Few roles are more important in modern football than the playmaker. Managers across the globe are always looking for that special somebody who can make things happen out of nothing.
More and more top playmakers have started emerging out of the woodwork in recent years, and now everywhere you look, you’ll find strings being pulled and defences being unlocked by players of all different shapes and sizes…but there are a select few who can do things most mere mortals cannot.
Let’s take a look at the 25 best playmakers kicking about right now.
25. Juan Cuadrado
Juventus were all over the shop in 2020/21, but one constant was the sheer class of full-back Juan Cuadrado.
Marauding forwards, the Colombian was his dominant self as he dragged Juve towards the top of the table, bamboozling defender after defender along the way.
Statistics are rarely Thiago’s friend. His assist numbers make him look distinctly average, but anyone with eyes knows he is significantly more than that.
If there’s a string around, Thiago will pull it. He sees the entire game in slow motion and knows the perfect moment to pull out a pin-point pass to get his team in on goal.
23. Phil Foden
His potential has been clear for a while, but Phil Foden is now finally starting to flourish as a superstar at Manchester City.
With mazy dribbling, fast footwork and a keen eye for a pass, Foden has proven himself as one of the most creative weapons in Pep Guardiola’s stacked side.
22. Filip Kostic
Filip Kostic was arguably the best wing-back on the planet last season.
The Frankfurt man simply could not be stopped, charging up and down the pitch and offering up assist after assist after assist with terrifying ease. He ended the year having created 17 goals – the second-highest return in the Bundesliga.
21. Josip Ilicic
A relative unknown in the football world until a few years ago, a low-key move to Atalanta in 2017 saw Josip Ilicic completely explode.
A towering, robust forward with an uncanny eye for both a goal and a pass, Ilicic has quietly proved himself as one of the finest players in Serie A and has been an integral part in Atalanta’s rise to prominence in recent years.
20. Hakan Calhanoglu
Hakan Calhanoglu’s free-kick expertise has been known for a while now, but since his move to Italy in 2017, the Turkey international has converted that eye for goal into a love of perfect passing as well.
Having spent a few years tearing defences apart with AC Milan, he earned himself a free transfer to fierce rivals Inter. A brave move.
19. Rodrigo de Paul
The past few years have been kind to Rodrigo de Paul, who departed Udinese in the summer having established himself as one of Serie A’s top stars.
A move to Atletico Madrid was well-deserved, and it’s now over to De Paul to prove he can hang in another top league.
18. Ruslan Malinovskyi
Sitting atop the assist charts as the 2020/21 Serie A season came to a close was Ruslan Malinovskyi, who looked like one of the best players on the planet at times.
Links to some of Europe’s top sides have surfaced, and Malinovskyi will continue to attract plenty of interest if he keeps this form up.
17. Riyad Mahrez
Capable of burning you with a stepover, a chop or anything other move you used to bust out in FIFA Street, Riyad Mahrez knows more ways to get the ball into the box than most players can even dream of.
The Man City winger is an absolute machine, regardless of which side of the pitch he takes up. One of the most unpredictable players around.
16. Daichi Kamada
What makes Daichi Kamada so dangerous is just how perfectly he knows how to exploit space.
He’s not the kind of player to ping a ball 40 yards, but what the Japan international will do is drop into space at exactly the right second and release a pass into the next open area just as perfectly. It’s proven to be unstoppable in the Bundesliga.
15. Memphis Depay
Ending the 2020/21 season as Ligue 1’s second-top scorer and leading assist maker, Memphis Depay nearly single-handedly dragged Lyon into a title battle.
The Dutchman has now taken his talents to Barcelona, where he’ll plan on maintaining the electric form he has built up over the past few seasons.
14. Dusan Tadic
The summer of 2018 saw Dusan Tadic leave Southampton as a flop, but almost immediately after joining Ajax, the veteran forward proved he still has so much left in the tank.
The focal point of Erik ten Hag’s system, Tadic is tasked with using elite movement and vision to find space on the pitch, and after he’s pulled defenders every which way, he simply slots the ball in behind for a team-mate to fire home.
