Alas, the final, and arguably most interesting, part of any team, the attack. As with the previous articles, these selections will mainly be a guess at what the FIFPro panel may deem a Team of the Year-worthy season with some added explanation as to why they may be chosen and the numbers to clear up any lingering doubt of the choices. The full list of nominees have been released which should in theory make the selections easier if they were not already glaringly obvious before.
Honorable Mention: None
Perhaps a bit controversial and slightly exaggerated at face value, I believe with the predicted selection of attackers, there isn’t anyone on the outside that could really challenge the three selected. The closest player within range could be Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, but with the running for an attacking spot coming down to hair-splitting decisions, he misses out comparatively to the chosen players. This isn’t meant to be a slight towards any of the remaining nominees in attack but more so an emphasis on the history the following three players have made.
RW: Lionel Messi, RW/CF (Paris Saint-Germain)
Kicking off with the most obvious choice, Lionel Messi continues an insane run of dominance in football. The most recent Ballon d’Or winner had it all in 2021, ranking in at least the 90th percentile in all offensive per 90 mins. stats except for non-penalty-expected goals, where he ranked in the 86th percentile while surpassing his non-penalty expected clip of 0.52 with 0.68 non-penalty goals per 90 mins.. Beyond the numbers, the obvious thing Messi had going for him in his Ballon d’Or campaign, which will surely be transferred over into the FIFPro TOTY, was his first international title over the summer of 2021. Argentina were almost put on Lionel Messi’s shoulders throughout the competition as he led the tournament in assists and tied for the most goals alongside Colombia’s Luis Diaz, reminiscent of his 2014 World Cup loss. The romance surrounding the elusive international cup for Messi was, and still is, in full swing with no signs of slowing down come mid-January. None of this is to negate Messi’s individual performances or to solely give the panel a “lazy” reason to work him into the squad, as his Ballon d’Or could and should single-handedly guarantee him a spot in the team’s attack.
ST: Robert Lewandowski, ST (Bayern München)
Another easy pick, the Polish target man makes it into another TOTY among some heavy controversy. With the Ballon d’Or being as close as it was and last year not having a ceremony all together, negating him of his own win, Lewy almost has to be in this team to avoid massive uproar. With the looming sense of being snubbed, this is far from a consolation pick.
Lewandowski ranks in the 99th percentile in goals per 90 mins. at a whopping 1.1 goals per 90 minutes. He finished last year’s Bundesliga campaign with a record-breaking 41 goals in 29 matches, displaying his phenomenal form. All this led to the Polish superstar being named Striker of the Year at the Ballon d’Or ceremony, after Bayern to another dominant Bundesliga title run as the Bavarian giants came off of a Champions League winning year. Truly an all-time season from an iconic player.
LW: Mohamed Salah, RW (Liverpool)
Rounding out the team, Mohamed Salah’s Recent form and consistent class in an injury-riddled Liverpool side last season should comfortably place him in the TOTY. The Egyptian winger shares a similar statistical spread to Lionel Messi over the past 365 days, with a recent run of form driving up his averages to historical levels. Salah was a bit lacking in the trophy department but it is hard to deny what he’s done despite Liverpool’s up-and-down 2021, where he remained the sole positive in the squad throughout the year. He’s currently on 25 goal contributions in the current campaign across 20 league games with seven goals in six games in the Champions League. His 2020/21 season was outstanding as well, but with Salah already nearing his marks from last season in half of the current season, recency bias will certainly play into his placement on the team and give him the biggest boost among Europe’s top stars for next year’s Ballon d’Or.
The Final Team
GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (PSG), RB: Achraf Hakimi (PSG), CB: Ruben Dias (Manchester City), CB: Marquinhos (PSG), LB: Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), CM: N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), CM: Jorginho (Chelsea), CM: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), RW: Lionel Messi (PSG), ST: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern München), LW: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool).