Cristiano Ronaldo heads up UEFA's shortlist for this season's European Player of the Year accolade, with Manuel Neuer and Arjen Robben also on the three-man shortlist, as reported by the official Champions League Twitter account:
Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Franck Ribery have captured the trophy in previous years after UEFA President Michel Platini brought it into effect in 2011. This award takes into account an individual's performance during club and international matches as long as the player represents a team which operates inside UEFA's region.
Real Madrid's success thrusts Ronaldo to the forefront while Neuer's World Cup win and Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich ensures he has a decent chance. Robben can be considered this year's outsider, but his showing at the World Cup is likely to sway the thoughts of many.
Ronaldo is considered the "hot favourite" by Joaquin Maroto of Spanish publication AS, a notion that is difficult to contest. The Portuguese superstar enjoyed a stunning individual season in which he led Real Madrid to Copa del Rey and Champions League victory, the latter of which captured La Decima for the Bernabeu club. He also scored both goals during Tuesday's UEFA Super Cup win over Sevilla.
The 29-year-old scored 31 goals and contributed nine assists in 30 La Liga games last season despite Real's inability to finish above Atletico Madrid or Barcelona, per WhoScored.com. He also racked up a record-breaking tally of 17 goals in 11 Champions League appearances en route to winning a historic 10th European Cup for Los Blancos. This included a goal in the last minute of extra time to down Atletico 4-1.
A plethora of niggling injuries threatened to slow Ronaldo's progress as the 2013-14 club season came to an end. This didn't become truly noticeable until his World Cup displays with Portugal, who failed to escape the group stage in Brazil. Ronaldo scored one and assisted another in three matches, not a bad haul in such a disappointing team.
Neuer's success at the World Cup should be considered the main threat to Ronaldo's challenge. While largely excellent during Bayern Munich's Bundesliga campaign, Neuer provided a number of stunning saves along Germany's route to victory in Brazil.
The speed of his reactions thrust his nation away from trouble on many occasions while his confidence to challenge strikers with successfully timed lunging tackles has gained many plaudits. Such tactics are dangerous and do flirt with disaster, but Neuer's forward-thinking attitude worked brilliantly throughout the aforementioned tournament.
Neuer's dominance is certainly highlighted with his place in the top three. Outfield stars such as Messi, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Philipp Lahm have all been ousted in favour of the 28-year-old keeper, whose commanding presence continues to grow.
Although Bayern lost the recent German Super Cup to Borussia Dortmund, Neuer remained on point, per Archie Rhind-Tutt of BT Sport:
Stefan Bienkowski also acknowledges Neuer's style is changing the perception of being a goalkeeper:
Robben adds to the Bayern Munich representation inside the top three. He scored 11 goals and provided six assists in 28 Bundesliga appearances last season, per WhoScored.com. The Dutchman also scored four and assisted four in 10 Champions League games despite Bayern's inability to defend their title.
The winger's place inside the top trio was likely confirmed at the World Cup, where he tore through the opposition in Louis van Gaal's transitional 3-5-2 formation. Robben notched an impressive three goals during the Oranje's progression to third in South America.
Suarez ranks among those who are unfortunate not to have taken Robben's place in the top three. He thrust Liverpool to within three points of the Premier League title with 31 goals last season while he also scored a vital goal against England to help Uruguay advance through the World Cup's group stage. Surprisingly, he finished below James Rodriguez in the shortlist, per MailOnline Sport:
It is unusual to receive a list of top stars without Messi competing for the prize, but the Argentinian makes way this year.
He managed a combined total of 36 goals and 11 assists across 38 matches in La Liga and the Champions League, per WhoScored.com. He also netted four in seven during his nation's route to the World Cup final, a tournament in which he never quite got up to speed. Despite this, Messi still won the Golden Ball.
Messi is one of the rare players who can post exceptional stats and still be classed as out of form, which certainly works against him. While Leo may have to look on as Ronaldo lifts this year's individual European prize, both icons are likely to find themselves battling for the recognition in 12 months.
Ronaldo is the rightful favourite ahead of the winner being announced on Aug. 28, but as we saw with Ribery's win last year, the other contenders can never be ruled out.