Easier for strikers to win individual prizes
8 December ~ Three-time Ballon d’Or-winner Michel Platini once moaned at his Juventus team-mates until Italy left-back Antonio Cabrini responded: “Who won the World Cup, anyway, Italy or France?” Thirty years later the former France playmaker is on the other side of that famous argument. As the three-man 2014 Ballon d’Or shortlist was announced, UEFA president Platini last week lobbied for defenders and world champions. Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, a World Cup-winner with Germany this summer, would be only the second goalkeeper – and fourth defender of any type – to receive an award now in its 59th year.
Also in that Juventus dressing room were sweeper Gaetano Scirea – he and Cabrini won every European trophy and the World Club Championship – and goalkeeper Dino Zoff, the captain when all three lifted the 1982 World Cup. Yet it was another colleague for club and country, striker Paolo Rossi, who won the 1982 Ballon d’Or. Rossi won the World Cup Golden Boot that summer. Zoff finished second to Johan Cruyff in the 1973 voting but neither Cabrini nor Scirea – the heart of a World Cup-winning defence – ever got as close.
This year’s scoring feats of Neuer’s fellow shortlisters are unrivalled. Yet few understand them like Platini, who has one more Ballon d’Or than Cristiano Ronaldo and one fewer than Lionel Messi. He was his country’s biggest footballing star and when Serie A was the world’s most glamorous league, he scored spectacular goals for Juventus. The journalists France Football originally selected to judge, or the international managers and captains who help pick the winner now, mostly opt for creativity. Discussion of Neuer’s shortlisting has tended towards his ability with ball at foot. Strikers can receive the Ballon d’Or by doing their job, while defenders must exceed their remit.
The USSR’s Lev Yashin, in 1963, remains the only goalkeeper to win it. The Soviets never reached a World Cup final and his club, Dynamo Moscow, contested their only European final, which was after his retirement. However Yashin did win the 1960 European Championship, was “longlisted” in each of the first seven years of the Ballon d’Or and, earlier in 1963, played well at Wembley for the Rest of the World XI in the FA’s centenary celebrations match.
Zoff and current Juve legend Gianluigi Buffon remain the only goalkeepers ever to finish runner-up in the voting. Ivo Viktor of Czechoslovakia, in 1976, and Oliver Kahn of Germany – in 2001 and 2002 – are the only keepers to come third. Viktor won the European Championships that year. Kahn’s penalty saves decided the 2001 Champions League final before Germany reached the following summer’s World Cup final.
Franz Beckenbauer (1972 and 1976) and Fabio Cannavaro (2006) are the only outfield defenders ever to claim the Ballon d’Or. Beckenbauer, a revolutionary sweeper with Bayern and Germany, was often a defender in name only. He won everything in the game except the Fairs/UEFA Cup. Cannavaro won it in a year where he captained Italy’s World Cup-winning side. England’s Bobby Moore, Brazil’s Cafu, France’s Lilian Thuram and Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck – Beckenbauer’s central-defensive colleague for club and country – all won World Cups but none of them received the most prestigious individual award in the game, which has four times gone to that year’s World Cup finals top scorer. And another four times it’s gone to a player who lost the final or the semi, but scored a few goals while he was at it.
Throughout its decades of changing nomenclature and criteria, the one consistent of the Ballon d’Or is a preference for those who put the ball in the net over those keeping it out. Alex Anderson