Lionel Messi has made history by winning a seventh Ballon d’Or title.
The Paris Saint-Germain star lifted France Football’s prestigious prize at the star-studded gala on Monday after beating off competition from Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Jorginho.
Having previously won the prize in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019, Messi now stands two plaques clear of his eternal rival, Ronaldo, as the most successful player in the award’s history.
Messi’s record-breaking Ballon d’Or win
While the Manchester United superstar trails on five gongs, the trio of Marco van Basten, Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff are still miles behind Messi’s record-breaking total on three titles each.
Or is that strictly true? Ok, yes, it is absolutely, definitely true, but there are some caveats that need to be applied when you’re tallying up the players with the most Ballon d’Or wins in history.
Besides, we’ve got to remember that the trophy was only available to European players until 1995 and even then it wasn’t until 2007 that players from clubs outside of Europe were able to compete.
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But what about Pele?
As such, it means that some of the finest players of all time have never managed to get their hands on the famous golden football from Zico to Mario Kempes and Socrates to Carlos Alberto.
But perhaps the most noticeable absentee from the Ballon d’Or roll of honour is none other than Pele, who endures in the GOAT (greatest of all-time) conversation alongside Messi himself.
With no less than three World Cup titles to his name and allegedly more than 1,000 goals, Pele will always be the number one player in the history of the beautiful game for some fans and pundits.
Pele would have won 7 Ballon d’Or titles
However, what if we were to tell you that we do know how many Ballon d’Or titles that Pele has won and that France Football, the organisers of the award, have calculated the total themselves?
In a review into the Ballon d’Or winners cited after Diego Maradona’s death in late 2020, the French publication listed their hypothetical champions in a world where non-European players were eligible.
The result? Well, Pele won exactly seven Ballon d’Or trophies with France Football tipping him to usurp the actual winners in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964 and finally in 1970.
Garrincha was touted to be the winner in 1962, Kempes was tipped for the crown in 1978 and Maradona finished off the non-European revisions by taking the title in 1986 and 1990 respectively.
Messi and Pele are level, kind of
All this is to say that in an alternative reality where any and every footballer had always been eligible to compete for the Ballon d’Or that Messi would now be level with Pele at the very top of the tree.
Now, it goes without saying that France Football haven’t literally inserted Pele into the official winners, so Messi will very much remain head and shoulders above the rest in the history books.
But in a world where we wanted to be absolute perfectionists about Messi being the greatest player of all time, dare we posit the suggestion that he needs an eighth Ballon d’Or title to wrap things up?