ballon d'or infographic

Why a Goalkeeper Should Win the 2017 Ballon d'Or

10:29 PMAleks Vee

by Aleks V @aleksvee

Illustration: Aleks V | Photos: Listas en 20minutos.es, MUFC, Atlético Madrid

When France Football announced their 30 nominees for the 2017 Ballon d'Or in early October, no one was surprised to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi make the list. The prestigious honor, awarded annually to the world's best player since 1956, has gone back and forth between Ronaldo and Messi for the past nine years. The last time someone else won the award was Kaká in 2007. Soulja Boy was on the radio, Twilight wasn't yet a movie, and MySpace was still a thing.

A lot has changed since then, with one exception: No goalkeeper has won the Ballon d'Or in the 21st century. 

Three keepers made the shortlist for this year's award – Jan Oblak (Atlético Madrid), David De Gea (Manchester United), and Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus FC).

The youngest, 24-year-old Oblak, is a star in Spain's top flight. Atlético's keeper kept 15 clean sheets in 30 games in 2016-17. His moment in the spotlight came two seasons ago when he conceded just 18 goals in 38 games (0.47 goals/match), an incredible feat considering La Liga's top striker that year, Luis Suárez, tallied 40 goals. Oblak had the lowest goals-to-games ratio in back-to-back La Liga seasons, winning the Ricardo Zamora trophy for the last two years.

The Slovenian international continues to impress – as of this article, he tallies 52 shutouts in 89 league games in La Liga for the Red-and-Whites. 

Manchester United's David De Gea has grown more confident with every Premier League season, proving a consistent presence between the sticks and a true leader on the pitch. De Gea currently boasts 83 clean sheets in 211 Premier League appearances. Last season, he registered 14 clean sheets in 35 PL fixtures. This year, De Gea is en route to new heights, with eight shutouts in 11 PL games and 17 in 30 games across all competitions. No Premier League goalkeeper has tallied as many shutouts as De Gea in the last four seasons (46).

Then there's “Gigi” Buffon. In 2006, the World Cup-winning Italian was the first goalkeeper to be a Ballon d'Or runner-up since Juventus' Dino Zoff in 1973. Last season, Buffon kept 12 clean sheets in 30 games, making 61 saves en route to a 10th Serie A title. In 2015-16, he matched his 2011 record of 21 clean sheets and went 974 minutes without conceding a goal, beating a 22-year record held by Sebastiano Rossi. 
  
The 39-year-old recently announced his retirement from international football and plans to retire at the club level next year – that is, unless he wins the UEFA Champions League, the only major trophy missing from his cabinet. 

Stats can be powerful and convincing; still, some might question whether any of the aforementioned shot-stoppers are worthy of the title of the world's best player.

Lev Yashin, the only keeper to win the Ballon d'Or thus far, overcame great challenges the year prior to his award. In fact, he was criticized and held largely accountable by some for the Soviet national team's quarter-final loss to Chile in the 1962 FIFA World Cup.

A year later, however, Yashin bounced back in the best season of his career, conceding only 11 goals in 34 games across all competitions, and only six in 27 Soviet Top League fixtures. His shining moment came when he suited up for the Rest of the World team against England in October 1963, two months before he won the Ballon d'Or. 

While none of the aforementioned keepers have come close to matching Yashin's Ballon d'Or worthy accomplishments, there are some interesting similarities. Buffon's 237 clean sheets in 500 games isn't too far from Yashin's all-time domestic record of 207 in 438 games. Though unlikely to beat the usual favorites for the Ballon d'Or, lifting the Champions League trophy with Juventus may increase Buffon's chances for next year's award.

De Gea's 2017-18 clean sheet count – 13 in 18 games for club and country – looks promising. The Spaniard has also been a mainstay during home games, keeping opponents from scoring at Old Trafford for the past six months.

As of Nov 11, Oblak tallies eight clean sheets in 15 games, conceding nine goals. He currently has the third-best stats of any keeper in Europe's top four leagues.

De Gea and Oblak, both still in their 20s, have many a season to fill the history books.

The football world has no shortage of talent in the outfield, but not many goalkeepers can claim to be the best in the world. On Thursday, December 7, France Football will have the opportunity to add to that list. 

Are they ready to deny the opposition?

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