The nominees for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award for 2014 have been announced and have thrown out one intriguing (and perhaps rather surprising) inclusion besides the much expected names of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with the final man on the shortlist being Germany’s Manuel Neuer. The slight surprise with Neuer being pitted against the cream of Spanish Football is that his position of goalkeeper does not usually receive the accreditation it deserves, as the award has a tendency to be given to those who are creatively focussed rather than defensively minded. Indeed, a close 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 just reward to the consistency of Neuer and one feels an acknowledgement of the achievement of the Germans in clinching the World Cup in the summer.

The Ballon d’Or (“Golden Ball”) is a prestigious award presented in men’s football (the women’s equivalent is the FIFA World Player of the Year) and has only been in existence since 2010, when there was a merging of the existing Ballon d’Or award (commonly referred to as the European Player of the Year) and the men’s FIFA World Player of the Year title. It has been dominated since its inauguration by the stellar names of World and European football that Neuer competes against this time, with Messi being a three-time winner and Ronaldo holding the award currently.

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

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

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

It would be a major surprise if one or the other of the existing winners did not get the vote this year, but would be a fitting gesture and perhaps ensure against thoughts of a ‘closed shop’ regarding who can receive the recognition (especially when football’s ruling bodies have been attracting the wrong kinds of headlines in recent months around their choice of future World Cup venues) if Bayern Munich’s ace stopper went home with the title. After all, a goalkeeper can just as ably influence the outcome of a major game as a striker can, especially if he makes a key save at a particularly crucial time in a match. Far too often a goalkeeper is chastised and criticised when they make a mistake, rather than applauded for the heroics they may have performed to keep the opposition out. The history books are also against Neuer though, with the last goalkeeper to take the the Ballon d’Or in its previous incarnation being the incomparable Russian legend Lev Yashin back in 1963, although the last German to take the award was Matthias Sammer much more recently in 1996.

The award will be presented at the glitzy FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, to be held in Zurich on 12th January 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 XI award will be determined from the votes of more than 20,000 professional footballers from across the world, so any player making that elite selection can take great pride in the achievement.

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