FC 100 best men's soccer wingers, 2022-23

Illustration by MASA

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 cutback cross, they can be truly dangerous.

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This year's ballot had 50 entries from all over the globe and from all areas of ESPN FC, from writers to reporters, from editors to producers, from behind-the-scenes staff to on-air talent. Gab Marcotti, Julien Laurens, Mark Ogden and Luis Miguel Echegaray were just some of the key voters, along with their FC TV counterparts Craig Burley and Shaka Hislop.

Voters were encouraged to take the following things into consideration when casting their votes: who are the best men's players right now, weighted toward their 2022-23 seasons. Voters were given discretion as to how much injuries played in votes; several players made the cut despite missing chunks of the season given the scale of their contributions and performances when healthy. Equally, performances in individual competitions (aka Champions League, World Cup) were considered, but were not the overarching factor, in casting a vote. Players whose efforts spanned the largest sample size of games should naturally rank higher than those who excelled in short tournament formats.

Gab & Juls clash on Grealish's top 3 winger spot on the ESPN FC 100

Rob Dawson joins Gab & Juls to debate whether Jack Grealish is worthy of third place on the ESPN FC 100 winger list.

All player copy written by Bill Connelly, Constantin Eckner, Julien Laurens, Rob Dawson, Alex Kirkland and James Tyler.

10. Moussa DIABY, Bayer Leverkusen/France

Why he's on the list:

Few players have been as consistently dynamic as Moussa Diaby of late. He does two things very well: create high-quality chances for himself and create high-quality chances for others. Those are pretty important things!

Over the past two seasons in all competitions, Diaby has played in 90 matches and scored 31 goals with 24 assists from 147 chances created. He has A-grade positioning, A-grade speed and, considering those 31 goals came from shots worth 26.5 xG, A-grade finishing skill too. His right-sided partnership with Jeremie Frimpong was the primary driver of Leverkusen's comeback from a poor start in 2022-23. And at 23 years old, Diaby still might have more room for growth too.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Nearly every good and well-monied Premier League team -- Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle, you name it -- has been keeping tabs on Diaby for a while. No one has made a move yet, and it's hard to tell what's real in the transfer rumor universe, but with his contract expiring in 2025 and demand high, it's fair to assume he'll be making a big-money move this year or next. And if he stays in Leverkusen and helps Xabi Alonso's squad push back toward the Bundesliga top four again, it won't exactly hurt his stock. -- Connelly

9. Phil FODEN, Man City/England

Why he's on the list:

It probably hasn't been the season Foden expected, but he still scored 15 goals in 48 games and ended the campaign with a treble. England manager Gareth Southgate was peppered with questions during the World Cup group stage about why Foden wasn't playing more often for England.

A regular at Manchester City early in the season, Foden needed an appendix operation in March and once he was fit again found it difficult to get back in the team, as Pep Guardiola landed on a preferred front three of Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland. However, Foden remains one of England's most technically proficient attacking players and, still only 23, has won everything at club level.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Foden's first job for 2023-24 is to win back his place in the City team. He has played a majority of his games under Guardiola as one of the wingers, but he also is good enough to play inside in the role usually occupied by Kevin De Bruyne. It was telling that when De Bruyne went off injured in the Champions League final, it was Foden who came on to replace him. There will always be stiff competition for places at City because of the money they have available, but Foden has already shown he is good enough to be a regular starter, and Guardiola is a big fan. -- Dawson

8. RODRYGO, Real Madrid/Brazil

Why he's on the list:

Rodrygo used to be overshadowed by compatriot Vinicius Junior at Real Madrid, but 2022-23 was the season he stepped out into the spotlight, leaving his prior super-sub role behind -- think two goals in two minutes against Manchester City in the 2022 Champions League semifinals -- for a starting spot. Nine league goals last season was a solid return, while scoring five times in the Champions League, including a brace against Chelsea, matched his tally of a year earlier. How talented is he? Ask former teammate Marcelo.

"He's a natural," Marcelo told ESPN in January. "He does things when dribbling that I've never seen. It's so simple, with his body, it's like he's dancing. He's deceptively quick. And he doesn't get nervous in front of the goalkeeper. He beats players without touching the ball. Simple, but different."

Expectations for 2023-24:

If Madrid aren't able to land Kylian Mbappe, 2023-24 will be a golden opportunity for Rodrygo to make the centre-forward spot his own -- even if he'd rather play at No. 10 or out wide. He needs to continue the progress made in the past two seasons. Reaching double figures for goals in LaLiga -- plus another five or more in the Champions League -- would be a successful season.

Playing and scoring regularly for Madrid will help make the case that Rodrygo should be doing the same for Brazil, despite the incredible competition for places in forward positions. Two starts in friendlies this year is a positive sign. -- Kirkland

7. Kingsley COMAN, Bayern Munich/France

Why he's on the list:

He struggles to stay healthy for long periods of time, but when he's fit, Coman is fantastic. He scored seven of his eight league goals for Bayern in the second half of the season, when they needed them the most. And while he was just 12th on the team in minutes in all competitions, he was third in chances created, third in both touches and passes in the attacking third, fourth in take-ons and first in open-play cross attempts. He was first in average carry distance too.

