For the first time ever, ESPN FC is looking to recognize the most influential person in the sport and we're looking for our readers to be a part of the process.
Our "2013 belongs to...." award will acknowledge the player or coach who ultimately had the biggest impact this year. A panel of our writers and editors will vote on the award recipient, but we also want to hear from you: our readers' poll is worth 33 percent of the final vote tally.
Voting ends on Dec. 30 at noon ET/1700 GMT.
Fans could be the ultimate tiebreaker and have a huge influence.
Poll: 2013 belongs to?
Here are the candidates for the award (in alphabetical order):
Gareth Bale: Can a player be underrated when he comes with a 100 million pound price tag? For some reason or another, the towering Welsh winger isn’t mentioned in the same circles as some of the players mentioned here despite putting up very strong stats. Prior to his move to Real Madrid, many wondered if Bale could excel in the very technical La Liga, but he’s thrived thus far with seven goals and six assists in eight league appearances. Pair that with his dominance in the Premier League (21 goals and 4 assists in the 2012-2013 season) and you have a world-class player.
Jupp Heynckes: After settling for second-best in every competition in 2012, Heynckes refused to allow Bayern Munich to suffer the same fate in 2013. When it was a announced that Pep Guardiola would replace the 68-year-old, there was a danger that Bayern would take their foot off the pedal for the rest of the season, but the opposite happened under the Heynckes' helm. Bayern went undefeated in league play and rolled past European giant Barcelona before defeating rival Dortmund in the Champions League final.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Although not short-listed for the Ballon d’Or or the World Player of the Year awards, Ibrahimovic in 2013 was arguably just as good as Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery. While the towering Swede's 2012-13 season was average, his 2013-14 season has been otherworldly (32 goals for club and country).
Stephen Keshi: Off the shoulders of a disappointing 2010 World Cup, Nigeria turned to one of their legends to help turn around the program. Keshi came in with a strict approach that initially turned off some of the team’s European-based stars, but eventually they began to buy in, and this year it culminated with the Super Eagles winning their first African Cup of Nations since 1994. Nigeria also qualified for the World Cup.
Jurgen Klinsmann: Led the United States to the greatest calendar year in its history, with big results against. Italy, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Mexico – all of this coming after a controversial article claimed that the former Germany boss had lost his team in Honduras. Now, with a contract extension until 2018, Klinsmann aims to bring the U.S. to new heights -- starting with next year's World Cup in Brazil.
Lionel Messi: Even in what would be considered by many to be a "down" year, the Argentine magician poured in 45 goals in 46 appearances for club and country and won another La Liga trophy with Barcelona (his sixth Spanish league win). Injuries appear to be the only thing slowing down Messi, but he is still a legitimate contender to win a fifth consecutive Ballon d’Or in January.
Neymar: The Brazilian superstar has had his share of warranted critics over his frequent diving, but there’s no disputing his top-class performances this year. Despite making a huge jump in leagues from the Brasileiro to La Liga, Neymar has six goals and eight assists in an adjustment year at Barcelona, often playing without Lionel Messi. Add in Neymar’s stellar performances in the Confederations Cup – his four goals and two assists helped Brazil win the tournament – and Neymar was definitely a highlight of 2013.
Franck Ribery: Poor Ribery – up until Nov. 19, the diminutive Frenchman appeared to have the Ballon d’Or and World Player of the Year award wrapped up. He may not be the dominant scorer that Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and Messi are, but Ribery is the ultimate cerebral player – the glue of arguably the greatest Bayern Munich side of all time and an inspiration behind their quadruple-winning season in 2013.
Cristiano Ronaldo: The Portuguese’s astonishing hat trick against Sweden in a 4-2 win in the World Cup qualifying playoffs was arguably one of the greatest singular performances by a player in the sport’s history. Pair that with scoring 65 goals in 69 appearances for club and country, and Ronaldo is the likely favorite to win both the Ballon d’Or and the World Player of the Year award (FIFA certainly helped his case by extending the voting deadline after his memorable performance).
Luis Suarez: If this award were given during the first six months of 2013, there’s no way the controversial Suarez would be mentioned. He topped off his controversial time in England by biting Branislav Ivanovic, and there were plenty of Prem fans who wouldn't have minded seeing the Liverpool forward depart. What a difference a few months make: Suarez is now the favorite to win the Prem’s player of the year award after scoring 19 goals in just 12 appearances so far this season.