The Ballon d’Or is arguably the biggest individual trophy in the world of football. Each year, 23 players are longlisted based on their good performances in Europe. After voting takes place, the top three players are recognised and the player with the maximum number of votes receives the award. Most of us know this because of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have among them the last 8 Ballon d’Or (Ballon d’Or and FIFA Ballon d’Or).
That being said, there are several legends who have received this honour including the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho Gaucho, Ronaldo Lima(Brazilian), Ricardo Kaka and Luis Figo. One thing worth noting is that all these mentioned players are attacking minded players. In fact since 1956, only 3 defenders and 1 goalkeeper have won the Ballon d’Or:
Lev Yashin (1963) – Goalkeeper
Franz Beckenbauer (1972,1976) – Defender
Mathias Sammer (1996) – Defender
Fabio Cannavaro (2006) – Defender
That is, in 59 years, only 5 of the 59 Ballon d’Or(s) and FIFA Ballon d’Or(s) have been won by defensive-minded players or goalkeepers. Does that mean that these players haven’t deserved this trophy? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.
Goalkeepers such as Oliver Kahn, Gianluigi Buffon, Peter Schmeichel, Iker Casillas and most recently Manuel Neuer have had performances that deserve such an honour. Defenders such as Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Fernando Hierro, Ronald Koeman and Tony Adams have also never received this honour when in fact they are an elite group of top defenders in the history of football since the inception of the Ballon d’Or.
In the 2014 FIFA Ballon D’Or, there were only 4 defensive-minded players in the list of 23 which included 2 goalkeepers (Manuel Neuer and Thibaut Courtois). The trend continued in the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or too with only two defensive minded players shortlisted.
The reason behind this is that players are being judged for the trophy based on the number of goals scored and the number of assists made mostly. FIFA too cannot be blamed because of the football fans’ mentality around the world. Fans want the teams to play attacking minded possession football or counter-attacking football.
This is exciting for them because of one-sided domination or quick movements in the game. What fans around the world hate though is defensive minded football which they brand as “Parking the Bus”. The defensive-minded football might not be a pleasure to the eye, but it is a tactical way to play football. In fact, it has been highly successful when in use by great managers such as Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone with the teams of Chelsea and Atletico Madrid respectively.
It is very hard to change fans’ mentality, but what can be done is to create trophies for Ballon d’Or which are: Best Attacking Player, Best Defensive Player and Best Goalkeeper. By doing this, the number of players in each category could be made such that there are 15 attacking minded players, 15 defensive minded players and 7 goalkeepers based on the number that play in each position.
This way the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo would keep winning with their great performances while some great goalkeepers and excellent defensive minded players (defenders and defensive midfielders) will receive accolades as well.
It will also eliminate bias while voting as it is easier to judge players based on a style of play than how good they are in the position they play in separately.
There was a point in time when UEFA club football awards was honouring players for: “Best Forward”, “Best Midfielder”, “Best Defender” and “Best Goalkeeper”, thus making it a more fair award. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, this process was abandoned 5 years ago and the ceremony changed to “Uefa Best Player in Europe” which reduces the chance for defensive minded players to get any kind of global recognition.
Since the change, the winners have been Andres Iniesta, Franck Ribery, Ronaldo and Messi, all attacking minded players. FIFA needs to take this into consideration and make changes to recognise important contributions made to the game. Young kids around the world need to know the value of other players, some who have greatly inspired the world of football.
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