2014 is nearly in the books, and with FIFPro, the world players' union, in the midst of releasing its shortlists for the World's Best XI, it's time to consider which players stood out above their peers in a year to remember. An epic World Cup in Brazil saw Germany get crowned for a fourth time, while Real Madrid completed its quest for La Decima and captured a 10th European title.
Bayern Munich captured another Bundesliga title, doing so in record time; Atletico Madrid was a surprise champion in Spain; Manchester City won its second title in three seasons in England; Juventus won a third straight crown in Italy and PSG went back-to-back in Ligue 1 to headline Europe's major leagues.
Along the way a number of individual superstars helped their clubs and countries achieve success, and a select group stood tallest in doing so. Here's our pick for the world's Best XI, taking into account performances on club and international levels, following another memorable year of soccer around the globe:
Kompany was perhaps the most difficult selection of the XI. He has not had a flawless year by any means – the error that gifted Liverpool a winner at Anfield stands out – but his composure and captaincy in leading Manchester City to the Premier League title and guiding Belgium to the quarterfinal of the World Cup stands out as well.
The Uruguayan has for some time been the best defensive central defender in the world, a tough, ruthless presence for club and country who also poses a significant threat from set plays. He was a key figure in Atletico Madrid’s success in La Liga, scoring the goal against Barcelona that secured the title, and then put Atletico ahead in the Champions League final.
Bayern’s way of playing relies on the fullbacks to be able to operate as midfielders, always looking to get forward and providing an attacking threat. Alaba has done that superbly, and is so comfortable on the ball that he plays as a central midfielder for Austria, behind whose rise to probable qualification for Euro 2016 he has played a vital role.
For a long time last season, Carlo Ancelotti struggled to find the right formula at Real Madrid, fiddling with shapes and personnel until he happened on the idea of pairing Modric with Xabi Alonso, with Angel Di Maria breaking alongside them. Modric was the calm creator, rarely losing possession, always working new angles.
Yes, he disgraced himself at the World Cup, but he was sensational in the other game he played at that tournament, scoring twice against England to cap an extraordinary few months in which he had dragged Liverpool far closer to the league title than had ever seemed possible with a Premier League record-tying 31 goals. The fall of Brendan Rodgers’s side since his departure has magnified his achievements, and he’s already showing signs of settling at Barcelona.
It’s been a long time since Ronaldo has had a clearly better year than Lionel Messi, but he did in 2014, winning the Champions League and scoring goal after goal after goal: 20 through 12 games already this league season. His World Cup was disappointing, but that was more about Portugal than it was him.
GK Thibaut Courtois; Atletico Madrid/Chelsea, Belgium
RB Pablo Zabaleta; Manchester City, Argentina
CB Thiago Silva; Paris St.-Germain, Brazil
CB Mehdi Benatia; Bayern Munich, Morocco
LB Cesar Azpilicueta; Chelsea, Spain
MF Paul Pogba; Juventus, France
MF Yaya Toure; Manchester City, Ivory Coast
MF Toni Kroos; Bayern Munich/Real Madrid, Germany
F Arjen Robben; Bayern Munich, Netherlands
F Neymar; Barcelona, Brazil
F Lionel Messi; Barcelona, Argentina