The football fraternity has given only four Ballon d'Or awards to defenders in history. Two of those four were won by Germany legend and one of the all-time greats, Franz Beckenbauer, in an era during which the likes of Geroge Best and Johan Cryuff were wowing fans at the other end of the pitch.
Midfielder-turned-defender, Matthias Sammer, followed in his compatriot's footsteps by winning the award in 1996 following Borussia Dortmund's stellar season. 10 years later in 2006, Fabio Cannavaro was handed the Ballon d'Or ahead of his teammate Gianluigi Buffon, following Italy's World Cup win. Cannavaro remains the last defender to win the award till date.
Over the years, several exceptional defenders have made their mark on the sport albeit without being recognized as the best by the football world. We take a look at three such former players who should've won the Ballon d'Or at least once in their career.
#3 Carles Puyol
Had things gone differently, Carles Puyol might've made a name for himself at Malaga instead of Barcelona. The Catalan club had accepted an offer for their future captain from Los Malaguistas back in 1998, even before he had made his La Liga debut.
However, they found it difficult to offload the young defender, who was intent on making it at his boyhood club after seeing his friend Xavi do the same. A year later he was promoted to the first team and the rest, as they say, is history.
Puyol played as a central defender for Barcelona for 15 years, making 593 appearances during the same time. In that decade-and-a-half, the Spaniard won every trophy available to him at both club and international level, while also serving as the captain for the former.
The period between 2008 and 2010 was especially fruitful for the centre-back as he helped his club and country to an extraordinary trophy haul. Puyol was a key member of the Spanish National Team which won the UEFA Euro in 2008 and the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Between those two tournaments, the defender also helped his club side Barcelona collect seven trophies, six of which the team won in one season alone!
Despite his impressive performances in that period, Puyol could only muster an eleventh-place finish in the 2010 Ballon d'Or voting. Disappointingly, he failed to even make the top thirty in 2008 and 2009.
#2 Philipp Lahm
While Carles Puyol was working his way up in Barcelona, Philipp Lahm was doing the same in Munich. However, unlike Puyol, Lahm had to wait until 2002 to make his debut for the first-team. He was dispatched to Stuttgart on loan for the two seasons that followed and only managed to nail down a spot in the first team in 2005.
Once he won his position in the team, however, Lahm quickly developed into one of the best in the world. He helped Bayern Munich win eight Bundesliga titles in total, including five back-to-back between 2012 and 2017. He also lifted the UEFA Champions League once in his career, along with the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. Internationally, Lahm captained Germany to a World Cup win in 2014, earning a spot in the All-Star Team in the process.
The Bayern man particularly enjoyed the interval between 2012 and 2014, during which he won two Bundesliga titles, one UEFA Champions League title, and one FIFA World Cup among other trophies. That period culminated in Lahm achieving his highest finish in the Ballon d'Or rankings ever. The right-back, however, could only finish sixth in the standings behind Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben, Manuel Neuer, Lionel Messi, and eventual winner, Cristiano Ronaldo.
#1 Roberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos came close to winning the Ballon d'Or in 2002 when the Brazil international finished second in the rankings behind compatriot Ronaldo Nazario. The full-back collected a total of 145 points as compared to Ronaldo's 169 with both players benefitting from Brazil's World Cup win that year.
However, Ronaldo's win in 2002 did somewhat validate a major critique of the award ceremony, that it tends to favour the attackers and midfielders to defenders. It became evident when the Brazilian forward was handed the individual honour for his attacking exploits, despite his compatriot enjoying a more successful season domestically.
Roberto Carlos was crucial to Real Madrid's UEFA Champions League-winning campaign during the 2001/02 season. The left-back played 13 times for the club in the competition, scoring two goals. However, his most telling contribution came in the final, when he assisted both the goals in Los Blancos' 2-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen. Later in the summer, he won the World Cup with Brazil while keeping four clean sheets and scoring once.
Despite his Ballon d'Or snub, Roberto Carlos did go on to have an incredibly successful career. The full-back lifted the UEFA Champions League thrice while also winning La Liga four times. He also collected a FIFA World Cup trophy and two Copa America titles with Brazil. Individually, he is one of the most decorated left-backs of all time and was named in the Team of the Decade by both ESPN and Sports Illustrated.Published 05 Mar 2020, 01:30 IST