On this day in 1963, Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin was awarded the Ballon d’Or, which is a prestigious individual accolade that recognizes the footballer perceived to be the year’s best player.

The Ballon d’Or had only been awarded for the eighth time that year, but Yashin’s victory meant that he had become the first goalkeeper to win the accolade.

It was a historic moment for Yashin, who was coming off of winning his fifth Soviet Top League title and a mesmerizing performance in a friendly against England.

Although no goalkeeper had won the award prior to Yashin, given the crop of goalkeeping talent that existed at the time — Gordon Banks, Hans Tilkowski and Dino Zoff were all active — there was some expectation that other goalkeepers would soon join the Soviet’s ranks.

But nearly 60 years later, Yashin remains the only goalkeeper to have won the Ballon d’Or. 

It’s not that goalkeepers haven’t excelled since Yashin’s Ballon d’Or win. Rather, it’s that voters have almost exclusively voted for outfielders.

In fact, since Yashin’s 1963 Ballon d’Or win, only five goalkeepers — Dino Zoff, Ivo Viktor, Oliver Kahn, Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer — have even been voted into the award’s top three in a given year. Yashin, despite winning the Ballon d’Or, never made any subsequent podium finishes.

Rather than focusing on why voters have shied away from including goalkeepers on their ballot, I thought I’d focus this piece on why those five aforementioned goalkeepers came so close to winning the Ballon d’Or — and what stood in their way from winning it. 

Their group is very exclusive, as the likes of Gordon Banks, Peter Schmeichel and Iker Casillas are noticeably absent from the list. So, I’m curious to know what these specific five goalkeepers accomplished and why it still wasn’t enough to win the Ballon d’Or.

With that said, here’s a deeper look at the five goalkeepers who came so close to replicating Yashin’s Ballon d’Or win.


CREDIT: http://sportmediaset.mediaset.it/

Dino Zoff (1973)

Who is he?

Largely considered to be one of the game’s greatest goalkeepers, Dino Zoff suited up for the likes of Udinese, Napoli and Juventus across his 22-year club career, and he earned 112 caps in a 15-year Italian national team career.

A six-time Serie A champion, Zoff’s greatest achievement was captaining the Italian national team to World Cup glory in 1982. Zoff was 40 years old at the time, making him the World Cup’s oldest-ever champion — a record he still holds today. He was officially recognized as the tournament’s top goalkeeper and was elected to the Team of the Tournament. 

In 2000, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) recognized Zoff as the third best goalkeeper of the 20th century (behind the Soviet Union’s Lev Yashin and England’s Gordon Banks). Three years later, the Italian Football Federation selected him as the nation’s best player from the last 50 years.

What did he accomplish?

Dino Zoff had gained some recognition leading up to his 1972 move to Juventus — he had made his international debut in 1968 and was part of Italy’s squads for the 1968 Euros and the 1970 World Cup. But it was in the 1972-73 season that Zoff truly established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

In his debut season with Juventus, Zoff made 30 league appearances and conceded just 22 goals as the Turin-based club clinched its second Serie A championship in a row. The league title was Zoff’s first club championship of his career and the first of what would turn into six Serie A titles in 10 years.

But Zoff’s 1973 was also defined by what he almost achieved. Off the back of his consistent performances, Juventus almost clinched their first-ever European treble. 

Zoff and the Zebras reached both the 1973 European Cup Final and the 1973 Coppa Italia Final. The former was the first European Cup Final appearance in Juventus history, and the latter was their first domestic cup final appearance since 1965.

Unfortunately, Juventus lost both finals. In the European Cup Final, Juventus lost 1-0 to Ajax, who had won each of the last two European Cups; and in the Coppa Italia Final, Juventus dropped a 5-2 shootout decision to AC Milan following a 1-1 draw.

Zoff and Juventus had the opportunity to make amends when they were invited to play in the 1973 Intercontinental Cup Final against Copa Libertadores champions Independiente. Unfortunately, they suffered their third loss in a final that year — Independiente won 1-0 thanks to an 80th-minute goal from 19-year-old Ricardo Bochini.

