The sheer dominance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi over the last 15 years has meant the Ballon d’Or ceremony has, on the whole, been very much a two-horse race.
Since Kaka won the award in 2007, the only year neither Ronaldo nor Messi took home the highest individual accolade in the game was in 2018, when Luka Modric managed to finally break the duopoly.
The following season, Messi would reclaim it and order was restored.
The astounding run the pair have put together throughout their careers has obviously meant some incredible talents have missed out..
Below are nine names, who in another life would comfortably have walked away with the crown, if it hadn’t been for the freakish talents of two of the game’s greatest ever.
A central figure in arguably the best side of all-time, Xavi’s partnership with Andres Iniesta in that Barca side, managed by Pep Guardiola, was football in its purest form.
Xavi came as close as third on three consecutive occasions in the Ballon d’Or rankings, in 2009. 2010 and 2011. Unsurprisingly, it was Messi who emerged victorious in each of those years.
The other half of that formidable central midfield partnership, Andres Iniesta came slightly closer to winning, finishing second in 2010.
That was that same year he bagged the winner in the World Cup final. Two years later he’d make the top three again, a campaign that saw him named Player of the Tournament as Spain retained the Euros
No goalkeeper has won the Ballon d’Or since Lev Yashin in 1963. If it weren’t for Ronaldo and Messi, there’s an extremely good chance Neuer could have been the man to break that trend.
Largely credited with reinventing the traditional role of the shotstopper, the German’s countless honours with Bayern Munich, along with a World Cup win with the national side, still haven’t been deemed enough.
Ribery was left fuming after missing out on the award in 2013, the same year he played a pivotal role in Bayern’s treble-winning side.
The winger finished third, behind Messi and winner Ronaldo, a result that sparked a furious reaction towards Sep Blatter and the process as a whole.
Speaking to German paper Bild, Ribery said: “I learned a lot during last year’s Ballon d’Or gala. As soon as I got there, I told my wife that I would lose. I saw how Sepp Blatter was hugging Ronaldo and how his entire family was there.”
Despite the golden years of the MSN—Messi, Suaurez, Neymar—setup at Barca, Neymar was never able to overshadow his Argentine teammate.
Many felt his decision to leave for PSG was largely fueled by his desire to win the Ballon d’Or, but the club’s failure to win the Champions League has likely played a sizable role in him not managing to do so.
Virgil van Dijk
It’s tough to remember a defender having such a colossal impact on a club quite like Van Dijk did after joining Liverpool in 2019.
Almost single-handedly, he completely transformed Anfield’s fortunes, winning the Champions League in his first season, before finally managing to win that elusive Premier League title a year later.
Torres became Liverpool’s fastest player in history to score 50 league goals, firmly establishing himself as one of the game’s deadliest strikers during his debut season in England back in 2007.
Unfortunately for him, that happened to coincide with the same year that Ronaldo and Messi’s dominance first began, and he could only secure third place.
Griezmann’s stock skyrocketed in 2018. After scoring twice in Atletico’s Europa League final win, he was part of the France side that won the World Cup, delivering a Man of the Match performance in the final and finishing the competition as second-highest scorer.
He too managed third in the Ballon d’Or rankings that year, unable to topple the usual suspects.
A bit of a different one—Lewandowski seemed all-but-nailed-on to win last year, only for the ceremony to be cancelled due to the pandemic, a decision that was heavily questioned by the footballing world.
With Messi currently the bookmaker’s favourite for this year’s award, it’s tough not to feel for the Polish striker who has broken record after record over these last two years.