Rio has crazy-high standards for this lot to miss out

Bukayo Saka & 9 other superstars Rio Ferdinand doesn’t consider world-class

Bukayo Saka isn’t the only brilliant footballer who can feel unfairly snubbed when it comes to Rio Ferdinand’s verdict on what constitutes “world-class”.

The TNT Sports pundit recently caused controversy by claiming the Arsenal star isn’t quite one of the top footballers in the world.

Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League clash with Porto, Ferdinand named 12 players that he considers truly world-class; Ederson, Kyle Walker, Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne, Erling Haaland, Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Jude Bellingham, Vinicius Junior, Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe.

We’re certainly not going to argue against any of that lot, but it got us thinking about the players that unfairly missed out alongside Saka. Here are 10 stars that surely have strong claims to be considered world-class in anyone’s eyes.

Bukayo Saka

“No comment,” Saka replied with a wry smile when he was asked by TNT Sports whether his goal against Newcastle on Saturday was world-class, about Ferdinand’s assessment.

“Not yet. Listen, I think Saka’s been unreal. I actually think he needs a bit of a rest, so many games for a young kid,” the former Manchester United defender had argued.

“But I think, it’s almost like what is world-class? He hasn’t done it in the Champions League, has he? I’m talking in the nitty-gritty stages. Saka’s top, don’t get me wrong. He’s not world-class yet.”

Whatever about the noise, Saka is just kicking on and doing what he does best with the ball at his feet.

The 22-year-old has seven goals in his last five Premier League appearances, has already bettered his goal and assist numbers from last season and is up there with any pretty much any attacker in European football in terms of output in 2023-24.

By any measure, Hale End’s finest is undoubtedly one of the very best forwards in world football at this moment.

William Saliba

Ferdinand’s argument about Saka also applies to Saliba, who is yet to win anything. But it also largely applies to Bellingham, who has been outstanding in 2023-24 but only has a German Cup and Spanish Super Cup to his name.

If we’re looking at the here and now, it’s difficult to think of a better young centre-back in world football.

The Gunners might have made it over the line last season had the France international not got injured during the run-in. And he’s been integral in Arsenal being European football’s most in-form side right now. Arteta’s side are barely conceding a shot at goal in 2024.

READ: Champions elect? 10 outrageous stats that show how dominant Arsenal have been in 2024

Thibaut Courtois

Real Madrid’s No.1 hasn’t kicked a ball yet in 2023-24, having done his anterior cruciate ligament in pre-season. So we can forgive Ferdinand for omitting the brilliant Belgian.

But we won’t accept him not being listed alongside the likes of Alisson and Ederson as one of the very best players to stand between the sticks.

The man himself demanded respect after producing a man-of-the-match display in Madrid’s 2022 Champions League final victory over Liverpool, having somehow missed out on FourFourTwo’s list of the best goalkeepers in the world earlier that year.

Courtois is back in training and might be back for the latter stages of the Champions League. That could well be a game-changer, given when on form he’s one of the best shot-stoppers there’s ever been.

Luka Modric

Yeah, Modric might not be at his peak any more. This is probably his last season with Real Madrid as they look to the future and phase in their new-look midfield. He’s 38 and has only started 11 of Los Blancos’ 26 La Liga outings this season.

But you can’t forget about the era-defining Croatian if you put so much stock in legacy. This is the only Ballon d’Or winner still playing across Europe’s major leagues. A five-time Champions League winner and without question one of the greatest midfielders of all time.

And his recent match-winning howitzer against Sevilla has shown he’s not lost his knack for the spectacular.

Toni Kroos

We couldn’t mention Kroos and not mention his long-standing midfield partner, Kroos – who might genuinely be playing some of the best football of his glittering career this season.

A World Cup winner with Germany. A treble-winner with Bayern. A four-time European champion with Madrid. How’s that for doing it in the ‘nitty-gritty stages’?

Lautaro Martinez

It seems strange to describe Inter as dark horses for the Champions League, given they finished runners-up last season and gave Manchester City as good a run for their money as any side in the run-in.

Yet the Nerazzuri seem strangely slept on when it comes to European football’s top prize.

Inter have undoubtedly been one of the best teams in Europe this season – as evidenced by them scoring more and conceding less than any side in Europe’s top five leagues.

They’re the runaway leaders of Serie A and Martinez has been their standout player, with a Capocannoniere award surely in the bag after notching a career-best 22 goals already. Only Kane has scored more in Europe’s major leagues.

Not only is he playing the best football of his life, but Martinez boasts real pedigree too.

The forward had a strange World Cup, missing chances and losing his starting place to Julian Alvarez, but he lifted the trophy and played a vital role in Lionel Messi’s extra-time goal in the final.

He’s also scored over a hundred Serie A goals and was excellent alongside Romelu Lukaku when Inter won the Scudetto in 2020-21.

Joshua Kimmich

Bayern are staring down the unthinkable – a trophyless season.

They’re eight points behind Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen and things sound pretty toxic behind the scenes, with suggestions that Thomas Tuchel has fallen out with key players like Kimmich and Leon Goretzka.

So 2023-24 might not rank among Kimmich’s best years. And while his international career might have coincided with a fallow period for Germany, there’s no arguing what he’s achieved with Bayern; eight straight league titles, three German Cups, and the Champions League. Kimmich was outstanding in their 2020-21 treble and that ought not be forgotten in a rush.

Just as good at right-back as he is in midfield, Kimmich is ludicrously gifted on a technical level and outrageously versatile. No list of the very best 90s-born footballers is complete without him.

Robert Lewandowski

Modric might be the only Ballon d’Or winner still playing in Europe, but we all know that Lewandowski was robbed of the award in 2020.

The Polish striker scored 55 goals in Bayern’s treble-winning campaign, and the following year broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing record with a mind-blowing 41 goals in 29 games.

So there’s certainly no questioning the 35-year-old when it comes to legacy. We won’t argue that he’s not slowing down now, although even in his worst year in over a decade he’s still notched a respectable one-in-two record for an underperforming, out-of-sorts Barcelona.

And he’s still turning up on those big Champions League nights. His strike against Napoli in the last 16 was pure Lewandowski.

Only Messi, Ronaldo and Benzema have scored more knockout goals than Lewandowski – put some respect on his name.

QUIZ: Can you name every player that’s scored 10+ Champions League knockout goals?

Bernardo Silva

Ferdinand recognised the excellence of Pep Guardiola’s treble-winning side by naming no fewer than five Man City men, almost half of his list of 12 world-class players in the world right now.

“He is so intelligent – everyone loves him, and it was another exceptional performance,” Guardiola said after the Portuguese playmaker’s man-of-the-match display in October’s 3-0 Manchester derby victory.

“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve trained a lot and he’s one of the best.”

That’s good enough for us.

Ruben Dias

It’s a bit weird that for all the chat about Van Dijk and Saliba, Dias is often left out when it comes to discussions about the best centre-half in England.

Dias’ contributions in his debut season were recognised by picking up Premier League Player of the Season and FWA Footballer of the Year awards, and his standards haven’t slipped since then.

The Portugal international has won lifted the Premier League title in each of his three seasons with Manchester City, and he might yet make that four-in-a-row.

He was also nothing short of a colossus to help keep City’s clean sheet in last season’s Champions League final.

READ NEXT: 7 outstanding stats which prove that Bukayo Saka is undeniably world-class

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name Arsenal’s 20 youngest Premier League debutants?