With transfer fees rising and players taking on new initiatives, the past year has forever changed football. Here, theScore ranks the sport's most influential people of 2017:
25. Charlie Stillitano
Armed with a Rolodex of contacts in the game – from Paolo Maldini to Sir Alex Ferguson and Pele – Charlie Stillitano has emerged as one of football's leading fixers. The 58-year-old helped stage El Clasico in Miami last summer as part of his world-renowned International Champions Cup, which drew 140 million viewers.
24. Eniola Aluko
English international Eniola Aluko shook the Football Association to its core after sharing accounts of racism and bullying with the press. Aluko's accusations of abuse against head coach Mark Sampson were initially met with little reaction from the FA. When the time came to dismiss Sampson, the governing body cited separate allegations as the reasoning. Regardless, Aluko's testimony helped expose the out-of-touch FA.
23. Bradley Lowery
Six-year-old Bradley Lowery captured the hearts of millions as he bravely fought a rare form of cancer. He raised more than £1 million in donations, forged a strong relationship with former Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe, and served as a mascot for the English national team before passing away in July. Thousands attended his funeral in north England as tributes from around the world poured in.
22. Gerard Pique
Gerard Pique is now a prominent figure in both politics and sports. Despite never making his leanings clear, Pique has long been painted as a Catalan separatist. But he has always defended the people's right to vote, and when the autonomous region held a referendum on independence earlier this year, Pique became a lightning rod for criticism.
21. Richard Scudamore
Having secured the Premier League's current £5.12-billion television deal, chairman Richard Scudamore has the future of England's top flight in his hands. He'll oversee the bidding process for the next batch of TV rights and determine how much of a share England's biggest clubs will get. Scudamore will have a narrow tightrope to navigate, as more clubs from the third and fourth tiers demand a bigger chunk of the TV pie.
20. Josep Maria Bartomeu
It wasn't so long ago that Barcelona supporters clamoured for club president Josep Maria Bartomeu to leave. With Neymar slipping away and Lionel Messi's contract situation unresolved, the club looked to be on the verge of collapse. Bartomeu suffered another setback in October, ignoring calls to suspend a match against Las Palmas as locals clashed with authorities.
But criticism has relented. One of his most criticised signings, Paulinho, has scored big goals, and manager Ernesto Valverde has proven to be an inspiring choice.
19. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has a legacy that extends beyond the club he works for. As president of the European Club Association (ECA), the 62-year-old ensured teams would be compensated for sending players to major tournaments. And as chairman of Bayern Munich, Rummenigge has managed to keep the Bundesliga giant competitive while resisting the temptation to spend as much as its Premier League equivalents.
18. The Glazers
Manchester United's relationship with the Glazer family is a difficult one to distinguish. Each of the late Malcolm Glazer's six children owns a stake in the club, and supporters will cringe at the thought of them taking home a £15-million dividend each year. But Avram and Joel Glazer, who are listed as co-chairmen, have made the funds available for United to compete on the ever-growing transfer market. The Red Devils have also enjoyed record revenues under the Glazers' watch.
17. Marina Granovskaia
With Roman Abramovich taking a less prominent role in Chelsea's daily affairs, it's been the job of Russian businesswoman and close advisor Marina Granovskaia to direct the club. Granovskaia has curbed Chelsea's overall spending and resisted the temptation to enter bidding wars, resulting in a £15.3-million profit for the year. She reportedly conducted more than 500 negotiations over the summer, further highlighting her importance to the Blues and football in Greater London.
16. Juan Mata
Few footballers do as much good outside the sport as Juan Mata. The humble Spanish midfielder co-founded the Common Goal initiative earlier this year, donating 1 percent of his salary to football-related charities. It has since added more than 30 professionals to its network, including Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini, U.S. internationals Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, and Bayern's Mats Hummels.
15. Florentino Perez
As president of the fifth-most valuable sports team, Florentino Perez has considerable clout. The 70-year-old isn't so concerned with "Galactico" signings as he is with Real Madrid's stability, and with that peace of mind Los Blancos have won consecutive Champions League titles. But the time for change is approaching. Perez will likely decide whether Cristiano Ronaldo retires in the Spanish capital, as well as who will replace the declining Karim Benzema.
14. Andrea Agnelli
Andrea Agnelli's profile in the game has skyrocketed since he became chairman of Juventus in 2010. Agnelli has slowly rebuilt the club using a sensible business approach, cutting down on debt year after year while growing the brand and raising its budget. Now president of the ECA, the 42-year-old has a responsibility to protect and promote the priorities of Europe's top clubs. Agnelli is also a big reason why Serie A regained a fourth Champions League berth.
Neymar has become more than just a footballer. He's now the face of Qatar's push into sport and the biggest symbol yet of the modern game. Although he isn't solely responsible for the price paid, his €222-million transfer to Paris Saint-Germain shifted the axis of power in European football.
On an individual level, the 25-year-old is a massive influence both inside and out of his native Brazil. He counts more than 100 million followers on Twitter and Instagram, and as his country's best player, he'll harbour the hopes of millions more at the 2018 World Cup.
