Prowlers of the penalty area, the modern striker is an unstoppable force. They’ll score in any game, against any team from any position. Fleet of foot and quick of mind, their ability to read the play and anticipate where the ball will be three passes before it gets there is what sets them apart.

It’s not just the tap-ins they’ll score, either: the best strikers can improvise with any part of the body (except the hands, of course) to get the job done. Clever flicks, nifty tricks, brash backheels and calm set-pieces are their best weapons.

ESPN FC 100 landing page | Jump to: Goalkeepers, right-backs, centre-backs, left-backs, central midfielders, attacking midfielders, wingers, forwards, managers

This year’s ballot had 50 entries from all over the globe and from all areas of ESPN FC, from writers to reporters, from editors to producers, from behind-the-scenes staff to on-air talent. Gab Marcotti, Julien Laurens, Mark Ogden and Luis Miguel Echegaray were just some of the key voters, along with their FC TV counterparts Craig Burley and Shaka Hislop.

Voters were encouraged to take the following things into consideration when casting their votes: who are the best men’s players right now, weighted toward their 2022-23 seasons. Voters were given discretion as to how much injuries played in votes; several players made the cut despite missing chunks of the season given the scale of their contributions and performances when healthy. Equally, performances in individual competitions (aka Champions League, World Cup) were considered, but were not the overarching factor, in casting a vote. Players whose efforts spanned the largest sample size of games should naturally rank higher than those who excelled in short tournament formats.



Why Cristiano Ronaldo is not in ESPN FC 100’s top ten strikers

Julien Laurens and Gabriele Marcotti talk about why Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer a top ten striker.

All player copy written by Bill Connelly, Constantin Eckner, Julien Laurens, Rob Dawson, Alex Kirkland and James Tyler.

Why he’s on the list:

He’s simply one of the most reliable goal scorers in Europe. He scored 30 league goals in two years with Belgium‘s Gent, then moved to Lille, where he scored 13 for a league champion in 2019-20, then raised his tally to 15 in 2021-22 and a whopping 24 last season. Within the Big Five leagues, only Erling Haaland, Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe, Victor Osimhen and Alexandre Lacazette scored more.

David is approaching 100 career club goals, he’s got 25 for Canada, and among high-level scorers he’s also one of the most willing and effective pressers. Oh yeah, and he won’t turn 24 until January.

Expectations for 2023-24:

If you’re a 23-year-old star in Ligue 1, you’re going to be the subject of loads of transfer rumors. That’s been the case for David for a while, and he’s remained in Lille, but with his contract expiring in 2025, his club could look to move him on soon. Manchester United? West Ham United? Chelsea? The rumours are flying. We’ll likely soon find out how much of his skill set translates in a stronger league, and we’ll likely soon find out how well David handles the pressure associated with bigger contracts and higher visibility. — Connelly

Why he’s on the list:

Injury-wise, it was a frustrating season for the 23-year-old from Serbia. After a relatively injury-free existence in his first few seasons, he suffered groin, adductor, ankle and thigh issues and played 1,000 fewer league minutes than he had the year before. He battled a finishing funk in UEFA competitions, too, scoring only four goals from shots worth 7.2 xG. Add to that Juventus’ own frustrations — quick elimination from the Champions League and a 10-point deduction that dropped them to seventh in Serie A, which will keep them out of next year’s Champions League — and that’s a challenging season.

Still, at the end of all this frustration, Vlahovic had managed 14 goals and four assists from 28 chances created. That’s down from his 29 goals in all competitions in 2021-22, but his down years would be phenomenal for most. He’s a reliable space creator in the box, he can both hold the ball up or win headers when asked. And he might still be a few more years from his athletic peak.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Vlahovic is signed through 2026, but with Juve potentially needing to save money, he’s been the source of plenty of transfer rumours. He was linked to Arsenal in the winter, and both Bayern Munich and Chelsea have supposedly expressed interest of late. One way or another, he will be playing for a major club in 2023-24, and if he’s better able to stay on the pitch, he’ll again be a threat to score 20-something goals. — Connelly

Why he’s on the list:

Isak missed a large chunk of his first season at Newcastle because of injury but still ended the campaign with 10 Premier League goals. Manager Eddie Howe admitted he couldn’t ignore the comparisons with Thierry Henry after Isak beat four Everton defenders to set up Jacob Murphy‘s goal at Goodison Park in April.