Zoff ended 1973 with a Serie A championship and three runners-up medals to his name, which voters deemed good enough for a top-two finish in that year’s Ballon d’Or. Zoff became the first goalkeeper since Lev Yashin in 1963 to finish in the top two in Ballon d’Or voting.

Why didn’t he win the Ballon d’Or?

For as significant as 1973 was for Dino Zoff, it was an even bigger year for Ballon d’Or winner Johan Cruyff.

The 1972-73 season marked what was then Cruyff’s final season with Ajax, the club he had helped transform from a semi-professional side to a football powerhouse. Cruyff capped off his Amsterdam departure with a 23-goal season, as well as a league and European Cup double — the second season in a row he had achieved the latter feat.

The 1973 European Cup victory, which came at Zoff and Juventus’ expense, was particularly special. For one, it was Ajax’s third European Cup title in a row, making them just the second club (after Real Madrid) to achieve the three-peat. In honour of their achievement, Ajax were also allowed to keep the original European Cup trophy permanently. Again, they were just the second club to be honoured in such a way.

A few months later, Cruyff joined FC Barcelona in a world-record move that cost the Spanish club over two million U.S. dollars. The transfer rectified Cruyff’s status as the world’s most popular player.

Individual accolades soon filled Cruyff’s trophy cabinet. Dutch athletes recognized him as the Dutch Sportsman of the Year — a first for Cruyff. Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also honoured Cruyff with the European Footballer of the Season award.

But it was the 1973 Ballon d’Or that was Cruyff’s crowning achievement. Cruyff accumulated 96 total votes and clinched what was his third Ballon d’Or. In doing so, he became the first footballer to win three Ballon d’Ors.

Unfortunately for Zoff, Cruyff’s Ballon d’Or win came at his expense. Though he had accumulated enough votes for a second-place finish, it was still 49 votes less than Cruyff’s total. It was the latest in a list of runner-up finishes for the Italian icon.

Would things have been different had Zoff won the European Cup? Maybe, but given Cruyff’s other accomplishments and Zoff’s subsequent cup final losses, a European Cup victory might’ve only reduced the difference in votes.


CREDIT: @ftblsm

Ivo Viktor (1976)

Who is he?

Ivo Viktor spent his entire 17-year career in his birth country, Czechoslovakia — he most notably represented Dukla Prague from 1963 to 1977. With the capital-based club, Viktor won three Czechoslovak First League titles and three Czechoslovak Cups, including a league and cup double in 1966.

A national team veteran with over 60 caps, Viktor was recognized as the Czechoslovak Footballer of the Year five times — more than any other player — and twice won the European Goalkeeper of the Year award. He was the third goalkeeper (after Lev Yashin and Dino Zoff) to win the latter accolade more than once.

In 2000, the IFFHS recognized Viktor as Europe’s 24th best goalkeeper of the 20th century, tied with Dutch legend Edwin van der Sar.

What did he accomplish? 

Ivo Viktor’s 1976 wasn’t defined by success at the club level — Dukla Prague went trophyless for the 10th season in a row. Rather, it was defined by a historic European Championship.

After topping their qualifying group, Viktor and Czechoslovakia were pitted to face the Soviet Union in the final round of qualifying — a two-legged fixture played in April and May 1976.

The Soviets were continental contenders, having won the 1960 Euros and qualified for every edition since. But they had met their match in Czechoslovakia, who beat them 4-2 on aggregate and qualified for their first Euros since 1960.

Viktor started in both legs and kept a clean sheet in the first leg.

Less than a month later, Czechoslovakia opened their Euro campaign with a semi-final date against Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands, who were making their tournament debut. The semi-final was tight and Viktor had to make a few key saves in regular time and added time, but his nation eventually won 3-1 after extra time.

The victory booked Czechslovakia’s place in the European Championship Final, the nation’s first major football final since the 1962 World Cup. And awaiting them were the reigning champions West Germany, who were looking to become the first country to win the competition more than once.

But despite relentless West German pressure, it was Czechoslovakia who came out on top thanks to a 5-3 shootout victory following a 2-2 draw. It was the country’s first major championship, and Antonín Panenka scored the winning penalty by famously chipping the ball down the centre of the goal.

