2024 FC 100: Haaland among best forwards in men's soccer

From left: Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah, Kylian Mbappe, Vinicius Jr., Harry Kane Photo-illustration by MASA

Finally, the glamour positions! These are your showboats, your certain goal scorers, your free-roaming forces of nature. From wing to wing and everything in between, the attacking third is where your high-skill, high-quality talent is often found.

Wingers have become a little antiquated in the modern game, but there's still plenty of benefit to having fast, forward-thinking players in wide positions. Blessed with pace and persistence to beat their markers and make it to the byline for a cut-back cross, they can be truly dangerous.

From there, forwards and strikers are harder to define. They're a potent blend of close-range finisher, playmaker and space creator for teammates around the box. They're talented enough to handle the free role and graceful enough under pressure to constantly deliver. They'll score in any game, against any team, from any position. Fleet of foot and quick of mind, their ability to read the play and anticipate where the ball will be three passes before it gets there is what sets them apart.

It's not just the tap-ins they'll score, either: the best can improvise with any part of the body (except the hands, of course) to get the job done. Clever flicks, nifty tricks, brash back-heels and calm set pieces are their best weapons.

Laurens: Haaland & Vinícius Jr. should be above Kane on the FC 100

Julien Laurens explains why he would pick Erling Haaland and Vinícius Júnior above Harry Kane on the ESPN FC 100.

30. Viktor GYOKERES, Sporting/Sweden

Key attributes/style of play: Energetic striker who drives at defenders

Stat to know: Led Liga Portugal with 29 goals, most in Liga Portugal since Jonas (34 goals in 2017-18).

Why he's on the list: Go, go, go! That's the name of Gyokeres' game in a nutshell. He forces the issue like few can, and he was by far the best attacker in the Primeira Liga -- in his first season in the league -- this campaign. He is first in the league in goals and third in assists. He is first in xG created from open play and fourth from set pieces. He also is second in 1v1 attempts, 14th in progressive carries and first in 1v1s in the box. He is relentless, and Sporting rolled to its second title in four years because of it.

Projection for 2024-25: It appears Sporting has placed an €80 million price tag on the 25-year-old. That is not nearly high enough to scare away suitors such as Arsenal or Chelsea. Odds are solid that he lands in the Premier League next season. -- Bill Connelly

29. Jack GREALISH, Manchester City/England

Key attributes/style of play: Attacking midfielder who is a genius at creating space in tight games

Stat to know: Manchester City won/drew in 34 of the 36 games that Jack Grealish appeared in in all competitions.

Why he's on the list: By his own admission, it's been a tough season for Grealish after being a key part of Manchester City's treble winners last year. He has had to deal with injuries and a dip in form and confidence with added competition for his place from summer signing Jeremy Doku. Despite all that, he is trusted by Pep Guardiola, and Grealish had arguably his best two games of the season against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinal. Grealish doesn't rack up the numbers of goals and assists of some other wide players; instead, his game is best on attracting defenders and creating space for others.

Projection for 2024-25: Three years after his £100 million move from Aston Villa, he remains a valuable member of City's squad, and his hope for next season will be to stay injury-free and play more regularly. -- Rob Dawson

28. Christian PULISIC, AC Milan/United States

Key attributes/style of play: Brilliant wing play, leads by example as the face of U.S. men's soccer

Stat to know: 20 goal involvements in the 2023-24 Serie A season (12 goals, 8 assists), second most by an American in Europe's top five leagues over the past 10 seasons (Folarin Balogun, 21 goals and 2 assists, for Monaco in 2022-23).

Why he's on the list: The €20 million AC Milan paid Chelsea for Pulisic's services last summer looks to be one of the bargains of the season. He has had an exceptional debut season in Serie A, contributing 15 goals; in the process, he became the first Milan midfielder since Kaka in 2005-06 to hit double figures in the top flight. That's also by far Pulisic's most productive season in front of goal in his career to date, while he also has chipped in with 10 assists -- no mean feat considering the turbulent season AC Milan have had.

