLS’ Best XI for 2018, and a Twitter pole named him as captain for the MLS All-Stars game against Juventus. Following the departure of Miguel Almiron to Newcastle, Vela would be our favourite to go one better in 2019 and be named as the division’s MVP outright.
Capable of playing on either flank or through the middle, Vela is most devastating when deputised on the right flank. That way he can use his quick feet, his burst of acceleration and that wand of a left foot to carve teams open time and time again. With him, LAFC are genuine MLS Cup contenders. Without him, they’re probably a mid-table side. That’s why we think he’s the best player in the MLS right now.
3. Andres Iniesta
In many ways, one would think Andres Iniesta ought to top this seven. Certainly, at the peak of his powers, even Wayne Rooney couldn’t challenge Iniesta as the best player in this seven. At the age of 34, the Spaniard is hardly over the hill, but his influence was just starting to decrease at Barcelona at the time of his departure and he hasn’t yet managed to truly set the world alight since arriving in Japan.
Having said that, if you were to pluck one player from outside of Europe or China to put in a top European team right now - say a Manchester City or Barcelona - Iniesta would probably be your first choice, and you’d bank on him not looking at all out of place. A magnificent footballer and one of the finest of his generation, Iniesta was a joy to watch at the peak of his powers, never afraid to receive the ball, meticulous in possession and devastating in the pass.
The nine-time FIFPro World XI inclusion is now playing his football in Japan with Vissel Kobe, where he does look a class apart, but has been unable to exert his influence across the entire team. Still, we think third place seems about right.
2. Agustin Marchesin
Agustin Marchesin #1 of America gestures during the 12th round match between America and Tigres UANL as part of the Torneo Clausura 2019 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on March 30, 2019 in...
Another player who I’d feel pretty confident dropping into most top European sides and getting the job done, if not necessarily better than the current incumbent, is Argentine goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin. Club America’s number one in Liga MX, Marchesin has excellent reflexes and tends to dominate his penalty area.
Despite having been called up to the Argentine national team for the first time nine years ago, Marchesin has only won 4 caps since then. He wasn’t even included in Argentina’s 2018 World Cup squad, a decision we found a little baffling and even more so after the countries number one Willy Caballero dropped an absolute clanger against Croatia in the group stages.
Whilst midfielders and forwards naturally tend to take the plaudits, Marchesin is an excellent shot stopper, well worthy of his spot in second place and close contender for the best footballer outside of Europe and China.
0. Honourable Mentions
As I said, this was a difficult seven to finalise, so I’ll try not to ramble on for too long with our honourable mentions. Going country by country, the omission that I suspect will draw the most outrage in the comments is probably that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, so we’ll start in the USA. I never thought I’d have Wayne Rooney ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a seven 12 months ago, but right now I think it’s right that the Englishman squeaks in ahead of the Swede.
Zlatan is a remarkable footballer, who was far better at 33 than Rooney is right now it ought to be added, and even at the age of 37 he is LA Galaxy’s star man, scoring 23 goals in 28 games since heading stateside. Other MLS players worthy of honourable mentions include Darwin Quintero, Nicolas Lodeiro, Nicolas Gaitan, Nani and Josef Martinez.
Heading south to Argentina, I can’t quite believe that I couldn’t find a place for Cristian Pavon in our seven, along with the likes of Walter Montillo, Lucas Pratto and Lisandro Lopez. In neighbouring Brazil, every one of Walter Kannemann, Dudu, Fagner and Gabriel Barbosa can consider themselves hard done by not to have featured, albeit the last of those is on-loan from a European club.
Andres Iniesta isn’t the only player to have headed to Japan recently, and the likes of David Villa, Fernando Torres and Lukas Podolski could all stake claims to have been included. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, there are a handful of players who have shown their class in the past such as Xavi, Sebastian Giovinco, Karim El-Ahmadi, Guiliano and Wilfried Bony.
That’s just a very quick cross-section and there will be countless players who you feel ought to have featured I’ve no doubt, from Nahuel Guzman in Mexico to the man, the myth, the legend that is Sunil Chettri in India. As always, let us know what your own sevens would look like in the comments, let us know any future video ideas you’d like to see from us and do make sure you’re subscribed to HITC Sevens, it would be madness not to be given the level of brilliance exhibited by the channel on a daily basis…
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1. Everton Sousa Soares
Everton Sousa Soares, better known simply as Everton, is - we think - the best footballer outside of Europe and China right now. Although he broke into the Gremio team at the age of 18, Everton wasn’t an immediate hit and an obvious future star in the same way someone like Neymar or Gabriel Jesus was. In fact, Everton never represented Brazil at any youth level.
He played well enough to become a mainstay in the Gremio side though, and he has just improved season upon season to become the outstanding player in the division now. At the age of 23, he is about to hit 200 first team appearances. He played a whopping 61 games in the 2017 campaign, but it was the 2018 season in which people really started to sit up and take note of what a special player he was becoming.
Everton, who is a left winger I should point out, bagged 17 goals in 43 games in all competitions, as well as having the most dribbles per game of any player in the division. Quick, skilful and direct, Everton is now a member of the Brazilian national team, and he has been heavily linked with moves to both Manchester City and Manchester United.
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