Though Viktor was criticized for conceding West Germany’s late equalizer, the mistake was quickly forgotten thanks to his prior and subsequent saves. Viktor was the only goalkeeper to be included in the competition’s Team of the Tournament.

Viktor’s heroics saw him accumulate a number of individual honours, including a fifth Czechoslovak Footballer of the Year award and a second European Goalkeeper of the Year award.

But most notably, Viktor finished third in Ballon d’Or voting, marking the highest finish by a Czechoslovak footballer in 14 years

Why didn’t he win the Ballon d’Or? 

Ivo Viktor’s third-place finish in the 1976 Ballon d’Or put him 23 votes behind second-placed Rob Rensenbrink and 39 votes behind the winner Franz Beckenbauer.

Let’s start with Rensenbrink. Interestingly, he was on the Netherlands squad that lost to Viktor’s Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European Championship semi-final. He scored no goals and was not included in the Team of the Tournament.

But the Ballon d’Or is not just judged on international football — it also takes club football into account. This is where Rensenbrink bested Viktor.

The 1975-76 season was Rensenbrink’s most productive club season — he scored a career-high 31 goals in 44 games for Anderlecht. He had never crossed the 30-goal barrier before, and he never crossed it since.

Rensenbrink’s goals delivered silverware in the form of Anderlecht’s second consecutive Belgian Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Resenbrink scored two goals in the latter’s final, including the eventual winner.

Anderlecht also won the 1976 European Super Cup thanks to a 5-3 aggregate win over European Cup winners Bayern Munich. Again, Resenbrink bagged two goals.

Though Viktor got the better of Resenbrink in the Euros, his performances at the club level didn’t compare to the Dutchman’s, which is likely why he received fewer votes.

It’s for a similar reason why I believe Viktor lost the Ballon d’Or to Beckenbauer. Though Viktor bested Beckenbauer’s West German side in the Euro Final, his club accomplishments — or lack thereof — do not compare with what Beckenbauer achieved with Bayern Munich.

Before captaining West Germany to their second consecutive Euro Final, Beckenbauer had captained Bayern to the club’s third European Cup win in a row — an achievement that made them just the third club to three-peat. And while they lost in the European Super Cup Final, they did win their first Intercontinental Cup, defeating Copa Libertadores champions Gremio in the 1976 final.

Although Viktor’s role in Czechoslovakia’s historic Euro championship is worthy of a podium finish, given what Rensenbrink and Beckenbauer achieved at the club level, it’s clear why he didn’t win him the Ballon d’Or.


CREDIT: Getty Images

Oliver Kahn (2001)

Who is he?

Oliver Kahn is the only goalkeeper to have twice been voted into the Ballon d’Or’s top three, and if that doesn’t give you an idea of the German’s greatness, I don’t know what will.

Known as the Titan during his playing days, Kahn split his club career between two German teams: his hometown club Karlsruher SC and Bavarian powerhouses Bayern Munich, with whom he had more success.

In 14 seasons with Bayern, Kahn won, among other things, eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB-Pokals, two different continental cups and the Intercontinental Cup. Kahn was a key factor in his club’s success, as evidenced by his glamorous individual trophy cabinet that boasts seven Best Bundesliga Keeper awards and three IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper awards, among other accolades.

A national team veteran with over 85 international caps, Kahn was part of the German team that podiumed at both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

What did he accomplish? 

The 2000-01 season seemingly started off on the wrong foot for Bayern Munich and Oliver Kahn — the club were eliminated from the DFB-Pokal on penalties by fifth-tier side FC Magdeburg (Kahn failed to save a single penalty), and they nearly lost the Bundesliga on the final kick of the season.

But Bayern had done enough to retain the league title, and vice-captain Kahn bagged the Best Bundesliga Keeper award for the sixth time in his career.

In the Champions League, Kahn backstopped Bayern to knockout victories over the competition’s last two winners: Manchester United in the quarter-final and Real Madrid in the semi-final. The victories were sweet — United famously won the 1999 Champions League at Bayern’s expense, and Real Madrid eliminated Bayern in the semis a year later.

