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The 50 most influential in football: Who made our list this time around?

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti breaks down the ever-changing top 50 most influential people in football.
Gab Marcotti delves into ESPN FC's top 50 most influential people in football, pinpointing No. 16's "John" from Football Leaks.

One thing is quite obvious when it comes to assessing influence in football: Once you have it, it's hard to lose -- particularly when you are close to the top.

Fifteen of our 2015 Top 20 are back in the second installment of ESPN FC's Top 50 Most Influential in football. Perhaps more tellingly, seven members of 2015's Top 10 find themselves in the Top 10 yet again. Two of the figures no longer among the Top 10 -- former UEFA president Michel Platini, who topped the list, and former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, who was eighth -- are gone because they fell foul of the law and were handed lifetime bans.

The FIFA scandal did shake up the list, particularly when it comes to football administration. Generally speaking, however, influence is still wielded most broadly by those who govern the game, those who bankroll the game and those who "play" the game at the very highest level. The reason "play" is in quotes is because the verb doesn't just refer to footballers; it includes the sport's exoskeleton as well, namely managers, club executives and agents.

The biggest shake-up has been among those who govern the game -- perhaps a direct result of the FIFA investigation and the continuing fallout. Relative to two years ago, four of the six confederations that together comprise FIFA have new leaders, and the top three positions at the association have changed.

Otherwise, the top of the list is dominated by representatives of big clubs and the two agents who stand head and shoulders above the rest: Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola. Although both remain on the list, the moves Raiola has orchestrated over the past two summers -- Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan -- plus his notable non-move (Gianluigi Donnarumma) have helped him make the leap from 31st to eighth.

As for the players, Lionel Messi's position three spots ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo likely isn't a footballing judgment, nor is it a calculation based on social media presence (Ronaldo is well ahead in the latter department). Rather, it is a reflection of the relative power each player wields at his respective club. At Barcelona, Messi doesn't have to contend with figures like Florentino Perez and Zinedine Zidane, and his new deal gives him massive leverage.

Pep Guardiola continues to rank high -- higher than Jose Mourinho, anyway -- because he wields more power over his club; Manchester City rolled out the red carpet and continues to fulfill his every desire.

Meanwhile, China's increasing influence on the global football landscape is why you'll find three more Chinese citizens on the list than were there two years ago (there were zero). Much has been made of president Xi Jinping's plan to turn the country into a footballing powerhouse by 2030, and while the flurry of mega deals funneling foreign players into its domestic league has subsided, China is pushing full steam ahead.

There are people we wish were not on this list because, frankly, their presence indicates that the game remains tarnished. Still, American prosecutor Bridget Rohde and her Swiss colleague Michael Lauber aren't finished with their investigations into corruption.

Then there's "John" from Football Leaks. Is he a heroic whistleblower or a group of hackers and blackmailers? The jury's out, but what's obvious is that he would not exist if football had greater transparency and accountability.

Lists like these inevitably ask you to compare apples and aardvarks rather than apples and oranges. It is far from straightforward to compare the influence of a guy who actually plays football and is a household name across the globe, like Neymar, with a guy who cuts giant checks to clubs and governing bodies but whose main preoccupation is natural gas, like Alexei Miller. Or measuring the influence of a confederation head from Papua New Guinea, like David Chung, to someone whose identity is unknown, like "John."

The most challenging part, perhaps, is establishing a hierarchy between those who have tremendous amounts of power over a single entity or geographic region and those whose influence is more diffuse, but spans the globe.

Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.


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