13. Toni Kroos
It’s fair to say that Toni Kroos has never really been known for his athleticism. He’s not one to buzz around the pitch and instead relies on pinpoint accuracy to let the ball do the work for him.
Kroos has been spraying passes around pitches at the highest level for countless years now, and with his effortless play style, you wouldn’t be surprised to see him keep it up for years to come.
12. Luka Modric
Luka Modric has been among Real Madrid’s most important players for an obscene amount of time now, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
The epitome of what it means to be a deep-lying playmaker, Modric combines with Kroos to give Los Blancos an indefatigable engine and one of the silkiest midfield units around.
11. Angel Di Maria
Since leaving Manchester United in 2015, Angel Di Maria has done a sublime job of proving that his one year at Old Trafford was little more than a blip.
An elite assist-grabber at Real Madrid, the Argentine has returned to that level with PSG, where he has also been firing home goals for fun as well.
10. Paul Pogba
We don’t need to give it the whole ‘Paul Pogba is unplayable on his day‘ spiel…but it’s not wrong.
When Pogba is firing on all cylinders, he can’t be stopped. He can breeze past any midfielder around and is capable of racking up all sorts of assists. He’s part of an exclusive club of players to manage four assists in a Premier League game.
9. Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes racked up the goals and assists with Sporting CP, and since his move to United, he has proven that he can do it at the highest level.
At this point, you should know what Neymar is about. He’s an electric dribbler capable of doing things normally reserved for the old-school football games you used to play back in the day.
Few players on this planet can make something happen out of nothing quite like Neymar, who bamboozles defenders with a unique style and an unplayable talent.
7. Trent Alexander-Arnold
The founder of the quickest corner on the planet, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s love of a deep cross has been an integral part of Liverpool’s success in recent years.
Regardless of where he’s standing on the pitch, the right-back knows how to sit the ball behind the last man and perfectly on to the boot of an onrushing team-mate. It’s an art form.
6. Jack Grealish
You should already know what Jack Grealish offers on the pitch. The England star can breeze past anyone and unlock any defence.
His ability to terrorise Premier League defenders earned him a £100m move to Man City, where he makes Guardiola’s side even scarier than they already were.
5. Harry Kane
Already one of the deadliest finishers on the planet, Harry Kane showcased an unreal eye for a pass during the 2020/21 season.
Dropping deep to pick up possession and spraying passes around, the fact that Kane finishes as the Premier League’s top scorer and assister is nothing short of unbelievable.
4. Jadon Sancho
Sancho is back in England / James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images
There’s a good reason Manchester United spent two years and in excess of £70m to sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund. What the winger had been doing in Germany was outrageous.
Assists from anywhere across Dortmund’s forward line were flying in, as were a not-insignificant number of goals, and now those in charge at Old Trafford are expecting to see those numbers carry over in the Premier League.
3. Thomas Muller
Nobody has a skillset quite like Thomas Muller, who invented the role of raumdeuter – literally translating to English as ‘space investigator’ – because of his uncanny understanding of football.
It’s hard to even describe what Muller does. Sure, he finds space and exploits it perfectly, but so does everyone on this list. Muller does it with such a special expertise, and managers across the globe have spent years trying to create their own raumdeuter.
2. Kevin De Bruyne
With every perfectly weighted pass, Kevin De Bruyne must make Jose Mourinho regret selling him even more.
The Belgian magician can do all sorts with the ball at his feet. Whether it’s a short, quick pass or the highlight reel curlers from one side of the pitch to the other, De Bruyne has a vision for a pass which is unrivalled in world football.
1. Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi will never claim to be a better passer than De Bruyne, but it’s his ability to pull the strings in literally every way imaginable that makes the PSG man so deadly.
His once-in-a-lifetime movement is absolutely unstoppable – even some of the best defenders on the planet have been turned inside out – but Messi is smart enough (and talented enough) to exploit that with some inch-perfect passing for those around him. Mere mortals can only dream of ways to stop him.