... at the moment. This is a really fickle kind of list because many deserving players go unrecognized and many recognized players aren't so deserving. But here goes:
1) Leo Messi
Pure talent, brazen style, and in a great situation with both club and country. People might argue that he's not number one in the world, though they'll all have to conclude he's definately top five, but my instinct tells me that he's probably the most gifted young footballer alive today. He's the first player I thought of when I thought of "top five."
Still awesome and still talented, though his prime years may be over, Ronaldinho still deserves to be lauded for seducing the world with samba.
3) Cristiano Ronaldo
One could argue that sometimes his flair gets in the way of team play, but has anyone else noticed that C. Ronaldo has sublime attacking vision? He creates plays out of pure fantasy. A joy to watch.
4) Thierry Henry
An absolutely prolific striker, he may be the only attacker on this list also prized for his defensive skills. He's stylish on and off the pitch, an ambassador of the sport, unselfish, and magical with a ball at his feet. I don't think it's possible that he could fail expectations at Barca.
It's a shame he was absent for the Copa America because he would have shone without a doubt. The way he can morph from omniscient playmaker to lethal striker is stunning.
6) John Terry
Cannavaro's passed the crown of King Defender. Terry has brilliant positioning and more courage than any other footballer I could name. If only he could capture the same glory with England's MNT as he does with Chelsea.
It's really hard to shine when you're one of the smallest members of the Selecao, but he manages. His performance in the Copa America is indicative of what Real Madrid expects in the fall, after having won La Liga with them in the spring.
8) Michael Essien
The consummate midfielder. A younger incarnate of Claude Makelélé, Essien fulfills tackling duties on defense and the middle third and is the premier choice for a player who can diffuse an attack before it starts. Furthermore, if you can remember his bomb versus Arsenal last season, you know that he can smack a ball with the best of them. Indispensable for both club and country, for whom is captain and standout star.
(ManU fans might accuse me of being biased for putting two Chelsea players on this list and would rather see Scholes here instead of Essien, but I said this is a list of the best footballers in the world. Scholes is one of the best in England, but Essien is unquestionably one of the best in the world. If I put Drogba or Kalou here instead of Essien, then maybe I could be accused of partisanship. For the record, though, Drogba would be my #11.)
9) Zinedine Zidane. Just kidding.
Try Franck Ribéry.
Signed for a club-record fee of $35.6mil, he is quickly becoming a Bayern Munich favorite and for good reason. Not until the World Cup 2006 had I seen someone outfox the Selecao in a serious international competition, a feat Freddy Adu has emulated since. Ribéry has outstanding work rate, outstanding vision, outstanding style on the ball-- and even when he shared the pitch with Zidane, Ribéry still commanded attention. He is only 24.
And now #10. A million names are running through my head right now: Ibrahimovic, Adriano, Gerrard, Deco, Alex, Shunsuke Nakamura, David Beckham, van Nistelrooy, Eto'o, Rafa Marquez, Wayne Rooney, Luca Toni, Dimitar Berbatov, van Persie-- but none of these seem right. Too many arguments against them. I know I'm missing somebody. The tenth best player in the world has got to be somebody who could potentially usurp one of the higher-ups on a good day... Bright, young, stylish... Creative, inventive... Lethal... I got it--
10) Cesc Fabregas
I often forget that Fabregas is only 21. It seems like he's been a staple of the Premiership for years. He's been absent a few times when Arsenal needed him, but in terms of midfield orchestration he's golden. Irrefutably brilliant at sensing, creating, and changing a play. He's defensive when he needs to be and dangerously offensive at the smallest chance-- Fabregas is definitely one of the best footballers in the world.
Some might argue Drogba over Fabregas. I'd say that Drogba, winner of the 2007 African Footballer of the Year and 06-07 Premiership Golden Boot winner, might be one the most physical players in the world, but in terms of creative brilliance, I wouldn't rate him top ten. Technical ability, leadership, humanitarianism, yeah-- but I really feel that he's only average with his creativity and style, and he really hasn't impressed on the international stage either. Sorry, Dids.
And for those disappointed that a keeper didn't make the list, if Didier is my #11, Jose Reina is my #12.