10 Best Passers in Football - Puppetmasters of the Pitch

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 19. prosinca 2023.

Goalscorers might be placed on more schoolkids' walls, get more lucrative contracts, and peak stronger media attention. Yet the best passers in football are a luxurious commodity without whom any top team in the world cannot be completed.

Regardless of how much the focus on physicality becomes even more important, the art of passing is still above. Actually, the increase in physical fitness and high pressing makes the world-class passers even a bigger commodity as they can sustain pressure and crack through the engulfing opponents.

It's certainly one of the hardest articles to write, as you're bound to leave out a maestro of this ever-important football discipline.

Looking at metrics like assists recorded, key passes made, number of passes made, pass completion rate, progressive passing distance, pass type variety, and vision for their passes, we rank the 10 best passers in football in 2024.

#10 Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United & England)

Kieran Trippier

While one would be right to feel inclined the list of best passers in football exclusive for midfielders, Kieran Trippier's exploits are too good to be disregarded. While defenders dominate the metrics like pass completion rate due to making a lot of the safest passes amongst themselves in the backline (or to the keeper), Trippier does that and more. In the 2022/2023 season, he was second in the top five leagues for key passes made - with 110! As a wing-back/full-back.

Trippier has made it into the top 10 of La Liga and the Premier League rankings for passes into the penalty area during five seasons, making the top five in four cases. In the 2022/2023 campaign, he was also second for this metric, behind the #2 man on this list, and in front of the #1 ranked player with 97 passes. His club career saw the defence player record 95 assists so far.

#9 Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid & France)

Antoine Griezmann

The issue with the initial approach to a list of the best passers in football is that the initial response of many is to think of players who are known for their passing more than anything. This is not the case for Antoine Griezmann, who is one of the most well-rounded attacking players in the last decade. If not THE. Yet one aspect of his game is that is overlooked is his ability to pass the ball across all ranges. Griezmann operates around free space and knows how to punish an opening with his movement and with passing as well.

Firstly, the assists - 113 of them for Atletico, Barca, and Real Sociedad across 667 matches. With another 38 in 127 games for France. Recently, in the 2022/2023 season, Griezmann was 12th for key passes with 84 recorded. More importantly, he shared the first spot in the top five league assist rankings with the two first-placed players here.

#8 Rodri (Manchester City & Spain)

Rodri

Because we - as do the fans - value the flair of passes, the creativity behind them, Rodri isn’t higher on the list. Rodri is not the one who will dazzle the terraces with his ludicrous vision. He is no one’s favourite passer. Except for Pep Guardiola, probably. Yet he ensured a place amongst the best passers in the game with the security he provides with his distribution. Rodri was in the top 10 of La Liga and Premier League seasons (seven of them total) for pass completion rate, mostly in the company of centre-backs that pass to each other and the keeper.

Yet he is also perhaps surprisingly in the top 10 for passes into the final third in the same number of seasons. His progressive passes earned him a top-10 spot for six seasons of football too. With 29 assists in his 400 club games, Rodri doesn't have the X factor for passing, yet he is the pillar on which Manchester City's ball-playing domination is established.

#7 Martin Odegaard (Arsenal & Norway)

Martin Odegaard

Perhaps in the game of Martin Odegaard, it’s easier to see the importance of passing-range ability than with any current player. As the Norweigan constantly makes the short one-two passes with ease in tight places, but can also make the long-range level pass that suddenly puts a counter-attack in its final stage. The once kid sensation has now collected 60 assists in his club career, with 10 for Norway as well.

He now might be the face of Mikel Arteta's new Arsenal, with the calm Norweigan being in the Premier League's top 10 for key passes, passes into the penalty area, and through balls for the last three campaigns.

#6 Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United & Portugal)

Bruno Fernandes

Topping the key passes rankings in the top five leagues for the 2022/2023 season with 119 recorded, and being in the top five rankings after half of the following campaign. That enough is a reason to include Bruno Fernandes as one of the best passers in football. With 127 club assists in 498 games, and 18 in 63 games for Portugal, Bruno is a constant supplier of dangerous moments in front of the opponents' goal.

As an attacking midfielder for United, Bruno has topped the rankings for passes into the penalty area as well, being in the top five for each of the seasons he was in the competition. The same goes for through balls.

#5 Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich & Germany)

Joshua Kimmich

If anything makes the Bayern Munich faithful doubtful about Thomas Tuchel it’s the rumours that he isn’t satisfied with Joshua Kimmich for his midfield. As the industrious German has topped many midfield statistics rankings for years now despite playing as a right-back too. Additionally, the 28-year-old has made 104 assists for RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich, with another 19 for Germany.

