The nominees for the FIFABallon d’Or award for 2014 have been announced and have thrown out one intriguing(and perhaps rather surprising) inclusion besides the much expected names ofLionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with the final man on the shortlist beingGermany’s Manuel Neuer. The slight surprise with Neuer being pitted against thecream of Spanish Football is that his position of goalkeeper does not usuallyreceive the accreditation it deserves, as the award has a tendency to be givento those who are creatively focussed rather than defensively minded.

Indeed, aclose look at the nominees since 2010 highlights that he is the first non-outfield player to be on the three-man shortlist so far. It is however justreward to the consistency of Neuer and one feels an acknowledgement of theachievement of the Germans in clinching the World Cup in the summer.

The Ballon d’Or (“GoldenBall”) is a prestigious award presented in men’s football (the women’sequivalent is the FIFA World Player ofthe Year) and has only been in existence since 2010, when there was a mergingof the existing Ballon d’Or award (commonly referred to as the European Playerof the Year) and the men’s FIFA World Player of the Year title.

It has beendominated since its inauguration by the stellar names of World and Europeanfootball that Neuer competes against this time, with Messi being a three-timewinner and Ronaldo holding the award currently.

Ronaldo may be the slightfavourite to retain the title, after a marvellous year in which he was the topscorer in La Liga (an amazing return of 31 goals from only 30 matches), was amajor contributor to Real Madrid’s record breaking tenth Champions League /European Cup victory and in doing so broke the record for goals scored in thatcampaign with seventeen to his name.

Not to be outdone, Messialso had a consistent year despite early injury issues and almost caughtRonaldo with 28 league goals of his own in the Spanish top division. He was akey man in Argentina’s push to the final of the World Cup in Brazil in thesummer, finishing on the losing side but scoring four goals during thecompetition and receiving the Golden Ball as a result. Already this season hehas surpassed the overall record for most goals in the Champions Leaguecompetition to demonstrate that he is back to his best.

Neuer can not compete with his two rivals in thescoring charts of course, but is a key part of Germany’s ‘backbone’. Hisperformances for Bayern Munich helped them clinch another league title and DFBCup double in his homeland, and he (quite literally) saved Germany during thissummer’s World Cup several times on the way to the trophy and was recognised withthe Golden Glove award as the best goalkeeper as a consequence. Although not anoutfield player, he has the ability to start moves for both Bayern and hisnational side, in what is fast becoming a key facet for any great keeper in themodern game.

It would be a major surprise if one or the otherof the existing winners did not get the vote this year, but would be a fittinggesture and perhaps ensure against thoughts of a ‘closed shop’ regarding whocan receive the recognition (especially when football’s ruling bodies have beenattracting the wrong kinds of headlines in recent months around their choice offuture World Cup venues) if Bayern Munich’s ace stopper went home with thetitle. After all, a goalkeeper can just as ably influence the outcome of amajor game as a striker can, especially if he makes a key save at aparticularly crucial time in a match.

Far too often a goalkeeper is chastisedand criticised when they make a mistake, rather than applauded for the heroicsthey may have performed to keep the opposition out. The history books are alsoagainst Neuer though, with the last goalkeeper to take the the Ballon d’Or inits previous incarnation being the incomparable Russian legend Lev Yashin backin 1963, although the last German to take the award was Matthias Sammer muchmore recently in 1996.

The award will be presentedat the glitzy FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, to be held in Zurich on 12thJanuary 2015, when the other awards for FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year,Men’s World Coach, Women’s World Coach, Presidential Award, Fair Play Award,Puskas Award and FIFA FIFPro World XI will also be given out.

The World XIaward will be determined from the votes of more than 20,000 professionalfootballers from across the world, so any player making that elite selectioncan take great pride in the achievement.

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