After watching another masterful display by Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm in his new defensive midfield role last week, some people began to wonder why he’d never come close to winning the Ballon D’or. But it’s had me thinking of a more broader question, do we devalue the contributions of defenders and goalkeepers at the very top level of football?
Since the inception for the award of FIFA’s best player back in 1991, only one defender has won whilst one other and one goalkeeper have finished as runners up. The majority of the other winners and runners up are made up of either strikers or midfielders with a regular eye for goal, the ones that always grab the headlines.
It’s not that surprising, people will say that the most important thing to do in a football game is to score goals but that’s a generalisation that’s demoting the players who have a job to prevent the other team from doing so, especially for goalkeepers. In that sense, it’s also easier to tell that a forward is playing well because he’s scoring goals whilst with someone defending it can be something as simple as positioning that’s stopping the opposition from creating clear cut chances.
There are some fantastic defenders in the world of football, with Lahm being an expert example. Well regarded as one of the best full-backs in the world regardless of which side he’s asked to play on, he’s now even become one of the standout defensive midfielders this season under Pep Guardiola. He’s very solid defensively, has always used his positional sense to make up for his pace (compared to other RB’s and LB’s, he’s not slow) and can create goals with either foot.
If he had played in central midfield his entire career, he might have pushed the likes of Xavi and Iniesta in the awards races but since he isn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s not just him, Vincent Kompany, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Alessandro Nesta, Cafu, Thiago Silva, Nemanja Vidic, Ashley Cole, Roberto Carlos and many more have been world class in their careers with some stellar seasons but have not been considered for the big award.
And that’s discounting the hordes of terrific goalkeepers there have been, with only Oliver Kahn finishing second in 2002. Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, David Seaman, Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar, Manuel Neuer, Fabian Barthez and others made telling contributions during their careers to their various successful teams yet they were never seen as the best player in the world.
This might sound overall a little hypocritical because of my previous article about awards aren’t really needed but I’m pretty certain they mean a great deal to the players who do gain the accolades. Being in the FIFA XI, which is pretty biased anyway, shouldn’t be the limit for these kinds of players and maybe something like a Defensive Player of the Year award should be created to help celebrate the excellent work of defenders.
It’s unlikely to happen any time soon which is a shame, but let us all recognise their importance to football. Some may argue that a good defensive performance can be 19th century football but where would football be without great defenders to give great attackers a real challenge?