Every so often a goalkeeper has been considered for the coveted Ballon d’or Award, an honor that, until 2009, was voted on by European soccer journalists. Though a keeper has only won once—Lev Yashin in 1963—other netminders have come close. Here are nine instances in which a goalkeeper missed out on winning football’s top prize for individual players.
1. 44 points behind 1st – 1960 Lev Yashin (Finished 5th place in voting overall)
2. 45 points behind – 1961 Lev Yashin (4th)
3. 49 points behind – 1973 Dino Zoff (2nd)
4. 49 points behind – 2006 Gianluigi Buffon (2nd)
5. 80 points behind – 1956 Lev Yashin (5th)
6. 88 points behind – 2001 Oliver Kahn (3rd)
7. 94 points behind – 2002 Oliver Kahn (3rd)
8. 109 points behind – 1992 Peter Schmeichel (5th)
9. 130 points behind – 1983 Jean Marie Pfaff and Rinat Dassaev (6th, tied)
That Soviet and Dynamo Moscow keeper Lev Yashin came close in three different years is a testament to his legacy. While his role in helping the USSR win the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 1960 European Championship wasn’t enough for Yashin to take the award, it was his memorable performance in the 1963 Best of the World vs. England match that finally secured Yashin’s place in history.
Other notable close calls include Dino Zoff in 1973, who lost out to a Barcelona-bound Cruyff, despite Juventus almost winning the treble that year. In 2006, Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon lost to his Juventus and Italy teammate Fabio Cannavaro after the Azzurri won the World Cup. Perhaps the best chance for a goalkeeper to join Yashin as a Ballon D’Or winner cam in 2002 for Oliver Kahn, who may have won it had it not been for his sloppy rebound save in the World Cup final against eventual Ballon d’Or winner, Ronaldo.
Since 2010, when the Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s Player of the Year award have merged together allowing non-European journalists, team captains and coaches to vote, the number of points awarded by voters has jumped from hundreds to thousands. This past year, Manuel Neuer received well-deserved attention for his dynamic and revolutionary play yet he was over a thousand points short of Cristiano Ronaldo. With three representatives from each FIFA nation submitting a ballot, Neuer won 15.72% of the vote, less than a tenth of a percentage point behind Messi who received 15.76%, but still a relatively distant third and closer to the bottom of the pack than Ronaldo at the top.
Sure, Messi and Ronaldo will be idolised for the next century as two of the greatest players in soccer history, but the enormous gap between them and Neuer in voting is telling. Buffon joked how a goalkeeper would need to stop multiple penalties in consecutive games to not be overlooked, and he may have been onto something. Even Iker Casillas, once considered the best goalkeeper on the planet from 2010-2012, only received 4% of the Ballon D’Or votes. The truth of the matter is that, despite its importance to the sport, there is no glamour in goalkeeping.