Pele and Maradona: Every Ballon d'Or winner if non-European players were always eligible

  • Kobe Tong
p1f9mp5aiuoda1u1a6hvof0bcpf.jpg

The Ballon d'Or is due to make a triumphant return in 2021.

Ballon d'Or set to return

With France Football's prestigious prize spending 2020 on ice due to the global situation, fans are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of seeing the world's best player crowned again.

After all, it feels like an eternity ago that Lionel Messi made history by winning the title for a record-breaking sixth time, ousting what was undoubtedly a stunning 2019 from Virgil van Dijk.

No doubt the Barcelona star will be in contention for a seventh trophy by the time this year's ceremony rolls around, but make no mistake that there will be plenty of rivals to win the accolade.

Man Utd AGREED Varane Terms & Deal (Football Terrace)

Ballon d'Or's legendary history

From Robert Lewandowski to N'Golo Kante and dare we even suggest Jorginho, there is no shortage of competition from world-class footballers to be crowned the best of the best.

And whoever is unveiled as the world's best player over the last 12 months will take their place in the history books alongside previous winners who range from truly iconic to simply legendary.

However, anyone who has ever traced their finger back through the list of previous Ballon d'Or winners will be acutely aware that France Football's prize hasn't always been a worldwide affair.

How the Ballon d'Or has changed

Given the limitations of technology and transport at the time of the accolade's establishment in 1956, it was nigh on impossible for players outside of Europe to be fairly judged and compared.

As such, it wasn't until 1995 that players of a non-European origin became eligible and 2007 marked the moment when playing in European leagues no longer became a criteria for selection.

Now, it doesn't take a footballing expert to establish that those criteria meant that footballing legends like Diego Maradona and Pele ended their career without Ballon d'Or trophies.

However, not only was the situation remedied by both players being given honorary Ballon d'Or prizes, but France Football decided to do a retrospective into the winners for their 60th anniversary.

p1f9mrdd8j14isvoh18dvuf87gad.jpg

Alternate Ballon d'Or history

In a review cited as recently as October 2020 by the publication, France Football hypothetically revised the list of Ballon d'Or winners in a world where non-European players were always eligible.

The result? Nothing short of fascinating, so be sure to check out their adjusted, albeit unofficial, batch of winners down below:

1958: Pele

Real winner: Raymond Kopa

1959: Pele

Real winner: Alfredo Di Stéfano

1960: Pele

Real winner: Luis Suarez

p1f9mresh8m2118r190pi9a108dg.jpg

1961: Pele

Real winner: Omar Sívori

1962: Garrincha

Real winner: Josef Masopust

1963: Pele

Real winner: Lev Yashin

1964: Pele

Real winner: Denis Law

1970: Pele

Real winner: Gerd Muller

p1f9mrgntp17j29lj1df89m1171li.jpg

1978: Mario Kempes

Real winner: Kevin Keegan

1986: Diego Maradona

Real winner: Igor Belanov

1990: Diego Maradona

Real winner: Lothar Matthäus

1994: Romario 

Real winner: Hristo Stoichkov

p1f9mr61lms4i1c4810u71bq2ge6b.jpg

Pele leads the way with 7 titles

There you have it, France Football essentially admitted that Messi wouldn't be the most successful footballer in the history of the Ballon d'Or had all footballers been permitted from day one.

However, it is worth saying that the French publication explained that Pele faced far less competition than, say, Maradona did during the 1980s, hence why the Brazilian bags himself so many plaques.

As such, it's worth taking Pele's mind-boggling total of seven Ballon d'Or titles with a pinch of salt but even then, there's no denying that he deserves a hatful of the famous golden ball.

p1f9mrim4d1f20jav1at2v1i1ictk.jpg

That being said, if there's one way that Messi can put his status in the GOAT debate beyond dispute then matching the number of Ballon d'Or trophies that Pele might have bagged would be it.

1 of 15
Champions League trophy

Who has won more Champions League titles?

News Now - Sport News