Kahn kept two clean sheets and conceded just two goals across the four legs. He also played his role by making big saves on United’s Ryan Giggs and Real Madrid’s Steve McManaman.

But it was in the 2001 Champions League Final against Valencia where Kahn made his strongest case for the Ballon d’Or. 

After a 1-1 draw in regular time and extra time, Kahn spectacularly saved three penalties as Bayern clinched its fourth Champions League title. Kahn’s stops came at the expense of Zlatko Zahovič, Amedeo Carboni and Mauricio Pellegrino — the latter was the title-deciding save. Two of Kahn’s penalty saves saw the German dive to his right side, while the other saw Kahn parry the ball off of the crossbar.

For the first time in his career, Kahn was the king of European club football. And for his efforts, he was awarded the final’s Man of the Match award, as well as the UEFA Fair Play Award for consoling Valencia’s Santiago Cañizares following the match.

At the end of the year, Kahn was recognized as the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper, the Best European Goalkeeper and the German Footballer of the Year. He also earned a podium finish in the Ballon d’Or standings, making him the first German goalkeeper to achieve that feat.

Why didn’t he win the Ballon d’Or?

In 2001, Oliver Kahn finished third in Ballon d’Or voting, behind second-placed Raúl González and the winner Michael Owen.

The 2000-01 season was Raúl’s most productive of his career. The Real Madrid legend scored 32 goals, earning top scorer honours in both La Liga and the Champions League. Those goals helped Raúl win both La Liga’s Best Spanish Player award and the UEFA Club Forward of the Year award.

Off the back of Raúl’s excellent scoring form, Real Madrid clinched its first league title since 1997. Unfortunately, Raúl’s Blancos couldn’t repeat as continental champions, as Kahn’s Bayern Munich outclassed them over two legs. Still, that was enough for voters to pencil Raúl in over Kahn.

Similar to Raúl, Owen’s 2000-01 season was his most productive up until that point — the Englishman scored 24 goals in what was just his fourth full professional season. 

Those goals helped Liverpool end the club’s six-year trophy drought, as the Reds won the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup. Owen was particularly clinical in the FA Cup Final, as his double in the 83rd and 88th minutes snatched the trophy away from Arsenal.

By 2001’s end, Owen and Liverpool had won two more trophies: the FA Charity Shield and the UEFA Super Cup. The latter was particularly special, as far as this topic is concerned, because it came at Kahn’s expense. Liverpool defeated Bayern by a 3-2 score, and Owen scored the eventual winner.

But Owen wasn’t done tormenting Kahn. On September 1, 2001 — just over a week after the Super Cup Final — Owen scored a hat-trick on Kahn as England embarrassed Germany 5-1 in Munich. It was the first time ever a unified Germany had conceded five or more goals, and the first time any German national team had done so since West Germany’s 6-3 loss to France in 1958. 

Kahn, who captained Germany that day, likened the result to getting hit by a nuclear explosion

Though Kahn was instrumental in Bayern’s league and Champions League double, given what Owen accomplished, I think Kahn’s Ballon d’Or loss is a fair one.


CREDIT: es-us.noticias.yahoo.com

Oliver Kahn (2002)

What did he accomplish?

From a club trophy standpoint, Oliver Kahn’s 2002 pales in comparison to his 2001. That year, Bayern Munich finished two points behind Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, were eliminated in the DFB-Pokal semi-final by Schalke 04, and suffered a similar fate in the Champions League quarter-final following a 3-2 aggregate loss to Real Madrid.

Still, Kahn was considered to be the best goalkeeper in those competitions — he was awarded the Best Bundesliga Keeper award, was included in kicker’s Bundesliga Team of the Season and won UEFA’s Best Goalkeeper award at the end of the 2001-02 season.

But Kahn’s 2002 wasn’t defined by his club successes and failures. Rather, it was defined by his performances during that year’s World Cup.

