Ultimate Guide to Modern Proper Football Cards

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Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

You’ve probably heard that the sports card craze is real, but what if I told you that the biggest sport in the world hasn’t even begun to gain traction in this market yet? 

That’s right. Proper football is on the rise in the sports card game, which is wild to think about considering the sport is the most played in the world and features some of the most prominent athletes on the planet like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.

I remember the first time I picked up a sports card at a regional soccer tournament I was competing at in North Carolina. Michael Essien was one of my all-time favorite Chelsea players, so I begged my dad to get it for me for under five dollars. 

Now, the demand for that card may not be huge, but the sentiment remains that if someone else sees the value in something then it’s probably worth it. And that typically means you’ll be able to sell it.

The proper football card game is still so new in a lot of ways, and that’s why we’re picking up over the last five years because that’s where the demand has really begun to increase as more Americans become invested in the beautiful game.

2016 became significant because of the willingness for the big card production companies like Panini to release proper football cards on a wider scale and with more creative product lines. 

We’ve seen high-end American football and basketball products like Prizm, Select and Immaculate make their way into the proper football market and create a frenzy for those trying to acquire the biggest stars from the global game.

Let’s begin our deep dive into the evolution of the proper football card market and take a look at some of the hottest products that are dominating the game over the past five years.

Panini products absolutely rock the sports card market every year, and with proper football still being early in its consumption five years ago the rollout of cards was a lot simpler. Donruss really kicked off the craze for proper football, especially because of the close ties to an American prodigy in Christian Pulisic.

The U.S. Men’s National Team star may not have been on many people’s radars outside of the United States back then, but he certainly is now. His Rated Rookie from this product is quickly becoming a hot item for Pulisic and USMNT collectors, but that was the very beginning of the craze for the Pennsylvania-born attacker’s cards.

(Note: Although we are huge fans of sticker products, for the purpose of this article we are not including these items due to the significant rise in proper football cards.)

1. Panini Donruss 2016

2016 donruss
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As I was alluding to above, Pulisic’s rookie cards are among the gems in this set. The American’s stardom continues to grow now that he’s playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world at Chelsea. 

In 2016, Pulisic blew up on the club football scene at Borussia Dortmund, which is why this card presents so much promise moving forward. Other significant rookies from this class include Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Max Meyer.

Although the product may be a bit simple in terms of the card layout, the color variations offered really make them pop.

Donruss offered dual and triple autograph cards from this product, including some serious names that could garner attention. Barcelona featured dual products with Neymar/Luis Suarez and triple autos with Neymar/Suarez/Gerard Pique, while Bayern Munich’s triple auto saw Robert Lewandowski/Thomas Muller/Arjen Robben with both cards numbered to #/25.

The interesting aspect of the 2016 class is that Kylian Mbappe, who was in the process of becoming a star at Monaco during his debut season, wasn’t available in this or any other major card product. 

Mbappe’s split sticker with former Monaco teammate Corentin Jean has become highly valued because of the France international’s rookie status in 2016.

2. Panini Select 2016-17

2016 select
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

The Select product has become an instant favorite in other sports card products like American football and basketball, and this was one of the first times outside of Prizm that we’ve had an elegant football card available with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and young stars like Mbappe and Pulisic.

Rashford’s presence is significant due to England’s recent rise with its latest golden generation. The Manchester United star has quickly become one of the Premier League’s top talents and his value has wildly increased as the club continues to climb back towards the summit in England.

Of American players, the set features Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe and USMNT legend Clint Dempsey’s signatures available in hobby boxes, while Panini also presented young Premier League talents such as Harry Kane.

The theme throughout the various 2016 products is Pulisic if you take Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo out of the equation. The American’s potential to be great at a time where very few U.S.-based players competing in Europe made Pulisic’s value rise significantly.

Panini’s Prizm Select cards instantly became a hot commodity from this product, with the Camo #/20 and Black 1/1 among the most-coveted potential pick ups from these boxes.

