Tonight is the night. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Manuel Neuer?
Well, I believe Louis van Gaal was right when he said a German should win the Ballon d’Or.
The World Cup is football’s most coveted prize and Neuer was the inspirational force behind Germany’s accent to becoming Weltmeisters last July.
Much of it depends on your view of football, and what level of the game deserves the most recognition. If we are talking only about the domestic and UEFA competitions then surely Cristiano Ronaldo would be favourite to take away his second successive gong.
But this is FIFA’s award for the best player in the world, and for that reason surely one of the many outstanding individuals within Die Mannschaft should supercede what was achieved in the Champions League or domestically.
Fabio Cannavaro and the original Ronaldo showed in 2006 and 2002 respectively how important a good World Cup is when deciding who the best player in the world is, and there’s an argument that Philipp Lahm or Thomas Muller should have made the three-man shortlist ahead of Lionel Messi.
But let’s look at the favourite for the award for a moment: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Despite the continual rise of Gareth Bale and the arrival of James Rodriguez, the Portuguese was undoubtedly Real Madrid’s top performer again in 2014, scoring 45 goals so far in what has been a stellar year for the former Manchester United man.
That included a spectacular run of goalscoring that stretched across 13 consecutive games for club and country between August and November this year. He literally scored in every game for six weeks.
But Ronaldo’s displays at the World Cup were, on the whole, abject. Ronaldo scored just one goal in Brazil as a poor Portugal side failed to qualify for the knockout stage. His contribution in the Champions League final was, despite scoring a late penalty, far less than that of Bale or man of the match Angel di Maria.
With Messi only finding his best form recently – and crucially setting new goal scoring records in La Liga and the Champions League after the voting had closed – it appears the Argentine will find it hard to win this year. His displays at the World Cup should win him some votes but he was disappointing in the final.
All the above points to Neuer.
In the last calendar year he was not only a key factor in Germany winning the World Cup, but he notched up the Bundesliga (in record time) and the DFK-Pokal with Bayern Munich. He also won the FIFA Club World Cup and took home the Golden Glove from Brazil. He has already been voted German footballer of the year for 2014.
Neuer has not only kept the shots out for Germany and Bayern, but captured the imagination with his unique interpretation of the ‘sweeper keeper’ role. Never one to shy away from racing out of his penalty box to head away a loose ball, Neuer’s methods may look frenzied from afar, but he is a calculated goalkeeper whose judgment is perfect almost every time.
Of the new breed of sweeper keepers that have risen to prominence in recent years – Hugo Lloris and David de Gea for example – Neuer is the one who’s perfected the art.
It will take a lot for Neuer to become the first goalkeeper to win the Ballon d’Or since Lev Yashin in 1963, but in 2014 the former Schalke man has brought expression to the role of goalkeeper and shown that a #1 must offer the same level of footballing ability as his teammates.
And if it wasn’t for Neuer, Germany quite simply wouldn’t have made it to the final. Just like he often bails out a Bayern defence that is not as strong as it looks on paper, Neuer saved Germany against Algeria and against France.
Neuer will never get a better chance to win the Ballon d’Or and such a result would be a victory for the football romantic, but does football love its goalkeepers as much as its strikers?
Neuer is 6.00 to win the 2014 Ballon d'Or - BET NOW