Less than a year after Germany were humiliated by England, Kahn captained Die Mannschaft to its first World Cup Final as a unified nation. Along the way to the final, he conceded just one goal and kept five clean sheets in six games. Those clean sheets were significant as Germany scored a solitary goal in four of those games, including all three knockout matches.

Though clean sheets sometimes suggest a goalkeeper was playing behind a strong defence, in this case, Kahn kept those clean sheets in spite of the dangerous chances his defenders gave up.

Whether it was by making point-blank saves on Ireland’s Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, robbing Paraguay’s Jorge Luis Campos with a signature top-hand stop, getting the better of the United States’ Landon Donovan twice, or elegantly diving to his right to deny South Korea’s Lee Chun-soo, Kahn came up big time and time and time again.

Unfortunately, one of the lasting images of Kahn’s 2002 World Cup is his dejected look following Brazil’s 2-0 win in the final. Kahn, for once, was partly to blame for the result, as he had spilled the shot that led to Ronaldo Nazário‘s winner.

But blip aside, Kahn was officially the tournament’s top player — he not only won the Yashin award but the Golden Ball too. To date, he’s the only goalkeeper to win the latter accolade.

A few months later, Kahn was voted into the Ballon d’Or’s top three for the second year in a row.

Why didn’t he win the Ballon d’Or? 

Oliver Kahn lost the 2002 Ballon d’Or to a pair of World Cup winners: Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo Nazário. 

Carlos’ 2002 was historic from a trophy standpoint. Though Real Madrid failed to win any domestic silverware — they finished third in La Liga and lost in the Copa Del Rey Final — Carlos and the Blancos redeemed themselves by winning the Champions League for the third time in five years.

Though Carlos only scored one goal in their run, he did assist Zinedine Zidane’s winning goal in the final. He was subsequently awarded UEFA’s Defender of the Year award and included in their Team of the Year.

Two months later, Carlos was a champion again. The left-back played in six 2002 World Cup matches, including the final against Kahn’s Germany, as his Brazil won their fifth World Cup. In being a part of that team, Carlos became just the eighth player to win the Champions League and the World Cup in the same year. 

Despite Carlos’ successful year, the Ballon d’Or went to his Brazilian teammate Ronaldo, whose season had been marred by injuries. In fact, Ronaldo only played 16 total games for Inter Milan in the 2001-02 season, and his Real Madrid debut in the following season was delayed until October due to injuries. 

But no injury could hold Ronaldo back from dominating the 2002 World Cup. The Brazilian attacker scored a tournament-leading eight goals en route to his nation’s championship. Four of Ronaldo’s goals were scored in the knockout rounds, including two against Kahn’s Germany in the final. 

Though he lost out on the Golden Ball award to Kahn, Ronaldo was rewarded for his performance with the final’s MVP award, FIFA’s World Player of the Year award and the Ballon d’Or.

But with all due respect to Ronaldo, I think the Ballon d’Or was given to him for the feel-good story of his World Cup form following his potentially-career-ending injuries, not for any consistent sporting excellence. In my opinion, this is an award that Kahn deserved due to his one-man performances at both the club and international levels, and I think it would’ve gone to Kahn had Germany beaten Brazil in the final.


CREDIT: skysports.com

GIanluigi Buffon (2006)

Who is he?

Gianluigi Buffon is generally considered to be his generation’s greatest goalkeeper. He’s made over 1,000 club and national team appearances across his 25-year professional career — one that’s still ongoing — and set several appearance and clean sheet records for competitions and teams such as Juventus, Serie A and the Italian national team.

From a trophy standpoint, Buffon is one of the game’s most accomplished players. He’s won at least one trophy every year since 2012, ranging from league titles in Italy and France, to domestic cups like the Coppa Italia. And at the individual level, his trophy cabinet includes 12 Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year awards and five IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper awards, among other accolades.

Although he’s never won the Champions League, Buffon did win the World Cup in 2006 — the same year he finished second in Ballon d’Or voting.

What did he accomplish? 

At the club level, Gianluigi Buffon’s 2006 was unspectacular. Two separate injuries limited Buffon to just 24 appearances in the 2005-06 season — his lowest since his debut season in 1995-96 — and Juventus went out in the quarter-finals of both the Coppa Italia and the Champions League.