“I can see the comparisons there,” Howe said. “Everyone is different, there are no two players that are the same, but I do think he has some of the characteristics Thierry had.”

The Sweden striker is still only 23 and there is a feeling around St. James’ Park that he’s only just getting started.

Expectations for 2023-24:

First and foremost, Isak will hope to stay fit next season. There were lots of positives to take from his first year following his £60m move to Newcastle from Real Sociedad, but he was restricted to just 27 appearances in all competitions and Howe will hope that number is almost doubled next season.

The test for Newcastle will be balancing Champions League football with the battle in the Premier League. Howe’s team did brilliantly to finish fourth last season, but they benefited from Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur all having dips. Having a consistent goal scorer in Isak will be a big bonus as Newcastle try to meet the challenge. — Dawson

Why he’s on the list:

Almost no one in soccer enjoyed a bigger star turn than Kolo Muani in 2022-23. After scoring 12 league goals and leading Nantes to the 2022 Coupe de France, he moved to Eintracht Frankfurt and one-upped himself in every possible way. He set a career high with 15 league goals, and his 11 assists were second most in the Bundesliga and more than he had managed in his previous two seasons combined. He scored a pair of goals in Champions League play, and he was a steady producer throughout the year, too — even as Eintracht faded late in the season, he still scored seven goals in his last 11 overall matches.

In international play, Kolo Muani was a revelation off the bench in the World Cup, scoring the clinching goal in France’s semifinal win over Morocco and coming achingly close to scoring the tournament winner late in extra-time in the final against Argentina. Not bad for a 24-year-old who hadn’t even earned his first cap until September.

Expectations for 2023-24:

The downside to a breakout year is that people will expect you to not only match that level next season but also surpass it. We’ll see if Kolo Muani can indeed raise his level; we’ll also see if he’s still playing in Frankfurt. Eintracht have predictably demanded an extremely high transfer fee for their young star, but Bayern Munich and Manchester United are among the super-clubs who might be willing to pay it. — Connelly

soc 06 gabriel jesus 92062554 - Replay Madness6. GABRIEL JESUS, Arsenal/Brazil

Why he’s on the list:

There are two ways of analysing Jesus’ season. The first one is the glass half full: 11 goals and six assists in 24 starts in the Premier League, a huge impact on Arsenal’s title push and on the transformation of the team. Then, there is the glass half empty: he could not bring the title home in the end while his injury during the World Cup made him miss precious games for the Gunners.

Overall, it was more positive than anything else. His leadership, experience and great all-around game were very important for Mikel Arteta and for Arsenal and why the team performed so well.

Expectations for 2023-24:

More of the same, if not even better. Arsenal will need the 26-year-old again to lead the line, and with a team packed with more depth and talent around him, he should be performing at an even higher level next season. — Laurens

Why he’s on the list:

The Barcelona striker may be a few years past his prime, as the second half of the season indicated, yet he is still able to be a ruthless striker inside the box and great at maintaining and progressing possession around it. Counting him out at this point seems foolish.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Unsurprisingly, Lewandowski will not keep up with the Haalands and Mbappes of the world at this stage in his career. He will simply remain an important playmaker in Barcelona’s attack, with him often serving as the target player for Pedri and potentially Ilkay Gündogan and as an option for combination plays with Ousmane Dembele and other wingers. Given that Lewandowski has an almost unparalleled work ethic on the training pitch and in the gym, he may be able to prolong his career a bit more. That said, he recently talked about retirement, so the end may be near. — Eckner

Why he’s on the list:

Osimhen is elite at basically two things: finding space in the box and taking lots of shots. Last we checked, those are pretty important things.

He wasn’t a huge link-up guy for Napoli in 2022-23, he was decent-at-best from both pressing and passing perspectives. (He’s shown potential in these regards in previous seasons, though.) But Napoli had guys for that. What they needed from Osimhen was shooting, and he has become one of the world’s best at that. He led Serie A in shots (135), goals (26), expected goals (21.6), unblocked shots (105), shots on goal (55), shots in the box (98) and touches in the opponent’s box (245). At 6-foot-1, 171 pounds, he isn’t the most physically imposing forward in the world, but he doesn’t have to be. He’s fast, he’s strong and he’s a marvelous interpreter of space.