Alongside fellow countryman Yunus Musah, Pulisic has taken to Serie A with ease this season and has been one of the club's most consistent performers, lining up on the right flank with Rafael Leao on the opposite side. "In my opinion, Pulisic is a phenomenal player because he has quality in his choices, an intensity throughout the match, which is exceptional," former AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli said after Pulisic's two-goal haul against Cagliari in May. "When I [first] met him, I had very positive perceptions, but working together, [he] was even better than I thought, both for the quality of the player, for the quality of the person and for the professional that he is." With the U.S. side, Pulisic will head into Copa America as the focal point of the team.

Projection for 2024-25: It promises to be a transitional summer at AC Milan with Pioli leaving the club, and so much of Pulisic's prospects for next term depend on who is at the helm. But after a brilliant debut season in Serie A, expect Pulisic to push on further next campaign. -- Tom Hamilton

27. Ousmane DEMBELE, Paris Saint-Germain/France

Key attributes/style of play: An unpredictable winger who bamboozles fullbacks

Stat to know: Finished Ligue 1 season tied for the most assists (eight); of those assists, seven were intentional, tied for the second most in the league.

Why he's on the list: Former Barça coach Xavi Hernández was desperate to keep Dembélé last summer, but a €50 million release clause allowed Dembélé to return home to France, where he has spearheaded Paris Saint-Germain's attack alongside Kylian Mbappé. Luis Enrique has used Dembélé wide and, at times, even through the middle, with his standout performances coming in the Champions League quarterfinal win over former side Barça, against whom he scored in each of the two legs. Disappointment followed with elimination against another of his ex-teams, Borussia Dortmund, but Dembélé has been a staple in a PSG side that comfortably won Ligue 1.

Projection for 2024-25: With Mbappé leaving, there will be extra emphasis on Dembélé to step up and become PSG's main man. At 27, it is time for Dembélé to produce the numbers and consistency that his talent has threatened for so long. -- Sam Marsden

26. Robert LEWANDOWSKI, Barcelona/Poland

Key attributes/style of play: Classic No. 9 who is a clinical finisher in the box

Stat to know: Scored 41 goals in La Liga since moving to Barcelona in 2022-23, the most by any player

Why he's on the list: Lewandowski's second season with Barça has been the reverse of his first. In 2022-23, he started the campaign in furious fashion, with his goals laying the foundation for a first LaLiga title since 2019. He tailed off after Christmas, though, and that slump carried into this season. However, he bounced back in the second half of the campaign, with 11 of his 19 league goals coming since February. On his day, even at 35, he is still one of the best at what he does.

Projection for 2024-25: Due to his age, the size of his contract and Barça's financial problems, the striker's future is up for debate among fans. Lewandowski insists he will stay at Barça, though, despite links to Saudi Arabia. He is in great shape and should be able to compete at the top level of European football next year, but if he does stay, Barça will need him to be good across the whole campaign, not just half of it. -- Marsden

25. Niclas FULLKRUG, Borussia Dortmund/Germany

Key attributes/style of play: Target man who can convert half-chances

Stat to know: Bundesliga's top scorer in 2022/23, tied with Christopher Nkunku with 16 (played for Werder Bremen last season).

Why he's on the list: Injuries knocked the 31-year-old's career off course, but 47 combined goals and assists over two seasons with Werder Bremen earned the attention of both the German national team and Borussia Dortmund. With broad shoulders and a classic game, Fullkrug thrives on set pieces, and he has scored 11 times for Germany since late 2022. With Dortmund, he also reached the Champions League final.

Projection for 2024-25: BVB will be looking to energize its attack this offseason, but in ways that complement Fullkrug. After a 16-goal, 11-assist season, he's a sure thing up front. -- Connelly

24. Paulo DYBALA, Roma/Argentina

Key attributes/style of play: Gifted, elegant flair player with a magical left foot

Stat to know: 26 goal contributions in all competitions; tied with Rafael Leao for second most among players from Serie A this season (only Lautaro Martínez has more, 30).

