Can Neuer upstage Messi and Ronaldo to claim Ballon d'Or?
World Cup winning goalkeeper has an outside chance of breaking the forwards' monopoly
The last time a goalkeeper won the coveted Ballon d'Or the Beatles had just released their first album, James Bond was battling Dr No and the world was reeling from the assassination of John F Kennedy. But 51 years after Russia's Lev Yashin was named the world's finest footballer, Manuel Neuer could follow the Moscow Dynamo gloveman in being crowned Fifa's player of the year for 2014.
The Bayern Munich keeper faces tough competition from Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi. Between them the two strikers – and, allegedly, bitter rivals - have monopolised Fifa's Ballon in recent years, Ronaldo taking the title in 2008 and 2013 and Messi scooping the award a record four consecutive times in between - in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The 28-year-old Neuer, who this year has helped Bayern win the Bundesliga title and Germany the World Cup, is the first goalkeeper to be shortlisted since Gianluigi Buffon finished runner-up to Italian teammate Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. That in itself is an achievement, particularly considering that Fifa's 23-man longlist included the likes of Eden Hazard of Chelsea and Belgium, PSG's Swedish Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Germany's World Cup-winning captain (and Neuer's Bayern teammate) Philipp Lahm.
Though Messi has been in the headlines of late for breaking more goalscoring records, the Argentine didn't enjoy his usual prolific season in 2013-14 and his imminent appearance in a Spanish court on charges of tax evasion might sway the judges when they come to announce the winner on 12 January.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, may not have fired for Portugal in the World Cup, but he did score 51 goals for Real Madrid last season as they won the Champions League. It was the Spanish club's first European title for 12 years and probably makes Ronaldo slight favourite to repeat his success of last year.
But after years of domination by Messi and Ronaldo, Neuer offers an alternative and is many people's choice, none more so than Spain's Xabi Alonso, now a teammate at Bayern after his summer move from Real Madrid. "Neuer is by far the best goalkeeper I've played with and he is a big player for us out on the pitch," Alonso told Sport Bild.
"When I arrived at Bayern I knew Neuer was a top player but he has surprised me even more... it would only be fair if he won the Ballon d'Or for this year, I've no doubt about it."
In other categories, Nadine Kessler of Germany, Brazilian Marta and Abby Wambach of the USA make the shortlist for the women's award, while Real Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti will battle it out with Germany's World Cup winning coach Joachim Low and Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone for the Fifa coach of the year award.