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Who is the world's third-best player? WhoScored and ESPN FC decide

The two best players in the world are not even up for debate. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) are so far ahead of the rest that it's pointless to argue, but deciding who the third-best player on the planet is appears to be a whole different prospect.

To whittle down the list, we asked ESPN FC's top writers to come up with one name to rival those of Messi and Ronaldo. The year of 2014 saw Germany win the World Cup, Real Madrid claim the Champions League, and countless impressive performances throughout the leagues but, according to our writers, there are 11 names who stand head and shoulders above the rest.

With the help of ratings (collected from league form only), we debate who can lay claim to football's bronze medal.

VOTE HERE to make your selection and rank the contenders.

Methodology - stats correct to Jan. 1, 2015.

WhoScored Ratings are based on a unique, comprehensive statistical algorithm, calculated live during the game. There are over 200 raw statistics included in the calculation of a player's/team's rating, weighted according to their influence within the game. Every event of importance is taken into account, with a positive or negative effect on ratings weighted in relation to its area on the pitch and its outcome. And a rating of between 0-10 (10=best) is given.

Manuel Neuer
WhoScored Rating: 6.97

WhoScored have rated the players and, even though he's third on the Ballon d'Or list, Neuer is last on ours.

Club: Bayern Munich
Age: 28
Position: Goalkeeper
Nationality: German
Value: 35 million euros

Voted by his fellow professionals as the third best in the world, Neuer was handed a spot in the final three for the FIFA Ballon d'Or award with some suggesting that he could even usurp Messi and Ronaldo to claim the prize. The Bayern player, who has made the role of sweeper-keeper his own this season, won a host of awards last year, including the 2014 World Cup. However, his WhoScored rating of 6.97 has him finishing behind the rest.

Achievements in 2014: FIFA World Cup, German Bundesliga, DfB Pokal, German Footballer of the Year, FIFA World Cup Golden Glove, FIFA World Cup All-Star Team, FIFA World Cup Dream Team

Quote: "He is the world's best keeper. At his age I wasn't close to that. I only started to become a decent keeper at 30." Germany legend Oliver Kahn.

Chris Jones: Manuel Neuer might be the World Cup's best
Raf Honigstein: Being on the shortlist is triumph enough

Arturo Vidal
WhoScored Rating: 7.20

Vidal has been linked with Manchester United and has shone this season.

Club: Juventus
Age: 27
Position: Midfielder
Nationality: Chilean
Value: 40 million euros

In truth, it's been a difficult year for the combative midfielder, as a knee injury has hampered his progress. However, Vidal was a driving force in 2014 for Juventus, helping them win the Italian title. A move to Manchester United has been mooted and the fact that he can have an ordinary year (in terms of his WhoScored rating of 7.20), yet still be in contention to be the third-best player in world football tells you a lot.

Achievements in 2014: Italian Serie A, Serie A Team of the Year, ESM Team of the Year

Quote: "I am the best player in the world in my position. That's simply the way it is for me. There are a lot of players out there in my position who try and play just like me and want to copy my style of play. But it's quite clear for me that I'm the best in my role. Nobody puts in as much defensive work as I do and then scores a lot of goals on top of it as well." Arturo Vidal.

Mina Rzouki: Vidal committed to Juve ... for now
James Horncastle: Vidal's throne remains in Turin

Philipp Lahm
WhoScored Rating: 7.22

Is there a more consistent player than Lahm? Sadly, the ratings don't take that into account.

Club: Bayern Munich
Age: 31
Position: Defender/Midfielder
Nationality: German
Value: 25 million euros

One of the most versatile, intelligent and hard-working players of all time, the German World Cup winner had a stellar year before it was cut short because of a broken ankle suffered in training in November. He won multiple trophies and excelled in his new position as a defensive midfielder for club and country before retiring from the national team in the summer. Lahm's WhoScored rating of 7.22 puts him behind some of the others on the list, but that does not diminish his impact for Bayern.

Achievements in 2014: FIFA World Cup, German Bundesliga, DfB Pokal, ESM Team of the Year, UEFA Champions League Team of the Season, Silbernes Lorbeerblatt.

Quote: "Lahm was already perfect when he was 17. He could do it all, there was nothing left for me to teach him. Philipp never played a bad game for me. He is incapable of playing badly." Hermann Gerland, Bayern assistant coach and former reserve team manager.

Rory Smith: Time to recognise the genius of Philipp Lahm
Raf Honigstein: German order falls to Philipp Lahm

WhoScored Rating: 7.34

Brazil's finest has a little way to go before he matches Messi and Ronaldo.

