Creating a Ballon d’Or for Defenders & Deciding Who Would Have Won it

​It’s been a remarkable year for Virgil van Dijk, putting in arguably the best defensive displays in these 12 months this century (and when you see the state of football before that, probably all time).

There was certainly momentum that wasn’t far short of a campaign for him to scoop either of FIFA’s The Best award or the Ballon d’Or.

Unfortunately for him, ​football is above giving awards to defenders, and Lionel Messi won both instead. Good. Justice has been served.

But that got us thinking – if defenders are so unlikely to win major awards, shouldn’t they have some kind of Yachine Trophy of their own? 90min looks back through the archives and looks at who would be on the podium for such an award.


2007 – John Terry

1 –  John Terry (Chelsea & England)

2 – Alessandro Nesta (Milan & Italy)

3 – Paulo Maldini (Milan & Italy)

John Terry

By this point a double Premier League champion, it was hard to argue that John Terry wasn’t the best defender in the world while in his prime. 

Despite missing out to Manchester United in Chelsea’s quest for a third successive title, he still managed to win the FA Cup and League Cup.

The Blues conceded just 24 Premier League goals in the 2006/07 season to boot, and were also denied a spot in the Champions League final on penalties against Liverpool.


2008 – Nemanja Vidic

1 – Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United & Serbia)

2 – John Terry (Chelsea & England)

3 – Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United & England)

Manchester United's Serbian player Neman

Rivalling Terry for that late-2000s ‘best bastard’ mantra were the duo at Manchester United, but Rio Ferdinand was definitively inferior to his compatriot, so the remaining challenger was Nemanja Vidic.

After winning a Premier League and Champions League double, the Serbian was becoming well-renowned for his no-nonsense style, as United powered there way through England and Europe in 2008.


2009 – Dani Alves

1 – Dani Alves (Barcelona & Brazil)

2 – Carles Puyol (Barcelona & Spain)

3 – Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United & Serbia)

Barcelona´s Brazilian defender Dani Alve

The first defender on​ this list who’s not really a defender, but hey, that’s the way football’s been going. Attacking is defending, go figure.

People knew about how good Dani Alves was at Sevilla, but his transfer to Barcelona at the start of the 2008/09 season propelled him to superstardom – the finest right-back of his generation had arrived.


2010 – Lucio

1 – Lucio (Inter & Brazil)

2 – Maicon (Inter & Brazil)

3 – Carles Puyol (Barcelona & Spain)

Lucio

The clamour for Spain and Barca’s centre-back partnership of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique​ was in full swing in 2010, but Lucio’s prominence as Inter’s best defender in the Champions League-winning campaign is too hard to ignore.

A shoutout should go to Maicon, whose perception of just how good he was went up in flames as soon as he met Gareth Bale that year, while Carles Puyol was the commanding figure at the heart of Spain’s first World Cup triumph.


2011 – Eric Abidal

1 – Eric Abidal (Barcelona & France)

2 – Dani Alves (Barcelona & Brazil)

3 – Thiago Silva (Milan & Brazil)

Barcelona's French defender Eric Abidal

Playing 41 games for the best team of the world and possibly all time when you’ve had a liver transplant to beat cancer? This isn’t sentiment, this is recognising an absolutely astonishing achievement. Nothing more needs to be said.


2012 – Sergio Ramos

1 – Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid & Spain)

2 – Philipp Lahm (Bayern & Germany)

3 – Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus & Italy)

Spanish defender Sergio Ramos poses with

His first whole year as a​ full-time centre-back, Sergio Ramos stepped up and proved to be one of the world’s finest footballers – just ignore that hilarious penalty vs Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Jose Mourinho had found his man to lead the defence, to play on the front foot where possible and organise a lower block when needed. Alongside club rival Gerard Pique, a formidable partnership was formed as Spain romped their way to another European Championship.


2013 – Philipp Lahm

1 – Philipp Lahm (Bayern & Germany)

2 – Jerome Boateng (Bayern & Germany)

3 – David Alaba (Bayern & Austria)

Philipp Lahm

​After finishing as runners-up in three competitions in 2012, Bayern and Philipp Lahm stepped up to win it all the following year. As captain, Lahm led his side to an unprecedented German football treble.

Jupp Heynckes’ side may be the most underrated of their era considering how dominant their 2012/13 season was, and Lahm’s influence is often lost among football’s modern full-backs.


2014 – Diego Godin

1 – Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid & Uruguay)

2 – Jerome Boateng (Bayern & Germany)

3 – Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid & Spain)

FBL-ESP-LIGA-ATLETICO-EIBAR

​Welcome to the world stage, Atletico Madrid. Diego Godin was the on-pitch embodiment of manager Diego Simeone, as Atleti leapfrogged Real Madrid and Barcelona to win La Liga.

If not for Sergio Ramos, he would’ve scored the goal to win Los Rojiblancos their first European Cup. Alas, history has been written in permanent ink. Tough luck, Diego.


2015 – Giorgio Chiellini

1 – Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus & Italy)

2 – Gerard Pique (Barcelona & Spain)

3 – Dani Alves (Barcelona & Brazil)

FBL-EUR-C1-JUVENTUS-REALMADRID

Everyone knew how good Juventus were in Serie A by 2015, but prior to this year, they hadn’t established themselves as one of Europe’s big boys again. Under Max Allegri’s management, Chiellini took a huge leap to become the world’s best defender. 

They were unfortunate to fall to Barcelona’s three-headed MSN snake in the Champions League final, but they managed to blunt Cristiano Ronaldo and co. along the way – a great feat that’s only second to being ​likened to Rocky Balboa.


2016 – Pepe

1 – Pepe (Real Madrid & Portugal)

2 – Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid & Uruguay)

3 – Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus & Italy)

UEFA Champions League final - "Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid"

Sergio Ramos has grabbed most of Real Madrid’s headlines from defence this decade, and it’s left his reliable partner in crime Pepe without the attention he deserves.

Known generally for ​being a hothead, the Portuguese defender put in some phenomenal displays to win both the Champions League and Euros in the same summer. Please respect him.


2017 – Marcelo

1 – Marcelo (Real Madrid & Brazil)

2 – Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus/Milan & Italy)

3 – Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur & Belgium)

Marcelo

Marcelo > Roberto Carlos, and 2017 confirmed it. 

The displays ​he put it in that year were unlike any we’ve ever seen from a full-back, constantly beating his man, constantly causing havoc, constantly positioning himself so high that there was rarely a need to defend.

A real shame for the other two podium-finishers, whose displays as actual defenders were a cut above the rest. But hey, they can go make their own award.


2018 – Raphael Varane

1 – Raphael Varane (Real Madrid & France)

2 – Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool & Netherlands)

3 – Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid & Spain)

Raphael Varane

Raphael Varane looked like a solid defender ever since breaking into Real Madrid’s team as a teenager, but it wasn’t until 2018 that you could say that he had made the jump to become the best in his role – after all, Ramos and Pepe would have already won this award by then.​

The European and World Cups secured in the summer, he even had a semi-decent shout of winning the actual Ballon d’Or, but he’ll have to settle for our work of fiction instead.


2019 – Virgil van Dijk

1 – Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool & Netherlands)

2 – Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool & England)

3 – Andy Robertson (Liverpool & Scotland)

UEFA Champions League"Tottenham Hotspur FC v Liverpool FC"

Virgil. Trent. Andy.

In that order.

Get the flag printed, Reds.​


For more from Sean Walsh, follow him on Twitter!

Let’