Expectations for 2023-24?

For obvious reasons, most of the world’s biggest clubs have lusted at the thought of acquiring Osimhen’s services, but Napoli will make it extremely expensive to do so this summer. That might keep him around — and paired with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia — for a little while longer. Barring a title hangover or major drop-off from his supporting cast, there’s really no reason to think Osimhen will become any less effective moving forward. — Connelly

soc 03 harry kane 92062628 - Replay Madness3. Harry KANE, Tottenham/England

Why he’s on the list:

The 2022-23 season was one of broken records for Kane. He broke the England men’s scoring record over Wayne Rooney with his 54th goal back in March. He broke the Tottenham all-time scoring record in February when he netted No. 267 against Manchester City, too: when it comes to scoring goals and keeping his club and country within touching distance of major honors, there are few like the 29-year-old around the box.

The campaign wasn’t a brilliant one for Spurs, however, as they stagnated beneath the Champions League places with five defeats in their final eight league games, including a 6-1 thumping against Newcastle in April that felt like a statement defeat. (Oh, and Kane also had to steer his team through choppy waters off the pitch, with manager Antonio Conte out by March, caretaker Cristian Stellini cast aside in late April and Ryan Mason left to see out the final games.)

Expectations for 2023-24?

The biggest broken record of all regarding Kane remains the one around his future beyond the 2023-23 campaign. After wanting out of Spurs last summer only to recommit, he’s back in the same position this summer, only with one year left on his contract and the very real ability to leave as a free agent next July.

Every top club wants him — Manchester United were forever linked with the England star, though Bayern Munich seem determined to test Spurs chairman Daniel Levy all summer long when it comes to finding a deal. — Tyler

soc 02 karim benzema 92062658 - Replay Madness2. Karim BENZEMA, Real Madrid/France

Why he’s on the list:

He’s the reigning Ballon d’Or winner and still arguably the game’s most complete centre-forward, despite a challenging 2022-23. Nineteen LaLiga goals last season was a respectable tally — considering he suffered so many injuries — but it was still his lowest-scoring league season in five years.

Missing the World Cup, after France coach Didier Deschamps opted not to wait for him to recover from a thigh problem, was a major blow. The all-round drop in form that followed saw the proud Benzema choose to leave Madrid rather than dilute his legacy, and join Saudi Arabia‘s Al Ittihad.

Having said all that: how many strikers would you take over Benzema for your team, today? Exactly.

Expectations for 2023-24:

It will feel strange watching Real Madrid play next season without Benzema leading the line. He’ll have to adapt to his new environment in the Saudi Pro League, and his new role as one of the standard bearers for this Saudi sporting project.

Around 60,000 fans turned out to see Benzema’s presentation at Al Ittihad — complete with fireworks and the Ballon d’Or — and the club will want to see that excitement translate into the new season, as they look to defend the league title won in 2022-23. It will help having N’Golo Kante playing behind him in midfield. — Kirkland

soc 01 erling haaland 92062690 - Replay Madness1. Erling HAALAND, Man City/Norway

Why he’s on the list:

Haaland has had a phenomenal first season at Manchester City. Not only did he break goal-scoring records, his form in front of goal helped Pep Guardiola’s team win an historic treble. The Norwegian striker scored 52 goals in 53 games following his move from Borussia Dortmund and an incredible 36 in 35 games in the Premier League to break the competition’s single-season scoring record.

The pressure was on the 22-year-old after his switch from Germany to England, but he made the step up look easy. It was the season Haaland cemented his place as one of the best players in the world.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Next season, Haaland will be expected to do it all over again. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo set themselves apart during their peak years in LaLiga by racking up barely believable numbers season after season. Haaland is already being talked about in that bracket, but the challenge will be repeating his form, particularly in a league as tough as England’s top flight. At the international level, his goal will be to help Norway qualify for their first major tournament since 2000 by booking a place at Euro 2024 in Germany. — Dawson

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FC 100 best men’s soccer strikers, 2022-23