The Ballon d’Or has made its long-awaited return for 2021.
The 30 nominees for the main male prize were unveiled on Friday afternoon with almost half of the players hailing from the Premier League.
The Ballon d’Or and Premier League
Manchester City were represented by Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling with Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane completing the English football contingent.
However, although 14 out of 30 is undoubtedly an incredible return, it goes without saying that Premier League players haven’t always had the best of luck when it comes to the Ballon d’Or.
Newcastle Takeover Complete (Football Terrace)
Those well-versed in football trivia will be able to tell you that only two Premier League players have ever won the prize since English football’s rebranding in 1992, which is hardly a fantastic record.
But that’s not to say that Premier League legends haven’t knocked on the door of glory, racking up near misses while the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Rivaldo and Ronaldo Nazario take the acclaim.
Best Ballon d’Or finishes for PL stars
So, bearing that in mind, we wanted to find out what the greatest Premier League XI would look like if we based it upon highest ever Ballon d’Or finishes.
We’ve taken each position, rattled through all the Ballon d’Or voting results since the 1992 edition and selected the highest-performer in each spot as long as they played in the Premier League at some point in that year.
Oh, and you’ll quickly find out that the Ballon d’Or voters aren’t all that generous when it comes to defenders, so you’ll have to forgive us for the odd contrivance and reach along the way…
Greatest PL XI by Ballon d’Or results
However, enough with the housekeeping and disclaimers, let’s dive into the greatest XI in Premier League history based upon Ballon d’Or results – check it out:
GK: Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United)
Highest finish: Fifth place (1992)
Sure, this probably had more to do with Denmark winning Euro 92 than anything, but Schmeichel’s fifth-place finish remains the Ballon d’Or high watermark for Premier League goalkeepers.
RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Highest finish: 19th place (2019)
Remarkably, Alexander-Arnold holds the distinction of being the only out-and-out Premier League right-back to have been nominated for the Ballon d’Or and he achieved the feat at just 21 years old.
CB: Ricardo Carvalho (FC Porto and Chelsea)
Highest finish: Ninth place (2004)
How much of this was down to Carvalho’s start to life at Chelsea? Probably very little, but his ninth-place finish is still enough to oust John Terry and Marcel Desailly who both peaked in 10th position.
CB: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Highest finish: Second place (2019)
By far and away the closest that a Premier League defender has ever come to winning the Ballon d’Or, Van Dijk was only eight votes away from spoiling Lionel Messi‘s party at the last ceremony.
LB: Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid)
Highest finish: Ninth place (2013)
Is this cheating? Yes, yes it is, but not a single Premier League left-back has ever been nominated for the Ballon d’Or, so Bale – who once upon a time played there – is the closest thing we can get.
RM: David Beckham (Manchester United)
Highest finish: Second place (1999)
Bet you forgot about this, didn’t you? Yes, that’s right, Beckham came a Rivaldo away from being crowned the world’s best player on the back of helping United to win a historic treble.
CM: Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Highest finish: Second place (2005)
While Ronaldinho might have cantered to the main prize, Lampard’s silver medal in 2005 is too often forgotten and more than deserving on the back of Chelsea’s first Premier League triumph.
CM: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Highest finish: Third place (2005)
Wowsers, English football really was living its best life in 2005 because on the next step of the podium that year was a ‘Stevie G’ fresh from his masterclass in the Istanbul comeback vs AC Milan.
LM: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Highest finish: First place (2008)
And finally we have ourselves a winner. Ronaldo was named the Ballon d’Or winner on the back of Champions League glory and breaking the Premier League scoring record for a 38-game season.
ST: Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
Highest finish: Second place (2003)
Arguably the greatest European player in history to never win a Ballon d’Or, Henry’s slender defeat to Pavel Nedved on the back of 20 assists and 24 goals in the league hasn’t aged particularly well.
ST: Michael Owen (Liverpool)
Highest finish: First place (2001)
The second and final Ballon d’Or winner in Premier League history romped his way to glory in 2001 by accumulating more votes than Raul, Luis Figo, Rivaldo, Francesco Totti and Zidane.
Close(ish) to the all-time Premier League XI
Now, to be fair, considering the often wacky results of the Ballon d’Or, particularly during the early 2000s, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the resulting XI wasn’t completely wide of the mark.
Besides, if you were to draw up the Premier League’s greatest XI irrespective of Ballon d’Or results then you’d probably still have Henry, Lampard, Gerrard, Ronaldo and Schmeichel in the team.
We’re less sure that people would have Owen, Carvalho and Bale at left-back but hey, you can’t please everybody and the Ballon d’Or will know that better than most.