RARELY has the suspense been so great. Almost as intense as ‘way back in the earlier days, when as children we were waiting for Christmas, so now are football fans waiting for January 12 to come around. In Zurich that day, the Ballon d’Or trophy will be handed to the world’s best footballer.
This time around it is not only about the question as to who among the candidates is chosen as the best player of 2014.
It is also about what kind of football prowess is best accepted by the national trainers and the captains of the individual national teams.
Of course you’ll quickly mention Lionel Messi, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo – as every year, the usual suspects.
But this time, among the three finalists there is a third one who is much, much stronger in the mix. No – he’s not a striker. He’s a goalie. He’s Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich.
Messi at Barcelona received the coveted Golden Ball trophy four years in succession (2009-2012) before he was replaced by Real Madrid’s Ronaldo in 2013. Ronaldo had already won it before, in 2008.
It’s only natural that fans’ hearts go out to the strikers. These players can decide a match, and make millions happy with their goals. And so it comes as something of a sensation that this time around, apparently many people favour Neuer.
On the other hand, he is the undisputed best keeper on the planet. And, he garnered the Golden Glove award as the best goalie at the 2014 World Cup won by Germany.
I’ll admit that it is tempting, once again, to honour the goal-scoring feats of Ronaldo and Messi. People can see their goals anywhere, from the smallest islands in the South Pacific to the remotest countries on the planet.
Goalkeepers overall tend to be esteemed less highly, no matter how brilliant their saves may be.
Since in international play Messi can only point to reaching the World Cup final with Argentina, while Ronaldo can point to the Champions League title with Real, I believe that Ronaldo may have a slight advantage, even though his national side, Portugal, was eliminated in the first round at the World Cup.
When I look at what Neuer has accomplished, that alongside his fantastic saves as goalkeeper he has also in a certain way and in specific situations taken on a completely new role as a kind of sweeper or centre-back – then to me this makes him a hot prospect for the Ballon d’Or.
I can still remember the legendary Russian goalkeeper Lew Yashin, who was named European Footballer of the Year for 1963. He was one who began rushing far out into the penalty area to fist incoming balls away, and so began ushering in a style of play for the goalkeeper position that is seen today.
At the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea it was Oliver Kahn, likewise goalie at Bayern Munich, who was a major favourite for honours as the tournament’s best player. Kahn provided a mixture of incredible reflexes and at times kamikaze-like actions both inside and outside the penalty area.
It was only in the losing final against Brazil that he made his only serious mistake that led to a goal, or else he would have had huge chances to win the best-player award.
And so, I say “yes” for honouring Manuel Neuer. The jurors should show some flexibility and crown a goalkeeper as king of the game of football. With all due respect to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, they will in any case remain unforgotten.
Dear readers, I hope that we will enjoy a happy 2015 together – and a game of football that is alive. – (GMS)