But Kimmich truly shines in more specific metrics. In the 2022/2023 season, Kimmich was ranked 10th in the top five leagues for key passes made, with 84 of them. Progressive passes are his bread and butter, finding himself in the top 10 rankings across the five biggest leagues on four occasions. Being the first in the Bundesliga across four campaigns! Three times he was the best at passes into the final third, and twice for passes into the penalty area. Being in the top five for these metrics and others like key passes and through balls on a Bundesliga level regularly.

#4 Toni Kroos (Real Madrid & Germany)

Toni Kroos

Spoiler alert, this and the next spot on the list is reserved for Real Madrid players. So it’s not a surprise that these colleagues, or partners in the crime of premeditated precise passing, have won five Champions League trophies. Toni Kroos is the epitome of a secure, calculated passer, who can do it across all three plains - short, medium, and long.

Even though he is a central midfielder, usually tasked with making the pass before the assist one, Kroos was in La Liga's top five assist-makers in four seasons, two times in the Bundesliga. The 33-year-old has collected 156 assists in his 692 club games. Toni was also three times in La Liga's best players for pass completion at the end of the seasons, five times when it comes to key passes, and in seven seasons for progressive passes made!

#3 Luka Modric (Real Madrid & Croatia)

Luka Modric

To be frank, one could switch up the spots of any of the three best passers in football we have listed here, and we wouldn't be mad. While he has the accolades and the numbers to back up his proclivity (Ballon d'Or included), Modric's perhaps biggest accolade is that he is 38 and still a key player for Real Madrid. With 126 club assists in 741 games, aided 27 in 172 games for Croatia. It's in international football where Modric gets a lot of his credits too, as that is where his passing most clearly shows the ability to improve his teammates. Making the whole squad overperform.

While all of these players we included as the best passers in football have obviously tremendous technique at it, Modric stands out among them in that regard. Able to dish out the correct pass in whatever situation he finds himself in. A small pass with his heel, a long one with the outside of his foot, a grass-cutter volley, a lob over the line - you name it. Tactically, Modric excels at making passes into the final third, and progressive passes, topping these metrics in a La Liga over several seasons.

#2 Lionel Messi (Inter Miami & Argentina)

Lionel Messi

Before the pitchworks get up in the air, yes Leo Messi has the most assists in his career of all these players. His 344 assists in 889 club games can't be overlooked. With an additional 56 for Argentina. Yet the man who is ahead has a better ratio in both international and club football. With the #1 man getting the edge mostly because he is still playing in the top five leagues. Yet, as for any other metric of Messi's career, the passing of the mantle is done quite gradually, with his overbearing shadow still looming across all the pitches.

In his last European season, Messi was seventh in the top five leagues with 93 key passes. Just behind the man we selected for the #1 spot of best passers in football. Messi was the best assist-maker in the top five leagues for three seasons! Mostly, it's still his vision that makes him ranked this highly on the list, as the Argentinian threads a needle through what others see as a wall. Making entire stadiums gasp and spill their drink in the process.

Of course, Leo Messi achieved all of this, while remaining primarily a goalscorer. However, this article is selecting the best passers in football.

#1 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City & Belgium)

Kevin De Bruyne

Even the biggest Messi and Modric fans can't be mad (too much) about giving Kevin De Bruyne this position. KDB has 237 assists in his 587 club career games, with another 49 in 99 games for Belgium. One metric where the City star has a strong upper hand over Messi, is the key passes per 90 minutes. The Belgian records an average of 4.09 key passes in the 2023/2024 Premier League season. While in Messi's last four seasons in Europe, he didn't have a key pass per match average higher than 2.93. KDB recorded 2.39, 3.17, 3.63, and 3.19 in the last five seasons prior. It's a thin margin, but on this level of performance, they make the final difference.

Three times in his career, KDB was the best assist-maker in a season of all top five leagues. In the 2022/2023 season, he recorded 96 key passes in the PL. De Bruyne doesn't have the best pass completion rates, and that is because he's not on the pitch to play it safe. He is there to make the pass that will make the centre-back lose his man, that will dazzle the crowd, and result in a goal. At that, the most important part of passing, he is the best in football.

Honorary mentions for the best passers in football have to be given out to the likes of Paolo Dybala, Frenkie De Jong, Granit Xhaka, and Luis Alberto...



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