When it came to light Roy Hodgson had vote for Javier Mascherano, Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer as his top three players of 2014, the whole world erupted with laughter and scorn.
Since 2007, it has become almost taboo to talk about the top three players in the world without mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Without a shadow of a doubt they both deserve praise for the frightening levels of consistency they have reached. When the norm for a world class forward was to score 30+ goals in a season, they did it. When it was extremely rare for a forward to reach 40 goals in a season, they did it. They have since reached Pele like levels of consistency by scoring 50+ goals in a season, making the previous benchmark of 30 for a world class player look like a joke.
They deserve every plaudit that comes their way; nonetheless so do their teammates. It was not too long ago Messi claimed he was nothing without Xavi and Iniesta. It therefore comes as no surprise Xavi's decline and Iniesta's marginalisation as Barcelona move away from tiki-taka has resulted in Messi's output in front of goal decreasing in the past two years.
Likewise, while Ronaldo has gone from strength to strength in same two years, it is only because Real Madrid have gone from strength to strength in general. From having a supporting cast of Higuain, Kaka, Ozil, Jose Callejon, Khedira, Michael Essien and Arbeloa, Ronaldo is now plying his trade with Benzema, Bale, Isco, James Rodriguez, Kroos, Luka Modric and Carvajal. For a true sense of Ronaldo's worth without a superstar cast, his solid but hardly spectacular performances for Portugal are a better picture.
However, in this era where Ronaldo and Messi are smashing records left, right and centre we have been blinded by what they are getting up to to see what their teammates or others have accomplished.
In regards to Javier Mascherano, "he made the second most number of tackles at the tournament (22), joint-third most blocks (six), and recovered the ball for his side on 49 occasions, putting him fourth in that category, while only two players covered more ground than his 82km. He was also third in the passing rankings, making 626 passes with an 86% completion rate. Only Toni Kroos and Lahm could better those numbers." - Stats from Sky Sports.
This season in La Liga, Mascherano has made the third most tackles per game with 3.8 to his name. and he was sixth in the Champions League last term with 4.1 tackles per game. He has also averaged the second most passes in La Liga this season (74.2), yet he is also fourth in passing accuracy (91.7%), this despite averaging the second most long passes (7.7) per game - stats from WhoScored.
For club and country Mascherano is often the last line of defence, marshalling the backline all by himself in uber attacking sides.
A better question would be how can Barcelona replace Mascherano? They have already failed for years with Puyol, just like Real Madrid suffered when the undervalued Claude Makelele and sold him. Turns out, he may not have been the most talented, but he was by far their most important player. With him they were the world's best team; without him they were a side who failed to get past the last 16 of the Champions League for years.
It is a similar story with Lahm. Whether it is through injuries within the squad or just pure tactical reshuffling, Lahm has been deployed as a left back, right back, centre back, defensive midfielder and central midfielder from game to game for several years and he has performed each role without skipping a beat. Likewise, Mascherano has been switched as a centre back to defensive midfielder and is world class in both roles.
Just like Messi's and Ronaldo's goalscoring is a throwback to the days of Gerd Muller and Pele, Mascherano's and Lahm's flexibility is a throwback to total football, where players were expected to play anywhere on the field. If you ask me, that is just as impressive and revolutionary. Kudos to Roy Hodgson for recognising the other merits of football and reminding us there is more to modern football than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.