The 23-man shortlist for the 2013 Ballon d'Or award was announced on Tuesday morning, ahead of the ceremony on January 13.
Among the usual suspects are Gareth Bale, Mesut Ozil, Eden Hazard and Yaya Toure. While it is nice for these players to be recognised, a 23-man list is ultimately redundant when the 2013 award is likely to be a two-horse race between four-time winner Leo Messi and two-time runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo.
At some point, however, the Messi/Ronaldo Ballon d'Or hegemony must end. And there is a good chance that point is right now.
Here are three players who can also lay a legitimate claim to the vaunted golden orb...
There are no fewer than six Bayern Munich players on the Ballon d'Or shortlist, with Frenchman Franck Ribery joined by Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller, Manuel Neuer, Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger. (Curiously, there is no place for David Alaba.)
Ribery deserved to be at the front of the Bayern pack, because he is selfless, his work rate is second-to-none and you have probably seen more live unicorns than games in which he has played poorly.
After playing his part in Bayern's phenomenal treble-winning season—for which he has already received the UEFA Best Player in Europe award—Ribery will never have a better chance at being crowned the best player in the world. In fact, he admitted this himself in July:
I’ve played a very, very good season. It’s either now or never for winning this prize. I can’t play any better than this.
The bookmakers also agree that this could be Franck's year. According to oddschecker.com, some bookies are actually giving him shorter odds than Messi this season, while Cristiano Ronaldo is significantly further behind in third place.
All hail The Mighty Zlatan!
The powerful Swede received just 1.24 percent of the 2012 Ballon d'Or vote, which is approximately 98.76 percent less than he believes he deserved.
This year, however, his self-confidence is even more justified. In 2013 so far, he has scored 17 league goals and seven in Europe. In May, he led Paris Saint-Germain to their first title in 19 years with a tally of 30 goals, equalling Jean-Pierre Papin's Ligue 1 goalscoring record.
What's more, he has single-handedly led a fairly average Sweden team to the brink of World Cup qualification, and he has scored some of the most dazzling goals imaginable in the past few weeks, let alone months. (If the Ballon d'Or was awarded for golazos, Zlatan would win hands down.)
If Zlatan can lead Sweden to the World Cup and keep Cristiano Ronaldo out of the tournament, his chances will increase even further.
When it comes to Ballon d'Or voting, defenders usually get a short shrift. The last one to win was Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, who guided Italy to a World Cup triumph. Before him, you have to go back to 1996 and Matthias Sammer, who was part of the Germany team that took home the spoils at Euro 96.
Phillip Lahm doesn't have the privilege of being nominated in a tournament year, but he has been an integral part of Bayern Munich's treble-winning campaign. Many regard him as the best right-back in the world, and few would doubt that Arjen Robben is a much better player with the Bayern and national team captain behind him.
The fact that Pep Guardiola has experimented with Lahm in midfield is a testament to his unmatched versatility, consistency and reliability.
The emphasis on attacking players will count against Lahm, but he is definitely the hipster's choice for the 2013 gong.