What is it exactly about the role of the goalkeeper, such a vital position on the football field, that dictates when it is time for the individual awards season to roll round, they not only get blanked, but also command barely a mention in those discussions?
Just take a look at the individual breakdown of the voting for the Ballon d’Or since its inception in 1956, and you will notice a pattern developing that runs right through to this day: Keepers, for some unexplained reason, just do not figure in the collective thinking.
Indeed, in the 57 years that the prestigious Ballon d’Or has been operating, only one shot-stopper has ever been crowned European Footballer of the Year (from 2010, the award merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year gong to create the FIFA Ballon d’Or) and that was legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin in 1963, a man considered to be the greatest keeper the game has ever seen.
And a further delve into the voting patterns reveals that only three other No. 1's have ever made it into the top three positions: Italy and Juventus captain Dino Zoff, who was runner-up to Johan Cruyff in 1973; Germany and Bayern Munich skipper Oliver Kahn, who came in third place two years in a row (2001-2002); and current Juve and Italy No. 1 Gianluigi Buffon, who was pipped to the award by compatriot Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.
When this year’s 23-man short list was announced in October, again it was noticeable for its absence of top-quality custodians, with only the likes of Iker Casillas, Manuel Neuer and Buffon getting nominated. None of that trio ever came close to threatening the eventual top three of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta when the winner was announced at the turn of the year.
So, as we gaze into our crystal ball, we select five shot-stoppers who have the potential to go on and win the 2013 Ballon d’Or…
Club: Real Madrid
National team: Spain
If "St. Iker" did not win the Ballon d’Or in 2012, then you really do wonder how any keeper will ever get his hands on the trophy again after the Madrid and Spain captain led his club side to regain La Liga and his national team to retain the European Championships. I mean, what more can a player do to be recognised as the best in the world?
The start of this year has not exactly gone according to plan, either, for the Madrid man, firstly being dropped by Real coach Jose Mourinho, before breaking a bone in his hand against Valencia, and yet there is the scent of redemption on the horizon for Casillas in the form of "La Decima."
And, should the world’s best keeper return from injury to inspire Madrid to that coveted 10th European Cup at Wembley in May, perhaps with some man-of-the-match displays between the sticks along the way, then maybe Casillas will finally be rewarded with the honour that his glittering career deserves come voting time next January.
National team: Italy
The veteran keeper, who has recently signed a contract extension that will keep him in Turin until 2015, shows absolutely no signs of coming towards the end of his illustrious career, meaning there could still be one more opportunity to get his hands on the Ballon d’Or.
The Italy international came desperately close to joining Yashin as the only goalkeeper to have won the award seven years ago, only for his club-mate Cannavaro to get the nod over him, but with the 35-year-old seemingly as good as ever between the posts for both club and country, you would not rule out a shock run for the gong this year.
With there being no international tournaments of note taking place this calendar year, apart from the lesser-spotted Confederations Cup, voting will be focussing on domestic deeds, and at present Buffon is on course for a trophy-laden finish to the campaign.
In fact, with the "Bianconero" well on track to retain their Serie A crown, and Buffon having conceded a league-low 18 goals in 25 league games this season—while the club also edges closer and closer towards a first Champions League final appearance in 10 years—this could very well be the year that the man with the Alice band in his hair finally gets the recognition he deserves after 18 years at the very top of the world game.
Club: Bayern Munich
National team: Germany
The ice-cool German, who was nominated for the 2012 Ballon d’Or, will be hoping that next time round he may be able to improve on his compatriot Kahn, who came third in back-to-back years in 2001-2002.
Of course, his predecessor at both Munich and Germany not only helped his club to the Champions League in the first of those years, but he also went on to virtually single-handedly drag his country to the World Cup final 12 months later, with Kahn winning the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player.
However, if there is one man who has the skill, temperament and all-round class to become the first German winner of the Ballon d’Or since Matthias Sammer in 1996, then it is Neuer, although you get the feeling that he may just need to keep the Bavarians on course for the Treble for him to stand any chance.
National team: Spain
If the voting was decided purely on how many medals a player could put on the table, then the Catalan would be a perennial contender. He's won three Champions Leagues and five Liga crowns, twice in the same year, something the shot-stopper is once again well on course to emulate this season.
And would it not be fitting that in his final year at Camp Nou and with a possible fourth European Cup and a sixth league title to his name, the 31-year-old finally steps out of the giant shadow cast by compatriot Casillas at the Bernabeu and is rewarded with the Ballon d’Or?
Club: Manchester United
National team: Spain
To have even suggested this a few months ago would have resulted in the arrival of men in white coats at the front door, but things are suddenly looking a lot rosier for the young Spaniard at Old Trafford, especially after his man-of-the-match display in the Champions League against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu last week.
That eye-catching performance for the Premier League leaders could just be the turning point in De Gea’s United career and one we are looking back at in a year’s time as being the catalyst for his subsequent revival between the sticks for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
And it is not totally implausible to suggest that the Spain international will now go on to play a starring role as his club win a second Treble, form that could result in De Gea getting chosen to represent La Roja in their victorious Confederations Cup campaign in Brazil this summer.
Now that would surely be deserving of recognition come voting time for next year’s Ballon d’Or…