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The Ballon d’Or is the most prestigious and coveted individual award in the world of football, a prize won by legends such as Alfredo Di Stéfano, Eusébio, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini, Marco Van Basten and many other megastars. However, it is also a summit that has proved to be unreachable for other football giants, for example Pele, Diego Maradona (non-European players were not eligible for the award until 1995), Thierry Henry, Paolo Maldini and Ferenc Puskás.
On January 12 in Zurich the 5th ceremony since France Football’s Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award were merged, took place. Cristiano Ronaldo managed to capture the award for the third time in his career owing to a Champions League victory by Real Madrid last May and topped off by a record 17 goals by the Portuguese player in the tournament. Moreover, in 2014 Ronaldo scored 61 goals overall, along with 22 assists and he found the net 35 times, just in the 2014/2015 season. Lionel Messi, who broke Raúl’s all-time Champions League record of goals scored, came up short for a second consecutive year. But there was another player, who also did not win the award. A footballer, who deserved the recognition perhaps more than Ronaldo himself. A goalkeeper, who managed to truly revolutionize the position in a matter of weeks: World Cup winner and “sweeper-keeper” extraordinaire – Manuel Neuer.
Since the inception of the Ballon d’Or, defensive players have been brutally overlooked. The only goalkeeper to ever win the award is the amazing Lev “The Black Panther” Yashin back in 1963. In addition, Fabio Cannavaro, Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer are the only defenders to have received this honor. It is high time we saw defensive players be given the credit that they deserve and footballers like Manuel Neuer and Diego Godin should be the first names that pop up to your mind when you think of the success of their teams.
Furthermore, in 2014 Neuer accomplished many impressive feats. To begin with, in a World Cup full of world-class goalkeeper performances (Guillermo Ochoa, Keylor Navas, Tim Howard and Rais M’Bolhi were all unbelievable), Neuer showed why he is the absolute best at his position. He was solid in every game, although his best performance undoubtedly came up against Algeria. During the whole tournament he was the perfect reinforcement for Germany’s high defence line and also displayed amazing ball distribution skills. In other words, not only did he produce marvelous saves, but he also started the lethal German attacks, a side that deservedly won the FIFA Mondial. Judging by the success of the Eagles, it is very likely to see more and more teams trying to utilize the sweeper-keeper position because it allows you to use the whole space of the field and to create a mismatch by attacking with 11 players. Nevertheless, using a sweeper-keeper can be risky, especially at the defensive end. If your keeper does not have some of the skills that outfield players possess (abilities that Neuer clearly has), it is easy to become a victim of accurate long-range shots.
Not only is the German national goalkeeper skillful, but also his style is so unorthodox and yet so interesting to watch and effective. Manuel Neuer possesses flawless footwork skills, an incredible awareness to know where to be at every moment on the pitch and he is intelligent enough to make the right decisions in order to be the link between defense and offense.
As well as playing on top of his game on the international stage, in terms of club football Neuer had another stellar year as Bayern won their tenth domestic double in their history. Still, some people may point out that in the Champions League semifinals the Bavarians were humiliated by Real Madrid. Although this statement is correct, Bayern’s inability to cope against the Los Blancos was mainly due to Pep Guardiola’s lack of tactical prowess combined with Real’s deadly attack and Neuer was not to blame for the five goals that were put past him in these two games.
On the other hand, seeing Cristiano Ronaldo win the award is not unjustified. The rat race between him and Messi has been going on for a while now and the result of it is that each of the two has become better. On top of that, Ronaldo seems to break records all the time and his goals to games ratio is off the charts.
Nevertheless, no matter how sensational he was with Real, much like Leo Messi in 2010, he had a lackluster and forgettable World Cup. Sure, Portugal may not be the strongest outfit, but they performed extremely poorly for their own standards and it was apparent that Ronaldo was incapable of leading the team. What is the point of being the best footballer in the world if you do not showcase your talent on the biggest stage that football has to offer?
All things considered, to say that Ronaldo was not worthy of winning the Ballon d’Or is uncalled for and it is always a pleasure to watch him and Messi in action. In spite of that, the award should be given not to the best footballer in the world, but the one that performed at the highest level during the year and in 2014 that was definitely Manuel Neuer. The times when goalkeepers only had to save shots and stay in the penalty area are long gone and Neuer is the innovator shaping the future of the goalkeeper position. Without him Bayern and the Bundesteam would definitely not be as cohesive and efficient and more importantly not nearly as triumphant in the ever-changing game of football.