From club legends to world class stars, iconic football players have been idolized since the rules of modern football were set in England in 1863. Yet, today, due to the geographical expansion of the beautiful game and global access to football content, the fame, outreach and impact of players is bigger than it ever was and the 2017-2018 season is full of examples that prove this phenomenon.
While football is a team sport and there isn’t a single player that could win a match on their own – despite Maradona’s efforts in 1986 to prove us wrong – there are always individuals that stand out from a squad whether it is because they are the most skilled, the most committed to a club, somehow charismatic or for their impact in the world for what they do off the pitch.
As we get to the end of the 2017-2018 season, with the eyes of billions of fans set on the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, here are some of the players that have shown the power of the individual in modern football this season.
Ligue 1: Neymar – The Power to Improve
The season kicked off with the unexpected news of PSG paying the £198m release clause to sign Brazilian Olympic Champion Neymar in the most expensive transfer of all time, soon followed by Mbappe’s transfer (£128m), second most expensive. There is no doubt Neymar’s improved PSG on and off the pitch – his arrival helped the club to comfortably win the league and the cup and his presence has helped Ligue 1 to substantially increase the audience of the league with PSG highlights being watched by millions in the official YouTube channel of the league.
Despite being knocked out by defending champions Real Madrid, Neymar’s move and his impact on PSG’s performance made the club become the bookies favourite for the first time in history. Also, within one month, PSG sold 120,000 Neymar’s shirts in official club stores and made sales increase by 75%.
Serie A: Davide Astori – The Power to Unite
Without a doubt, the most shocking story came from Serie A with the tragic loss of Fiorentina’s captain Davide Astori, who tragically passed away in March due to a cardiac arrest in his sleep aged just 31.
Astori’s death left Italy in a state of shock;it literally made Italian football stop as Serie A, united in its grief, postponed all the games that week, whilst thousands of fans gathered in Florence for his funeral. Fiorentina renamed their training ground after him -“Centro Sportivo Davide Astori”, both Cagliari and Fiorentina retired his number (13) and The FA paid him tribute at Wembley Stadium before the England v Italy friendly. Italian rivalries were put aside and every club showed their respect for ‘il Capitano’ Astori.
Premier League: Mata – The Power to Change
Two years ago, in an interview, Juan Mata said: “You see kids who think they’re rock stars; wearing extravagant clothes and driving fancy cars… and sometimes you have to take them aside and have a word.” It is statements like this that it make it easy to understand that he became the first player to join the Common Goal, an initiative aimed at driving social change by encouraging players to pledge a minimum of 1% of their wages to a collective fund.
Juan Mata presented Common Goal at the Soccerex Global Convention 2017 and set himself as the role model to follow. Since then, tens of players have joined this cause including world renowned men and women such as Hummels, Kagawa, Kasper Schmeichel and Alex Morgan.
La Liga: Farewells – The Power to Inspire
Although Messi has been without a doubt once again the best player in LaLiga, leading FC Barcelona to the title, in the last season matches three Spanish players attracted the most media attention: Iniesta, Torres and Xabi Prieto.
Highly acclaimed by Spanish fans for his skills, humility and for scoring the goal that lead to their first and only World Cup victory, Andres Iniesta received standing ovations in every stadium he visited after he announced his decision to leave Barcelona at the end of the season. On the pitch, Iniesta showed he is still in good shape to be part of the elite ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a superb performance in the 5-0 Cup final over Seville.
Off the pitch, Barça’s captain showed he is well above club rivalries when he received a yellow submarine from Villarreal as a sign of respect for his career and values. As for his next move, Iniesta clearly stated that he will never play against Barcelona and he could soon be playing in countries such as China, Japan, Qatar or USA with contract offers speculated to include the purchase of a share of the production from his wine company.
After one of the most awaited returns in football club history – 40,000 fans gathered at the old Vicente Calderon for his presentation in 2015 – Torres is leaving the club he grew up with, Atletico de Madrid, at the end of this season. The increasing performance level of Europa League champions and the rise of international strikers Griezmann and Costa, saw El Niño lose presence in the squad and, aged 34, both club and player feel that it is the right time to go their separate ways.
Torres leaves after his childhood dream came true last week when he raised the Europa League title in Lyon and celebrated a title in Neptune’s fountain in the centre of Madrid. In his final match with Atletico, he scored two goals. With their second position in LaLiga secured before the match, the Wanda Metropolitano filled up for his farewell and all fans stayed for a very emotional speech in which Fernando showed once again his love for the club.
Despite being less known at international level than Iniesta and Torres, Xabi Prieto, is one of the most famous players in LaLiga. The skilled left footed ‘10’ led Real Sociedad back to the UEFA Champions League after many years playing for the club he joined as a youth player in 1997, before some of his current teammates were even born.
Earlier this season, after playing his 500th game with Real Sociedad, the club offered fans to add his name and number on their shirt for free and last weekend they went much further. For Prieto’s last home appearance, the club’s current captain received all the love from the fans at Anoeta and the recognition from his club with the campaign “Our shield for a day” featuring Prieto’s name and face as the shield on the team’s shirt and making him become the brand for such a special occasion.
MLS: Ibrahimovic – The Power to Shock
MLS has already seen the good and bad of Zlatan. The Swedish star made one of the most remarkable debuts in his first appearance with Los Angeles Galaxy scoring a double to complete the 4-3 win against city rivals LAFC. In only one month, the video of his first ever MLS goal has hit 5.5 million views, becoming the second most watched video to date in the MLS official Youtube channel, only after David Beckham’s corner kick goal from 6 years ago with 7.4m.
On the other hand, Zlatan, recently showed his controversial side after being sent off for slapping an opponent and then feigning being injured, a decision taken by the referee using VAR technology. In less than a day, the video has had already hit 630k views.
Ibrahimovic’s move to the LA Galaxy shows the impact one single player can have in increasing – and shocking, both through talent and behaviour – the audience of a growing league such as the MLS.
Coaching: Gerrard – The Power to Lead
teven Gerrard’s confirmation as Rangers new coach for next season boosted Rangers social media by almost 50,000 followers in one week. While he was recruited to get results on the pitch, Steve has already boosted Rangers’ global profile.
KPMG Football Benchmark pointed out that the video campaign #WelcomeGerrard generated over 1m views.
UEFA Champions League: Ronaldo and Salah – The Power to Win
The biggest clash of clubs this season will see historical clubs Liverpool and Real Madrid fight for the UEFA Champions League title in Kiev with Ronaldo and Salah in the spotlight.
While many football analysts claimed that Ronaldo’s best days were in the past, the Portuguese star has performed greatly once again to lead Real Madrid to a third consecutive final scoring 15 goals in the top continental competition.
Ronaldo’s season off the pitch has also been quite intense with investments made in companies of different sectors including 7egend, a digital agency based in Portugal, Tatel, a Miami restaurant co-owned by Spanish celebrities Enrique Iglesias, Pau Gasol and Rafael Nadal, and in Pestana CR7 hotels to open new markets in Asia and reinforce his expansion into Spain and the US.
Liverpool’s emerging star Salah has made a name for himself becoming the top scorer of the Premier League with 32 goals. In the road to Kiev, Salah, Firmino and Mane have scored 29 goals altogether driving Liverpool fans to believe once again that they could become European champions.
The 25-year-old, who became already a hero back home leading his home country into the World Cup scoring the goal that helped them qualify, will see his football boots featured in the modern Egyptian collection in The British Museum of London.