Why he's on the list: Despite injuries, this has been Dybala's best season since 2017-18 with Juventus. Whether playing as a playmaking No. 10 or as a second striker, he has inspired Roma with his talent and creativity (and how about his immaculate touch?), showing that he is still one of the best players in Serie A.

Projection for 2024-25: Under contract until June 2025 in the Italian capital, Dybala wants to see out his contract at Roma. At 30, he will then be a free agent in 12 months and can then decide what way he wants his career to go. -- Julien Laurens

23. Dusan VLAHOVIC, Juventus/Serbia

Key attributes/style of play: Pure striker always looking to get a shot off

Stat to know: Four game-winning Serie A goals this season. His 24 game-winning goals in the past four Serie A seasons are tied for second most by any player (Lautaro Martinez has 26 over that span).

Why he's on the list: It's unclear if Wayne Gretzky was really the first person to say, "You miss 100% of the shots you never take," but wherever the line came from, it's the official Vlahovic mantra. He ranks outside the Serie A top 100 in minutes, but he is second in shot attempts. And a lot of those shots go in. He has scored 18 goals with four assists in all competitions for Juve, and he netted the winner against Atalanta in the Coppa Italia final.

Projection for 2024-25: Vlahovic has long been a subject of Premier League transfer rumors, and that's no different at the moment. (The Arsenal talk is particularly loud.) At age 24 and with a contract expiring in 2026, it's a safe bet that he'll leave within the next 15 months or so. And wherever he goes, he'll end up shooting and shooting. -- Connelly

22. Victor BONIFACE, Bayer Leverkusen/Nigeria

Key attributes/style of play: Brilliant, instinctive finisher and an all-round striker

Stat to know: 21 goals across all competitions this season, most of any Bayer Leverkusen player during their incredible 2023-24 campaign that saw them win a first Bundesliga title and a German Cup.

Why he's on the list: Boniface has been one of Europe's best strikers this season and has been a key part of Leverkusen's lethal attack force. He moved to the Bundesliga in the summer after impressing at Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium, but there's no doubt he has pushed on further this term under Xabi Alonso. Boniface started at Bayer Leverkusen at a relentless pace, until his season was disrupted in early January when he suffered an adductor muscle injury that sidelined him for 10 weeks.

He's unfortunately steeled to dealing with such setbacks, having already recovered from two ACL injuries in his career, but he finished the season on a high, scoring the opener in a title-clinching 5-0 win over Werder Bremen in mid-April. His mark of 21 goals and 10 assists in 33 games contributed to their record-breaking season. "Victor is a very commanding and difficult-to-handle center-forward who will be a challenge for every defender with his physicality," Leverkusen's sporting director Simon Rolfes said. "He's also quick and has good technique."

Projection for 2024-25: Projection for next season: If he stays injury-free, this time next year Boniface will be linked with just about every club in Europe. He will surely push on next year at Bayer Leverkusen, and despite several admirers around Europe, you expect him to be part of their Champions League exploits. -- Hamilton

21. Leroy SANE, Bayern Munich/Germany

Key attributes/style of play: Excellent, confident winger equally adept off either flank

Stat to know: Second-most assists in Bundesliga since his arrival to Bayern Munich in 2020-21 with 34 (only Thomas Müller has more during that span with 53).

Why he's on the list: He has been the assist king in the Bundesliga this year, topping the charts for xAG/90 (0.46) and xAG (10.8) and second in the overall assists tally (11) behind the runaway leader Alex Grimaldo. It hasn't been the easiest season for those serial winners at Bayern Munich, and the tension got to Sane in their 3-0 defeat to Leverkusen when he took out the frustration on a camera in the goal. However, he has been consistently brilliant for his club in both the Bundesliga and Champions League. But don't expect it to get to his head.

