The most basic divide among football fans is whether one considers Lionel Messi Cristiano Ronaldo the best player on the planet. You have to rate one over the other, and a third name can't even be mentioned unless you want to look like a fool.
But that debate has been done to death – or carnage. Messi and CR7 are the top two, and it's a universal fact. The order may vary – depending on your personal likeness – but the selection won't.
That raises the question, if those two decide to retire today, who will be the new best player in the world? OK, we'll cut out the hypothetical drama and just focus on the players who have a genuine claim to be the best after the two extraterrestrials.
While he is not in the equation anymore, there was a time during his two-year stint with Atletico Madrid with Radamel Falcao was considered by some as a star of the caliber of Ronaldo and Messi. With 70 goals in just 91 appearances, the Colombian did come as close as anyone has got to the top two's goal-a-game production level. He definitely was the third-best at the time.
A serious knee injury means he has struggled to replicate the same form in the past few months, but at 28, he has enough time to work his way back. At the moment though, he is not the third-best.
He may not be a volume scorer in the mold of Leo or Ronaldo, but Franck Ribery is still an elite level player. The question is he is good enough to warrant a place behind those two? Numbers matter. Especially in this day and age, they do. Ribery may have won the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award in 2013, but his age (31) and a paltry sum of 16 goals last season means there are other better candidates for the coveted third spot.
His nomadic career and the elusive Champions League title means Zlatan Ibrahimovic is often overlooked in debate of greatest players. He may not have the shiny titles or as great stats as Messi and Ronaldo, but in no way he is any less than them in talent category. For a man of his size (6'5) to be so skillful and successful is unheard of.
At 33, he is probably not the third-best, but that doesn't mean he isn't one of the most gifted players of his generation.
Cannibalism aside, Luis Suarez is an excellent footballer. Last year, he scored 31 goals in 33 games for Liverpool and almost won them a Premier League title. His 0.94 goal rate per game was the highest ever recorded in the PL era. The fact that he produced those goal-a-game numbers in the English top division makes his achievement all the more impressive. His behavior means that he may never reach fulfill his true potential, but on talent alone he is inferior only to the two above. Third-best? Nah.
Gareth Bale is the most expensive footballer in the world and the heir apparent to Ronaldo. So is he the third-best? The Welshman gave a good account of his ability last season by scoring 22 goals, including the winner against Barcelona in the Cope del Rey final. He certainly enjoyed a better debut campaign than his rival Neymar did for Barca, but he has struggled this season due to injuries. In his absence, the Brazilian has taken the lead, and so it's hard to make a case for Bale as the third-best right now.
If Luis Suarez is rated highly on the basis of two great seasons with Liverpool, what about Sergio Aguero who has been carrying Manchester City for four years now? The diminutive Argentine scores a goal every 115 minutes, which is the highest goal-to-minute ratio in the Premier League history. Does that make him the third-best behind his countryman and Ronaldo? Aguero has always been underrated. That and his dodgy fitness record is why he might not make the cut here.
It took Neymar a season to reach the production level of his teammate Messi and CR7. He has 9 in 9 in the league, and 11 in 12 overall. At 22, the Brazilian already has 162 goals in 278 games, and looks set to have a magnificent scoring career. During Messi's blip this season, Neymar emerged as Barca's new go-to guy, and has also been named his country's new captain. To have taken so much responsibility at such tender age without compromising any of the performance is unheard of.
Not only is he quite clearly the best outside the top two right now, he might break the long running duopoly at the top soon.
So there you have it. Having factored in all these guys' overall ability, form, age and fitness level, it is fair to say that Neymar is currently the third-best football player on the planet.