Why Barcelona's Neymar is the third best footballer behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

On the back of an incredible season for Barcelona, in which the Blaugrana picked up all three trophies available to them in a second historic treble campaign in 6 years, Barça’s brilliant Brazilian Neymar has assured his place among the top tier talents in the world of football.

Forming an incomparable partnership with another one of the world’s best forwards in Luis Suarez and possibly the greatest player to ever grace a pitch; Lionel Messi, Brazil’s captain netted a huge 39 goals in 51 competitive appearances, with 10 being notched in the Champions League (making the sharpshooting Sao Paulo native the joint top scorer in Europe’s most prestigious competition last year).

Taking into consideration his place as 3rd in most minutes played within the squad behind Messi and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, and having completed the second most successful dribbles behind the metronomic Messi, it’s fair to assess that his entire contribution could not be quantified in just his volume of goals either

Therefore, should Neymar be considered the 3rd best player in the world by common consent? Unfortunately for him, many (especially those that compose the vast majority of British audience) consider more familiar players like Eden Hazard or teammate Luis Suarez to occupy that esteemed spot below the two transcendent talents in Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

In my eyes, Neymar should obtain the recognition he deserves and claim the third nominee place for this calendar year’s Ballon d’Or. In response to the argument presented by fans of Eden Hazard is that, although the best player in the Premier League in 2014/15, his primary period of production for his club came within the first half of the year as Chelsea seemingly secured the Premier League title immediately after Christmas and proceeded to stutteringly plod to the trophy in a mediocre conclusion to their season.

His club being dismissed by PSG in the round of 16 in the Champions League after two average personal performances will not help the Belgian’s case either. Especially when considering that Neymar scored 5 goals in 4 games against the Parisian team, leading the Blaugrana past them in the quarter-final stage.

Compared to the Brazil captain, both Suarez and Hazard boast a massively inferior international goal tally. Neymar has scored an amazing 46 goals for his country, and at the age of just 23, has placed himself in a prime position to challenge Pele’s 77 goals for the Canarinha. As opposed to the unspectacular record of just 10 strikes in a Belgian jersey for Hazard, there is little comparison.

One aspect of the critical side of the debate often levelled at Neymar’s statistics in club football however is the naïve view that it is ‘easy’ to play for Barcelona alongside Messi against the relative minnows in La Liga.

To refute this, however, I offer up the opinion that without the existence of Lionel Messi, Neymar would adopt the role of ‘star man’ in Barcelona – as Messi and Hazard has, along with how Luis Suarez did at Liverpool – and would revel in that responsibility similar to the way he has when donning the yellow shirt of Brazil.

This can be seen in Barcelona’s latest La Liga outing against title contenders Atletico Madrid. In Messi’s absence, the onus fell upon the shoulders of Neymar to produce the magic required to pull his team back into the game. The Brazilian duly obliged and equalised with a sublime free-kick.

His goals coupled with his magisterial technique elevates him from the pretenders to his merited bronze medal among football’s greats -- Hence Neymar’s deserved status as the 3rd greatest footballer on the planet.

By Joel Boyd, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter @JoelBoyd10.