"Sometimes, I score a goal and get an assist but I might still be unsatisfied with myself," Sane said earlier in the season. "I have very high demands of myself there, which I always want to meet." While he is a key figure for Bayern, it remains to be seen how he fits in for Germany this summer with Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Kai Havertz potentially their first-choice front three.

Projection for 2024-25: Sane has been linked with a potential move to Liverpool if Mohamed Salah leaves this summer, with the German player's contract up in 2025. Sane should feature prominently for Germany this summer in the Euros. And regardless of which manager is at Allianz Arena next season, expect Sane to be at the forefront of Bayern Munich's response to their disappointing campaign this time around. -- Hamilton

20. Khvicha KVARATSKHELIA, Napoli/Georgia

Key attributes/style of play: Nicknamed "Kvaradona," he's a creative winger excellent with both feet

Stat to know: 39 goal contributions in the past two Serie A seasons, the fourth most by any player in that span.

Why he's on the list: Napoli might have disappointed severely this season, but that still resulted in 14 goals and 14 assists in all competitions for the brilliant Kvaratskhelia, one of the most dangerous wingers in Europe. Despite a series of nagging injuries, he is in Serie A's top 10 in both goals and assists, he is top five in chances created and he's top two in progressive carries.

Projection for 2024-25: With Napoli looking for a restart after a hangover year, Kvaratskhelia might leave this summer. He has three years left on his contract, however, and teammate Victor Osimhen already is likely to depart, so it will take quite an offer, likely from a PSG or Chelsea (or Barcelona, if they find lots more financial levers to pull), to make a move happen. -- Connelly

19. Luis DIAZ, Liverpool/Colombia

Key attributes/style of play: Tricky winger with an eye for the goal

Stat to know: Scored a career-high eight goals in Premier League this season. First time with 10-plus goal contributions in league play (13).

Why he's on the list: The Colombia international has overcome the knee injury that ruined his 2022-23 season to establish himself as second only to Mohamed Salah in terms of importance to the Liverpool forward line. Diaz has pace, trickery and the ability to score, especially when Salah is absent.

Projection for 2024-25: Diaz is under contract until 2027, but there has been speculation linking him with a move to Paris Saint-Germain. At 27 and seemingly with his peak years ahead of him, a move away from Anfield seems unlikely for Diaz; but if new coach Arne Slot wants to stamp his image on the team by signing new players, Liverpool will have to raise funds from outgoings. -- Mark Ogden

18. Alexander ISAK, Newcastle United/Sweden

Key attributes/style of play: Tall, rangy striker capable of scoring all types of goals

Stat to know: 21 goals in Premier League, most by a Newcastle player in a season since Alan Shearer (22 in 2003-04).

Why he's on the list: The Sweden international struggled with injuries last season, but this term Isak has proved himself as an elite center-forward. He reached 21 league goals, behind only Erling Haaland and Cole Palmer in the Premier League's list of top goal scorers this season, and Isak got 25 in all competitions for the first time in his career.

Projection for 2024-25: Newcastle's financial issues have led to talk that key players, including Isak, might have to be sacrificed, but manager Eddie Howe will be keen to keep the focal point of his attack. Newcastle are still building toward being an established Champions League team, and Isak is one of the players who looks at home at that level. On a personal level, Isak's aim will be to reach 20 league goals again and get Newcastle back into the top four. -- Dawson

17. Ollie WATKINS, Aston Villa/England

Key attributes/style of play: Quick striker with exceptional movement and anticipation around the goal

Stat to know: 32 goal contributions (19 goals, 13 assists) in the Premier League in 2023-24 was tied for the second most among all players, with only Cole Palmer having more (33).

Why he's on the list: Simply put, Watkins has had his best season and helped Aston Villa qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 1983. Unai Emery has built an impressive team that pulled off big wins against Manchester City and home and away against Arsenal. Watkins is at the forefront of it. No Premier League player contributed more than his 13 assists. He also scored 27 goals in all competitions, including 19 in the league.

