Why Are Goalkeepers So Underappreciated In The Ballon d'Or?

Edouard Mendy's omission has raised questions over the award's fairness
13:00, 21 Oct 2021

The 30-man Ballon d’Or shortlist raised serious questions when it was announced. Although the usual suspects are all included, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski among others, there is a serious lack of goalkeeping representation across the board. In fact, only the player of the tournament from Euro 2020, Gianluigi Donnarumma, is represented for those in between the sticks. 

Donnarumma did have a sensational tournament, saving two penalties in the final against England and is fully deserving of his place in top 30 - but he shouldn’t be the only one. How Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy has not been nominated is verging on insanity. He has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, was absolutely pivotal in the Champions League win and has continued his good form into the new season. 

Jan Oblak, who has arguably been the best keeper in the world for the past few years, won La Liga with Atletico Madrid and played every single match, conceding just 25 goals in the meantime. Also, if Donnarumma has made it into this squad, surely there is an argument for Argentina’s Copa America winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to feature, given the way he has transformed his national team’s back-line. 

Jordan Pickford performed out of his skin at Euro 2020, setting a new clean sheet record for England and only conceded two goals compared to Donnarumma’s four. He saved two penalties when it mattered most in the final and if his England teammates had performed better from the spot, he is likely to have won player of the tournament. That is a whole lot of if, buts and maybes - but Pickford’s individual performances this year have been top class. 

Defenders are also usually underappreciated in these sorts of individual awards but with Italy’s stout defensive displays winning them Europe’s biggest international prize, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci feature, as does Chelsea’s Champions League winning captain Cesar Azpilicueta. There are also places for Premier League winner Ruben Dias and AC Milan’s Simon Kjaer which means that defenders make up a sixth of the entire list - a reasonably fair representation given attacking players have always been more eye-catching. 


But this lack of respect for goalkeepers is not a new thing when it comes to individual awards. Since the Ballon d’Or was launched in 1956, only Lev Yashin from the goalkeeper’s union has won the gong and only Oliver Khan has broken into the top three in the last 25 years. 

In this day and age, when goals and assists are vehemently argued about over social media, can a goalkeeper even be the best player in the world? This is where the birth of the Yashin Trophy, launched in 2019, must take on more importance. Alisson won the inaugural award after Liverpool’s Champions League win and this year's award will be hotly contested - with all of the aforementioned names in the running. 

It is almost impossible to compare Donnarumma to Messi. A clean sheet cannot be compared to a goal or an assist and for this reason, unless a keeper wins every major trophy for club and country while continuously keeping clean sheets, they are unlikely to ever win it in its current form. 

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