Coman forces the issue and takes the fight to opponents at all times, and while that occasionally results in big misses, it also results in the biggest of hits. Just ask his former club; he scored the winner against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2020 Champions League final and put Bayern ahead of PSG in this year's knockout rounds, as well.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Coman has been with Bayern for eight years now, and barring a massive transfer offer, it appears the 27-year-old will be around a while longer after signing a contract extension that runs through 2026-27. The squad appeared a bit broken this year, but it's quite likely that he will be part of the fix. -- Connelly

6. Riyad MAHREZ, Man City/Algeria

Why he's on the list:

It has been a season of paradoxes for Mahrez. He finished the year with 15 goals in all competitions, second best at Manchester City behind Haaland (and level with Foden and Julian Alvarez). Mahrez came up big in some key games during the quest for the treble (a goal at RB Leipzig, two assists against Leeds United, two goals and an assist against Tottenham Hotspur), but he lost his place in the starting XI for most of the second half of the season, registering zero minutes in the Champions League and FA Cup finals, just 11 in the two legs against Real Madrid and zero against Bayern in the quarters.

Expectations for 2023-24:

He doesn't want to be a part-time player. He was happy with his treble, but at age 32, he doesn't want another season like this. Wherever he plays next season, including staying at City and fighting for his place, he will want to prove a point. He will want to shine in the Africa Cup of Nations in January and bring back the crown for Algeria. -- Laurens

5. Gabriel MARTINELLI, Arsenal/Brazil

Why he's on the list:

All the promise, all the praise, all the hope, it all became real last season for Martinelli. We knew that the 22-year-old Brazil international had loads of talent, blistering pace and great ability in front of goal, but we finally saw it properly focused.

He was Arsenal's top goal scorer with 15 in the Premier League, while adding five assists, in 34 starts; it was a big improvement from the previous season, when he registered six and six in 21 starts. It was a coming of age and the confirmation of his arrival at the top. The way Mikel Arteta and Arsenal play suits him totally wide on the left-hand side, so he was able to express all of his potential.

Expectations for 2023-24:

This season will be more difficult for Martinelli because he has to reproduce what we saw last season, so the expectations and the pressure will be higher. Opponents will be more wary of him and tougher on him defensively. The other good thing about last season was how fit he was: he suffered no injuries, apart from the one against Brighton & Hove Albion at the end of the campaign. The expectations for this season are for him to stay fit and have another great campaign. -- Laurens

4. Ousmane DEMBELE, Barcelona/France

Why he's on the list:

He is something of a magician, given how many times Dembele's career at the highest level appeared to be over -- even at a young age. Barcelona were ready to send him away on multiple occasions, but they can feel lucky that they did not, as the 26-year-old has added discipline and consistency to his strength column. His skills as a creative and sneaky winger were never in doubt anyway. That he has been able to show his talents more than a few times throughout a campaign justifies his inclusion and positioning in this ranking.

Expectations for 2023-24:

There still might be doubts as to whether Dembele could fall off a cliff again and show a lack of determination, but as long as he stays focused and has the drive to perform at his best for club and country, he remains one of the most exciting players out there. -- Eckner

3. Jack GREALISH, Man City/England

Why he's on the list:

Can we say he made the cut because of his off-field celebrations as much as his on-field influence? Whatever your metric, the Birmingham-born playmaker took decisive steps forward in both departments this season, becoming Pep Guardiola's preferred option on the left wing (no easy feat), chipping in a lot in attack (five goals and seven assists in the league) and forcing opponents out of position.

Following a difficult first season at the Etihad in which he was constantly judged as a flop given his £100-million transfer fee, Grealish is showing he's worth it in Year 2. The trick from here -- to borrow from his celebrations after City pulled off the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup treble -- is how City continue to "feed the turkey" in wide positions and make the most of his elite progression and dribbling around the box.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Keep doing what he's doing? There's little to address for Guardiola here other than to ensure Grealish remains engaged and active in games as the midfield gets reworked following the departure of Ilkay Gundogan as a free agent. It would be a shame not to keep building momentum, though you'd back this group to figure it out and go for a historic sixth league title in seven seasons. (Also, that first-ever Champions League crown won't defend itself.) -- Tyler

2. Khvicha KVARATSKHELIA, Napoli/Georgia

Why he's on the list:

Like Haaland, Kvaratskhelia made a jump up in overall competition and put up bigger numbers. Freed from the frustrating physicality of the Russian first division (he played for most of three seasons at Rubin Kazan), he was an absolute revelation the moment he showed up at Napoli.

In his first season in Serie A, "Kvaradona" finished first in the league in assists (10), first in passes made in the attacking third (603), second in big chances created (14), second in touches in the opponent's box (198), sixth in open-play shots on target (25), eighth in goals (12) and 14th in progressive carries. He was even second in ball recoveries made in the attacking third (38). He created opportunities for himself, he created a ton for others, he pressed well -- all told, he was an absolute dynamo. His influence on Napoli -- and their first title in 33 years -- was both obvious and profound.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Once you've made your star turn, opponents start writing a book on how to slow you down. It will be interesting to see what choices teams make when it comes to impeding the creative heart of the Napoli attack. It will probably mean a lot of the more physical tactics that he saw in Russia. How will he and his team respond? -- Connelly

1. Bukayo SAKA, Arsenal/England

Why he's on the list:

The events of the defining moments of the Euro 2020 final could have broken other young players, but Saka did not allow himself to be significantly affected by the vitriol that came his way. Instead, supported by his teammates, the young London native further worked on his craft, developing into the best winger in football today. He was a major factor in Arsenal leading the Premier League for five months, and it was definitely not his fault that the north London side ended up conceding the lead to Manchester City in the final weeks of the season.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Saka ended his campaign by bagging his first international hat trick against North Macedonia. He has not only become one of Arsenal's most important players but also a figure the team could be built around. Given where has come from, his story is intertwined with Arsenal's in recent years.

If the positive development of 2022-23 continues in similar fashion in 2023-24, then Saka could skyrocket to fantastic heights. Plus, England might have a young and fresh difference-maker at the Euros. -- Eckner