Top 10 Candidates for World's 3rd-Best Footballer After Messi and Ronaldo
There's no shortage of top quality players in world football, and two stand above the rest. But who's No. 3?
Bleacher Report is here to take a look at some of the quality players in the game who could stake a claim for that position.
We'll use that time period as the major factor in presenting these candidates, judging the consistency of their play, their achievements and their overall quality during that time.
It was a tough list to make, considering the quality that has been left out, but these 10 are all deserving.
Here are the top 10 candidates to be the world's third-best footballer.
Unless otherwise stated, all statistics courtesy of ESPN FC.
10. Robert Lewandowski
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Score four goals against Real Madrid in a Champions League semifinal? Check.
Two Bundesliga titles and the possibility of a Champions League title on the way? Check.
Clinical finishing, great work rate and solid technical skills? Check.
There are plenty of reasons to consider Robert Lewandowski as one of the best players in the world right now.
Lewandowski has burst onto the scene in the last two seasons with such force that he's a rival to Radamel Falcao when you consider a name for the world's best pure forward.
Having a few titles under his belt doesn't hurt, either.
9. Thiago Silva
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Defenders get very little praise nowadays, but if there's one player deserving of being in this list, it's Thiago Silva.
Silva has been a model of consistency and quality since first playing for AC Milan at the start of the 2009/10 season.
The Brazilian defender's mixture of pace, anticipation, composure and strength make him the most complete defender in the game.
Add in his offensive qualities, namely his accurate passing over long distances, and you have a great player.
Three titles in the last few seasons pale in comparison to others on this list, but his usually excellent displays make him one of the best.
Here's another way to look at it: If there's one defender capable of stopping all the attackers on this list, it's Thiago Silva.
8. Robin van Persie
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Robin van Persie has finally been able to consistently show the world why Arsene Wenger brought him to Arsenal in 2004.
During the 2011/12 season and this recently concluded 2012/13 season, Van Persie has showcased sublime skills in the attacking third.
The 2010/11 season pales in comparison, yet even then Van Persie scored 22 goals and had seven assists in 33 games for the Gunners.
The fact he only has one trophy to show for his efforts, which was this year's Premier League title with Manchester United, is what puts him so low on this list.
7. Juan Mata
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Juan Mata has become Chelsea's talisman after just two seasons at the club.
The diminutive Spanish midfielder improved upon his debut season tally of 12 goals and 20 assists by scoring 20 goals and assisting 28 times this season.
He's played a major role in all of the competitions Chelsea have won.
On the international level, his titles with the Spanish senior team must be put into perspective due to his lack of playing time, but he was one of the main men in Spain's victorious Under-21 European Championship side.
6. Andrea Pirlo
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Andrea Pirlo's resurgence with Juventus has the club becoming a force again on the Italian stage.
He's been in fantastic form for club and country during the last two seasons. That has resulted in four trophies and an appearance in the Euro 2012 final.
Pirlo's style of play has allowed him to produce quality football for a number of years, and the current Juventus squad is built around his ability to dictate games.
His impact is such that, when he leaves both Juventus and Italy, they will be hard-pressed to find a sufficient alternative.
5. Franck Ribery
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Franck Ribery may be underrated because of the league he played in and his country's ineffective performances on the world stage in recent times.
Since his arrival in Germany, he's consistently been one of the top two players in a Bayern Munich squad full of talent.
The French winger has pace and skills in abundance, as well as a decent work rate.
He's won five trophies with Bayern over the last few years and will be looking for a sixth with the Champions League final soon to come.
The only thing that's stopped him from picking up more trophies on an individual and team level is Borussia Dortmund's resurgence and the ever-so-difficult prospect of winning the Champions League.
4. Radamel Falcao
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Radamel Falcao's 34 goals in 40 games this season is nothing new for the Colombian.
Since touching down in Europe with Porto back in the 2009/10 season, Falcao has scored at will.
He is arguably the world's best pure striker at the moment, though he's in a battle with one or two others on this list.
Despite producing these feats with what may be considered second-tier teams, Porto and Atletico Madrid, Falcao has amassed a fantastic trophy haul.
The Colombian forward has picked up nine trophies in all, two of those being Europa League titles and one being a league title.
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Xavi has long been touted as one of the best midfielders in the world, and of all time.
His ability to orchestrate play, create chances and keep possession in tight spaces has set him apart from many of his peers.
Last season was his best yet in front of goal for Barcelona and, as always, he kept the ball rolling for the Blaugrana.
This season, he's picked up a La Liga trophy, and that makes his tally eight for club and country during the last three seasons.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic's track record speaks for itself. His arrogance may annoy some onlookers, but his skill and talent can't be questioned.
He's picked up a trophy in almost every single season as a professional footballer, though to be fair he wasn't always the leading light in those conquests.
He did play a big part in his last three league titles, however.
He shared the load with Lionel Messi in 2009/10, dragged AC Milan to the title in 2010/11 and was the talisman for PSG in Ligue 1 this season.
He did all that while producing sublime skill and countless goals for his clubs.
The fact that he had to adapt to a different team almost every year in the past couple of seasons is also testament to his skills.
1. Andres Iniesta
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Andres Iniesta is an absolutely fantastic player.
The Barcelona No. 8 mixes skills from two of his illustrious teammates, Lionel Messi and Xavi, making him the best candidate to be football's third-best player.
Unlike the two players above him, statistics aren't what make Iniesta worthy of his position. Not that goals and assists are all the duo of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo bring to the table.
Goals were never really Iniesta's thing, and interestingly enough, this season's tally of 17 assists is his best for Barcelona during his time at the club.
Iniesta has picked up eight trophies during the last three years, and not once was he less than the second- or third-best player on his side. Sometimes, such as in Euro 2012, he was the best.