The Ballon d’Or and Goalkeepers – Will a keeper ever follow in Lev Yashin’s footsteps?

Thibaut Courtois

So that’s it is it? It’s finally over? On Monday morning/afternoon/evening depending on your location Cristiano Ronaldo was finally confirmed as the Ballon d’Or winner in yet another anticlimactic affair. The whole affair just seemed like a charade designed to bore us all senseless to the point where we forgot who the inevitable winner was. However, in studying the award a rather interesting point is raised.

Of course the Ballon d’Or has only been called the FIFA Ballon d’Or since 2010 but if you can combine its history with that of the former Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year then a rather interesting statistic emerges – since its inception in 1956 only one goalkeeper has won one of the trio of awards, Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union in 1963. He won the Ballon d’Or and whilst he was undoubtedly a fine goalkeeper it does seem hard to imagine that there have been none worthy since.

Since the turn of millennium five goalkeepers have given strong cases for potentially winning the award. In 2001 Oliver Kahn was instrumental in Bayern Munich’s Champions League triumph, producing sterling performances throughout the campaign. His highlight came during the final where he worked wonders during the penalty shoot-out

Perhaps though Kahn’s country’s 5-1 humbling at the hands of England swayed the committee. A year later though Kahn was at it again. Alongside Michael Ballack the pair virtually dragged Germany to the final by themselves, but yet again Kahn was overlooked.

Gianluigi Buffon will probably be remembered as one of the finest goalkeepers of all time. His shot-stopping is up there with the best in the world and although he has made some errors in the past year he was irresistible during his pomp.  Like Kahn, he too was a key cog in his country’s World Cup machine. However, unlike Kahn, when Buffon and Italy took on the world in 2006 they were triumphant.

But, if we’re talking about international achievements both Kahn and Buffon pale in comparison to Iker Casillas. The Real Madrid keeper has won the World Cup once and the European Championships twice, although it could be argued he was just in the best place to watch Spain’s magnificent performances. Nevertheless having a goalkeeper of Casillas’ quality behind the defence must instil a great deal of confidence within the outfield players.

Petr Cech and Manuel Neuer have played key parts in their clubs’ recent Champions League triumphs and the former has been a titan of English goalkeeping ever since joining Chelsea in 2004. Cech is a shadow of his former self following a horrific collision with Stephen Hunt in 2006 and if that had not happened it is hard to imagine he wouldn’t have reached even further heights. Neuer was named as the goalkeeper for the team of the year awards on Monday. If he can help Germany to the World Cup this summer maybe he’ll be the one to break the curse?

However if there was one goalkeeper in world football I’d have to put money on winning a Ballon d’Or during his career it wouldn’t be Neuer. Over in Spain there has been a man causing something of a stir for the past two and a half seasons and it isn’t Iker Casillas or his Barcelona counterpart Victor Valdes. It isn’t even Diego Lopez, the man who has ousted Casillas at the Bernabeu.

It is Thibaut Courtois, he of Atletico Madrid, on-loan from Chelsea. The Belgian signed for the Blues in the summer of 2011 and was immediately farmed out to Atletico, to help them forget about David de Gea’s departure to Manchester United. It would be fair to say that Courtois did just that, helping Atletico reach the Europa League final where they beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0.

The following season Courtois was inspirational in Atleti winning the Copa del Rey over city rivals Real. He went 820 minutes without conceding a goal (a new club record) and won the Zamora trophy, the award for the best goalkeeper in La Liga.

This season he has once again gone out on loan to Madrid and he has helped his side to 2nd in the table, ahead of Madrid and level on points with Barcelona. Such is his rise to fame that a new word has been invented “Thibauting” which is defined as “’emulating a classic Thibaut Courtois goalkeeping save in any random location.”

He has already spoken of his desire to usurp Petr Cech as Chelsea’s number one and although the Czech international has been in fine form his position is clearly under threat. Courtois is definitely in the top five goalkeepers in the world and at just 21 it seems highly improbable that he will never taste individual personal accolade during his career.

(photo credit: mutsufotografia via Flickr)

NOTE: This piece was amended on 20th January 2013 to correct the misspelling of Oliver Kahn.

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2 Responses to “The Ballon d’Or and Goalkeepers – Will a keeper ever follow in Lev Yashin’s footsteps?”

  1. Manuel
    January 19, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    It is Kahn and not Khan I understand the confusion but although he looks like a medieval invader he is not the Mongolian conqueror Ghengis Khan, but perhaps the best keeper of all time ;)

    • Jonathan F
      January 21, 2014 at 12:40 am #

      Thanks Manuel! This was an error on our part that should have been picked up, will amend it now. With that kind of eagle eye we should snap you up on board as a sub-editor! ;)

      Apologies.

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