The Ballon d’Or is the ultimate individual prize in the world of football.
France Football’s coveted accolade has heralded some of the greatest players the beautiful game has ever seen from Ronaldo Nazario to Franz Beckenbauer and Zinedine Zidane to Ronaldinho.
However, only rewarding a single player per year means that some fantastic athletes have somehow managed to go their entire careers without winning a Ballon d’Or trophy they surely deserved.
The greatest players to never win the Ballon d’Or have been well-publicised over the years, but planetfootball.com have closed the net by looking at those who missed out by just a single place.
Ballon d’Or runner-ups
And that gave us an idea of our own: how good would an XI of players that finished second in the Ballon d’Or votes, but never actually won the trophy, really be?
The answer, it just so happens, is very impressive and you can check out our full selections down below to see the 11 legends that came oh-so close to bagging one of football’s biggest prizes.
GK – Gianluigi Buffon
Goalkeepers are seriously hard done by in the world of the Ballon d’Or and legendary Russian Lev Yashin is the only shot-stopping winner, but Buffon is most definitely the best of the rest.
Finishing second to his compatriot Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, the Champions League is perhaps the only accolade other than the Ballon d’Or that’s lacking from the Juventus legend’s trophy cabinet.
Buffon has made over 650 appearances for the Old Lady, winning Serie A on nine occasions, collecting the Golden Glove at the 2006 World Cup and bagging FIFA’s ‘The Best’ goalkeeper award in 2017.
RB – Paul Breitner
Ok, yes, we know, Breitner wasn’t strictly a right-back and largely played in midfield during his pomp, but the Bayern Munich legend could play anywhere on the pitch and, frankly, there’s not many options at right-back.
The German is considered by some as the seventh most prolific defender in history with a staggering 113 goals and is part of an exclusive club of players to score in TWO World Cup finals.
Breitner lifted the Bundesliga title five times in Bavaria, before moving to Real Madrid, while also being named European champion with both club and country in the same year as winning the World Cup.
CB – Franco Baresi
Do we even need to justify Baresi’s inclusion? The AC Milan icon is considered by many to be the greatest defender of all time and he narrowly missed out on the Ballon d’Or trophy in 1989.
His teammate Marco van Basten was the winner on that occasion, but the golden title should have been engraved with his name at least once in a career that brought 719(!!!) appearances for Milan.
Combine that with a World Cup win in 1982, Milan’s Player of the Century award and a hat-trick of European Cups at the San Siro for a truly stellar career.
CB – Bobby Moore
Arguably the greatest player England has ever produced, Moore captained the Three Lions to World Cup glory in 1966 and found himself second in the Ballon d’Or voting after the following tournament.
That year, Moore executed the most iconic tackle of all time on Pele – who later called him the greatest defender he ever faced – and only Gerd Muller was capable of beating him to the golden ball.
His record of 108 caps at international level wasn’t beaten by an English outfield player until 2009 and West Ham have retired the number 6 jersey in honour of his 16 years in east London.
LB – Roberto Carlos
It’s an uphill battle for defenders when it comes to individual awards and arguably the greatest left-back of all time in some people’s books was forced to settle for a silver medal in 2002.
Compatriot Ronaldo was the recipient on that particular occasion, but Carlos still had plenty to celebrate after winning Brazil’s fifth World Cup and collecting the Champions League with Real Madrid.
The full-back’s left foot is one of the deadliest weapons in football history – never forget THAT goal against France – and 113 goals makes him the eighth highest-scoring defender the game has seen.
CM – Andres Iniesta
Iniesta came within a whisker of bagging the Ballon d’Or in a year where Barcelona whitewashed the podium, losing out to his mercurial teammate Messi by just over 5% of the vote.
The Spanish wizard had just scored in the World Cup final and would later be named the best player at Euro 2012, winning both tournaments, and appeared in nine consecutive FIFA FIFPro World XIs.
However, it was his performances for the Blaugrana that marked him out as truly legendary, winning nine La Liga crowns and four Champions League titles across a stellar 674 appearances.
CM – Frank Lampard
We’ll be honest, picking the midfield was pretty tough because most of the stellar central players to finish second in the Ballon d’Or votes – Roberto Baggio and Zidane, for example – eventually won the title too.
So, yes, Lampard isn’t exactly in the same tier of player as somebody like Baresi or Iniesta, but that doesn’t mean the Premier League legend wasn’t worthy of his shot at world domination.
The Chelsea hero’s record of 177 goals in England’s top division is simply mind-blowing for a midfielder and the fact he edged out Steven Gerrard in the year of Istanbul should speak volumes.
CAM – Dennis Bergkamp
You’d think that Bergkamp’s narrow miss with Ballon d’Or glory would come in his Arsenal days, but it actually came in a year where he straddled spells with his boyhood club Ajax and later Inter Milan.
Baggio did enough to ensure the classy Dutchman was left to rue his luck, yet the absence of the top individual prize has done little to harm Bergkamp’s reputation as one of the most technically-gifted players in history.
Bergkamp was an integral part of Arsenal’s legendary ‘Invincibles’ side, winning the Premier League twice more with the Gunners, and his international record stands at an impressive 37 goals in 72 caps.
RW – Kenny Dalglish
Arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever player was made to play second fiddle to none other than Michel Platini, on the eve of inspiring France in the European Championships, during the 1983 votes.
Dalglish is in the club’s top 10 leading goal-scorers with 169 strikes in the famous red jersey, winning the English league title on six occasions and collecting four of the club’s six European crowns.
And as well as dominating Scottish football with an all-dominating Celtic side, the Scot earned himself a place in the coveted FIFA 100 and has been inducted into the English and European Halls of Fame.
ST – Ferenc Puskas
Despite his partner in crime Alfredo di Stefano winning the award twice during Real Madrid’s domination of European football, a second-place finish in 1960 was as good as it got for Puskas.
In truth, it’s hard to see why Luis Suarez was given the plaque over the Hungarian, who was fresh from scoring four goals in the European Cup final and won the 1959-60 Pichichi Trophy with 25 strikes.
Nevertheless, Puskas’ legacy speaks for itself: an insane 84 goals in just 85 caps for Hungary, 242 strikes for Los Blancos in 262 games and the Golden Ball at the 1954 World Cup with a goal in the final.
LW – Thierry Henry
Recently voted the greatest player in Premier League history, it seems inexplicable that Henry was never named the world’s best and Pavel Nedvěd controversially pipped him to the post in 2003.
But Arsenal’s all-time top scorer can rest easy with the fact he won a record four Golden Boots in England, two consecutive European Golden Shoes and four French Player of the Year awards on the bounce.
Combine that with a long-awaited Champions League success at Barcelona and top-scoring for France to win the 1998 World Cup for one of the finest careers in football’s modern era.
What. A. Team.
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a team.
It goes to show just how coveted of an award the Ballon d’Or truly is when some of the greatest players in history were forced to watch another star win a trophy that they surely warranted too.
Lining up with prime Moore, Baresi, Puskas and Iniesta would be simply unstoppable and frankly, would give a dream XI of actual Ballon d’Or winners a run for their money.
However, let us all find solace in the knowledge that while these players might not have won the golden trophy they deserved, we’re all well aware of what they brought to the beautiful game.
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