Is the Ballon d’Or a true testament of who the best player in the world is?
Every year, the Ballon d’Or is awarded to the best soccer player in the world. Since 1956, this honor has been bestowed on such legendary players as Marco Van Basten, George Best and Johan Cruyff to honor their achievements in the past year. Earlier this month, Cristiano Ronaldo won his second straight Ballon d’Or (three total) after his fantastic record-breaking season. Few would argue that Ronaldo was not deserving of the award and doubters would have sided with Lionel Messi, the four-time player of the year. The odd ball out of the finalists was German keeper Manuel Neuer, who also had a fantastic year leading his country to a World Cup victory this summer. All three were essential players to their teams, but the Ballon D’Or should stand for something much more than what it does now.
The purpose of the Ballon d’Or is to honor the best player in the world. This is an appropriate award to give to someone; however, something is lost when evaluating who the best player truly is. Of the 58 winners (many have won the award multiple times), 36 were strikers, 19 were midfielders, three were defenders, and one was a goalie. The defenders who received the award were Franz Beckenbauer, who won twice in 1972 and ’76, and more recently Fabio Cannavaro, who won in 2006. The only goalie to win this coveted award was Lev Yashin in 1963.
Yashin, known as the greatest goalkeeper ever, revolutionized the position with a new style including starting counter attacks from throws and punts, and punching balls out of his box in dangerous situations.
Another important thing to note is that many of the midfielders that won this award spent much of their time in attacking roles such as Roberto Baggio, Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini. One must be cognizant of the truth that almost all of these players were known for scoring goals, exclusively. The assumption being that the Ballon d’Or is an award for the best striker in the world, or it is given to a midfielder who also can score goals. This leaves very little room for defensive midfielders, defenders and goalies who may not have as much statistical evidence to support their nominations, but they prove to be just, if not more, valuable for a team.
The distinction in the Ballon d’Or generates from the perception of players in the media as well as within the ranks of soccer teams. Strikers are precious. A natural goal scorer is what teams want and it is what fans want. Strikers are paid much more than any other position; people love to see goals. Additionally, fans often focus on things like a player’s flourish of abilities. Players like James Rodríguez get noticed when they score fantastic goals where someone who scores more scrappy goals might be passed over. There is a focus on these aesthetically pleasing aspects of the game that favor support in the direction of crafty midfielders and poachers.
Defenders and goalkeepers are not supposed to score many goals and they should not be dancing around defenders. But these players excel in aspects where others do not. In fact, many defenders are more mentally aware and have a better game sense than a forward. For a striker, if he succeeds once out of twenty times in a game, he’s a hero. Defenders and goalkeepers have zero room for error. If they fail once out of twenty, they are antagonized. Defending demands perfection and the perception of these players makes it difficult for them to ever get noticed.
Additionally, the Ballon d’Or is given to the best player in the world, not the most valuable player. If the Ballon d’Or were given to an MVP, more defenders and goalkeepers would be noticed. Neuer was iindispensable for Germany. He may not have replicated the outstanding numbers of Lev Yashin, but his impact propelled Germany to a World Cup title. Germany could have won that World Cup without any one of their starters (in fact they did without Marco Reus) but not without Neuer.
There is a difference between the best player and the most valuable. Sometimes it can be the same person, but such players deserve recognition versus giving the award to the player who scored the most goals. Manuel Neuer did not necessarily deserve to win the Ballon d’Or and this piece is not designed to say that he should have won. This is a call to say how defenders and goalkeepers are just as valuable as a goalscorer. As the saying goes, “If we score, we might win. If they never score, we will never lose.”
Edited by Ben Zolna.
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- Johan Cruyff
- Michel Platini
- Marco van Basten
- All of the Above