Ballon d’Or 2016 shortlist: Manchester United keeper David de Gea’s omission is baffling



Yesterday, the 30-man shortlist for France Football’s annual Ballon d’Or award was revealed. There were the usual suspects like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and a few new faces in Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez from Leicester’s Premier League title winners of 2015/16. But one notable omission was that of Manchester United and Spain goalkeeper, David de Gea.

It is true that the Ballon d’Or is almost always a celebration of the footballing world’s best attacking talents, judging by the hegemony created by Messi and Ronaldo in recent years. Less than a handful of goalkeepers make the shortlist every year, but De Gea has never made it that far, despite being outstanding in goal for his club, and recently, for Spain as well.

The 2016 Ballon d’Or 30-man shortlist sees two goalkeepers making their first appearances. Hugo Lloris and Rui Patricio manned the French and Portuguese goals respectively in the final of Euro 2016, and their selections have been perhaps influenced by their appearances in the final of a major international tournament.

Lionel Messi has won five Ballons d'Or.

Lionel Messi has won five Ballons d’Or.

What is baffling about De Gea’s absence is the fact he has almost single-handedly saved Manchester United falling into the abyss in the post-Alex Ferguson era. That gets highlighted by the Spaniard being the only goalkeeper to ever win his club’s player of the year, and win it three years running.

If those individual accolades are any measure of De Gea’s contribution to his club, then he also deserves a shot at the Ballon d’Or. In the last five years, four goalkeepers have made it to the shortlist. Of them, only Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich and Germany has had a podium finish, being third in 2014. The disregard for defensive players is a modern day narrative of football, and it only serves to underline why De Gea did not make the cut.

With Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon, Neuer, Lloris and Patricio making it four goalkeepers in this year’s 30-man shortlist, there was clearly no space for someone like De Gea. The highest number of goalkeeper selections in recent memory happened in 2012, when Buffon, Neuer and Iker Casillas made the cut. In the past three seasons, Thibaut Courtois’ selection in 2014 was the only time Neuer had goalkeeping company in the Ballon d’Or shortlist.

In 1963, Soviet Union’s Lev Yashin became the first goalkeeper to win the Ballon d’Or. Since then, no goalkeeper has won the prestigious prize, and Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 was the last time a defensive player won it.

It can be argued that De Gea deserves his shot at individual glory, but the way football works–scoring goals being worth more than saving them, despite stats proving it to the contrary–it is no surprise the 25-year-old was overlooked.

Patricio’s selection ahead of De Gea looks laughable, but the bigger picture here is: it doesn’t matter. If you are a goalkeeper, the Ballon d’Or is not for you. Of course, making the Ballon d’Or shortlist drives up a player’s price as well as activates contract bonuses, triggers add-ons, and so on. It also leads to agents playing hard ball in contract negotiations, but one thing is certain: it doesn’t make a player greater or lesser than what he is.

Claudio Bravo, De Gea’s opposite number up the road at Manchester City, led Chile to two Copa America titles in two years, yet his is a name many would miss when listing the best goalkeepers. If major tournament wins–which De Gea is lacking in–are a criteria, then Bravo should have been up there last year, as well as this one.

De Gea is one of the many world class players operating in the Premier League. Although he doesn’t deserve his non-selection in the 2016 Ballon d’Or shortlist, he must by now be aware of modern football’s obsession with goal-scorers and attackers.

The 30-man shortlist:

Sergio Aguero (Manchester City/Argentina)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund/Gabon)

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid/Wales)

Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus/Italy)

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City/Belgium)

Paulo Dybala (Juventus/Argentina)

Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid/Uruguay)

Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid/France)

Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus/Argentina)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United/Sweden)

Andres Iniesta (Barcelona/Spain)

Koke (Atletico Madrid/Spain)

Toni Kroos (Real Madrid/Germany)

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich/Poland)

Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur/France)

Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City/Algeria)

Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina)

Luka Modric (Real Madrid/Croatia)

Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich/Germany)

Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich/Germany)

Neymar (Barcelona/Brazil)

Dimitri Payet (West Ham/France)

Pepe (Real Madrid/Portugal)

Paul Pogba (Manchester United/France)

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid/Spain)

Rui Patricio (Sporting/Portugal)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Portugal)

Luis Suarez (Barcelona/Uruguay)

Jamie Vardy (Leicester City/England)

Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich/Chile)

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