Club: Barcelona
Age: 22
Position: Forward
Nationality: Brazilian
Value: 70 million euros

Somewhat incredibly, the Brazilian sensation has won only one thing in 2014 -- and that's just his country's bragging rights over local rivals Argentina (in which Diego Tardelli scored twice in Beijing). The world held its breath as Neymar's injury saw Brazil's World Cup campaign on home soil fall off the rails, and Barcelona did not end the season with silverware either, despite having the star player at their disposal. Still, Neymar's efforts since the summer continue to impress and, at only 22, he is the youngest to appear on the list.

Achievements in 2014: Superclasico de las Americas

Quote: "It is very close, but it's about time for Neymar to take his place as the best in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi are the best right now, but Neymar has come a long way. The move to Europe has done him good. We do not have many great players. We are living with hope in Neymar, who is excellent, the country's best, but at other times we had many others who we could rely on to play for the Brazilian team." Brazilian legend Ronaldo.

Dermot Ledwith: Neymar must step up 
Tim Vickery: Neymar learning from Messi 

Toni Kroos
WhoScored Rating: 7.42

Statistically the World Cup's best player, Kroos has a bright future ahead of him.

Club: Real Madrid
Age: 25
Position: Midfielder
Nationality: German
Value: 40 million euros

How Real Madrid managed to pick up a midfielder of Kroos' class in the summer for only 25 million euros is a mystery to many. Having picked up the double with Bayern before he left, Kroos added a World Cup over the summer and then lifted two more trophies in 2014 with his new side. A driving force in midfield, the 25-year-old German will doubtless be in the mix for the FIFA Ballon d'Or for years to come.

Achievements in 2014: FIFA World Cup, German Bundesliga, DfB Pokal, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup, Castrol Index: Best Player at the World Cup, FIFA World Cup All-Star Team, FIFA World Cup Dream Team, UEFA Champions League Team of the Season, Silbernes Lorbeerblatt.

Quote: "For me, Toni Kroos is one of the best German players in years. The way he touches the ball and makes everything look easy plus his work rate make him very impressive. If I were in charge of Bayern, I would never have let him join Real Madrid." Former Argentina boss Cesar Menotti.

Raf Honigstein: Toni Kroos makes his mark
Nicholas Rigg: Kroos can be Real Madrid's new maestro

Thomas Muller
WhoScored Rating: 7.42

The German had a wonderful World Cup, but his league form was excellent too.

Club: Bayern Munich
Age: 25
Position: Midfielder/Forward
Nationality: German
Value: 40 million euros

His languid style is not to everyone's choosing, but there is little that anyone can say about Muller's ability to shine on the biggest stage. The German is on target to beat Miroslav Klose's all-time record for goals scored at a World Cup (16) as he has 10 in just 13 games to date after an impressive tournament in Brazil. Incredibly, he's still only 25 years old and is highly prized by Bayern, operating as a winger, or even as a false No. 9 up front.

Achievements in 2014: FIFA World Cup, German Bundesliga, DfB Pokal, World Cup Silver Ball, World Cup Silver Boot, FIFA World Cup All-Star Team, FIFA World Cup Dream Team, Silbernes Lorbeerblatt.

Quote: "He has instinct for creating dangerous situations and scores in situations where you don't expect it. Thomas is a very unorthodox player; sometimes you don't really know or cannot predict his pathways on pitch, he is difficult to interpret for opponents, but he has one aim -- how can I score a goal? That is the only focus and is what makes him so dangerous: he is a born scorer." Germany coach Joachim Low.

Raf Honigstein: Muller makes the difference
Mark Lovell: Muller borders on perfection

Angel Di Maria
WhoScored Rating: 7.57

Di Maria
A move from Real Madrid hasn't stopped Di Maria's progress.

Club: Manchester United
Age: 26
Position: Midfielder/Forward
Nationality: Argentine
Value: 60 million euros

A match-winning performance in the final of the Champions League was a sign that Di Maria could perform when it mattered most. Yet Real strangely decided to part with him in a British-record 59.8 million-pound sale to Manchester United a few weeks later. The winger had a mixed time at Real Madrid but proved in helping Argentina to the World Cup final that he was a world-class player. His early season form for his new club has not dispelled that, and he even beat a certain Mr. Messi to be named Argentina's player of the year.

Achievements in 2014: UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Champions League Team of the Season, FIFA World Cup Dream Team, Olimpia de Plata.

Quote: "Anything I can say about Angel Di Maria is not enough. For me he is one the four best players of the world; he's at an amazing level and has now arrived at an amazing club, where they will look after him very well and he will perform very well." Former Manchester United and Argentina defender Gabriel Heinze.

Andy Mitten: Di Maria's Ballon d'Or form 
Nicolas Baier: Di Maria, the man who doesn't run alone

Sergio Aguero
WhoScored Rating: 7.68

Injury has hampered Aguero's game time, but he is the Premier League's best.

