Manuel Neuer: Unfortunate to be only a goalkeeper

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Berlin, Jan 10 (IANS) Goalkeepers have it tough when it comes to the world’s most important honour for individuals in football. They can only expect to be outsiders in the race for the “FIFA Ballon d’Or”, which was known as the World Player of the Year until 2010.

When the 2014 result will be announced Jan 12, Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, therefore, is just another outsider challenging the widespread opinion that goalkeepers are not “real” football players and are therefore not the right choice to become the world player of the year, reports Xinhua.

The 28-year-old is up against the globe’s top two on-field players Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona). It appears odds on that Neuer will end up second best even though he is the most up field oriented goalkeeper in football history due to his risky style which has him operating more like a defender at times.

The fact that Russian Lev Yashin (1963’s winner) is the only goalkeeper to have won the prestigious honour is a clear indication that goalkeepers find it almost impossible to break through the phalanx of field players.

Besides goalkeepers, it is similarly difficult for defenders get their hands on the trophy. Midfielders and strikers are always the most likely when it comes to winning the Ballon d’Or.

Neuer’s supporters – like Argentine legend Diego Maradona and former winner Andrej Schewtschenko (Ukraine) – may praise Neuer for having revolutionised the goalkeeper’s role in modern football, but in the mind of fans, goal-scorers like Ronaldo and Messi seem to count more.

“He’s not only a goalkeeper but the last man of his team – more of a defender trying to propel his team forwards,” said Schewtschenko.

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff called Neuer an exceptional keeper and Michel Platini (Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) president) said a German footballer would deserve the award after the country’s performance at the 2014 World Cup.

“He’s like a present for us. Without him, we would not have won the World Cup,” said German midfielder and Neuer’s Bayern teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger.

German head coach Joachim Loew says it can only be Neuer in 2014. Former Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said it would be about “time to give the award to a goalkeeper. Neuer has taken the goalkeeping game into a new dimension. He’s the prototype of the modern keeper.”

Some fans indeed regard the 2014 World Cup performance as the ultimate reason for the decision. It would mean that Neuer would be top-seeded as he and the German team beat Argentina with Messi in the final 1-0. Ronaldo and Portugal were eliminated early on at the group stage. Messi after all was a runner-up.

In Brazil, Neuer saved 85 percent of the shots on his goal (23 of 27) and conceded only four goals in seven games which made him the world’s best.

In the history of the German Bundesliga, Neuer is the only goalkeeper to have conceded fewer goals (210) than games played (264). For over a year now, Neuer has made no major mistakes.

Others take a close look at the whole season which speaks for Ronaldo who won the Champions League with his club. The Portuguese striker scored a remarkable 17 goals whilst Messi only scored eight. Neuer and Bayern Munich were convincingly beaten 0-5 on aggregate by Real and Ronaldo in the semi-final.

But the 2014 race for football’s most important individual trophy is not only decided on sporting merit. It is also a race between the two most powerful brands in football, namely Nike (US) and adidas (Germany).

Ronaldo (2014 Champions League winner with Real and 2013 World Player of the Year) is Nike’s top horse whilst Messi (World Player of the Year from 2010 to 2012) and Neuer are in the adidas stable.

In the background, both brands have gone to immense lengths to support their candidates. For instance, Ronaldo is happy about the impressive number of 90 million clicks on the social media pages and is far ahead of his contenders – Messi only has 60 million.

“I am not the favourite as Cristiano Rolando and Lionel Messi are a worldwide brand,” said Neuer.

As far as German football is concerned, Neuer is the fifth German since 1991 – when FIFA started to hand out the award annually – to make the top three.

He follows midfielder Lothar Matthaeus (winner in 1991), Thomas Haessler (midfielder/third in 1992), current US-coach Juergen Klinsmann (striker/third in 1995) and Oliver Kahn (goalkeeper/second in 2002).

If Neuer – against all odds – does actually win in 2014, it will not be surprise but a sensation. That of course would be in keeping with the exceptional year the German goalkeeper has had.

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