Projection for 2024-25: After such a standout season, there is bound to be speculation about his future. The 28-year-old, who was playing for Exeter City in League Two as recently as 2017, has been linked with a move to Arsenal. But after securing Champions League football, Villa expect him to stay and build on what Emery already has achieved. -- Dawson

16. RODRYGO, Real Madrid/Brazil

Key attributes/style of play: Stylish forward with effortless dribbling and big-game mentality

Stat to know: Rodrygo scored five UCL goals for a third consecutive season for Real Madrid; the only other players to do that for the club are Cristiano Ronaldo (nine straight seasons), Karim Benzema (five straight and three straight) and Raúl (four straight).

Why he's on the list: This season he formed part of a fearsome attacking trident with Vinicius Junior and Jude Bellingham. He doesn't get headlines as much as those two, and his goals coring comes in streaks, but he comes good when it matters, including scoring in both legs of Madrid's Champions League quarterfinal with Manchester City. At his best, Rodrygo is a joy to watch. "He does things, dribbling, that I've never seen," former teammate Marcelo told ESPN, describing Rodrygo's ability to beat a man without touching the ball as "like dancing."

Projection for 2024-25: His position in the starting XI is threatened by the arrival of Kylian Mbappé. All the talk has been of Vinicius' potential positional clash with Mbappé, but it's Rodrygo who will miss out. At 23 and in a key moment for his development, a lack of minutes might lead Rodrygo to look elsewhere. -- Alex Kirkland

15. Cristiano RONALDO, Al Nassr/Portugal

Key attributes/style of play: He's Cristiano Ronaldo; he scores goals

Stat to know: Scored over 40 club goals this season in all competitions for the first time since 2017-18 (his last season for Real Madrid).

Why he's on the list: It's been more than 20 years since Sir Alex Ferguson declared an 18-year-old Ronaldo "one of the most exciting young players I've ever seen" and moved to almost immediately acquire him from Sporting CP. And after scoring more than 400 goals for Real Madrid and more than 100 each for United and Juventus, Ronaldo is on pace to hit triple digits awfully quickly in Saudi Arabia: After scoring 14 in 16 league matches for Al-Nassr last season, he has scored 33 in 29 (and 48 in all competitions) this time around. If you need pressing and high mileage, look elsewhere; but if you need pure goal scoring, he's still your guy.

Projection for 2024-25: There are rumors of a contract extension, but for now, Ronaldo's impossibly lucrative contract runs through next season. So, he'll be an Al-Nassr man for at least one more year. -- Connelly

14. Rafael LEAO, AC Milan/Portugal

Key attributes/style of play: Fast, ridiculously gifted forward

Stat to know: 12 assists this season in all competitions are the most among players from Serie A this season.

Why he's on the list: Leão's "skills" videos on YouTube suggest he's one of the most gifted players in the world, and they're not lying. Out of the guys ahead of him on this list, you can probably count the ones who can match or surpass Leão for technical ability on one hand. Throw in his flat-out speed and you have yourself a special player. He can leave you with a sense of wanting more because he isn't as prolific as some would like, though he usually is around the 15-goal mark, all from open play. And in 2023-24, he was tied for first in Serie A for most assists.

Projection for 2024-25: Leão signed a new deal through 2028 last summer, though there's a reported release clause of €175 million. He's unlikely to move ahead of next season, but a dominant performance at Euro 2024 or in next season's Champions League could change that. -- Gab Marcotti

13. Victor OSIMHEN, Napoli/Nigeria

Key attributes/style of play: Strong, athletic, charismatic and wily target man

Stat to know: 55 goals over the past three Serie A seasons, which is second most of any player, behind only Lautaro Martinez (66).

Why he's on the list: If you like your center-forwards powerful, prolific and hard-working, Osimhen is your guy. He was the centerpiece of Napoli's phenomenal season in 2022-23 and led Nigeria to the Africa Cup of Nations final in January. His movement and game intelligence are exceptional and, unlike many of his colleagues, is unselfish and team-oriented despite scoring tons.

