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With FIFA having announced the final three-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or.

Given to the best player in world football for a given year, debate has raged over who should win the award this time around.

The case for Manuel Neuer to win the Ballon d'OrCristiano Ronaldo, with two, and Lionel Messi, with four, have dominated the award for the last half-decade, but many feel that Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer – The first man in his position since the legendary Lev Yashin to be nominated – Deserves to win the greatest individual honor in world football currently. Thus, InTheStandSport.com takes a look at the merits behind the German’s argument, and makes the case for Manuel Neuer to win the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or.

Let us be brutally honest – In the last couple of years, the FIFA Ballon d’Or has become a bit of a popularity contest between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, with the international coaches pretty much voting more for who they prefer, rather than who actually performed the very best. There is a history of huge injustice in this award, with magnificent players – And even modern legends – Like Xavi and Andres Iniesta during the Pep Guardiola heyday in Barcelona, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito in 2010 and Franck Ribery and to a lesser extent Arjen Robben last year being slighted. Many will ask “How are these injustices if Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi always scored at a hemorrhaging rate, putting up phenomenal numbers?” Well, the success of the team has to count in an individual award, for scoring goals is just a means towards helping a team winning trophies, isn’t it? The previously mentioned players won trophies – The biggest available – And were absolutely crucial for their teams, more so than the athletic Portuguese and the diminutive Argentine.

Do not get me wrong, this is not an attempt to slight Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but rather to highlight another genius, one who does not get the recognition he deserves, simply because he does not score goals. Frankly, he does not have to, because he is a goalkeeper, but it seems that many football fans choose to ignore this. In their eyes, you can not be classified as a ‘great’ of you do not score goals by the bucket. That means Franz Beckenbauer, Franco Baresi and Bobby Moore were pretty rubbish, then. Manuel Neuer deserves to win the Ballon d’Or because he was decisive in Germany winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and playing a crucial role in a domestic double. “Wait”, the Madridistas scream, “Cristiano Ronaldo won La Decima!” True, but he was not a defining factor in their Champions League – When the going really got tough, the men who stepped up big in the semi-finals and finals were Sergio Ramos and Angel di Maria. Take Manuel Neuer out of the Germany side at the World Cup, and they would have probably crashed out of the competition against Algeria. Can any of us imagine Roman Weidenfeller or Ron-Robert Zieler making the saves he did and sweeping up danger before it developed? Not at all. Were it not for Manuel Neuer, Germany would probably not have won the 2014 FIFA World Cup

“Manuel Neuer has the same technical skills as the others, he could play in the midfield, he also has great awareness and that’s why we are happy for him to take these risks, and that’s why he’s so valuable. He can basically be a player behind the defense.” – Germany boss Joachim Löw

The fact is, Manuel Neuer has redefined the role of ‘goalkeeper’ more than any other since the great Lev Yashin. There is even an argument to be made that the German is well on course to dethroning The Black Spider as the greatest shot-stopper of all time in a few years. Yes, the argument that one finds often from fans is that they will claim Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are completely unique, and nobody else in world football can do what they can. That is true. It is impossible to argue against that. However, the same is true of Manuel Neuer. No other goalkeeper in the world has such a fast thought pattern that they can charge out the way the German does and literally sweep up behind his defenders – And even though he plays behind one of the best defenses in world football, one thing that many fans do not realize is that the German saves close to 90% of all shots on his goal. As a shot-stopper, he is unrivaled, and makes the difficult look routine, whilst being able to keep his concentration for large stretches of time behind a possession based attack, before being called into action and invariably making a crucial save. He plays an extremely risky game, but the amount of mistakes he has made in the last three years can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

It is quite simple – You can ignore all the facts, all the stats and nice explanations, and continue rabidly supporting Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (who inexplicably made the shortlist ahead of more deserving players after a dire season to his own standards, while not even being the best Argentine at the World Cup, never mind his farcical Golden Ball) – Or realise that Manuel Neuer is just as special, just as unique, albeit in a different role. It is true that it is incredibly tough to judge a goalkeeper against outfield players, but sometimes one has to look with context, and form your own opinion, not just go with what the mainstream media and fanboys demand. In all probability, it is a foregone conclusion that the Portuguese will win the award again, and Lionel Messi will come in second, but we will not see the like of Manuel Neuer for a long time, and it is criminal that his achievements and talents are written off out of hand just because he does not score hundreds of goals, model underwear or evade his tax.

If this article causes uproar, then it is good, because somebody needs to rock the boat and make probably just a few people realize that footballing excellence exists beyond Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Or we can just go on like we have, and in a few years nobody will give a stuff about the FIFA Ballon d’Or, or the World Cup, for that matter, and just have a Golden Boot award. Youngsters are being discouraged from becoming goalkeepers and defenders, all because they are made to look unnecessary, unappreciated and an afterthought.

Originally published at inthestandsport.com

Post written by Marco Conradie, Twitter: @MarcoConradie10
for InTheStandSport, Blog: inthestandsport.com, Twitter: @InTheStandSport

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