Few events in football provoke as much speculation as the Ballon d’Or, which will be awarded in Paris on November 29 with Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski as the frontrunners.
Ever since 1956, France Football, arguably the most illustrious magazine covering the beautiful game, has been exercising its self-appointed annual right to crown the best men’s footballer in the world.
Xavi Hernandez was voted in FIFA’s FIFPro Team of the Year for six straight years between 2008 and 2013TT archives
Over the years, some of the most decorated names in the sport have been recipients of the Ballon d’Or, from Dutch wizard Johan Cruyff to French midfield maestro Michel Platini to Galacticos such as Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo. Most spectacularly, the irrepressible duo of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have claimed the gong a combined 11 times out of the past 12!
Since there can only be one winner each year, there are plenty of footballing legends who have not managed to lay their hands on the gorgeous golden ball, something that still ignites ire on Twitter.
Already the owner of the most Ballons d’Or in history, Lionel Messi will look to make it a sensational seventh on Monday night in ParisTT archives
Between 1956 and 1995, the Ballon d’Or was only awarded to players of European nationality. This is why the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona were never in contention. To stick to the historical stipulations of the award, we have only considered those players on our list who found the Ballon d’Or elusive despite being eligible for it.
Additionally, players who are still in their prime and can realistically end up with a Ballon d’Or in their cabinet before retiring — think Neymar, Kylian Mbappe or Mohamed Salah — have also been ruled out.
With the rules for selection in place, it is time to unveil the 10 greatest footballers to have never won the Ballon d’Or.
Philipp Lahm lifting the FIFA World Cup as captain of Germany after seeing off Argentina 1-0 in the 2014 final in Rio de JaneiroTT archives
The fact that the Ballon d’Or prioritises the consistently spectacular over the spectacularly consistent is best reflected in Lahm’s inability to land a top three nomination. Even though he rarely put a foot wrong en route to Bayern Munich’s treble of 2013 as well as Germany’s World Cup victory a year later, Lahm never attracted the limelight enough to be considered a contender for the Ballon d’Or.
Andrea Pirlo won two UEFA Champions Leagues and six Serie A titles during his time as a player in the Italian top flightTT archives
When you can be as classy as Pirlo, you probably need the Ballon d’Or less than the Ballon d’Or needs you! Having said that, the Italian, who oozed elegance with every pass and flick on the pitch, had a dream run in 2011-12 as well as in 2014-15, both of which went completely unnoticed in the Ballon d’Or voting for the respective years.
Even at 43, Gianluigi Buffon is going strong, currently playing in goal for Serie B team ParmaTT archives
Having narrowly missed out on the Ballon d’Or in 2006 to national team captain Fabio Cannavaro, Buffon was certain of going deep in the 2015 race after an almost impeccable season with Juventus. Instead, the goalkeeper was not even in the top 50 that year, and duly boycotted the Ballon d’Or. As a small consolation, readers of France Football named Buffon as the greatest goalkeeper in history only a year later.
Despite missing out on the Ballon d’Or, Franck Ribery was crowned UEFA Player of the Year in 2013TT archives
After Ronaldo was chosen as the 2013 Ballon d’Or, an infuriated Ribery cried “injustice” as he felt he was robbed of the prize for lacking the public profile of the Portuguese. Even though CR7 bagged more goals that year, the Frenchman had a solid argument to make as the standout player for an irrepressible Bayern Munich team that became European champions in London.
Between 2009 and 2011, Xavi finished on the Ballon d’Or podium thriceTT archives
As the fulcrum of the greatest Spanish and Barcelona sides of the modern era, nobody dictated a game quite like Xavi. His metronomic control of the ball, coupled with his instinctive sense of space, made him the linchpin of tiki taka football. Between 2009 and 2011, Xavi finished on the Ballon d’Or podium thrice, only to watch then Barcelona teammate Messi score each time.
Like Ribery in 2013, Andres Iniesta was also named as UEFA’s best player (for 2012) even though the Ballon d’Or never came his wayTT archives
Xavi’s midfield partner in crime for more than a decade, Iniesta was, in most people’s eyes, the favourite for the Ballon d’Or in 2010, after he had scored the goal that made Spain world champions for the first time. But he was pipped to the trophy by Messi, something that would happen once more in 2012, when Iniesta had been instrumental in Spain being crowned the kings of Europe for the second time on the trot.
With 51 strikes to his name, no player has netted more times for the French national team than Thierry HenryTT archives
Second to Pavel Nedved in 2003 and third to Cannavaro in 2006, Henry could not quite put together the golden year that an award like the Ballon d’Or demanded of a forward. Lack of European success with Arsenal tripped his case when he was dominating English football and a somewhat peripheral role during European triumphs with Barcelona meant he could never have a genuine shot at being the best in the world.
Always a one-club man, Paolo Maldini spent a staggering 24 years defending the shirt of AC MilanTT archives
Defenders have rarely had it easy as part of the Ballon d’Or running, and few would know this better than AC Milan icon Paolo Maldini. Arguably the most versatile defender of his generation, Maldini, who has lifted the same number of European Cups as Barcelona, ended up third in the 1994 race, which was clinched by Hristo Stoichkov.
Dennis Bergkamp inspired Arsenal to three Premier League titles alongside guiding them to the 2006 Champions League final, which they lost to BarcelonaTT archives
The Dutchman whose first touch could soothe a rock hardly cared about individual accolades, but nonetheless secured back-to-back podium finishes for the Ballon d’Or in 1992 and 1993. An indifferent string of performances with the Dutch national team always undercut his chances, even though he was mesmerising for several seasons in North London when gliding past defenders for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
Since 2008, FIFA presents the Puskas Award every year to the scorer of the best goal in professional competitions in honour of Ferenc PuskasTT archives
An indispensable part of the peerless Real Madrid team that swept all before them in the 1950s and ‘60s, the Hungarian genius is perhaps the most complete footballer to never receive the Ballon d’Or. The closest he came was in 1960, when he was second behind Luis Suarez (no, not the one we know today but his older Spanish namesake!), who did not have the technical perfection or the languid aura that distinguished Puskas.