Debating the best players in the world is a timeless pursuit. The list will always change and the argument will always remain as intense, too. Instead of lumping all players together and creating one ambiguous ranking, we broke it out by position to give all players and all parts of the pitch their due value. After all, what's the point in a list heavily weighted with attacking players when those protecting the goal are just as important?
So our task was simple: rank the top 10 players for each position. And we cannot forget the managers too, because every great team needs a great leader prowling the technical area. In so doing, we tried to define some of the game's stars by the position that embodies their spirit as well as their on-field roles.
Wingers still have a part to play in the modern game, so they're included, while not every great striker covers the multitude of responsibilities that, say, Lionel Messi has in the attacking third. So we have a "forward" position to handle those hard-to-define stars who never stand still.
Attacking midfielders stand out from their teammates in the heart of the action because of their forward focus, while every team also needs those central midfielders who are content to orchestrate and control the play from deep.
ESPN FC writers pitched in to devise this comprehensive list of the top figures in the men's game, which also included experts from FC TV, ESPN Deportes and beyond.
ESPN FC's Top 100
It's not enough for the modern goalkeeper to be good with his gloves. These days, shot-stoppers are expected to start the attacking moves as well as shutting them down. Agility and reflexes are par for the course but the best goalies in the world also fuse a sense of confidence and daring in their penalty areas that make them seem truly larger than life.
Right-back was never the most glamorous position but the game's many evolutions have seen it become a thrilling and unpredictable spot on the pitch. The best in the game will marry a strong positional awareness with blinding speed, as well as the daring to surge forward and support their teams in attack.
If you're going to have a great team, you need a great centre-back (two, if you're really lucky). The best in the game are formidable in both size and strength but also blessed with the grace to time tackles and anticipate a striker's movements in order to win back possession. Elegance on the ball and off it is essential, whether playing a weighted pass up-field or feinting their way past opponents to ease the pressure.
Just like their counterparts on the opposite flank, the best left-backs combine pace and intelligence to be a threat in attack or in defence. Comfort and precision crossing with the left foot is a rare commodity, too, but the top players will be at their best when on the overlap before curling in the perfect ball.
The engine room. The metronome. The straw that stirs the drink. Central midfield is the nerve centre of any successful team but the beauty of the position is that high class can come in many different forms.
There are tough-tackling marauders who cover plenty of grass and win the ball every time. Or how about the maestro, adept on either foot and at their best when dribbling through opponents and threading the right pass. Then there are the guys who set the tone for their teams through the strength of their distribution, always aware of their teammates' movements and constantly able to pick them out on the run. Whatever your preference, your team fails without quality in the middle of the park.
Mischief, creativity, pace and confidence: these are the stock tools of the best attacking midfielders. Sometimes referred to as the No. 10, these guys are as comfortable scoring the goals as they are setting them up. With free reign to drift around the pitch and exploit the space, their abundant ability to conjure something from nothing makes them the most entertaining players around.
Wingers have become a little antiquated in the modern game but there's still plenty of benefit to having fast, attack-minded players in wide positions. Blessed with pace and persistence to beat their markers and make it to the byline for a cut-back cross, they can be truly dangerous.
Forwards are more mysterious and harder to define in the beautiful game these days. They aren't strictly strikers as they once were, parked in the six-yard box ready to poach. They're not quite attacking midfielders, orchestrating play from deep, nor are they wide players tasked with stretching opposing defences for teammates to exploit. Instead they're a powerful blend of all of the above, talented enough to handle the free role and graceful enough under pressure to constantly deliver.
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.
All of the above means little without an equally adept mastermind on the touchline. Football's best managers are calculating with their tactics, charming enough with their man-management to handle the emotional rigours of a full club season and sufficiently self-aware to cope with the psychological stresses of a demanding media and the external pressures of the fans. Top managers will transform any squad from a group of individuals to a well-drilled, harmonious collective in which every player knows their role and their worth. And they'll look good doing it, too.
Nick Ames, Nicolas Baier, John Brewin, Jeff Carlisle, Michael Cox, Arturo Cruz, Miguel Delaney, Damian Didonato, Raphael Honigstein, Graham Hunter, Iain Macintosh, Gab Marcotti, Nick Miller, Jon Molyneux-Carter, Steve Nicol, Daniel Rodriguez, James Tyler, Piet van Leer
FC100: The full list
Gab Marcotti: Putting the fun back in football rankings
Miguel Delaney: Picking the future #FC100 No. 1s
Nick Miller: England's slipping stock behind low #FC100 representation
Mark Lovell: No surprise that Bayern dominated #FC100
John Brewin: Where were all the Premier League players?
FC 100 is the result of a comprehensive vote among ESPN FC writers, experts and regions to determine the top 100 in the men's game right now. Our ballot breaks things down by position to more accurately reflect the top performers all over the pitch, not just the ones who dominate the headlines.