There were few surprises when the three-man shortlist for the 2015 FIFA Ballon d'Or award was announced on Monday. Perennial nominees Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been joined by Barcelona ace Neymar, and the Brazilian is certainly a worthy nominee.
Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the award since 2008 (when it was formally known as the FIFA Player of the Year), but will their stranglehold continue in 2015? We've profiled the trio and cast our vote…
Messi's presence on this list is a record on its own, with the forward named in the top three for a record ninth time. The 28-year-old was some way off Ronaldo last year, but in 2015 he's been back to his best.
Having shed some weight and playing in a slightly deeper role, Messi has shone. With Neymar and Luis Suarez supporting him, the Argentine was sublime as Barcelona secured a memorable treble.
The year was so close to being capped off with international glory, with Argentina falling just short at the Copa America where they went down to Chile on penalties.
Club: Real Madrid
Ronaldo remains at the top of his game, and his goal-scoring record is out of this world. It's in goals where Ronaldo edges Messi and Neymar, with the Portugal ace's games-per-goal ratio of 1.06 just beating Messi’s 1.22 and Neymar’s 1.28.
Speaking earlier in the month, Ronaldo said that he expected Messi to win the award because of Barcelona's impressive run of titles.
"To be honest I think Messi is going to win this year because this kind of trophy, it depends on votes,” he said. “You win competitions, you win the Champions League you win the league in terms of individual. I did probably the best season of my career which is good and I was the highest scorer in Europe [but] it’s all about votes."
He does have a point to some extent, Barcelona's success certainly does add weight to the cases of Messi and Neymar, with Ronaldo at times carrying Real on his back and falling short. But while Ronaldo has been banging in the goals, he hasn't set himself apart in the manner he did last year, and wasn't able to shine when Real needed him most, in the Champions League semi-final against Juventus.
This is the first year in which Neymar has featured among the top three nominees, and it's just reward for the Brazilian, and according to the man himself it is the result of a lot of hard work.
“I’ve always just played with the idea of continually getting better, to always surpass my goals, to always be better, play better, train better," he said. "To be the best in the world is the direct result of all of this work. If today I am being spoken of in such terms, it is a clear sign that what I am doing is working.”
It's in the second half of the year that Neymar has really shone. Any concerns regarding how Barca would fair in Messi's injury-enforced absence were firmly dispelled as Neymar and Suarez stepped up to the plate and delivered in impressive fashion.
At times Neymar is still in Messi's shadow in the biggest matches, but it's hard not to be.
One definite blot on the 23-year-old's copybook is the petulant red card he received in the Copa America against Colombia which prematurely ended his tournament and left Brazil short when they so desperately needed a player of Neymar's caliber to provide a spark as their title challenge wilted.
It has to first be said that Suarez can consider himself very unlucky not to have made the three-man shortlist, while Ronaldo can perhaps consider himself a tad fortunate.
All three contenders are top performers, but the player of 2015 has to be Messi. Having watched on as Ronaldo walked away with the trophy for the past two years, Messi will be back on top this time around.
Who do you think should win this year's FIFA Ballon d'Or?