The midfield is, arguably, the most crucial element of a football team. A fully-functioning engine room needs players that can protect the defence from opposition attacks, retain possession, create chances and chip in with goals.


That means there is no single template for a midfielder as they come in all shapes and sizes. You have big men in the middle breaking up play, box-to-box runners that get involved at both ends of the pitch and pint-sized playmakers that have the magic touch.

With that in mind, it's a tough task trying to narrow down different types of players into a list of the world's best midfielders, but we've had a stab at compiling a top 10 based on long-term success as well as current level of ability.

The occasional dip in form will be ignored because it seems a tad harsh to mark players down for a few bad performances. Instead, we'll be looking at trophies, important statistics and their overall impact for club and country. Don't worry, we know you're probably going to disagree with us.

More like this

The likes of Phil Foden, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka all missed the cut by the finest of margins, which is an indicator of the quality contained in our top 10. brings you our definitive list of the 10 best midfielders in the world in 2023.

Check our more football features: Best players of all time | Best players in the world 2023 | Best strikers 2023 | Best defenders 2023 | Best goalkeepers 2023 | Best young players 2023 | Best teams in the world 2023

10. Gavi (Barcelona)


What were you doing when you were 18? Well, late last year Gavi was busy winning the Kopa Trophy and Golden Boy – awards handed out to the best player under the age of 21.

The Barcelona rising star - now 19 - has the world at his feet and has already established himself as a regular in the Spanish national team.

The highest compliment you can really pay Gavi is that he seems like a regen of Nou Camp legends Xavi and Andres Iniesta thanks to his dribbling, vision, passing and change of gear.

9. Pedri (Barcelona)


It's crazy to think that Barcelona handed Las Palmas just €5 million for Pedri's services in 2019 as he's now worth at least 20 times that figure. Kudos to the Barca scout that spotted his talent!

The team silverware is starting to come for the 20-year-old after helping Barca to La Liga glory in 2022-2023, while he has already racked up the individual honours with the 2021 Golden Boy and Kopa Trophy taking pride of place on his shelf.

Pedri recorded 21 goal contributions before reaching his 100th appearance for Barcelona but it's his lightning-quick feet, movement and progressive passing that mark him out as one of the world's best at such a young age.

8. Casemiro (Manchester United)

Casemiro Getty Images

A few eyebrows were raised when Casemiro decided to swap the Bernabeu for Old Trafford last summer and he has, unsurprisingly, been a shrewd acquisition for Manchester United thanks to the intelligence he brings to the midfield.

The 31-year-old would probably be the first to admit he isn't the most technically gifted player on the planet but he does the dirty work that allows his team-mates to thrive and the system to work.

Casemiro has earned more than 70 caps and counting for Brazil, lifted the Copa America in 2019, won the Champions League on five occasions and also collected three La Liga titles. A cracking CV for a cracking player.

7. Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid)

Jude Bellingham
Jude Bellingham Getty Images

We all mocked Birmingham City when they retired Jude Bellingham's number 22 shirt following his transfer to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, but the Blues have had the last laugh as the 20-year-old is the complete package in the making.

Bellingham gets stuck into challenges like a number six, makes box-to-box runs like a number eight and has the creativity of a number 10. Is there anything this lad can't do?

A starring role for England at the 2022 World Cup confirmed his arrival on the global stage and you would imagine Champions League and La Liga titles are on the horizon after joining Real Madrid. He could easily be topping this list in a few years time.

6. Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)

Joshua Kimmich
Joshua Kimmich Getty Images

Yeah, that's right, another defensive midfielder. The most unheralded position in the game is bursting with quality and Joshua Kimmich has nailed the role.

One of the bargain buys of the century - Bayern Munich handed RB Leipzig €7 million for his signature in 2015 - Kimmich has won 12 major trophies at club level including the 2019/20 Champions League.

As well as being aggressive off the ball and an expert at winning it back, the Germany international is also slick in possession and contributes to the attacking side of the game with a deadly shot and decent crossing ability.

5. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)

Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos Getty Images

Toni Kroos's double pivot with the next man on our list is a key reason why Real Madrid have been so successful in La Liga and the Champions League since the mid-2010s.

A bit of an underrated figure because he rarely gets on the scoresheet, the German's skills lie in his creativity and ability to keep the ball ticking over in the engine room.

As well as winning all the major trophies with former club Bayern Munich, Kroos has also won the greatest prize of them all as part of Germany's World Cup-winning squad in 2014.

4. Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Luka Modric
Luka Modric Getty Images

He's in the twilight years of his career but 2018 Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric is still a class act in the engine room thanks to his inch-perfect passing.

A driving force behind Real Madrid's success since switching from Spurs in 2012, Modric has lifted the Champions League on five occasions with Los Blancos.

He's also done the business on the international stage, captaining Croatia to the World Cup final in 2018 and playing a key role in their run to the semi-finals in Qatar.

3. Rodri (Manchester City)

Rodri Getty Images

As slick and stylish as Manchester City's attacking play is, Rodri is the glue that keeps things together.

What do you want from a defensive midfielder? Well, interceptions, tackles and getting the ball to more creative players. Rodri does all three things so well and carries out Pep Guardiola's tactics to a tee. He also chips in with the odd goal as well including the winner in last season's Champions League final.

A core part of City's treble-winning side, there is surely more silverware to come for the 27-year-old, who just seems to get better with every game.

2. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

Mohamed Salah
Mohamed Salah Getty Images

A bit of a toss-up whether to count Mohamed Salah as a midfielder or a forward, but the Fantasy Premier League gods have him down in midfield, which is good enough for us!

Despite Liverpool's malaise last term, Salah still managed to hit 30 goals in all competitions and when you consider that was a slightly underwhelming number, it just goes to show how impressive his body of work is.

As well as being a regular figure in the top 10 of the last four Ballon d'Or votes, Salah has won the Premier League Golden Boot on three occasions as well as playing a major role in Liverpool's recent successes including the 2019/20 title and 2018/19 Champions League.

1. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne Getty Images

The third best player in the world, according to last year's Ballon d'Or, Kevin De Bruyne is the epitome of a midfield magician.

The Belgian has been weaving his magic for Manchester City since 2015 and racked up more than 200 goal contributions in all competitions.

A two-time Premier League Player of the Season and Playmaker of the Season, De Bruyne has also done the business on a personal level in the Bundesliga.

De Bruyne combines a deadly shot with pin-point passing and a devilish cross. He is the complete attacking midfielder.

Who is the best midfielder in the world?

Kevin De Bruyne oozes class and has been playing at an unbelievable level for the majority of his career. He's reached the sort of level where a few quiet games sparks a bit of criticism and the only disappointment in his career has been a lack of silverware on the international stage as Belgium's Golden Generation have never quite taken off.

If you’re looking for something else to watch, check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide, or visit our Sport hub for all the latest news.


Try Radio Times magazine today and get 12 issues for only £1 with delivery to your home – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times View From My Sofa podcast.