The Cleanpairofshorts Ballon d’Or picks – Russ Griffiths

With the winner of the Ballon d’Or due to be announced early 2014, the cleanpairofshorts gang thought they’d share their personal favourites. Next up is Russ…

Manuel Neuer

It’s been fifty years since a goal keeper has won the accolade of the best player in the world. The Russian, Lev Yashin could be argued is the greatest keeper in history, so for another stopper to pick up the lauded Ballon d’Or would take a truly special player having the year of his life. With that said, Manuel Neuer has come pretty darn close. A trophy hat trick for Bayern Munich this year meant Neuer has collected German league and cup winners medals as well as the Champions League trophy. Keeping five clean sheets in the last seven games of the knockout phase of the Champions League deserves an award in itself. Especially when you consider that run included Barcalona, Juventus & Arsenal. True, his fellow team mates Muller, Lahm, Schweinsteigger, Robben and Ribery have all also made the FIFA 23 man shortlist, and rightly so, but Neuer stands out because of his unwavering consistency. Since Joining Bayern in 2011 his performances have been predominantly unquestionable and his quality in the Champions League final against an, at times, marauding Dortmund was a major factor in the Munich Victory. And this is why he makes my top three. Throughout the history of the Ballon d’Or the defensive positions of the team have been ignored by the voting judges, in favour of the fashionable and glamorous attacking players. An injustice to a crucial position on the football field. A goal keeper may not score the goals to win you matches, but they can still win you games.

Frank Ribery

The Bayern Munich theme continues with the next on the three man short list, the French Maestro Frank Ribery. It could be a difficult choice to separate Ribery from his other team mates who made the FIFA 23, particularly Robben and Schweinsteigger. All forward players with big contributions to Bayern’s historic treble. Ribery pips his attacking colleagues mainly for his consistency not only with Bayern, but France as well. He adds grit and bite to flashes of brilliance and his role in the Munich team is as much about creation as scoring goals. As his 10 assists in the league last seasons proves. The 2012/13 Bundesliga player of the year, who is so critical to Bayern despite the wealth of talent they possess in midfield, is also crucial to his national side, and looks likely to lead them to the World Cup next year. A Ballon d’Or would not look out of place on his shelf next to the three trophies he acquired this year.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

“He is possibly the most over-rated player in the world” said Martin O’Neill in 2006. Moves to Inter, Barca, Milan and PSG, plus 153 league goals later, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has yet again a strong claim for this years Ballon d’Or. Audacious with the arrogance to back it up, Zlatan doesn’t just score goals, he creates moments of wonder and marvel. Bookmarks in the history of football. Not as prolific as some forwards or as trophy laden as others, but Ibra demands to be noticed when he scores. Whether it’s an overhead backheel, a 25 yard bicycle kick, or an absolute unstoppable bullet. The Swedish icon has the world’s attention. And this year more so than ever. A key figure in PSG’s Ligue 1 win last season and still integral to their future despite the recent additions of Cavani and Lucas Moura et al. At 32 he still practically drags Sweden to tournaments single-handedly. Though this year fellow Ballon d’Or nominee, Cristiano Ronaldo may have something to say about that. Zlatan gets the nod purely for the brilliance of the goals he scores. For the unbridled joy and entertainment he brings. For being Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

RG

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