Furthermore, the only club trophy he did win, the Italian Serie A, was revoked (along with the Juventus’ 2004-05 league title) due to the Calciopoli scandal. Juventus were also relegated to the second division of Italian football, with Buffon tagging along. 

But for as miserable as his club season was, it was all overshadowed by Buffon’s miraculous performances in Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning campaign. 

Four years after Italy’s heartbreak at the 2002 World Cup, Buffon had one of the greatest international tournaments in goalkeeping history. The Italian set a World Cup record by conceding just two goals — one of which was an own goal — and keeping five clean sheets in seven matches. He also went 453 minutes without conceding a goal — the streak stretched from Cristian Zaccardo’s 27th-minute own goal in Italy’s second group game to Zinedine Zidane’s 7th-minute penalty in the World Cup Final 22 days. 

Buffon, who later won the competition’s Yashin Award as the top goalkeeper, made 40 total saves, with his two best stops saved for last. In the semi-final vs. the hosts Germany, Buffon spectacularly parried away a high, powerful effort from Lukas Podolski, helping Italy squeak by 2-0 after extra time. And in the final, Buffon made “the most important save of my career” when he directed a free header from France captain Zidane over the bar. The sides were deadlocked in extra time, and Buffon’s save set the stage for Italy’s World Cup victory in the penalty shootout.

Buffon, who was included in both the FIFPro World XI and the UEFA Team of the Year, was subsequently voted into the Ballon d’Or’s top two. In doing so, Buffon became the first goalkeeper since fellow Italian Dino Zoff to come that close to winning the accolade.

Why didn’t he win the Ballon d’Or? 

According to Ballon d’Or voters, the only player to outperform Gianluigi Buffon in 2006 was defender Fabio Cannavaro.

Cannavaro and Buffon spent most of the year as Juventus and Italy teammates. The duo experienced the low of a tainted season at the club level, as well as the high of backstopping a record-breaking defence to international glory.

But for voters, Cannavaro’s year was more glamorous than Buffon’s, particularly at the club level. Cannavaro was awarded three Italian Football Oscars at the end of the season: one for Serie A Defender of the Year, one for Serie A Italian Player of the year, and one for Serie A Player of the Year. Cannavaro was the first defender to win the latter two accolades.

Cannavaro also made a career-high 48 club appearances during the 2005-06 season — double Buffon’s appearance total that season. He also spent the 2006-07 season playing for Real Madrid, while Buffon spent that season playing second-division football.

Cannavaro was also an influential presence during the World Cup. He was one of only two players — Buffon being the other — to play every minute of Italy’s World Cup-winning campaign, and yet he was never carded. He also won 16 challenges, the most notable being a series of duels he won against Germany’s Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski that eventually led to Alessandro Del Piero’s goal.

By the tournament’s end, Cannavaro had finished second in Golden Ball voting and was a World Cup-winning national team captain — neither of which Buffon could relate to.

Cannavaro would eventually win FIFA’s World Player of the Year award and the Ballon d’Or for the first times in his career.

Though I believe Buffon was more important in Italy’s run to World Cup glory, it’s hard to make the case for him over Cannavaro at the club level. The Ballon d’Or is essentially a popularity contest, and while Buffon’s loyalty to Juventus is respectable, I doubt voters spent much time watching the Serie B that year, even with Juventus’ presence. For that reason, I can see why most voters selected Cannavaro over Buffon.


CREDIT: goal.com

Manuel Neuer (2014)

Who is he?

Like his compatriot Oliver Kahn, Manuel Neuer has spent his entire club career (thus far, at least) split between two German clubs; one being his hometown club of Schalke 04 and the other being Bayern Munich.

With the latter, Neuer rose through the youth ranks and made his debut in 2006. He also captained them to the 2010-11 Champions League semi-final and the 2011 DFB-Pokal Final, the latter of which they won.

But it’s with Bayern Munich, who he joined following the aforementioned DFB-Pokal victory, that Neuer truly evolved into a star. He’s won the Bundesliga in all but one of his seasons with the German giants, and he’s twice backstopped the club to Champions League glory, including once as the captain.

