While 15 players received their first-ever nomination, the list also raised eyebrows with several notable exclusions, leaving out some remarkable performers from the 2023/23 season.
Read on as we highlight six players who, in our view, deserved a spot among the candidates for football’s most prestigious individual accolade.
Marcus Rashford – Manchester United & England
Marcus Rashford was the poster boy for Manchester United’s success last season, leading the charge as the Red Devils ended their six-year wait for silverware with a Carabao Cup triumph.
The Carrington academy graduate bagged 30 goals and 11 assists in 56 appearances across all competitions, marking his best-ever goalscoring return in a Man United shirt since his emergence in 2016.
The 25-year-old took his exceptional form to the international scene, starring for England at the 2022 World Cup tournament and scoring three times despite starting in just one of his five appearances.
If anyone deserves a spot amongst the exclusive 30-man shortlist, it’s Rashford, whose exceptional campaign firmly established him as one of the best left-wingers in world football.
Enzo Fernandez – Chelsea & Argentina
Enzo Fernandez burst into the limelight at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, pulling the strings from midfield as Argentina raced to their third global triumph.
The then-Benfica-youngster made his mark on the tournament with a goal and an assist, creating one big chance, while averaging 79.6 touches, 3.1 tackles and 0.9 key passes per 90.
He completed 60% of his attempted dribbles and won 59% of his total duels, while his remarkable performance was further highlighted by his leadership in several other categories.
In the showpiece event against France, Fernandez led all players in tackles (10) – the highest in a World Cup final since Gennaro Gattuso’s 15 in 2006 – touches (118), and successful passes (77).
In addition to winning the World Cup, the 22-year-old positioned himself as one of the most promising talents in the world by earning the Young Player of the Tournament award.
Although his debut season with the Blues may not have been ideal, he was a standout performer amidst their otherwise horrendous 2022/23 campaign.
John Stones – Manchester City & England
While Haaland stole the spotlight as the linchpin of Manchester City’s treble triumph, John Stones was one of the unsung heroes of their outstanding success.
Deployed as a double six alongside Ballon d’Or nominee Rodri in the middle of the park, Stones excelled in Pep Guardiola’s unorthodox 3-2-2-3 set-up, combining his new-found midfield responsibilities with some astute defending.
Last term marked Stones’ most impressive campaign in a Man City shirt since joining the Premier League title holders in the summer of 2016, largely due to his sustained fitness for the majority of the season.
His contributions to the Cityzens went beyond mere durability as he notched three goals and three assists in 34 appearances across all competitions, also creating two big chances.
His defensive prowess also stood out as he kept five clean sheets while boasting 1.7 clearances per 90 and an impressive 67% success rate in both aerial and ground duels.
Stones also maintained a 90%+ pass accuracy for club and country and played a pivotal role in the England squad that reached the World Cup quarter-finals.
Frenkie De Jong – Barcelona & Netherlands
Having fought off immense pressure to lower his salary or depart Spotify Camp Nou last summer, Frenkie De Jong ultimately emerged as a driving force behind Barcelona’s La Liga triumph.
The Netherlands international made 43 appearances across all competitions, bagging two goals and four assists as Barca won the Supercopa de Espana in addition to their league success.
Boasting a 91% pass accuracy, the elegant midfielder created eight big chances for the Catalan giants, padding his offensive contribution with 1.1 interceptions and 1.4 tackles per 90.
The Dutchman showcased his press-resistant ability, completing 64% of his attempted dribbles while winning 56% of his total duels.
De Jong was also a reliable performer for the Netherlands in Qatar, helping Louis Van Gaal’s side reach the World Cup quarter-finals with a goal and an assist while creating one big chance.
His defensive contribution to the Oranje squad was also noteworthy, with 1.2 interceptions and 2.4 tackles per 90.
His 50% dribble success rate and 69% total duels won further highlight his importance to the Dutch national team.
William Saliba – Arsenal & France
Often hailed as a ‘Rolls Royce’ centre-back, William Saliba was one of the protagonists of Arsenal’s bitter-sweet campaign as the Gunners came tantalisingly close to clinching their first Premier League title in two decades.
The France international established a formidable partnership with Gabriel Magalhaes at the heart of the Arsenal defence, keeping an impressive 11 clean sheets in 27 Premier League outings.
The 22-year-old featured 33 times across all competitions last season until an unfortunate back injury prematurely ended his campaign in March.
The impact of his injury on Arsenal’s title aspirations was undeniable, with Mikel Arteta’s side ultimately finishing the season five points behind the defending champions, Man City.
Saliba is widely regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the world, and his performances and defensive statistics from last season back up that claim.
He boasted an exceptional 91% pass accuracy, accompanied by an average of 1.3 tackles per 90 minutes and 3.0 clearances per match.
He also excelled in ground duels with a 67% success rate and maintained a commanding presence in aerial battles, winning 55% of them.
Bruno Fernandes – Manchester United & Portugal
While Rashford basked in the limelight during an attention-grabbing campaign for Man United, it was Bruno Fernandes who orchestrated their success with a series of exceptional midfield performances.
The Portuguese international bagged 14 goals and 15 assists in 59 appearances across all competitions, but delving into his underlying statistics reveals some truly staggering numbers.
Ballon d’Or nominee Kevin De Bruyne once labelled Fernandes as a ‘chance creation machine’ – a description that aligns perfectly with the Portuguese maestro’s remarkable feat of creating 32 big chances.
Fernandes averaged 3.3 key passes per match, and his 68.4 touches per 90 further highlights his central role in Man United’s attacking endeavours.
While Cristiano Ronaldo struggled to make any meaningful impact in Qatar, Fernandes shouldered the responsibility of propelling his country to a quarter-final finish at the World Cup.
The 29-year-old midfielder bagged two and three assists in four games. He also created five big chances while maintaining an average of 2.3 key passes per 90 minutes.
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