Best football player in the world 2023/24

For much of the last two decades, the debate for the title of best football player in the world was a pretty straightforward one. The rivalry Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had for the top spot was unprecedented, and represented a marked shift in how players are judged, such were their standard.

Between 2009/10 and 2022/23, Messi only failed to hit 40 goalsuu and assists once. Ronaldo only twice. But with two weeks to until the big five leagues' respective campaigns are finished, we now explore who is worthy of the crown as the best football player in the world.

Best football player in the world 2023/24: our top five

But with Messi now aged 36, Ronaldo aged 38, and both playing outside of the top five leagues, football has returned to its more widely-contested normality. Though we are only naming five players here, there are myriad players who could argue to be the best in the world, and even more who could become it.

Jude Bellingham has become one of the world's best very quickly – Photo by Icon Sport

5. Jude Bellingham

20-year-old Jude Bellingham has undergone quite the transformation. At Borussia Dortmund, the former Birmingham City man was excellent, but had not yet broken the 10 goal mark in a single season.

But since his move to Real Madrid last summer, the England star has scored 22 and assisted 10 more. An incredible jump in output that has seen him become one of the best midfielders in the world

He has scored against Barcelona in both league Clasicos this campaign, netted Champions League winners against Napoli and Union Berlin, and scored a crucial goal for his country against Belgium.

Bellingham already has the aura of a Madrid hero, but he is much more than just a provider of big moments.

The 20-year-old is a powerful yet graceful carrier of the ball, can find a killer pass, rarely gives it away and is relentless out of possession, helping his team pin their opponents back with a suffocating press.

With so many years ahead of him, the player Bellingham could become is awe-inspiring.

Messi is one of the best to ever play football – Photo by Icon Sport

4. Lionel Messi

Arguably the greatest player to ever play the game, it would be blasphemous not to put Lionel Messi on this list.

Yes, he may now be playing out his days at Inter Miami in the MLS. But it is as clear as day that the Argentinian magician could still do it at the top level in Europe. In his final season on the continent, he scored 21 and assisted 20.

Messi has won a record eight Balon d’Or trophies, won six European Golden Shoes, four Champions Leagues, 12 league titles and a Copa America.

The 36-year-old’s crowning achievement however, was following in his hero Diego Maradona’s footsteps by dragging his nation to winning the World Cup. Messi was a man possessed at Qatar 2022.

He may no longer be at the peak of his powers, but Messi is still one of the finest players in the world. In 2024, he has 12 goals and 11 assists in 11 appearances.

Erling Haaland loves scoring hat-tricks – Photo by Icon Sport

3. Erling Haaland

Manchester City’s Erling Haaland is something of an odd player out on this list. The big Norwegian is not the best ‘footballer’ in the holistic sense. But what he is the best at, and by some distance, is putting the ball in the net. Which is quite important.

23-year-old Haaland has already scored 88 goals (with 15 assists too) for Manchester City, before his second season is even through.

Haaland sent records tumbling in 2023. He smashed the record for the most goals scored in a Premier League with 36, scored more hat-tricks than the rest of the league combined, and became only the third player to score five in a single Champions League game.

He won the treble in 2022/23, and looks likely to win the double in 2023/24.

Haaland’s cannon of a left boot, relentless workrate, blistering speed, peerless strength and cerebral movement make him the world’s best goalscorer.

Rodri is the perfect #6 – Photo by Icon Sport

2. Rodri

Sneaking in ahead of Haaland, however, is his Manchester City teammate, Rodri.

Everyone has seen the famous stat. Rodri has not lost a Manchester City game in 90 minutes in his last 72 appearances.

When the Spanish metronome is absent, Manchester City suffer. Rodri has missed all three of his team’s Premier League defeats this season. He is set to win a fourth consecutive Premier League title

Perhaps besides speed, Rodri has everything you could wish for in a deep midfielder. He reads the game incredibly, shielding the defence with tackles inteceptions.

On the ball, he has a variety to his passing. He is able to slow the game down, or inject speed depending on what his side needs, and he never gives it away as evidenced by his 91.8% pass accuracy.

He is the heartbeat of his team, averaging 111 passes per game. But the 27-year-old also knows how to contribute in the final third, often on the biggest of occasions.

Last season, Rodri scored the winner in the Champions League final. This season, he has been even more consistent, with eight goals and 13 assists.

Mbappé learned from Messi and Neymar – Photo by Icon Sport

1. Kylian Mbappé

Taking our number one spot is the inimitable Kylian Mbappé.

Mbappé is maybe the fastest player in the world, with and without the ball. He can beat any player one-on-one, can finish from anywhere, and creates plenty of chances for his teammates too.

The 25-year-old France star is set to finally become a Galactico at Real Madrid this summer. But he has already achieved a lot.

He is PSG’s all time top scorer with 255 goals, and has averaged a goal or an assist every 69 minutes for Les Parisiens across his seven seasons.

Mbappé won the World Cup at 19 with France, scoring in the 2018 final. 

But the moment that Mbappé truly announced himself as the heir to Messi and Ronaldo was four years later, in the Qatar 2022 World Cup final.

With Messi’s Argentina leading 2-0 in the 80th minute, Mbappé scored twice in 97 seconds to take the game to extra time. He would equalise again from the spot to take the game to penalties, which his nation lost. He won the Golden Boot, and was the first player to score a hat-trick in the final in 56 years.

Atop the magnificent platform of Real Madrid, expect Mbappé to go up another level yet.

Honourable mentions

The likes of Phil Foden, Vinicius Junior, Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane are very unfortunate to miss out here. However, Foden and Kane have the chance to impress at this year's Euros, while Vinicius Junior could take a second Champions League title before the age of 24.

Should they fulfil their respective objectives this summer, they'll build up early momentum and drastically enhance their chances of getting onto this list next year.

Avatar of William Evans
William Evans

William Evans is a football and politics fanatic. A first-class graduate of UEA's Broadcast and Digital Journalism MA course, he also achieved a first class degree in politics and media studies during his time at UEA.