About six months ago Germany’s World Cup winning Captain Philipp Lahm had called the Ballon d’Or a popularity contest for strikers. As another football season has ended and nominations for the best player in world and Europe are doing rounds we get a picture of what Phillip Lahm has been saying all this while.
Just yesterday the list of top 10 players for this years Europe’s player of the year were announced, out of 10 names there is only one defender and two goal keepers and its almost certain that none of them will make it to the top 3. If we were to look at FIFA Ballon d’or, considered to be the most prestigious individual award in world football there has been a clear omission of defensive players. Only Manuel Neuer was lucky enough to make it to the top 3 in 2014, the award has been more or less a cat fight between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi with both consistently featuring in the top 3 since its inception and also sharing the wins with Messi winning it four times to Ronaldo’s two. While we are not trying to undermine the talent and legendary status of any of these two footballers but are trying to put ahead a perspective of how there has been a bias against defenders.
If we were to look at the past twenty editions of the award for the best footballer in Europe and World as a whole barring one time no defender has managed to win any of these awards. The only player who managed to beat the odds was Fabio Cannavaro of Italy in 2006. It required of him to win the World Cup to ensure the top prize. 10 years since even that is not enough to ensure an entry in the top 3 forget winning the award.
No doubt goals are important but if success in major tournament is a proxy its the defense of a team which is the ultimate thing that differentiates. The recent triumph of Portugal can largely to accredited to a brilliant defensive play which helped them in moving up the tournament ladder. All of France goal scoring form was put to rest and Portugal walked home champions without their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
Its high time FIFA and UEFA pay some heed in this direction and start and acknowledge the defenders than continue and glorifying strikers and attackers. A special award in major tournaments on the lines of golden ball for defender with the maximum interceptions, blocks, clearances could be a start.