From 2008 onwards the coveted Ballon d’Or award has been dominated by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The formidable duo have quite literally cleaned up across the past 15 years, with one of the two winning the award in every year available besides 2018.
On that occasion, Real Madrid and Croatia star Luka Modric was the fortunate beneficiary of a slight drop off from the usual recipients, not that he wasn’t a worthy winner, although you might find that certain players on this list arguably deserved the accolade even more when at the peak of their powers.
The jaw-dropping performances and staggering numbers from the Messi/Ronaldo era has left many other worthy winners wondering what might have been had they been born a decade earlier, because it’s truly quite incredible that some these stars never received their crown.
Check out who we believe are the 11 greatest players never to win a Ballon d’Or below.
Note: This list only consider players from 1995 or after – the date the Ballon d’Or began accepting non-European players as candidates.
The 11 greatest players never to win the Ballon d’Or
11. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
It’s maybe understandable why Zlatan hasn’t been crowned the King of Europe, as he’s probably not been the absolute best in the world at any single point.
He was certainly amongst the best for well over a decade, though, and his longevity at the top, immaculate trophy haul, and knack for the spectacular certainly puts him in the frame.
The main factor that counts against Zlatan is that he’s never actually appeared in a Champions League final – and we know how much that counts for in the eyes of France Football.
Had he guided a club to European glory, who knows, maybe the 6ft 5inch Swede would be a Ballon d’Or winner.
10. Arjen Robben
Incredibly, Robben never finished higher than fourth in the Ballon d’Or rankings standings despite being one of the shining lights of the modern era.
He scored the winning goal for Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League final which ought to have made him a prime candidate for the prize, but for whatever reason it simply wasn’t to be.
The pacey Dutchman was also talismanic in the Netherlands reaching the final of the 2010 World Cup and achieving a 3rd place finish in the 2014 World Cup – had they gone on to win either he would have had a great chance.
9. Gianluigi Buffon
It’s a tough ask for a goalkeeper to win the Ballon d’Or and similarly to Zlatan, it’s easy to see why Buffon never won the prize, but taking into account his longevity and achievements in the game it’s hard to overlook Buffon for this list.
The Italian’s best shot at the prize was after Italy won the World Cup in 2006 and Buffon conceded just two goals all tournament, however he was pipped to first place by teammate Fabio Cannavaro and finished second overall.
8. Sergio Ramos
Reports emerged recently that Ramos in fact begged the Spanish FA President to support his claim for the Ballon d’Or in 2020 before the competition was cancelled due to covid.
And while we think that’s a little desperate – although don’t tell him we said that – it’s understandable that he craves the accolade, after everything he’s achieved, he undoubtedly deserves it.
Apart from being arguably the best centre-back of his era, Ramos has chipped in with 129 career goals to date showing he’s a force at both ends of the pitch.
7. Andrea Pirlo
We won’t throw out statistics at you to try and back up Pirlo’s case in this debate, that’s not the type of player he was.
But football purists know just how sensational the Italian playmaker was throughout his trophy-laden career.
Miraculously, he never made it into the top three of the Ballon d’Or voting on any occasion.
A generational talent that a decade ago many people believed would have cleared up multiple Ballon d’Or by now, Neymar’s at risk of flattering to deceive in terms of his footballing career.
That’s not necessarily down to his own failures, though, more the enormous expectations that were held for him.
At 30-years-old he’s just three shy of equalling Pele’s Brazil goal record and has won countless major honours across his career. Besides, if they handed out a prize for football’s biggest baller he’d have won it ten-fold by now.
5. Luis Suarez
The obscenity of Suarez’s performances in the 2013/2014 Premier League season ought to have won him the Ballon d’Or.
However, even after his switch to Barcelona in which he played second fiddle to Messi, the Uruguayan was at times almost a match for the great man.
Unfortunately for Suarez, though, his move to play with Messi was always going to blunt his chances of individual accolades, and after Liverpool narrowly missed out on the Premier League title whilst Suarez was truly in his pomp, it would ultimately prove his biggest chance gone.
4. Thierry Henry
Of all the heated debates that involve the Premier League, there is one matter that nearly all fans can agree on – Henry is the greatest.
A near unstoppable product in his prime, there was no quality the iconic Frenchman didn’t possess.
His searing pace and superior footballing brain regularly ripped open Premier League defences throughout the early 21st century, and to be quite frank, how Michael Owen won a Ballon d’Or with this man operating in the same vicinity we’ll never know.
3. Paolo Maldini
Maldini is probably the greatest defender who ever lived. He also swept up five Champions League titles across his career but somehow never won Europe’s greatest individual prize.
That’s something of a mystery to us, and if it tells us one thing it’s that we need to start putting some more respect on defender’s names.
Not that Maldini would have minded, so long as his beloved Rossoneri were winning that’s all that mattered – and boy did they win…
Barcelona’s greatest practitioner and the heartbeat of what many people believe to be the greatest club team of all-time, it’s a ludicrous prospect to consider that Xavi never made it higher than third in the Ballon d’Or rankings.
Again, like Maldini, he’s the ultimate team player and if you’d have given Xavi the choice he’d probably have given the award to Messi every year too, but let’s just take a moment to appreciate the ultimate orchestrator of the beautiful game.
- Andres Iniesta
The Batman to Xavi’s Robin, this Spanish duo were like nothing football’s ever seen for both club and country, and it’s no coincidence that the two dominated the game on both fronts.
Unlike Xavi, who never enjoyed any notable individual moments of glory in his career that might have made him a shoe’in for the award, Iniesta scored the winning goal in extra-time of a World Cup final.
And whilst we can all look back now and realise that Iniesta was undoubtedly the worthy winner that year, he would ultimately still finish second once all the votes had been counted.
What a travesty.
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