The Ballon d’Or is the most coveted individual prize in all of world football.
Each year, the award ran by France Football uses votes from leading journalists and figures in the game to decide which player has been the best of the best that past season.
Ahead of the 2022 edition that will be decided this October, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema is the overwhelming favourite for the prize.
The Frenchman would be a worthy winner after leading Los Blancos to La Liga and Champions League glory in 2021/2022, enjoying his best campaign to date personally.
However, over the years we’ve had more than a few controversial calls when it comes Ballon d’Or results – with voters often choosing to prioritise team achievements over individual performance.
So with that in mind, we decided to take on the difficult task of ranking every Ballon d’Or winner since 1988.
Whilst obviously a subjective task, for clarity, the way we’ve looked to rank these world class stars is based upon two factors – their Ballon d’Or winning season and their overall standing in the game.
Ranking every Ballon d’Or winner since 1988
‘How on earth?!’
Matthias Sammer, Pavel Nedved, Jean-Pierre Papin
We’ll clear one thing up straight away: anyone that’s managed to lift the Ballon d’Or is one hell of a football player, whether ranked in the lowest category or not.
But when it comes to these three players, you wouldn’t find many putting them towards the elite end of this ranking system.
Nedved was world class for a decent amount of time, true, but did he deserve the 2003 prize over Thierry Henry given the Frenchman had just banged 24 goals and 20 assists in a single Premier League season – we think not…
Whereas Sammer somehow claimed the 1996 award over Ronaldo Nazario. We say ‘somehow’ because the then Barcelona man scored 47 goals in 49 games that year.
And when it comes to Papin, well, he’s more here for his overall lack of standing in the game.
Luka Modric, Michael Owen, Andriy Shevchenko, Fabio Cannavaro
It’s no coincidence that Cannavaro lifted the prize in the same year he captained Italy to the 2006 World Cup.
He was a brilliant defender but probably not Ballon d’Or worthy, not when players like Paolo Maldini have been overlooked. Besides, Ronaldinho was fabulous for Barcelona that season and ought to have claimed his second trophy.
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His decline after leaving the Reds, though, means that he’s good enough only for our second lowest category.
Whereas Shevchenko, again, whilst a great striker, we’re not sure quite he deserves to be as high up in the footballing echelons as some of the other legends on this list.
Roberto Baggio, Rivaldo, George Weah, Ricardo Kaka, Hristo Stoichkov
‘The Divine Ponytail’ (Baggio, if you weren’t aware) lifted the crown in 1993 whilst playing for Juventus, and remains one of the most iconic players of the 1990’s era.
The Brazilian Rivaldo claimed the prize in 1999 whilst plying his trade at the Camp Nou.
Meanwhile, his compatriot Kaka, was the last person to win the prize before Messi and Ronaldo embarked upon their period of dominance post 2007.
Luis Figo, Lothar Matthaus, Marco van Basten, Ronaldinho
Van Basten can count himself unfortunate not to be higher in this ranking given he lifted no less than three Ballon d’Or.
The Dutch striker was special there can be no doubting that and, had his career not been cut short due to his awful injury luck, who knows where he would be viewed amongst football’s greatest.
Ronaldinho and Figo were both defining players of the early 2000’s, with Ronaldinho making his mark just a few years after the Portuguese legend.
‘Elite of elite’
Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo Nazario, Cristiano Ronaldo
What hasn’t Zidane won in his career? The Ballon d’Or, World Cup, European Championship, Champions Leagues – the list only continues…
But maybe the greatest ode to ‘Zizou’ is just how stunning he was to watch. Arguably the most graceful baller ever.
Brazilian Ronaldo was simply majestic and how he didn’t lift the crown in 1996, we’ll never know. Fortunately, his time would come in 1997 when at Inter Milan.
Meanwhile, his Portuguese namesake and Man Utd star just misses out to Messi for the ‘GOAT’ spot after lifting five Ballon d’Or across his illustrious career.
Messi’s lifted a record seven Ballon d’Or, so, in truth, nobody else was ever going to take this spot except him.
The Argentine has been a trailblazer since he burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old with Barca and just needs a World Cup to round off what would arguably be the perfect career.
A deserved GOAT award.