With no Ballon d’Or to determine the world’s best footballer for the first time in 65 years, we are stepping up to fill the void by unveiling our men’s and women’s Star of the Year in our inaugural football awards countdown.
We polled our journalists across our network of European offices to find their top five players for 2020 in both the men's and women's game, and here are our results.
We revealed numbers 10-6 on Friday, which in the men's category included Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
1st - Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski was Europe’s premier marksman in 2019, scoring 48 competitive goals, and has 41 as of December 14 2020. The Bayern forward has been peerless since he extended his contract with the club in the summer of last year.
His mindset since then has been perfect – arguments with team-mates (mostly Arjen Robben to be fair) are a thing of the past and his aversion to being substituted seems to have been subdued also.
In Lisbon, he blew away the last doubt against his name - too few goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League. In short: Lewandowski won everything in 2020 and deservedly so. Profile written by Florian Bogner.
Lewandowski, Harder claim Star of the Year awards
2nd - Neymar
Redemption. After a tumultuous 2019 that saw him absent from the list of nominees for the Ballon d'Or, the Brazilian redeemed himself in 2020.
Domestically, he dominated as PSG sustained their excellence at home but it was in Europe where he stood out in a breakthrough season for the Paris club. The former Barcelona player was instrumental in their drive towards the Champions League final, proving decisive in games against Borussia Dortmund, Atalanta and RB Leipzig.
Ultimately, Thomas Tuchel’s men fell short against Bayern Munich but Neymar had provided a timely reminder of his other worldly talents. Profile written by Fabien Esvan
Neymar takes second spot
Image credit: Getty Images
3rd - Manuel Neuer
The fact that Bayern Munich have Neuer is "almost unfair". That is the view of Thomas Tuchel, coach of PSG, the team Bayern beat in the Champions League final, and it is a view difficult to argue against.
The 34-year-old upped (!) his level again in 2020, delivering phenomenal saves, particularly in Europe’s premier competition, and was the basis for which Bayern built their second treble in seven years. In the second half of the 2019-20 Bundesliga season he conceded just nine goals. Six years after what was supposed to be his peak - the 2014 World Cup - Neuer retains the ability to combine aggressive sweeper-keeping with a remarkable calmness.
Further, his reflexes remain undimmed, and he continues to make difficult saves look simple. His aura often gives him an edge against even elite-level forwards and Tuchel is right, it is almost unfair. Profile written by Florian Bogner
4th - Kevin De Bruyne
As Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City start to look a bit haggard and predictable, there is one constant: Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian has enjoyed another terrific 12 months, albeit without silverware, equalling Thierry Henry’s assist record in the Premier League (20) and firing another 13 goals.
He’s the best midfielder in the world, capable of carrying the ball 50 yards as he is spraying a diagonal pass to a teammate between two defenders. But his brilliance comes at a cost. City have been able to survive without a decent defence in the post-Kompany era as De Bruyne will so often mask their failings.
Teams don’t dare attack City out of fear of a De Bruyne-led counter-attack, so City cruise through the early stages of Europe, only for the better teams to ruthlessly exploit their defensive flaws when the Champions League gets serious. Still, with De Bruyne in their team, City always have a chance of finally conquering the continent. Profile by Ben Snowball
5th - Joshua Kimmich
Manuel Neuer kept the balls out, Robert Lewandowski put them in - but in the middle of the Bayern team there was one king: Joshua Kimmich. Trained early on by Pep Guardiola in almost every possible position, Kimmich delivered his masterpiece in 2020 at the age of just 25.
Chosen by Hans-Dieter Flick as the central link between defence and offence, Kimmich brought both elements together spectacularly: defensively, he shone with fighting spirit, anticipation and strength in tackles, while offensively he pulled the strings so well that Thiago Alcántara was barely missed by Bayern. And when it was necessary, Kimmich slotted in at right-back without complaining.
In addition, there is the almost eerie fact that eleven of his 14 goals since the Champions League semi-final in 2018 were either the first Bayern goal in the game or the decisive one. Oh yes: in 2020 he was involved in a total of 19 goals. Not too bad for a 'defensive' player. Profile by Florian Bogner
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