3. Panini Immaculate 2017

Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

If you’re an avid follower of the major sports involved in sports cards in the United States like American football, Immaculate is one of the elite and high-end products you can get involved with. 

2017 was the debut of Immaculate in the proper football realm and it definitely delivered in the crossover from other sports. 

In addition to the modern greats presently competing around the world, the All-Time Greats autos make this product one of the most expensive in the game. Pele, Diego Maradona, Paolo Maldini and Thierry Henry are just four of the 100 elite legends that feature in this set.

Meanwhile, the product features one of the most unique items in proper football cards with Boot Memorabilia and Signatures items, which contain cleat relics from 50 players. Pulisic and Ronaldo are two of the low-numbered items to look out for, with the latter numbered under #/8 and #/13, respectively.

4. Topps Chrome UEFA Champions League 2017-18

2017 chrome UEFA
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

When Kylian Mbappe completed his transfer from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain, first on loan and then permanently, that sprung into action a new generation of players linked to the likes of the old guard like Messi and Ronaldo.

This product marked one of the first opportunities to claim an Mbappe card in a PSG which is significant because of the club’s rise on the European and global scale over the past decade due to its new ownership that has widely expanded its visibility.

Although Mbappe isn’t one of the featured autos in the set, which does include Messi, Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Antoine Griezmann and more, there are a number of parallels the Frenchman possesses in these boxes that are incredibly valuable.

Those include the Lightning Strike and Future Stars gold refractors #/50. This Topps product has set the tone for Champions League items to come, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

5. Panini Donruss/Optic 2018

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Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

The interesting aspect of this product is that Panini actually combined two of its sets that it would normally separate for other sports like the NFL and NBA.

Donruss is typically a standalone item distributed to sports card lovers, while Optic is one that is released on its own.

For this edition, Panini began combining the two in the proper football market and the result was an unbelievable set of cards. The rookie class featured in 2018 is quite impressive, headlined by Manchester City star Phil Foden, Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies and USMNT and Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie.

Foden’s items have become increasingly popular given his rise at Man City, while Kai Havertz, Vinicius Jr. and Jadon Sancho have also raised their value with strong performances at their respective clubs.

Mbappe features in the product as well in both PSG and France kits right before the World Cup, which makes these Donruss cards all the more important because of his and Les Bleus’ performance in Russia.

6. Panini Prizm World Cup 2018

2019 prizmWC
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

The World Cup simply does it bigger. It’s the biggest spectacle in sports every four years and for that reason Panini’s growth in the proper football market has been significantly due to the fact that they’re so successful of late when the World Cup rolls around.

2018 marked Mbappe’s first World Cup, and on top of the fact that he performed outstanding for France, Les Bleus won the tournament. His value skyrocketed and really helped drive this product to the moon in addition to the regular suspects (Messi, Ronaldo) also featuring in the Prizm set.

The new parallels that debuted in 2018 included a number of incredible designs like the Lazer Prizms. The Gold Lazer variety is numbered out of #/15, while Blue Shimmer and Gold Power are each numbered to #/5.

The beauty of the World Cup product is also the endless possibilities that one can come away with because of the sheer size of the competition. All the stars are in play on top of those that may not be known quite as well coming into the tournament.

England emerged as a huge winner of the World Cup after making a run to the semi finals, so Marcus Rashford’s value was enormously boosted because of the play from The Three Lions. 

While he personally didn’t have the greatest output during the tournament, Rashford’s success post-World Cup has propelled him into the discussion as one of the best players in the Premier League.

7. Topps Chrome UEFA Champions League 2018/19

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With limited access to some of the big leagues throughout Europe, Topps Chrome has become a huge product in anticipation of the Champions League seasons. 

This year was significant because of two young guns that began to influence their clubs greatly in Dortmund and Madrid. Joao Felix and Jadon Sancho each became valuable at Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, respectively, after breaking onto the scene in La Liga and Bundesliga.