A five-time IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper, Neuer is often credited with perfecting the sweeper-keeper style of play that’s considered to be a staple of modern goalkeeping.

What did he accomplish? 

The 2013-14 season saw Manuel Neuer and Bayern Munich retain their crown as kings of German club football — the Bavarians won both the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal.

Unfortunately, Bayern and Neuer came up short in the Champions League by succumbing to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid in the semi-final. But aside from that blip, Neuer had a very respectable continental campaign. In the first leg of Bayern’s Round of 16 tie against Arsenal, Neuer saved a penalty from Arsenal’s Mesut Özil, setting the stage for his club’s eventual progression and, later, his inclusion in the competition’s Squad of the Season.

But like some others on this list, Neuer saved his best performances for the year’s international competition: the 2014 World Cup.

In his third major tournament as Germany’s number one, Neuer backstopped his country to its first World Cup championship as a unified nation. Along the way, Neuer helped Germany overcome the likes of Ronaldo’s Portugal in the group stage, France in the quarter-final, the hosts Brazil in the semi-final and Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the final. Neuer conceded just a single goal in those four games.

Neuer wasn’t a busy goalkeeper from a shot-stopping perspective, but he still dominated the competition via his signature sweeper-keeper style. This style of play saw Neuer frequently leave his box and challenge opposing attackers, which snuffed out attacks or caused opponents to fluff their shots. It also allowed Germany to press high despite their sluggish backline and gave them an 11th outfielder of sorts.

Though Neuer is far from the first goalkeeper to play this style, by playing it effectively on a global stage — as demonstrated in the Round of 16 — Neuer proved that this style is not a gimmick and can be incredibly successful.

Off the back of Germany’s World Cup win, Neuer was awarded the competition’s Golden Glove, and by the end of 2014, he was also honoured as the world’s best goalkeeper by the IFFHS and UEFA.

Most notably, Neuer finished third in Ballon d’Or voting. As of 2020, he’s the last goalkeeper to achieve such a feat.

Why didn’t he win the Ballon d’Or? 

Despite besting both of them in the 2014 World Cup, Manuel Neuer finished below runner-up Lionel Messi and Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo in voting percentage.

Let’s start with Messi. In my opinion, there is no case for Messi being a better player than Neuer in 2014. 2013-14 was arguably Messi’s worst season as a regular starter up until that point — FC Barcelona went trophyless for the first time since 2008, and Messi’s 41 total goals were his lowest tally since the 2008-09 season. None of Messi’s goals came against Atletico Madrid — the team that beat Barcelona to the Spanish league title and eliminated them from the Champions League — or in the Copa del Rey Final against a Ronaldo-less Real Madrid.

And while Messi’s form improved in the 2014 World Cup, as he captained Argentina to its first final since 1990 and picked up Golden Ball honours, given what Neuer accomplished — winning the World Cup while kickstarting an evolution in goalkeeper tactics — I don’t think Messi outperformed Neuer.

Ronaldo’s case was stronger, largely because of Real Madrid’s domestic cup and Champions League double. He was also part of the team that eliminated Neuer’s Bayern from the latter competition, with two of his goals contributing to the 5-0 aggregate thrashing. He also bagged the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award and the European Golden Shoe.

But contrary to Messi, whose form got better in the World Cup, Ronaldo’s form dipped in the tournament. He scored one goal in three games — none against Neuer’s Germany — as Portugal bowed out in the group stage for the first time since 2002.

Should Neuer have won the Ballon d’Or that year? In my opinion, yes. Not only was he consistent across both the club and international levels, backstopping Bayern and Germany to silverware, but he also perfected and popularized sweeper keeping.

Unfortunately, be it because of potential prejudice against goalkeepers or because of Ronaldo and Messi’s identities as two of the sport’s greatest players, voters decided that Neuer was undeserving of the 2014 Ballon d’Or.


Are there any goalkeepers you think deserved to win a Ballon d’Or? Let me know in the comments.


Mouhamad Rachini is a journalist and goalkeeper enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter via @BlameTheKeeper.

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