Ballon d'Or: Ranking the 3 defenders to have won the award
While midfielders and forwards might get most of the adulation in football because they score goals and are tasked with making the game more aesthetically pleasing to watch, it can be argued that defenders are even more important.
It is in their role of keeping out opposition attackers that defenders contribute heavily to teams' successes. And it is undeniable that without them, a football team is incomplete.
Quality defenders make the jobs of their teammates much easier. While scoring goals might be important, it is equally essential to keep them out at the other end, as a leaky defense renders the job done by the attackers moot.
Before his signing, the Reds impressed everyone with their exhilarating and buccaneering style of play, but they were always let down by a soft underbelly at the back. Contrast that with the strides they have made in the last 21 months, and the importance of quality defenders becomes apparent.
The Ballon d'Or is the highest individual honor a player can get, and a player's career can arguably not be described as legendary if he didn't win the accolade at least once. But owing to their less glamorous roles as opposed to midfielders and forwards, it comes as no major surprise that only a handful of defenders have won the illustrious award in its 64-year history.
With Van Dijk making a strong case for the 2019 Ballon d'Or, we rank the three defenders who have won the Ballon d'Or in the past.
#3 Matthias Sammer (1996)
In a glittering career that lasted over two decades, Matthias Sammer distinguished himself as a bona fide legend of German football.
Bar a brief and unsuccessful one-year stint with Inter Milan in 1992, Sammer spent the rest of his career in Germany, representing clubs like Dynamo Dresden, VFB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund.
It was with the latter that he achieved mainstream prominence, captaining them to their first and to date only Champions League title in 1997.
Sammer had arrived at the club in the middle of the 1992-93 season, and he spent the rest of the season in his traditional holding midfield role.
However, at the start of the following campaign, he was converted to a libero (sweeper defender) by the legendary coach Omar Hitzfeld. This proved to be a masterstroke from the German tactician, as Sammer excelled in this new role and helped BVB to consecutive Bundesliga titles in 1995 and 1996.
On the international scene, Sammer initially represented East Germany, having been born in Dresden. He captained his nation in their final international fixture, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Belgium.
Following the unification of East and West Germany in the fall of 1990, Sammer was one of just a few East Germans who made the unified team (West Germany had traditionally been more successful and had better players).
His crowning moment with the German national team came in 1996 when, in his converted role at the center of defense, he played a starring role as Die Mannschaft won their third European title.
For his efforts, Sammer was named Player of the Tournament and later in the year beat Ronaldo de Lima to the Ballon d'Or.