Projection for 2024-25: He ran his contract down and, when he extended it last season, he only did so for another year, through 2026 with the addition of €120 million release clause. That means -- one way or the other -- he's going to be on the market, though certainly not for a small fee. -- Marcotti

12. Lautaro MARTINEZ, Inter Milan/Argentina

Key attributes/style of play: Speedy, adaptable, consistent goal scorer

Stat to know: Leads Serie A with 24 goals this season; only Harry Kane (36), Serhou Guirassy (28), Erling Haaland (27) and Kylian Mbappé (27) have more in Europe's top five leagues.

Why he's on the list: For a start, Martínez has three straight seasons with 20-plus league goals. The only others to have achieved this in a big five league are Harry Kane, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé. That's the sort of company Martínez keeps, and unlike Kane and Haaland, he isn't the main attacking terminus, either. Martínez has played mostly in a front two, showing that he's an unselfish provider, as well.

Projection for 2024-25: Like Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolò Barella, Martínez is another Inter player whose contract is up in 2026 and needs a new deal. Given the club's financial situation, Martínez also will be subject to speculation until the ink dries. One thing possibly keeping him around is that few clubs play with a front two, and that's where he has done most of his best work. -- Marcotti

11. Cole PALMER, Chelsea/England

Key attributes/style of play: Tricky forward with an eye for the goal

Stat to know: 42 goal contributions is the fourth most across Europe's top five leagues; only Erling Haaland (44), Kylian Mbappe (54) and Harry Kane (56) have more.

Why he's on the list: Not so long ago, there were questions about the wisdom Chelsea had shown in spending more than £40 million on a Manchester City fringe player. Fast-forward 10 months and Palmer has established himself as one of the best young players in the world. His immediate impact at Stamford Bridge has been impressive, reaching 22 Premier League goals and 11 assists (for a league-high 33 goal contributions) in his debut campaign despite playing in a team that has often struggled.

Projection for 2024-25: Clever with his movement and an excellent finisher, he'll hope to build on his progress next season. Getting Chelsea back into the Champions League and becoming a regular for England will be among his main goals. -- Dawson

10. Son HEUNG-MIN, Tottenham/South Korea

Key attributes/style of play: Pace and clinical finishing with either foot

Stat to know: One of five Premier League players with 10-plus goals and 10-plus assists in 2023-24

Why he's on the list: A new manager playing a new style? Same old Sonny. One of the most steadily successful players -- and best finishers -- in the Premier League kept right on going at age 31 this season. Over the past five seasons, Son has averaged 15.6 goals and 8.4 assists in Premier League play. This year: 17 and nine as a first-year captain for a Spurs team that adopted a frantic, possession-hungry style under manager Ange Postecoglou and improved from eighth to fifth despite losing Harry Kane.

Projection for 2024-25: Well, that's a pretty big question. Son's contract expires in 2025, and the club could see pretty large turnover in further adapting to Postecoglou's style, so they could move on if the right offer comes. Best guess? Son remains a constant in a changing Spurs front line. -- Connelly

9. Bukayo SAKA, Arsenal/England

Key attributes/style of play: Skillful, fearless and remarkably consistent in the final third

Stat to know: One of three players to have 25 goals plus assists in each of the past two Premier League seasons (alongside Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah).

Why he's on the list: So much of Arsenal's buildup play goes through Saka that it is just a matter of time before he is fouled in every match he plays. So many opponents struggle to combat the 22-year-old's mixture of pace and penetration that he ends up being targeted to the extent Arsenal have spoken to the referees body in England about his treatment. Yet Saka keeps getting up, keeps driving Arsenal forward. He is relentless, combining a direct running style with the intelligence and quality to maximize opportunities: only six players registered more than Saka's 25 goal involvements in the Premier League this season, and only three created more chances, according to Stats Perform.

