The Ballon d'Or is a month away from now. While Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are again favourites to win, this time around names like Luka Modric, Antoine Greizmann and others are also in the mix after their strong World Cup run. But all these names have one thing in common. They are not defenders.
The Ballon d'Or winners list has been dominated by midfielders and forwards throughout its history. Only three defenders have won the prize, German legend Franz Beckenbauer, the last German to win the award Matthias Sammer, and Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro. But there have been many other defenders who have deserved the Ballon d'Or during their careers. Here are some of them from this century:
1. Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini will be in every football fan's dream team. He had football in his blood. His father was Cesare Maldini who himself was a defender and played for Italian giants AC Milan.
But Paolo went on to surpass his father and spent his entire career in San Siro. His Milan career spanned for 25 years and he won a cabinet full of trophies including seven Serie A and five Champions League titles.
While he spent 14 years with the Italian National team, he did not win any major trophies. He came close on several occasions but ended up in second place in the 1994 World Cup, and Euro 2000. He also held the most number of caps for Italy until Fabio Cannavaro and later Gianluigi Buffon overtook him.
Maldini was a defender with a world-class ability and his tackles were second to none. But more importantly, he was a great leader and captained AC Milan for almost twelve years. Young Maldini started his career along with legends like Franco Baresi, which surely helped during his time as captain as Milan suffered a downfall.
Maldini though stuck around and rallied his club as they bounced back to win the Champions League in 2003 and 2007. When he hung his boots in 2009, his number 3 was also retired by AC Milan in honour of the man who dedicated his entire career for the glory of the Rossoneri.
Maldini finished third in the years 1994 and 2003 for the Ballon d'Or. The gap in these years should be enough to suggest the level of consistency that Maldini performed during his career. Therefore, it is a shame he never got to win the prize coveted by many players. Still, there is no doubting his legacy and his mastery in defending.