And so it begins, the great debate: whose individual heroics and magic on the field are deserving of the 2015 UEFA Best Player in Europe award? The administrative body for association football in Europe unleashed their ten-man shortlist for the award – which recognizes the best player on any European club from the previous season regardless of nationality – earlier this week, and five Latinos made the cut. The list is rife with Champions League finalists, prolific goalscorers, and, of course, wavy guardametas like Gianluigi Buffon. It will be narrowed down to three names on August 12, before a final decision is made and a recipient is announced later that month.
In the meantime, we want to take a look at the five Latino football phenoms vying for the prize:
Lionel Messi (Argentina – FC Barcelona)
The right side of Barcelona’s potent three-pronged attacking trident, Messi ended his domestic season with 43 goals and 18 assists, making him the league’s second highest scorer after fellow shortlist nominee Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as its highest assist giver. As if that wasn’t already enough individual brilliance to last a lifetime, Messi became La Liga’s all-time top goal scorer on November 22, 2014, breaking Telmo Zarra’s 251 goals record with a hat-trick in a 5-1 drubbing of Sevilla. He finished Barça’s treble-winning term with 58 goals in all competitions, including a double in the Copa del Rey final and a 10-goal joint-top scorer Champions League campaign. Even madridistas will concur that the Argentine forward was nothing short of spectacular in 2014-15.
Neymar (Brazil – FC Barcelona)
Neymar’s technical mastery and savvy dribbling ability added yet another element to the sensational Barcelona attack. Primarily playing down the left side for the Azulgrana, he closed out the season with 39 goals in all competitions, and joined Ronaldo and teammate Messi as joint-top scorer in Champions League action with ten. The forward scored an unprecedented number of wildly important goals for Barcelona this season, including strikes in both legs of the UCL quarterfinals against PSG and the semifinals against Bayern Munich, the second goal in Barça’s 3-1 Copa del Rey final win over Athletic Bilbao, and the third and final goal in the UCL championship match.
Luis Suárez (Uruguay – FC Barcelona)
Suárez rounds out the list of Barcelona nominees as the third and final prong in the devastating Catalan strike force. Despite being banned from all soccer-related activity at the start of the season as a result of biting Italian international and Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini, Suárez was eventually able to make a tremendous impact in his first year with Barcelona, producing his first significant contribution with a two-assist effort off the bench in a come-from-behind away victory against Almería. The forward proved his unparalleled hunger as a Barça central target player, ending his debut campaign with a whopping 25 goals and 20 assists in all competitions, including two strikes against Manchester City and the second goal in the UCL final.
Carlos Tévez (Argentina – Juventus, now CA Boca Juniors)
31-year-old Tévez tallied 20 Serie A goals en route to Juventus’ fourth consecutive Scudetto this past season. He showed a wide range of skills over the course of the campaign, converting blasts from distance, linking up with teammates, and tucking shots into corners, all while playing in a deep attacking role under Álvaro Morata and Fernando Llorente. Tevez scored seven goals in Champions League action for La Vecchia Signora, and was a starter in the final against Barcelona. On top of this, he, along with fellow Argentina international Messi, was a part of the Albiceleste team that fell to Chile in penalty kicks in the Copa América final. After 96 games, 50 goals, and two Serie A titles with Juve, he recently completed a transfer to return to his beloved boyhood club, Boca Juniors.
Arturo Vidal (Chile – Juventus)
Chile’s Bad Boy King rounds out the five Latino superstars to make this year’s UEFA Best Player in Europe shortlist. The dangerous attacking midfielder has faced his fair share of controversy over the past month after crashing his red Ferrari while driving under the influence of alcohol, but was nonetheless a force to be reckoned with in La Roja’s Copa América success with three goals to his name. In club play, Vidal scored the lone decisive goal in a 1-0 win over Sampdoria on May 2 to secure the Scudetto for the side from Turin, and earned a start in the Champions League final as well. His merits appear to have even put him in good standings with Bayern Munich, as he looks to be inching closer to completing a transfer to the German giants.