Sancho is one of many young talents in England’s squad, while Felix has become one of the young faces of Portuguese football alongside Bernardo Silva and Diogo Jota.

The Sancho and Felix Superfractors are the highest valued rookie items in the set alongside the usual veterans that dominate the sport.

8. Panini Obsidian 2019-20

2019 obsidian
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NFL fans know this product very well after its incredible success on the American football side of the sports card market. Obsidian boasts insane designs and the limited number of cards per box makes it a huge hit because consumers are guaranteed at least one autograph on average.

When Obsidian debuted on the proper football side in 2019 it was amazing timing because of Ansu Fati’s debut, Pulisic’s move to Chelsea, as well as other young players’ rises in the sport like Joao Felix, Vinicius Jr. and on the women’s side Alex Morgan and Mia Hamm.

The product is massive for women’s players, especially those of the U.S. Women’s National Team because of their 2019 World Cup victory. The USWNT featured many stars beyond Morgan and makes Obsidian a great product to build off of in the future.

While in other Panini products everyone is seemingly chasing the Black 1/1 cards, Obsidian is a bit different with Blue Finite 1/1 serving as the elite items in the series if someone is lucky enough to grab one.

9. Megacracks La Liga 2019

2019 liga
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

For Spanish football fans, Megacracks has been an elite product for years dating back to the days of Ronaldinho, Messi and David Villa. 

The Megacracks brand has long been one of the premier products for the sport, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Sporting Lisbon rookie card considered one of the holy grail items in the hobby. 

A quick fun fact for our ONE37pm audience is that CR7’s Mega Craques rookie is numbered 137 in the set.

Although Fati’s been injured for much of the 2020/21 season, Ansu Fati is among the world’s top young players not named Haaland or Mbappe. 

He broke into the Barca first team at 16 years old, making him the second-youngest player in club history to accomplish that feat. Needless to say, Fati is unbelievably talented and this legendary Megacracks product is a huge introduction to a player that has a long road ahead of him in football.

10. Topps Chrome UEFA Champions League 2019-20

2019 topps chrome
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Erling Haaland’s stardom began in Austria at RB Salzburg, but the presence of cards for the Norway international didn’t exist until he arrived at Dortmund when he completed a transfer midseason in 2020.

Similar to Mbappe, Haaland is one of the next big stars in global football and his value continues to rise exponentially every time he steps out on the pitch. 

The reason this year’s set is so special is that Haaland isn’t the only gem you can pull from a box. Barcelona’s Fati is among the promising up-and-comers in La Liga that gets to play with Messi.

Prior to his injury this past year, he was already a regular starter for Barcelona at 17 years old and he’s undoubtedly the next in line in Spain to achieve superstar status.

11. Panini Select UEFA Euro 2020

2020 selectUEFA
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

The Euros were postponed in 2020 when COVID-19 disrupted the sports world, but the anticipation for this tournament has only boiled over now that we’re less than two months away from kicking off.

Although Haaland and Norway won’t be present, the likes of Europe’s elite will be in attendance and that’s a very cool prospect as we prepare for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Select is such an awesome product because of its constant additions in the design process while keeping their base cards elegant and recognizable. 

The combination of Select and Prizm makes these cards a must for a collector, especially with the introduction of Tiger and Zebra print cards to go along with the rare Camo, Tie-Dye, Gold, Green and Black variations. 

Unlike many World Cup boxes, Euros designate players as rookies during their first appearance in the competition, so Portuguese star Joao Felix, England’s Declan Rice and a number of other young talents can all be pulled from these boxes. 

Select’s Unlimited Potential series, which features Silver (#/25), Gold (#/10) and Black (1/1) options give you a strong chance at pulling one of the elite rookies.

As mentioned before with the 2018 World Cup set, these types of tournaments are huge opportunities to collect a mix of stars and young talent because of the huge number of players involved in the Euros.

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