In 1956, when Gabriel Hanot, the chief magazine writer of “France Football” thought that it would be a great idea if his colleagues voted for the player of the year in Europe, he could not possibly have grasped the significance of what he had started. That year, they voted for a certain flying winger, Stanley Mathews (of England and Blackpool) and presented him with a little golden ball statuette to commemorate the moment.Not sure what we’re on about here? A little bit of French might help – golden ball literally translates to Ballon d’Or. The award is now an annual tradition, a prize that celebrates the best that football has to offer – with the player being selected by those who spend their entire lives analyzing, dissecting and discussing the finer points of the game we love – the journalists (now with the amalgamation of the FIFA World Player of the Year to the Ballon d’Or, international coaches and captains get votes too).However, be it the historic Ballon d’Or, the FIFA World Player of the Year or the now omnipotent FIFA Ballon D’Or, one thing has remained constant – the pre-eminence of goal-scoring and goal-creating footballers in the awardee honour roll. This in itself is quite natural – football matches are after all won by the team that scores more goals than the other – but it does do gross injustice to the unheralded champions at the other end of the pitch: the goalkeeper.Amidst the hoopla and (justified) hype surrounding the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi et al, we somehow seem to forget just how pivotal the men between the sticks are; the men who face these footballing demi-gods day in and day out, and come up on top more often than not. Only one goalie has ever won the Ballon D’Or - Lev Yashin, the Soviet superhero widely considered as the greatest goalkeeper to have ever graced the game – and no one has yet won either of the FIFA granted awards.In chronological order of professional appearances, I give you five modern goalkeepers who surely deserved/deserve a Ballon d’Or, and the title that comes with it - the best footballer on the planet.Author’s note: I have mentioned only the nationality and club that they played/are playing for in their peak. Also, I have only picked goalies who have been playing from the 90s, otherwise the likes of Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton, Walter Zenga, Sepp Maier and Dino Zoff would have been shoo-ins.
#1 Peter Schmeichel Denmark and Manchester United
For almost the entire decade of the 1990s, Peter Schmeichel was a giant (both literally and figuratively) between the sticks at Old Trafford and for his beloved Denmark
Starting his remarkable career at local club, Gladsaxe-Hero, the belligerent giant would go on to capture the world’s attention at Manchester United, who got him for a ridiculous half a million pounds from Danish Champions Brondby – a deal which Alex Ferguson called the “bargain of the century”. Although prone to hyperbole when it comes to his players, few would disagree with that statement.
In 1992, he was the rock on which the dynamic Danes built their astounding Euro Championship winning campaign, and through the most successful years of the Ferguson era he was the Goliath that was the last line of defence as Manchester United went on the war path, aiming to reclaim England for their own.
In 1996, when Eric Cantona deservedly garnered the praise for leading United to a number of single goal victories and with it the league title, it was the incredible shot-stopping skills of Schmeichel that ensured United preserved those one goal leads.
Almost unbeatable on one-on-ones, the sight of the 6’3”, 105 kg Dane flying out at rocket speed and spreading himself wide in his trademark starfish pose was enough to send many a striker into an existential crisis. He had incredible reflexes as well, pulling off jaw-dropping save after save every time he was called upon, including this ‘save of the decade’.
In a manner befitting the great man, his last game at United saw him captain the side to a historic Champions League victory. Guess who put in a man-of-the-match performance to make sure United stayed in the game long enough for Sheringham and Solskjaer to come on and steal the limelight in those frenetic dying minutes?
The last years of his career saw some mercurial performances at Aston Villa, Sporting Lisbon and Manchester City (!), but when the Great Dane finally hung his gloves up, there was nothing but the utmost respect from all quarters for the great sportsman that he was.
Select Individual honours – IFFHS goalkeeper of the year (92, 93), UEFA goalkeeper of the year (‘92, ‘93, ‘97, ‘98), Premier League Footballer of the year (95-96), PFA English League Team of the Century (1907-2007) Danish Footballer of the year (’90, ‘93, ‘99)