Let's be honest here—no matter how many qualified candidates at the start, there was always going to be two players who had a legitimate chance to win the Ballon d'Or:
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Given the genius of Andres Iniesta, it's hard to begrudge his selection as the third finalist. However, if there were more than three finalists named—or if you were simply looking for a few worthy Honorable Mentions—which players would be most deserving?
Funny, I was just wondering the same thing. Here's my list.
Radamel Falcao, Atletico Madrid
The Colombian striker has become one of the most sought-after players in the world, and truly could have been named one of the three finalists without anyone blinking an eye.
Rob Train of ESPN beautifully rounded up his qualifications for the award:
If sticking the ball in the back of the net is a main prerequisite to win the Ballon d'Or, surely Radamel Falcao is in with a shout. Current Liga top scorer this season and third last year, behind Messi and Ronaldo but hardly with the same calibre of support, Falcao scored twice in the Europa League final and delivered the European Super Cup with a sublime hat-trick against Chelsea.
What counts more in the award of the Ballon d'Or? Scoring four in a league game against Valladolid or Zaragoza to embellish a league campaign, or pulling down the pants of the European champions?
I think Iniesta should be considered 3a. in the running for the award and Falcao 3b. He's been that good this year.
Iker Casillas, Real Madrid
It's been a good year for Mr. Casillas. He helped lead Spain to its second consecutive Euro Cup title—allowing just one goal in the tournament as the team's captain—while also leading Real Madrid to the La Liga crown.
He's the world's finest goalie, and he won two of the three biggest tournaments he played in, with the Champions League the only championship he failed to secure. Of course, keepers rarely get love in an award that often goes to goal-scorers, so it's hardly a surprise he wasn't a finalist.
Andrea Pirlo, Juventus
Pirlo was always going to be a dark horse in the running. He was the key cog in the Juventus midfield during the team's Serie A championship last season and helped lead Italy to the Euro Cup final, but he doesn't have the big-name appeal of Messi, Ronaldo or Iniesta.
Nevertheless, he's certainly as incisive a passer and architect of the attack from the midfield as anyone in the world. Iniesta's brilliance is justifiably held a notch above Pirlo's, but the Italian is not to be diminished.
Robin van Persie, Manchester United
It's not easy to lead the Premier League in goals, and it's especially not easy to do so as your team's only scoring threat and a defense's top target. Yet that's what Robin van Persie did last season, leading the Gunners and the EPL in goals en route to leading the team to a third-place finish.
Van Persie has made the adjustment to Manchester United with ease, with 12 goals in 16 appearances across all competitions for the team. He's given an already scary team one of the most prolific offensive attacks in the world.
One reason he didn't crack the finalists? He and his Netherlands teammates never showed up at the Euros, leaving Van Persie with a bunch of goals and helping Arsenal to qualify for the Champions League. Impressive, but not quite Ballon d'Or worthy.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are a finalist for the Twitter d'Or.
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