The list of nominees for the 2011 Ballon d'Or was announced earlier this week, with the 23 best players in the world during the 2011 calendar year.
Although it's not official yet, there are no doubts whatsoever that the winner will be Barcelona's Lionel Messi, for the third year in a row. The best player of this generation was so overwhelmingly dominating during this calendar year that it is absolutely unthinkable that anyone even gets near him in the vote.
The fight for second place will be a lot more interesting, with three absolutely superb players (all with the potential to be multiple winners of this award if Messi weren't around), three future Hall of Famers in contention to be named the second-best player of 2011. They are, of course, Messi's teammates and last year's finalists Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, and the 2008 winner and recent Golden Boot winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
These three players have been sharing runner-up positions in best player awards over the past three years. Cristiano Ronaldo was second to Messi in 2009, while Iniesta took that position in 2010, with Xavi Hernandez third on both occasions and second in the recent first edition of the UEFA Player of the Year award.
All three players have been accomplishing remarkable things, with Ronaldo already one of finest goalscorers the game has ever seen and Xavi and Iniesta two of the best ever midfielders.
If they don't get all the recognition they deserve, it's because they're firmly in the shadows of Lionel Messi, arguably the most talented player of all eons and eras. But there is no doubt that Cristiano, Xavi and Andrés have already done enough (and will surely do even more in the coming years) to cement their place in the pantheon of football's all-time greats.
This piece makes a case for each of them as the second-best player of 2011, and why they deserve that distinction.
You can follow me on Twitter @Manueltraquete.