Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

REID | Who is the Third Best Player of Our Generation?

In this edition of “Between the Lines,” Owen Reid (CAS ’26) evaluates the greatest footballers of our generation by their peak and their overall career, searching for the third best behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
Flickr | Brazilian superstar Neymar is widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of his generation.

Undoubtedly, the two best players of our generation are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (in that order). They have by far the most goal contributions, and the strongest accolades and have demonstrated a peak and consistency better than anyone over the last 15 years. 

In short, Messi and Ronaldo really only rival each other. That begs the question, though: if we take those two players out of the equation, who is the third-best player of our generation?

Let’s start with some definitions: when I say “of our generation,” I mean the time since 2008, when Ronaldo won his first Ballon d’Or, the annual award that goes to the top footballer in the world, and Pep Guardiola took over as manager of Barcelona, until now. 

The marker “best” has a little more nuance. In this article, I will draw a distinction between a player’s peak (around one to two isolated years) and a career as a whole, and I will present candidates for both avenues before ultimately choosing two players. To identify players who qualify as “best,” I think of the extent to which players play their position better than their contemporaries and the ability to win their team a game on their own. 


Neymar Jr. achieved his peak years during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. In his final season at Barcelona, Neymar averaged an absurd, league-leading 8.52 match rating across 30 games, according to, tallying 13 goals and 11 assists in La Liga. He also equaled Messi with an average match rating of 8.24 across nine Champions League appearances. This amazing season prompted a record €222 million transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, where he debuted in Ligue 1 with an 8.95 average match rating in league play, a number that no player has surpassed with a minimum of 20 appearances since 2008. 

Though Neymar did achieve the highest match rating of anyone in our generation for a single season, there is something to be said about the lack of quality in Ligue 1 compared to other leagues. For that reason, I’ll present some alternatives: Eden Hazard in the 2014-15 season and Gareth Bale in the 2012-13 season. Both have what I believe is the best claim a Premier League star can make to rival Messi or Ronaldo. Both players led the league in match rating in their respective seasons and did so in a much more competitive and deeper league than Neymar did between 2016 and 2018. 

Other players who can make a claim to the best peak are Robert Lewandowski in 2020 and Andres Iniesta from 2009 to 2010. 

Regardless, I have not seen a player who excelled at his position with the ability to single-handedly change a game at a rate similar to Messi or Ronaldo as Neymar did between 2016 and 2018. 


Luis Suarez’s incredible consistency and accolades between 2011 and 2020 earn him my selection for the best overall career aside from Messi and Ronaldo. 

With elite scoring prowess and the ability to play in possession, Suarez is the most complete striker of our generation. He boasts 280 goals and consistent postings of a 7.80 average match rating per season between 2011 and 2020. Suarez’s success with Uruguay in the 2011 Copa America and remarkable trophy cabinet — courtesy of his five league titles with Barcelona, one Champions League title, four Copa Del Rey victories, one FA Cup with Liverpool and two golden boots between the Premier League and La Ligagive him an outstanding list of awards to go along with his consistent greatness. 

Besides Suarez, three other players with consistent and outstanding careers come to mind: longtime Real Madrid players Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric and Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer. Admittedly, quantifying their value to a team as a defender, midfielder and goalkeeper, respectively, is harder, but each player’s accolades speak for themselves. 

Modric’s 2018 season was good enough to steal the Ballon d’Or away from Messi, and his five Champions League titles cemented him as the best midfielder of the 2010s. Similar to Modric, Sergio Ramos’ consistency defines his greatness. Largely recognized as the best defender of our generation, Ramos shares four of Modric’s five Champions Leagues but distinguishes himself with a World Cup victory in 2010. The only goalkeeper to place in the top three for Ballon d’Or voting in our generation, Manuel Neuer makes a case for best career as well. 

Despite the achievements of these titans of modern football, Luis Suarez still takes the crown as my selection for the third-best overall career of our generation. 

It is difficult to decide whether a player’s career as a whole or their peak years should be more relevant in deciding who the third-best player of our generation is. But for now, I’ll call it a draw between Neymar’s prime and the consistent greatness that defined Luis Suarez’s entire career.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All The Hoya Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • N

    Nolan CooperMar 23, 2024 at 8:46 pm

    Hot take: Mbappe at 25 has done more than Eden Hazard his entire career