Who is the THIRD best player of our generation?

Published on 15 September 2023 at 01:38

Last Saturday, Neymar Jr etched his name into footballing folklore with a brace against Bolivia securing his place as Brazil's all time leading goalscorer and surpassing the legendary Pelé.


The Brazilian's tally now stands at an impressive 79 strikes in just 126 appearances, a rate of one every 143 minutes for the Seleção.


With the Al Hilal forward now securing an iconic status of almost unrivalled proportions both in his homeland and across the global game, it's time to ask ourselves: behind the obvious front two of Messi and Ronaldo, who is truly the third best player of our generation? 

What makes a great player?


But first of all, what makes a great player?


Is it purely based on natural footballing ability? Is it  an obscene level of determination and professionalism that allows true greatness to be achieved? Is it as simple as just looking at the goalscoring numbers? Is greatness linked to a player's influence?


Well, in our opinion it's all of the above. 


So, who are the candidates?


*For the purposes of this list we will only be choosing players who made their debut after the year 2002*


The Shortlist


Neymar Jr - Left Winger (Santos FC, FC Barcelona, PSG & Al Hilal) 

  • Seven league titles
  • One UCL
  • One Olympic gold medal
  • Brazil all-time leading goalscorer
  • Club goals: 250
  • Club assists: 181
  • Highest Ballon d'Or ranking: Third (2015 & 2017)


Neymar Jr is one of the most technically gifted footballers of his generation. With a showreel of serious proportions that displays his dancing feet and knack for finding the back of the net. Not particularly loved off the pitch, on the pitch the Brazilian magician has been dazzling audiences since 2009. Now topping the goalscoring charts for his nation ahead of the likes of Pelé, Neymar is certainly an all-time great. Had it not been for Messi and Ronaldo, he would surely have multiple Ballon d'Or by now.


Gareth Bale - Right Winger (Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid, LA FC)

  • Three league titles
  • Five UCLs
  • Wales all-time leading goalscorer
  • Club goals: 181
  • Club assists: 123
  • Highest Ballon d'Or ranking: Sixth (2016)


Welsh record goalscorer Gareth Bale began his career as a free-flying attacking left back before converting into one of the deadliest right-sided forwards in modern footballing history. Lightning fast and with a left-foot like a sledgehammer, Bale scored countless goals on his road to being a five-time winner of the UEFA Champions League. Scorer of an iconic hat trick at the San Siro as well as a mesmeric bicycle kick in the 2019 UCL final, he certainly deserves a spot on this list.


Luka Modric - Central Midfielder (Dinamo Zagreb, Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid)

  • Six league titles
  • Five UCLs
  • Most capped Croatian player of all-time
  • Club goals: 57
  • Club assists: 101
  • Highest Ballon d'Or ranking: First (2018)


The only player to break the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly which has dominated the Ballon d'Or since 2008, Croatia's most capped player of all time Luka Modric is the only player to make this list who doesn't ply his trade in the forward line. Nevertheless, he has a record to match all of them. With six league titles and five UCLs, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner and World Cup golden ball winner, Modric has regularly showcased his silky skills and is one of the most press-resistant midfielders of all time. A true legend in Croatia and a deserved inclusion on our shortlist.


Robert Lewandowski - Centre Forward (Lech Poznań, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, FC Barcelona)

  • Twelve league titles
  • One UCL
  • Poland all-time leading goalscorer
  • Club goals: 489
  • Club assists: 141
  • Highest Ballon d'Or ranking: Second (2021)


From a Ballon d'Or winner to a man who was arguably robbed of one in 2020 when the ceremony was cancelled due to COVID-19. With an astonishing twelve league titles to his name and the all-time record goalscorer for the Polish national team, Robert Lewandowski is one of the most lethal goalscorer of the 21st century. A whopping 489 strikes across his career including five in nine minutes against VFL Wolfsburg back in September 2015, Lewandowski certainly deserves his spot here.


Luis Suárez - Centre Forward (Club Nacional de Football, FC Groningen, AFC Ajax, Liverpool FC, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Grêmio)

  • Nine league titles
  • One UCL
  • One Copa América
  • Uruguay all-time leading goalscorer
  • Club goals: 447
  • Club assists: 255
  • Highest Ballon d'Or ranking: Fourth (2016)


And last but not least it's controversial figure Luis Suárez who despite his colourful history remains one of the most clinical forwards of his generation. Finding the back of the net 447 times whilst laying on a further 255 assists in his club career, Suarez helped various sides to nine league titles across his illustrious career in Europe. Becoming Uruguay's all-time top goalscorer in 2013, 'El Pistolero' is the only man on this list to win a major international trophy (as the Olympics seldom features the best and brightest stars that football has to offer). Despite his controversial nature, Suárez is undoubtedly deserving of a spot on this list.


The Verdict


For us though, it has to be Neymar Jr who takes this crown. As arguably the most technically gifted player of his generation, Neymar is one of few footballers to score over 100 goals for three separate sides and it is this feat which helps cement his greatness. Yes, he is not the most loved player in the world, and yes he has had injury problems, following his most recent feat of goalscoring magic, Neymar has cemented himself as an all-time great not just in Brazil but across the world. In a world without Messi or Ronaldo, the Brazilian could well have topped the Ballon d'Or charts ahead of the likes of Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten and so, for us, Neymar Jr is the third best player of the 21st century thus far.


But what do you think? Did we miss anyone out? Should we have selected a different winner?


Let us know in the comments or on social media and make sure to give us a follow while you're there.




Ben Watts

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