12. Jose Mourinho
One of the most divisive personalities in world football, Jose Mourinho is always good for a quote and headline. Few managers are as combative and cantankerous with the press as the Portuguese; even fewer have won as much as he has. Mourinho often verges on hypocrisy, and his commitment to defensive football hardly wins over fans, but he continues to dominate the conversation about titles and tactics.
11. Aleksander Ceferin
If European football is to grow, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin will have something do with it. As PSG spends wads of cash and wannabe contenders try to keep up, Ceferin has focused on strengthening and enforcing Financial Fair Play rules. But the qualified lawyer also wants to limit squad sizes, restrict the number of loan moves a single club can make, shorten the transfer window, and establish a salary cap.
10. Andy Woodward
It was more than a year ago when former Crewe Alexandra defender Andy Woodward brought to light horrific accounts of sexual abuse, but the impact of his testimony is still being felt today. With 748 victims coming forward and 285 suspects identified – including a new raft of charges against convicted paedophile Barry Bennell – Woodward has inspired action. The Guardian's Daniel Taylor helped Woodward shed the stigma through steadfast reporting and compassionate storytelling.
9. Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola's effect on Manchester City is plain to see. Not only has it set a new English record for consecutive victories, City has also played some of the best football ever witnessed in the Premier League.
Guardiola has had boatloads of cash to spend, but he's also improving each of his millionaire footballers. Kevin De Bruyne is now a threat from deeper positions, and Leroy Sane is emerging as one of the world's most efficient wingers. Guardiola isn't just in the business of winning, he's one of the game's best educators.
8. Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi had an eventful 2017. He got married to his childhood sweetheart before helping Argentina avoid the embarrassment of missing the World Cup. Now he's a integral part of Barcelona's 25-match unbeaten streak. The 30-year-old is always in the news.
But 2018 is perhaps his biggest year yet. The upcoming World Cup will have a huge impact on his legacy and whether he will be regarded as the greatest player of all time.
7. Mino Raiola
He may not be the richest or have the biggest list of clients, but Mino Raiola is certainly one of football's most powerful super-agents. He nearly tempted Gianluigi Donnarumma to leave AC Milan for PSG, and brokered Romelu Lukaku's £75-million move to United. His abrasive approach to negotiations has made him plenty of enemies, including Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Milan sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo
Self-described as the "best player in history," Ronaldo is sure of his place in the game. That singular focus and confidence made him the player he is today. Despite trailing Messi for quite some time, Ronaldo is now level with the Argentine on five Ballons D'Or. He continues to be one of the world's most marketable athletes, pulling in nearly $1 billion from sponsorships over the last year.
5. Jorge Mendes
Jorge Mendes boasts an impressive stable of players, including Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Diego Costa, Angel Di Maria, Bernardo Silva, and Falcao. His clients' contracts are worth nearly $1 billion, according to Forbes, and he's fostered close relationships with some of Europe's biggest clubs.
However, Mendes' most interesting project is happening at second-tier Wolverhampton. After facilitating Chinese conglomerate Fosun's takeover, Mendes brokered the transfer of highly rated midfielder Ruben Neves to the club. The result? First place in the Championship.
4. Constantin Dumitrascu
The polar opposite of Raiola and Mendes is the mysterious Constantin Dumitrascu, whom Forbes listed as the most powerful sports agent of 2017. He has reportedly earned $107.8 million in commission and negotiated more than $1 billion in contracts.
"Dumitrascu prefers a business-like approach to looking after the welfare of his clients," Forbes said. "Clubs tend to prefer quiet negotiators like Dumitrascu."
Not much is actually known about Dumitrascu, and whether he fully represents players like Edinson Cavani, N'Golo Kante, and Philippe Coutinho.
3. Gianni Infantino
Despite professing to be an agent of change, Gianni Infantino seems to have kept the status quo as president of FIFA. His close association with Vitaly Mutko – the supposed mastermind of Russia's state-sponsored doping ring – and the suspicious removal of members of the independent ethics committee raised yet more eyebrows. Infantino has a progressive position on a number of issues, including video technology and a 48-team World Cup, but the spectre of corruption is still hanging over FIFA.
2. Sheikh Mansour
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan isn't just interested in the growth of Manchester City. The deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates has established a portfolio of football clubs from east Manchester to New York and Australia.
La Liga side Girona is the latest to join Mansour's growing network of clubs, with City, NYCFC, Melbourne Heart, Club Atletico Torque, and Yokohama F Marinos all under the City Football Group umbrella. Mansour's development of the £200-million Etihad Campus has also enriched the local Manchester community, helping regenerate an area of the city that had gone to waste.
Football's next great empire is in Mansour's hands.
1. Nasser Al-Khelaifi
No person had a greater influence on football in 2017 than PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi. By meeting Neymar's €222-million release clause, Khelaifi forever changed the transfer market. He then went ahead and sanctioned the €180-million move for Kylian Mbappe.
More than anything else, the signings strengthened Qatar's hold on the European market. By virtue of his close relationship with the ruling family, Al-Khelaifi used PSG to promote his country's image. It's no coincidence Neymar and Mbappe arrived soon after gulf nations sanctioned Qatar over accusations of state-sponsored terrorism.
"When you think about Neymar as a brand, maybe it won't be so expensive," Al-Khelaifi said during Neymar's unveiling. "We're definitely going to make more money than we spent."
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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