The three-man shortlist for footballai??i??s best individual performer is out now and includes two expected nominations in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. And then there is, the odd man out, Manuel Neuer. For the first time, after Gianluigi Buffon’s exploits in 2006, the Ballon Dai??i??or shortlist features a man from the 30-yard box.

Only Iker Casillas (2008) and Peter Schmeichel (1992) had come within reach, finishing 4th and 5th on the individual playerai??i??s honor list respectively. Both of them carried their teams to the summit, but the footballing community has always favored players from outside the box. Iker Casillas led the Golden Generation of Spanish football to the Euro crown in 2008 and the Real Madrid side to La Liga triumphs whereas Danish great Peter Schmeichel was at his peak as he led his country to a European title with his heroics in 1992. But on both occasions they were left applauding the men on the podium. This time around Manuel Neuer has a fair chance at becoming the second goalkeeper in history to win the award after Lev Yashin in 1963.

Slow and Steady Climb to the Top

In a world where strikers and wingers grab the headlines, defenders have to be content with making the best XI of any competition. The emphasis is on how many goals have been scored, which team had the greater shots on target, how many they converted into goals, and who had the greater possession. But numbers such as how many crucial saves the goalkeeper made, how many interceptions were made and how many shots were blocked take the backseat. When centre backs are trained to play high defensive lines and full backs play the role of an extra winger, the goalkeeper’s strategy barely gets a mention.

This recognition of shortlisting a goalkeeper since Gianluigi Buffon has taken two World Cups of waiting and a number of stunning saves, thwarting of chances and accurate distribution of the ball. Manuel Neuer is the one custodian who thoroughly deserves the nomination, thanks to a period of steady success for this Gelsenkirchen native. Over the past 3 years Neuer has been the most consistent goalkeeper in the world. His sharp reflexes, ability to reach the ball on either side and amazing game-reading skills honed at the Knappenschmiede Academy of Schalke are bearing fruit now. Unlike Messi and Ronaldo who have been enjoying the limelight since they began plying their trade in the attacking department, Neuerai??i??s nomination comes as a recognition to the goalkeeping community on the whole.

The Trophy Cabinet

In terms of trophies, the ex-Schalke custodian stands clearly above Messi winning the domestic double with Bayern and World Cup with Germany. Neuer might have been beaten by Ronaldo in the Champions League semi-final twice, but he settled scores with the striker in Brazil when Germany thrashed Portugal in a fashion similar to which Real humiliated Bayern.

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi has endured one of his worst seasons with Barcelona as the Catalan side just won one major trophy all year. Injuries and the teamai??i??s poor form hindered the Argentinianai??i??s performances this year. His record-breaking performances to become the La Liga and Champions League top-scorer might not be taken account since they came after the voting deadline.

If we count individual accolades, Ronaldo has won 15 individual awards starting with the Ballon Dai??i??or 2013 in January and the Worldai??i??s Top Goalscorer award being the latest. Messi had no major individual achievements besides the FIFPro World XI and Golden Ball at the World Cup. Neuer is at his prime winning every thing a keeper could win, Goalkeeper of the Year, Golden Glove award at the World Cup, German Footballer of the year along with featuring in the FIFPro World XI and UEFA Team of the Year.

(c)Neuer_flickrContribution to the Team

The playerai??i??s contribution to the team is far more important but neglected aspect in choosing the winner every year. Iker Casillas in 2008, Wesley Sneijder in 2010, Xavi Hernandez in 2011 were all players who found the Ballon Dai??i??or elude them despite their huge team contributions. Last yearai??i??s European Player of the Year and Neuerai??i??s teammate Franck Ribery stands out in the recent memory. All the Frenchmanai??i??s scintillating performances with Bayern were not enough to land him the Golden Gall. Both Messi and Ronaldo had a great deal of help from Angel DiMaria at international and club levels respectively. Both of them relied on the highly energetic attacker in propelling their teams to new heights.

But Neuerai??i??s team contribution, this term, stands out among the three finalists. The trophy count clearly tells the tale. But it’s not only the trophies that count. Neuer acted as the Libero between the sticks which is very rare in football. His tactical understanding and game reading skills allowed the centre-backs to play a challenging high-line defence.

The sweeper-keeper role he played for Bayern and Germany was awe inspiring and entertaining at the same time. These special skills might have their own showboat value but they are built on solid shot-stopping skills. Except for some rare errors, which never proved costly, Neuerai??i??s goal keeping skills were the reason in his team keeping 29 clean sheets in 2014.

Big-Name Backers

UEFA president Michel Platini recently revealed his opinion that a German should win the Ballon Dai??i??or this time since they are the world champions. It was met with serious backlash from several sections of coaches and players including Madrid coach Carlo Ancoletti and defender Arbeloa. French forward Antonio Griezmann also backed the Germany No. 1 to win the award.

These past six years have belonged to either Messi or Ronaldo who have now become the two obvious men to make it to the short list. Ronaldoai??i??s ex-teammate Xabi Alonso also backed his current teammate Neuer claiming that it would be fair if either of them wins the prize. Another incredible goalkeeper Petr Cech also wished Neuer good luck Ai??when he tweeted Ai??ai???This year is the best chance for a goalkeeper to win. Hopefully! Lots of luck!ai??i?? If there ever was a time to break the trend and honor a player from the tribe of unsung heroes of the game, it is this year.

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