It is no secret that the world’s elite soccer players ply their trade within Europe. Such is the dominance of the major European leagues, players playing elsewhere can often be overlooked. The South American leagues have often been regarded as some of the strongest outside of Europe, but a look at the leading South American national teams shows that the vast majority of their countries best players do not play domestically.
As well as the South American leagues there are a number of growing soccer leagues outside of Europe. The likes of the MLS, A-League, J1 League, Indian Super League and Chinese Super League and others are rapidly growing in popularity as well as in quality. Whilst a number of top players leave Europe in the dying embers of their career, this list is in regards to the best players currently, not going on previous achievements or performances. Whether it’s due to a higher salary, getting a more prominent role, or less pressure, more and more players are earning their money outside of Europe. These players sometimes get overlooked, until they’re seen shining on a grand stage like the World Cup. It’s easy to forget about them sometimes, so now it’s time for them to be recognized.
For the purposes of this list, any contentious nations such as Russia or Turkey are regarded as part of Europe even though they are both in Europe and Asia simultaneously. This is largely because these Eurasian nations also compete in European soccer competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League, meaning they are considered largely European in soccer terms at least.
10. Diego Milito
At the age of 35, it is fair to say Milito is no longer in the prime of his career; but unlike a number of decorated players, Milito did not auction himself off to the highest bidder but instead chose to join his hometown club, Racing Club in Argentina, where he first began his career. Since joining Racing in 2014, Milito has notched up 6 goals in 17 games and inspired the team to their first league title since 2001, when Milito was last at the club. In Europe, Milito featured for Genoa and Zaragoza before moving to Inter Milan, where he made his biggest impression. Milito’s finest hour came in 2010, when the club won the treble under the guidance of Jose Mourinho. Milito scored both goals in the Champions League Final in which he was named man of the match, and won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year for 2010.
9. Sebastian Giovinco
Standing at 164 cm (5-foot-5), Giovinco is one of the shortest players in soccer. He had been the shortest player in the Champions League for three seasons before leaving Juventus. Giovinco swapped the Italian giants for Toronto in January of this year after 130 games for Juventus. The move saw him become the highest paid player in the MLS and the highest paid Italian player in the world. Nicknamed the ‘Atomic Ant’ as a result of his pace and size, Giovinco is renowned for his technical ability, dribbling skills and lightning acceleration. He can play as a winger, attacking midfielder or even as a forward and has amassed 21 caps for Italy at the age of 28.
8. Everton Ribeiro
Everton Ribeiro is currently plying his trade in the sunny shores of Dubai, for Al-Ahli. He established himself for Corinthians, before moving to Coritiba and eventually Cruzeiro. Ribeiro became regarded as one of the finest players in Brazil for Cruzeiro, winning Brazilian Player of the Year in 2013 and in 2015 he was linked with Manchester United, AC Milan and AS Monaco but instead moved to the United Arab Emirates and Al-Ahli. The move will see him earn a tidy wage packet but has seen him removed from Dunga’s most recent Brazil squad, displaying what the Brazil manager thinks of the UAE Arabian Gulf League in comparison to the Brazilian or European leagues.
7. Robbie Keane
Robbie Keane is 34 years of age now but shows no signs of decline. Last season, Keane won the MLS Most Valuable Player Award after 19 goals and 14 assists in 29 games. He also scored the 111th minute final winner in the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over the New England Revolution to win the 2014 MLS Cup. Keane has both the most caps and the most goals for the Republic of Ireland National Team, with 65 goals in 138 games. His 126 Premier League goals, make him the joint thirteenth top scorer in the competitions history. He is also the captain of both Ireland and LA Galaxy, and has scored a very impressive 53 goals in 84 games for the Galaxy since moving there from Tottenham in 2011.