Club: Man City
Age: 26
Position: Forward/Striker
Nationality: Argentine
Value: 85 million euros

"Aguerrooooooo" has come a long way since he sealed the title for Man City in 2012. At the end of 2013-14 his goals-per-minute ratio (115) was the highest the Premier League had ever seen, and his striking prowess helped City to a league and cup double in 2014. If Aguero had been fit for the entire World Cup, certainly Argentina's chances of winning would have improved. However, his injury record may have hampered him somewhat in the ratings, as he has played a lot fewer games.

Achievements in 2014: Premier League, Capital One Cup, Football Supporters' Federation Player of the Year.

Quote: "Ronaldo may be on another planet, but Sergio is up there with (Lionel) Messi and (Luis) Suarez. He always delivers in a difficult moment. I think I don't need to speak about his performance. The stats speak for themselves." Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri.

David Hirshey: Unstoppable Aguero a creative force
Miguel Delaney: Aguero can be elite, if he stays healthy

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
WhoScored Rating: 7.72

How do you stop Zlatan? Nobody knows, as his stats show.

Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Age: 33
Position: Striker
Nationality: Swedish
Value: 25 million euros

Zlatan's reaction to not being named the top Swede of all time -- "I would have been No 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, with due respect to the others" -- was, well, classic Zlatan. The PSG striker has dominated the French league after arriving in 2012 and, despite not making it to the 2014 World Cup with Sweden and struggling with a heel injury toward the end of the year, he has continued to operate at the highest level. Even at 33, Ibrahimovic is arguably the most complete striker around.

Achievements in 2014: Ligue 1, Trophée des champions, Coupe de la Ligue, Ligue 1 Player of the Year, Ligue 1 Team of the Year, Ligue 1 top scorer, ESM Team of the Year, Guldbollen

Quote: "I don't need the Ballon d'Or to know I'm the best. It matters more to some players. It's not something I think about and it is something that is not important for me." Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Michael Cox: Ibrahimovic still revered at Ajax
Mitten: On the trail of Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Arjen Robben
WhoScored Rating: 7.83

The winger may be predictable in his movement, but defenders still can't stop him scoring.

Club: Bayern Munich
Age: 30
Position: Midfielder/Forward
Nationality: Dutch
Value: 35 million euros

One of the standout players at the World Cup, the 30-year-old Robben only seems to have improved with age as he led Netherlands to third spot in Brazil. Still exceptionally quick, with dribbling to match, he has become one of Bayern's leading players as the German champions dominated the Bundesliga in 2014. Yes, he occasionally goes to ground too easily, and is selfish when it comes to cutting inside and shooting, but there isn't a team in the land who wouldn't want him as part of their attacking lineup.

Achievements in 2014: German Bundesliga, DfB Pokal, UEFA Champions League Team of the Season, World Cup Bronze Ball, FIFA World Cup All-Star Team, Dutch Sportsman of the Year.

Quote: "He is the best outfield player in the world. Arjen is a fantastic professional and a wonderful player. I'm delighted Bayern have a player of his calibre. He's got outstanding quality, but it's his attitude especially. He's incredible -- he's so professional and his quality is unbelievable." Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Raf Honigstein: Forward thinking aids Robben
Jasper Steppe: Robben's transformation to team player


Luis Suarez
WhoScored Rating: 7.92

The year that had everything but a kitchen sink for Suarez sees him named as the best of the rest.

Club: Barcelona
Age: 27
Position: Forward/Striker
Nationality: Uruguayan
Value: 85 million euros

Where to start? Understatement of the year: Suarez had stratospheric highs and sobering lows. He finished the 2013-14 campaign with Liverpool as the Premier League's top scorer, but a bite on Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup saw him kicked out of the Uruguay camp and banned for four months, meaning his debut for Barcelona was delayed following the summer's 85 million-euro transfer. Still, on his day he is one of the most exciting strikers around and, although he may not have started his Barcelona career perfectly, he is a force of nature in the box. Suarez's World Cup indiscretions kept him off the official Ballon d'Or shortlist, but that doesn't mean he can't be on ours.

Achievements in 2014: PFA Players' Player of the Year, FWA Footballer of the Year, European Golden Shoe, Premier League Player of the Season, FSF Player of the Year, PFA Team of the Year, Premier League Golden Boot.

Quote: "If we are talking about strikers -- not guys who score a lot of goals from anywhere -- then I would say the best in the world is Luis Suarez. He has everything. He's in your face, he's arrogant in a good way, he can volley it, he can score headers." Former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry.

Wright Thompson: Portrait of a serial winner
Graham Hunter: Too early to judge Suarez at Barca

Agree? Disagree? VOTE HERE to make your selection and rank the contenders, and comment in the section below on who you think should be the world's No. 3.

Jon is a senior editor of ESPN FC, based in London.


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