Three goalkeepers, four defenders, five midfielders and 18 forwards make up the 30-man shortlist for the prestigious Ballon d’Or award but in reality you can do away with 28 of the names.
Indeed, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will again be the clear candidates to take home the coveted prize but this year’s ceremony feels like a motion towards the next generation.
At 32 and 30 respectively, Ronaldo and Messi are entering the final phases of their careers and while they’ve adjusted their game so well – they could do so again of course – there’s no doubting the gap between themselves and the rest has narrowed.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to pick our top three candidates for the award with the Portuguese and Argentine superstars taken out of the equation.
3. HARRY KANE
Of the seven Premier League stars to have made the 30-man nomination, Kane is a candidate to enter the top three.
Now, some corners will field their argument that he can’t even be considered world class yet never mind a Ballon d’Or contender but then the basis of that point is mainly formed in the fact he plays for Tottenham, a side not among the true elite, and England, a team starved of verve and quality.
Put Kane in a Real Madrid or Barcelona shirt and on last season’s stunning exploits he unequivocally joins the debate. For the calendar year he’s scored 43 times in 37 games – including six hat-tricks – for club and country and if that record was owned by Ronaldo or Messi then the collective drooling would be utterly drenching.
While he doesn’t own a Champions League medal, he has for the previous two campaigns notched the Premier League’s Golden Boot award and that in itself is a prestigious achievement.
The 24-year-old’s involvement last season is carrying through into this campaign and he’s establishing himself as one of the premier all-round centre-forwards. His hold up play is superb, his passes and first touches are crisp and he’s adding headed-goals to his repertoire.
Having displayed his ability in the Premier League, now this season in the Champions League and potentially next year at the World Cup, Kane has the greater ceiling to one day claim the award if it’s based on ability rather the trophy cabinet.
2. SERGIO RAMOS
Only three defenders have been crowned Ballon d’Or winners and the last was 11 years ago. Fabio Cannavaro picked up the prize in 2006 as the World Cup winner with Italy joined an exclusive list alongside Germany pair Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer.
With the way the game is analysed and consumed, defenders haven’t been the fashionable choice as bias is predictably leaned towards to goalscoring forwards rather than those who perform the game’s other art form.
But amid the myriad of striking talents, there is one defender who stands alone – Sergio Ramos. As both the backbone and captain of a resurgent Spain and dominant La Liga and Champions League double winners Real Madrid, the 31-year-old is an undervalued game general who not only barks out orders but carries them out himself.
It’s not his duty, but considering the prize is ordinarily reserved for goalscorers, Ramos’s aerial predatory in front of goal has become the stuff of legend.
He is one of the most influential players in world football and while his ultra-competitive nature is both a virtue and a vice, the Spaniard in our eyes would make the top three.
Ultimately the reason Neymar left Barcelona was because of his desire to step out of the large shadow cast by Lionel Messi.
And that’s not just from a footballing perspective but also a marketing one given the boundless opportunities which arise from being the Ballon d’Or winner.
While the Brazilian might not be the most popular choice the chronic lack of form Luis Suarez is exhibiting is indication enough of his stretching influence at Barca.
A pivotal part of the dynamic and lauded MSN trio, he wasn’t as prolific as previous campaigns but his importance grew. At 25 Neymar is the standout in his age group and below with his ingenuity and talent obvious.
Ironically, it was against his new employers, PSG, that he showed his world-beating best form as he scored Barcelona’s fourth and fifth goal before laying on an exquisite assist for Sergi Roberto’s winner in the Champions League last-16 fightback.
In Tite’s Brazil he has been the star man, transitioning from leader of a faltering team under Dunga to central figure in a side which is beginning to thrive.
Having been third behind Ronaldo and Messi in 2015, he is the most favoured to take over the reins going forward, though PSG team-mate Kylian Mbappe will feature strongly in future.