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Best Player in Europe: Neuer, Robben to Make Ronaldo Finish 2nd Again?

The winner of the Best Player in Europe award could come down to how much stock the voters put into the FIFA World Cup

Lennart Preiss

Shut out from the first two iterations of the UEFA Best Player in Europe, Bayern Munich will have representatives in the final three voting for the European individual award for the second year running.

After Franck Ribery defied the odds and hoisted his first international individual trophy, the club might have greater odds to do so again this year. Bayern will have two of the final three nominees from their club, Manuel Neuer and Arjen Robben, in the 2014 version of the award.

Die Roten are not coming off of the incredible heights they achieved when Ribéry won the award a year ago, but Neuer and Robben's FIFA World Cup campaigns will keep them in the hunt. The two will go against a familiar foe once again, Cristiano Ronaldo a strong favorite to win his first European trophy.

Unlike a year ago, the candidacy of the final three is very different. Ronaldo's case looks similar to that of last year, his 63 goals for club and country between UEFA awards the best in Europe. The defining change now is the trophies he now has, as well as a new Champions League record 17 goals. With all of his club success, he could not lift his international team into the later stages of the World Cup.

That could be the biggest advantage that Neuer and Robben have. Both helped their team play a full-seven World Cup schedule in Brazil, and Neuer was able to win the last game with his compatriots in the end. The weight that carries depends on how short-term the memories of the 54 "experts" are, who will vote for the award during the ceremony on Thursday.

The World Cup now in his trophy case, Neuer has already charted new territory for goalkeepers in this young award. He and Iker Casillas have received votes before, but no goalkeeper has ever made it to the final three. His qualifications are less tangible than that of forwards like Robben and Ronaldo, all though his highlight reel is arguably better.

Neuer's shot at winning the Best Player in Europe boils down to his value to Bayern and Germany. He is arguably the most irreplaceable player on the planet, for the drop-off from him to his back-up is almost as high as Angel Falls. His value as an eleventh field player was unparalleled, and the height at which he has climbed has not been touched in many years.

The height of competition is where Robben succeeded as well. His 24 goals and 20 assists for club and country seems miniature next to Ronaldo's pedigree, but the magnitude in which his scoring contributions came add latent significance to his numbers. His winner in the DFB-Pokal final was followed up by a World Cup campaign in which he turned an average looking Netherlands side into one of the most powerful forces in the World Cup. Were it not for a penalty shootout against Argentina, Robben would have taken part in perhaps Europe's biggest international rivalry in the World Cup final.

Balancing club and country contributions is such a powerful barometer that it could be the single most important factor in determining the winner of the award. The glamor of a jaw-dropping spectacle in Brazil could overshadow an eight-month club campaign, but a sample size that big cannot be tossed away so perfunctorily.

Who has their name engraved on the back of the trophy will be even more compelling than last year, and Bayern could be very easily pleased with the final vote.

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