2014 was a truly remarkable year for football that was highlighted by the dominant Germans winning the exhilarating World Cup in Brazil. The group stage provided surprises such as Spain’s elimination as well as Costa Rica’s qualification in the last 16, at the expense of the European powerhouses, England and Italy. The biggest disappointment was Brazil’s capitulation in their 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semi finals that sent shockwaves around the football world. In the club scene, Real Madrid finally won their 10th Champions League title through the dynamic trio of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema and Atletico Madrid finally overcame Spanish Giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, to win their first La Liga title in 18 years.
There have been amazing individual accomplishments as well. FIFA has nominated Manuel Neuer, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon D’Or prize to recognize their outstanding performances in 2014. Who do you think deserves it the most? Lets evaluate each of the candidates and see who is a worthy winner of the prestigious prize.
Manuel Neuer led Germany to World Cup victory and perfectly symbolized the German team: strong, decisive and commanding in the box. It’s very rare for a goalkeeper to make the shortlist, which is a testament to his form for Bayern Munich and Germany in 2014. He has made a number of key saves for Germany and has entertained audiences with his sweeper role and distribution of the ball to begin attacks. In a recent champions league tie with AS Roma, Manuel Neuer produced a string of impressive saves highlighted by a reflex save to deny Roma winger Gervinho from close range.
His performance in goal helped Bayern Munich to a domestic double in 2013. Even though he disappointed in Bayern Munich’s biggest game against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League, he still consistently showed throughout the year that he was top goalkeeper for the calendar year. This is further demonstrated by his form in the new campaign where he has conceded only 4 goals in 17 games. His excellent shot stopping skills that he produces on a regular basis has guided Bayern Munich and Germany to success.
The ‘Messiah’ started the calendar year nursing a hamstring injury which kept him out for 2 months. Since his recovery, he hasn’t looked back and continues to break individual records and is now the all-time leading scorer in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. Despite not winning any silverware in 2014, Messi still managed to score 58 goals and 21 assists in 66 appearances for club and country while guiding Argentina to the World Cup final. Injuries have not helped his cause but his importance to Argentina and Barcelona was quite noticeable during his absence. He still produced vital goals and maintained an impressive goal scoring record when fit. His goal against Iran in the 90-minute sealed Argentina’s qualification from the group stages and underlined his importance to the team.
Messi, who is typically known for his individual skills and creativity, produced a moment of sheer brilliance in January by driving past Getafe’s backline and rounded the keeper to seal Barcelona’s victory.
By his high standards, he has failed to replicate this form on a consistent basis. He is known for scoring 91 goals in 2012, the highest in a single year. The lack of silverware and not meeting his exceedingly high expectations may ultimately count against him for the prize.
2014 has been a superb year for the Madrid man where he has managed to score 61 goals and 22 assists. This is particularly impressive considering he isn’t a typical centre forward. He has also surpassed the 200 goals mark in La Liga with the fewest games possible and is slowly cementing his place in La Liga history. His instincts in the opposition box helped guide Real Madrid to their 10th Champions League title where he set a scoring record of 17 goals in the tournament. Ronaldo has also proven he can be deadly from long distance from his two stunning goals against Osasuna on which he has repeated on multiple occasions especially from free-kicks.
Despite his remarkable statistics in club football, Ronaldo’s performances for Portugal in the 2014 World Cup, which ended in an early exit and a single goal to his name, may prove to be the deciding factor against him winning the Ballon d’Or prize. Much of it was due to humongous expectations placed on Ronaldo to lead the nation to success. To further complicated things, he had fitness problems upon entering the tournament. However, as always, it is always worth to see Ronaldo in the flesh as shown by the skills during the game against the USA.
Of the 3 candidates, Manuel Neuer is the least likely to come away with the prize as contributions from goalkeepers are appreciated less. This is a shame as Neuer’s performances have been nothing short of perfect. The Ronaldo-Messi debate continues for the 7th consecutive year and it is fair to say Messi hasn’t reached the heights of 2012,even though he led Argentina to the World Cup final. Ronaldo remains the favorite for the coveted prize, and if last year’s Ballon d’Or win was controversial, this years prize will surely be deserved through his exploits in club football. This will be his 3rd title and one short of his biggest rival, Lionel Messi.