Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Junior

The first full season without Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in European football was always set to be poignant given we won’t have to summate extraordinary individual accolades and statistics to determine who has been the best player each year.

After finally getting his hands on the FIFA World Cup trophy, Lionel Messi took his record-extending eighth Ballon d’Or prize in 2023. Now, we are left with mere mortals as there is yet to be a clear candidate for the best player in the 2023/24 season. 

The future of football may yet be in safe hands, as several superstars have emerged in recent years but nothing can be quite like the unprecedented rivalry of the last 15 years. 

With that in mind, the FootballCastle has produced a review of the entire campaign to assess those players who have stood out in Europe’s top five leagues. 

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Jude Bellingham

The popular Englishman has made such a colossal impact that makes one forget there were more than a few eyebrows raised at the €103 million transfer fee it took to sign him last summer.

Yet, there was confidence he was ready for the level of quality at Madrid. 

What has followed is an exceptional season for the young man who has fit right into the famous Los Blancos shirt with several clutch moments.

Bellingham has been thrust into an advanced midfield role in the number 10 position or sometimes false 9 in Carlo Ancelotti’s diamond midfield system. This attacking role has seen him bag stoppage-time winners in both La Liga El Clasicos as well as many more vital contributions to the cause. 

The result is 22 goals and 10 assists in 39 games in all competitions as Bellingham got them through some tricky spells in the first half of the season on their way to a 36th La Liga title.

Jude Bellingham

If he can add a UEFA Champions League trophy to his league and Super Cup triumphs, the 20-year-old has a good shout for the best player of the season should he also contribute to a successful EURO 2024 campaign.

Kylian Mbappe

All roads now lead to Real Madrid as the French superstar has officially confirmed his departure from Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent. During his time in the French capital, he delivered 256 goals and 108 assists in 307 games while winning six Ligue 1 titles and a record six Ligue 1 top scorer awards.

Fresh from plundering 44 goals and 10 assists in 47 games this term, Mbappe is once again among the best players this campaign. A huge factor that nevertheless counts against him is that he was largely kept out over both legs of the Champions League semifinal against Borussia Dortmund. 

PSG can still finish the season strong with a clean sweep of domestic honours by beating Lyon in the French Cup final, but the 25-year-old will already fancy his chances next season.

The prospects of joining a fearsome Madrid side will put him at the forefront of the attack with a chance to be the main man in the biggest competitions next term. 

Vinicius Junior

Regardless of the outcome of this season’s UEFA Champions League final, Vinicius has had a fantastic season with 21 goals and 11 assists in 36 appearances.

The forward enjoyed a renaissance in Carlo Ancelotti’s first season back in charge and he is now the team’s undisputed star man. He was the outstanding player in their Champions League semi-final tie against Bayern Munich as his brace in the first leg meant he had scored in that round for the third consecutive season.

Having now registered at least 20 goals in all competitions for three straight campaigns, Vinicius will go head-to-head with Bellingham on the best player rankings despite their wonderful relationship on and off the pitch. Their fortunes at club level are tied together, but the Brazilian’s Copa America campaign could push him further on. 

“Everyone talks about the Ballon d’Or but I’m very calm. I want to win another Champions League with this team.” Vinicius said recently.

“I can do great things this season and then I have to go with Brazil [for the Copa America]. I always think about the teams first and then me.

“We were able to place the best team in the world in another final. We have 25 stars in the team, all of us have worked hard to achieve our aim which is to go to London [for the Champions League final] and to win La Liga. We have won La Liga, we are going to London,” 

The 23-year-old is Selecao’s leading man in the absence of Neymar and he will be desperate to inspire his team to glory in the United States. 

Given he scored the matchwinner in the 2022 Champions League final against Liverpool, the tricky winger’s prospects are very high.

Harry Kane

Almost a year after leaving his beloved Tottenham, the England captain has enjoyed a sensational debut campaign on a personal level with 44 goals and 12 assists recorded in all competitions. 

Yet, he could not inspire Bayern Munich to silverware after Bayer Leverkusen won the Bundesliga title, they got knocked out of the Champions League and also exited the DFB Pokal in the second round against third-tier club Saarbrucken.

Harry Kane’s wait for a first career trophy goes on following his £100 million move to Germany and he would lay a better claim to the best in the world honour if he can replicate his performances in a title-winning effort next term.

Florian Wirtz

Florian Wirtz

One of the best young players in the world is finally becoming a man. After returning from a 10-month injury layoff due to an ACL rupture, Wirtz has arguably become a better player post-injury. 

A total of 18 goals and 19 assists were recorded in 46 matches as Bayer Leverkusen won their first-ever Bundesliga title. Meanwhile, Xabi Alonso’s side remain unbeaten in all competitions after 50 matches this season and they are also three games away from an ‘invincible treble’, with a place in both the Europa League and DFB-Pokal finals.

Wirtz has been the crown jewel of this side despite Alonso’s imprint on a wonderfully assembled team and he proved as much with a hat-trick in their title-clinching game against Werder Bremen. The 21-year-old is a very dynamic midfielder with a brilliant blend of skill, vision, creativity and execution, his offensive skillset could also earn him a starring role at Euro 2024.

The playmaker may well be a shining light for tournament hosts Germany and performances on the international stage will be hard to ignore alongside an incredible campaign at club level.

A big-money move is not far away and our last word for you is to remember the name. 


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.


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