6. Alexandre Pato
Alexandre Pato’s career is a rather tragic one; blighted by injuries, the Brazilian has never quite realized the potential his early career form promised. He broke onto the scene in 2008 at AC Milan, scoring nine goals in 18 games in his first season at the club as an 18-year-old. With 15 goals in 36 league games the following season, Pato won both the Serie A Young Player of the Year and Golden Boy Awards and was tipped as one of the finest young players in world football. A series of horrible injuries meant Pato played less than 90 games over the next four seasons, and in 2013 he returned to Brazil. Still only 25, there is hope for Pato and a return to European soccer is already being rumoured, as he looks to stay fit, play regular football and impress for Sao Paulo.
5. Asamoah Gyan
Asamoah Gyan spent nine years in Europe but left for the United Arab Emirates in 2011 where he still plays today. Gyan played for Udinese, Modena and Rennes, where he enjoyed indifferent form, but his breakthrough came at the 2010 South Africa World Cup. Ghana reached the quarterfinals of the competition, and would have gone further had Gyan converted his last minute penalty. Despite the miss, Gyan was one of the standout players of the tournament and won the 2010 BBC African Player of the Year Award and earned himself a move to Sunderland. In the Premier League, he managed 10 goals in 34 games before making a lucrative move to Al Ain of the UAE Pro-League. Gyan has scored 113 goals in 104 games in Abu Dhabi, and continues to captain the Ghanaian National Team.
4. David Villa
David Villa has been an integral part of the Golden Generation of Spanish football which came to an abrupt end at the 2014 World Cup. He won the 2010 World Cup with Spain and scored five of their eight goals at the tournament and won the 2008 European Championships making the Team of the Tournament. He is Spain’s all-time top scorer. He played his finest club football for Valencia and Barcelona, winning three La Liga’s and a Champions League. In June 2014 he joined New York City who loaned him to Melbourne City where he played four times before returning to New York ahead of the upcoming MLS season. Villa is still only 33 years of age and is likely to make a big impression in the MLS.
In 2007 Kaka was probably the best player on the planet, illustrated by his Ballon d’Or win of that year. Between 2003 and 2009, Kaka was sublime for AC Milan, winning the Serie A and the Champions League and becoming regarded among the greats of world soccer. At the age of 20, Kaka had already won a World Cup with Brazil, and in 2009 he became the second most expensive player in history at the time, moving to Real Madrid. Things did not materialize the way in which Kaka or Real had hoped in Madrid and his career stagnated for four years before he returned to Milan.
Kaka moved to Orlando City in 2014. He was first loaned to Sao Paulo but has returned to Orlando now where he hopes to impress, stating that he wishes to feature for Brazil in the 2018 World Cup, by which time he will be 36 years of age.
2. Fernando Gago
At the age of 28, Fernando Gago has over half a century of caps for Argentina and made his 57th at the 2014 World Cup when Argentina reached the final. Gago began his career with Argentine giants Boca Juniors, where he quickly made an impression and was linked with both Real Madrid and Barcelona from the age of 18. At the age of 21 Gago got his move to Madrid. His Real career began promisingly but in 2011 he was loaned to Roma before departing permanently to Valencia. In 2013, Gago returned to Boca Juniors where he has rescued his career and impressed enough to retain his place in the Argentinean squad.
Although under contract by a European club, Robinho is currently playing in Brazil for Santos FC. Despite having played for Real Madrid, Manchester City and AC Milan, Robinho’s career has largely been a disappointing one, considering his potential as a youngster. Pele himself labelled Robinho as his heir apparent in 1999 when, aged 15, the youngster displayed remarkable promise. Like Pele and more recently, Neymar, Robinho came through the ranks at Santos, becoming a first team player at 18 and a full international at 19. In 2005, he moved to Real Madrid where he won two La Liga titles in three years before making a gigantic £33 million move to Manchester City. Robinho struggled in Manchester and has been under contract at AC Milan since 2010 but is currently on loan at his home club, Santos, where his recent form has been impressive enough to earn him a return to the Brazilian National Team, with whom he already has 95 caps.
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