Far-Fetched Friday: A Goalkeeper Will Win the Ballon D’or Within the Next 5 Years

07/11/2022

A goalkeeper has only ever won the Ballon d'Or once, and honestly, I'm not sure it counts in my book. That goalkeeper was Lev Yashin in 1963, who played during a period when Russia was still called the Soviet Union. Yashin's games were barely ever broadcasted to the world, and he only ever played in Russia for Dynamo Moscow because it was a very different time politically than what we see today. Do not get me wrong, Yashin was an unbelievable shot-stopper, hence his nickname, the 'Black Spider.' And he was a pioneer of goalkeepers player higher off their line to be involved in attacks via distribution, a model now heavily credited to Manuel Neuer. The reason I jokingly say that it doesn't count in my book is because it was such an unbelievably different era in our world, both on and off the pitch. Before games, Yashin would take a swig of whiskey and smoke a cigarette to ease the nerves and then proceed to put on a flat cap. The world was just simply different.

Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we look at one of the most coveted prospects ever.

When one types in "what is the hardest position in soccer (football)" into google, most articles proceed to say goalkeeper, but if people truly believed this, then wouldn't more goalkeepers win awards? Well maybe that is why goalkeepers never win, because it is the hardest position. If it is the hardest position, then it must be the hardest position to master or make look easy. I mean, besides Yashin winning in 1963, only five goalkeepers have ever even made the top 3. These goalkeepers are Dino Zoff, Ivo Viktor, Oliver Kahn, Gigi Buffon, and Manuel Neuer. The last time a defensive minded player won the ballon d'Or in general was in 2006.

So why do goalkeepers rarely win awards? Well I believe the answer is that most awards have a heavy bias towards forwards who score goals. Scoring is the most heralded part of soccer. You obviously can't win games without scoring, but there are many other parts of the game that are just as important. A guy who scores five goals in a month is very likely to win player of the month, or a guy who scored 30 goals in a season is likely to win player of the year. Although that player that scored 30 goals may have scored 6 of those goals from penalties he did not even earn himself. He may have scored 30 goals but that also likely means that the team has a system of players that help to create that player a lot of chances.

Basically it is very easy to look at a box score after a game and attribute a lot of the team's victory to the guy who scored the goal(s). If you don't believe that voters/players are biased towards forwards, just look at FIFPro's decision to name the 2021 World XI using an unbelievably unrealistic 3-3-4 formation to make sure they can fit in as many forwards as possible (Messi and Ronaldo). Although, I think that scorer bias could be ending relatively soon. I think the football world is waking up to the fact that goal scorers are becoming overrated by voters.

Okay, great, so perhaps forwards are overrated in voting, but why a goalkeeper to win Ballon d'Or? I mean, there are many other positions that have world class players that deserve recognition, too. Why not a wingback like Joao Cancelo? Or a center back like Virgil Van Dijk? Although those two outcomes are also highly possible, there has been a recent trend in tournaments. The last two Champions League winners were Chelsea and Real Madrid. Who were both team's most important players in winning those trophies? My answer is Edouard Mendy and Thibaut Courtois. 

I mean no disrespect towards Karim Benzema. He deserves the Ballon d'Or this season, but I don't think he was as influential to keeping Real Madrid in these games as Courtois was. Benzema was incredible, but when you factor in that his fantastic knockout stage performance included two penalties and another two goals that were genuinely assisted to him by the opposing team's goalkeeper, things get a tad exaggerated. 

Then we can also look at the most recent EURO 2021 champions, Italy. Who was their most influential player in winning that tournament? Gianluigi Donnarumma. To win a major tournament recently, it appears that having a world class shot-stopper is extremely important for teams that do not have the best sides on paper.

I don't think it's crazy to think that one of these world class shot-stoppers will eventually be rewarded the same way Luka Modric was back in 2018. Ronaldo was still knocking on the door in 2018, but voters went with the man with the story. In addition, Ronaldo and Messi do not appear to be Ballon d'Or contenders for too much longer. Winning a Ballon d'Or as a non-goal scorer is all about winning tournaments. Luka Modric potentially doesn't even finish top 3 in the vote in 2018 if Croatia lost in the Round of 16, but he carried that unlikely squad to the final and had a good year for Real Madrid.

A goalkeeper winning the award sounds far-fetched, but I'm sure Luka Modric wasn't anyone's favorite going into 2018. I'm not even sure Benzema would have been a super popular pick before 2022. With Messi and Ronaldo (kinda) gone, the door is absolutely wide open. I'm not necessarily sure who this goalkeeper will be, but I think there are enough world class goalkeepers around to be contenders. It will take a strong performance for both club and country to get the job done, but someone like Alisson, Thibaut Courtois, or Gianluigi Donnarumma could be much closer than you think.


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