Considered to be the most prestigious individual award in the football industry, the Ballon d’Or has been dominated in recent years by the immovable object, Cristiano Ronaldo and the unstoppable force, Lionel Messi. Both men have been relentless in their pursuit of that shiny golden ball as we mere mortals have stood back and admired two of the game’s greatest players battle it out for the coveted prize, however, we seem to forget that there are players out there who would have certainly won the prize had they not been playing alongside two football god’s. With this in mind, we take a look at some of the most talented players to have ever graced green grass who, despite their best efforts, have never that distinguished golden decoration.
2 European Championship medals, 1 World Cup Winners medal and an abundance of domestic honours, Xavi won it all during his time at Barcelona. Throughout his career, Xavi embodied the ethos and style that both Barcelona and Spain implemented on the pitch, his ability to manipulate the game by finding and exploiting space was complimented with laser-like precision passing and ability to spot and execute a pass from anywhere on the pitch. However, the midfield metronome has probably been the most unlucky when it comes to winning the Ballon d’Or. With 3 consecutive third place finishes between 2008 and 2010, Xavi was only bettered by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on all 3 occasions. With his career coming to an end in Qatar at the mature age of 36, Xavi’s chances of winning the award are all but over, nevertheless, the legacy that he has imprinted on the game will live forever.
Watching Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer was a thing of beauty, like poetry in motion, sublime finishes and exquisite touches were just the norm for him, whenever he stepped over that white line both he and his opposition expected the ball to eventually nestle into the back of the net with consummate ease. However, Henry had to settle for second and third place finishes at the 2003 and 2006 Ballon d’Or respectively, 2 Premier league titles, 2 La Liga titles, 3 FA Cups, Champions League, European Championship and World Cup Winners medals aren’t bad consolation prizes though.
Despite having an official FIFA award named after him, the Puskas Award, the former Real Madrid star surprisingly never won the illustrious golden ball, only ever coming second behind a Barcelona forward named Luis Suarez (not that one). The forward was instrumental in dismantling England in a 6-3 victory at Wembley in 1953 and played a key role in Real Madrid’s 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final, showing that his technical prowess was allied to a brain that appreciated the game of football like no one else could.
“My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation.”- Zinedine Zidane
“Paul Scholes is a role model. For me – and I really mean this – he's the best central midfielder I've seen in the last 15, 20 years. He's spectacular, he has it all: the last pass, goals, he's strong, he doesn't lose the ball, vision. If he'd been Spanish he might have been rated more highly.” - Xavi
More like a puppet master than a footballer, Paul Scholes is one of the greatest and most decorated English footballers of all time. His ability to dictate a game of football will never be replicated, with a mix of crisp, short passing and long, raking passes all coming from the heart of the Manchester United midfield. Despite, receiving high critical acclaim from some of the game’s greatest, Scholes was never even considered for the Ballon d’Or during his 21-year career. Undoubtedly, one of, if not the most underappreciated player of his generation.
An AC Milan and Italy defensive legend that was the backbone of some of the great European teams of all time. The stalwart came second, behind teammate Marco van Basten, in the 1989 Ballon d’Or results, the same year that he captained his Milan side to the first of his 3 European Cups. A composed, calm figure at the back during the Milan glory days, Baresi, showed the world that defending is an art form in itself, an art form that he had perfected.
I know - the answer to your question is yes, Diego Maradona never won the Ballon d’Or, and it sounds crazy even just saying it. Unlike his adversary Pele, Maradona spent most of his playing career in Europe with successful spells at both Napoli and Barcelona so journalists across Europe were able to witness his brilliance first hand at both club and international level. He mesmerised defenders and spectators alike with his sublime dribbling, delicate touch and ethereal ability to finish the ball with his feet (in most cases). But there is a catch, during his career the award was given exclusively to players of European nationality, nevertheless, I’m sure an exception could have been made for possibly the greatest player of all time, but that is an argument for another day.