Soccer is a sport so universally loved billions of people both play and watch it, but the sport is most admired in Europe. Much like America's National Basketball Association, the European soccer leagues, particularly Spain's La Liga and England's Premier League, are deemed the pinnacle leagues because of the caliber of players they attract.
While there is less of them, world-class players also grace other leagues, such as France's Ligue 1 and Germany's Bundesliga, so with that in mind, and with the Fifa World Cup slowly creeping up on us, we've decided to list who we believe are the best active players in the men's game.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
Aside from pop superstar Taylor Swift, Cristiano Ronaldo boasts more social media followers than any other public figure, and while many in America may not know who he is, the rest of the world sure does. He's a leader of men and a talent no other active soccer player, barring the magisterial might of the Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi, has been able to match.
Scouted by the legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson following Manchester United's loss against Ronaldo's first professional team Sporting Lisbon in a pre-season friendly, an 18-year-old Ronaldo ran rings around accomplished full-back Gary Neville, and it was that impressive display that persuaded Ferguson to pay £12m to bring him to Manchester.
Initially castigated by teammates for not trying hard enough, Cristiano would soon dedicate every waking hour to being the best player in the world, and he soon morphed from a skinny teenager into a brawny winger more adept with the physicality that playing in England's top division required.
More importantly, his mindset changed, and in his final season in Manchester, he scored 42 goals to finish a career in England which included a Champions League trophy and three Premier League titles. Such impressive accolades soon saw Real Madrid, a club whom he has gone on to win two Champions League trophies with and a further three Ballon d'Or titles to pay a then-record £80m transfer fee.
2. Lionel Messi
Barcelona's leading talisman has gone on to win the coveted Ballon d'Or accolade on five separate occasions and is always compared to his rival above. However, there is a strong case to suggest the 30-year-old is a more naturally gifted player than Ronaldo, with his small frame lending itself perfectly for a game characterized by individual tricky and tight ball control.
Of course, Ronaldo's accolades and trophies speak for themselves; but so do Messi's. As well as winning five Ballon d'Or awards, Messi holds the record for the most goals scored in La Liga history, goals scored in a La Liga season (50) and also possesses the highest number of La Liga assists. Add his ever-burgeoning cabinet of team trophies, which include eight La Ligas, four Champions League trophies and four Spanish Cups, and you begin to understand and appreciate the freakish talent this man possesses.
3. Gareth Bale
Born and raised in Cardiff, Wales, Gareth Bale's rise to the pinnacle of his sport was unexpected, with the Welsh superstar almost being sold by his former club Spurs for being somewhat of a curse following their inability to win with Bale in the starting line-up. In fact, in his first 24 matches for the club, he failed to register a single win following his £10m move from Southampton.
With time, however, the Welsh maestro settled into London life, and in his penultimate season with the North London outfit, he set the world alight, scoring a spellbinding Champions League hat-trick against Inter Milan in a match that had seen Spurs trail 4-0 at halftime.
Better yet, the hat trick served as a springboard for his future style of play which now centers heavily on long-range striking and in many ways spawned his then world record £88m transfer to Real Madrid where he has already won two Champions League trophies.
Continuing to be an ever-present thorn in their midfield, Bale's athletic frame is much like Ronaldo in the sense that he has the full package, with aerial ability, gifted footwork, strength and explosive pace making him almost unstoppable on his day.
4. Luiz Suarez
The Uruguayan striker may divide opinion following a controversial string of incidents, which have included biting an opponent's ear, but few- not even Real Madrid fans- would deny his world-class quality since making the move from Premier League giants Liverpool to La Liga titans Barcelona.
Famed for his pacey runs across the six-yard box and superb link-up play with former teammate Neymar and current partner in crime, Lionel Messi, Suarez's understanding of the game and his prolific goalscoring scoring record (he reached 100 goals for Barcelona in only his third season) makes him one of the best out-and-out strikers in world soccer.
Brazil's answer to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may not have their legendary status just yet, but his natural abilities are beyond doubt, despite his goals to games ratio being considerably higher for the national team than at club level.
That being said, since making his world record, £200m move to the Ligue 1 giants, PSG, Neymar's performances have been consistently above average. His dynamism in and around the penalty box still wasn't enough, however, to help his new team win that elusive Champions League trophy, but during his 4-year spell at Barcelona, he collected two La Ligas and a Champions League, thanks in part to his formidable partnership with Messi and Suarez, which journalists dubbed, M.S.N.
6. Manuel Neuer
Germany and Bayern Munich's number one goalkeeper is the world's best goalkeeper according to most prominent pundits. The reason being stems not only from his natural shot-stopping abilities but also from his unwavering assurance and displays of intricate footwork when under pressure, and because he shares similar abilities to outfield players, he is one of a select few goalies who can get away with being a called a 'sweeper-keeper', a term ascribed to goalkeepers who regularly come outside their designated 18-yard handling area.
A World Cup and Champions League winner having only just turned 30, Neuer's goalkeeping heroics have significantly contributed to Bayern's domestic domination over the last decade, with the 6' 4" goalie picking up four league titles, whilst personal accolades include the esteemed Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper at the 2014 World Cup and finishing third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in 2014's Ballon d'Or contest.
7. Eden Hazzard
Chelsea's star player may have lost his way last season following the West London team's shocking fall from grace but since the sacking of legendary Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho and the arrival of Italian maverick Antonio Conte, a new lease of life appears to have been given to the Belgian talisman, who now has 11 Premier League goals to his name this season.
Widely mooted as the successor to Ronaldo and Messi, the 27-year-old playmaker's goalscoring record isn't quite good enough to put him in the same bracket, but he does play in a more competitive league.
8. David Silva
Often referred to as the Premier League's best player by television pundits and journalists, the Spanish playmaker is a natural talent and possesses a beautiful left foot.
A versatile player, Silva can also be utilized as a striker or left winger, but is at his best when playing through the middle thanks to his possession-retaining qualities, and is one of only 11 Spanish first team players to have earned more than 100 caps.
For his current club Manchester City, who signed Silva from Spanish club Valencia, he has gone on to win two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup to add to his remarkable achievements for the Spanish national team, which has seen him collect winners medals at both Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
9. Thiago Silva
The PSG and Brazilian central defender has enjoyed a stellar career since making a name for himself in Europe with Italian giants AC Milan before his €42 million transfer to PSG. The big money transfer made Silva the second most expensive defender in soccer history behind retired England defender Rio Ferdinand.
Currently considered the best centre-back in the world, Thiago Silva quickly established himself as an integral part of the PSG team that would go onto win four consecutive Ligue 1 titles, and he also captained his country at the 2014 World Cup where they finished fourth. Though coming up short of soccer's ultimate accolade, Silva was rated the tournament's fifth-best player by the Castrol Performance Index.