Projection for 2024-25: Saka has three years remaining on the contract he signed last summer, and Arsenal will continue to plan around him playing a vital role in the years ahead. -- James Olley

8. Phil FODEN, Manchester City/England

Key attributes/style of play: Always blessed with technique and vision, now scoring plenty of goals too

Stat to know: 19 goals in 2023-24 Premier League season was a new career high and tied for fourth most overall.

Why he's on the list: It feels like the England midfielder has been around forever, but at 23, this has been his breakthrough season. Foden reached 25 goals for the first time in his career and was named the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year, following in the footsteps of Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo. Foden's goal contributions have increased, in part, because of his move inside off the wing during Kevin De Bruyne's five-month spell out of the team with a hamstring injury, although it probably won't be his permanent position until De Bruyne moves on.

Projection for 2024-25: After such an impressive season for his club, Foden will hope he has done enough to nail down a regular place for England at this summer's Euros as Gareth Southgate's team looks to win its first major trophy since 1966. -- Dawson

7. Lionel MESSI, Inter Miami/Argentina

Key attributes/style of play: One of the greatest to ever play the game for his vision, passing, dribbling and so many goals

Stat to know: Won eight career Ballon d'Or awards (three more than any other player), and the only player to win the award in three different decades.

Why he's on the list: Messi might have left European football behind, but he continues to showcase his dazzling ability in the United States. Inter Miami was bottom of MLS when he joined last summer, but he helped it make a late, albeit ultimately unsuccessful, run for the playoffs. It also won the Leagues Cup. This year, Inter Miami is favored to win the championship thanks to the mercurial Messi, who is breaking record after record, including registering five assists in a single match -- a game in which he also scored -- in a comeback win against New York Red Bulls.

Projection for 2024-25: What does the player who has won it all still want to win? Well, quite a lot, actually. This summer, he is targeting a second Copa America trophy with Argentina, while leading Inter Miami to MLS glory is another challenge pending. -- Marsden

6. Antoine GRIEZMANN, Atletico Madrid/France

Key attributes/style of play: Selfless attacker with an incredible work rate

Stat to know: Most goals scored by a player in Atletico Madrid history (181).

Why he's on the list: Griezmann has once again been one of the best players in Spain over this past year, even if Atletico have not had their best season. His 16 goals and six assists still helped them secure Champions League football for a 12th successive campaign, while he netted six times in 10 appearances in this season's Champions League before the Rojiblancos fell in the quarterfinals. All this despite often playing as the second striker, linking play and creating goals as well as scoring them.

Projection for 2024-25: At 33, it's going to be increasingly hard for Griezmann to match the incredible output he has produced since returning from Barcelona in 2021, but he remains the central cog in coach Diego Simeone's team. If Atletico are to have success, you suspect Griezmann will have to play a big part in it. -- Marsden

5. Mohamed SALAH, Liverpool/Egypt

Key attributes/style of play: One of the best goal scorers in world football

Stat to know: Most Premier League goals (155) and goal contributions (223) since joining Liverpool in 2017-18.

Why he's on the list: Salah has established himself as one of the greats of the modern era since arriving at Liverpool from Roma in the summer of 2017. He consistently tops Liverpool's scoring charts and also weighs in with a healthy number of assists. When Salah plays well, Liverpool generally win, and he has been the talisman of Jürgen Klopp's great side at Anfield.

Projection for 2024-25: This will be a crucial summer for Salah and Liverpool. With his contract due to expire in 12 months' time, another big-money offer from Saudi Arabia -- Al Ittihad failed with a £150 million offer last summer -- could tempt both player and club to do business. But equally, Salah might want one more attempt at the Premier League and Champions League. Can Liverpool really afford for him to follow Klopp through the exit door at the same time? Salah and Liverpool might even agree on a contract extension. All options are on the table. -- Ogden

4. VINICIUS JUNIOR, Real Madrid/Brazil

Key attributes/style of play: Fast, tough and relentless, he is a defender's worst nightmare

Stat to know: 24 goals this season in all competitions, most in a season in his career; this was his third straight 20-goal season.

Why he's on the list: Vinícius is the most important player on a Madrid team that won LaLiga and the Champions League. His finishing has improved exponentially; 15 league goals in 2023-24 is a respectable tally for a player who isn't a pure goal scorer -- and who missed two months through injury. He has been just as important in Europe, scoring twice against Bayern Munich last month. Before Christmas, all the talk in Madrid was about Jude Bellingham as a Ballon d'Or contender. Now, it's Vinícius. Bellingham agrees, calling the Brazilian "the best player in the world" during Madrid's title celebrations.

Projection for 2024-25: Wreaking havoc alongside Bellingham and Kylian Mbappé. It's a frightening prospect. Vinícius has added variety to his game this past season, with coach Carlo Ancelotti encouraging him to take up more central positions, and that process will continue. -- Kirkland

3. Erling HAALAND, Manchester City/Norway

Key attributes/style of play: Incredibly prolific goal scorer and traditional No. 9

Stat to know: Led Premier League with 27 goals, becoming the fifth player to claim the Premier League Golden Boot award in consecutive seasons.

Why he's on the list: His numbers speak for themselves. After 52 goals in City's treble-winning season, the Norwegian has backed it up with 38 goals this term. His 27 Premier League goals included both scores in the vital 2-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur in the final week of the season.

Projection for 2024-25: City are well aware that Haaland has ambitions to play in other countries -- particularly Spain -- but he remains content at the Etihad as long as Pep Guardiola, who has a contract until 2025, remains manager. Once Guardiola leaves, Haaland, 23, will assess his options, but the expectation is that both will stay in Manchester next season. Haaland has had two successful seasons at City, and his only job is to continue his incredible form. -- Dawson

2. Harry KANE, Bayern Munich/England

Key attributes/style of play: Arguably the best finisher in world football

Stat to know: Clinched the Bundesliga golden boot in his first season with Bayern. His 36 goals tied Gerd Müller (1972-73) for fourth most in a single Bundesliga season.

Why he's on the list: Amid the chaos of Bayern Munich's season, Kane stayed a reliable constant. He tops several charts in the Bundesliga this season, not just the goal-scoring one with his 36 goals, but also for goals/assists per 90, non-penalty goals (31), xG (30.6) and xG per 90 (0.97). That tally of 36 goals saw him set a new record for the most in a debut season in the German top flight, while he also became the first player to score four hat tricks in a first Bundesliga season. With his eight assists, that takes it to 44 goal involvements this term.

In short, he has been incredible. That will come as no surprise to those who have seen Kane establish himself as one of the most lethal finishers during his time with Tottenham Hotspur and with England. After a turbulent, trophyless season at Bayern, he will steer England into the Euros, looking to end that long wait for his first piece of silverware.

Projection for 2024-25: Unless an astonishing offer comes in, Kane will remain at Bayern Munich, scoring a ton of goals as they look to take back the Meisterschale from Bayer Leverkusen. But first, it's all eyes on the Euros, where England will be one of the favorites. -- Hamilton

1. Kylian MBAPPE, Real Madrid/France

Key attributes/style of play: Clinical finisher with pace and strength, he's the ultimate forward

Stat to know: Mbappé has won six straight scoring titles in Ligue 1, the most consecutive seasons as the top scorer in a single top-five European league. Only Messi (eight in LaLiga) along with Lewandowski and Gerd Müller (seven each in Bundesliga) have more scoring titles in a single one of Europe's top five leagues all time.

Why he's on the list: Because he is the best player in the world! His game intelligence is immense, just like the drive and ambition that is taking him to Real Madrid, where he'll play starting next season. He can play center-forward or on the right, but coming in from the left-hand side is his favorite position. He came up short again in his quest of winning the Champions League, but he has still produced a stellar season, carrying this PSG team on his back, as always.

Projection for 2024-25: After seven years in Paris and eight total in Ligue 1, it is time for Mbappé to leave home and start a new chapter in his career at Real Madrid, the club he has always dreamed of playing for. He will take LaLiga by storm. -- Laurens