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Greatest players never to have won the Ballon d’Or

Paolo Maldini

Cristiano Ronaldo sealed his place as the greatest footballer on the planet at last night’s FIFA Ballon d’Or event. The Real Madrid forward won the award for the second successive year and third time overall, taking him to just one award behind rival Lionel Messi.

In its current guise, the FIFA Ballon d’Or is only in it’s 5th year, but its lineage can be traced back all the way to 1956 and the inaugural winner, Stanley Matthews. The prestigious award has been lifted by some of the greatest players ever to take the field. World Cup winners, European Cup winners, goal scoring record breakers and those who redefined the way the game is played.

However, there still remains a list of players never to have won the trophy. Those who – despite their incredible talent and achievements – were never honoured with the ‘Golden ball’. Here, we take a look at a small selection of players to have missed out such recognition and explain perhaps what lay behind their omissions.


Thierry Henry

In the mid to late 2000s, Henry was one of the greatest players in the world. He inspired Arsenal to an unbeaten league season in 2004, as well as an FA Cup triumph a year later and a Champions League Final appearance in 2006. However, the Frenchman was never able to get his hands on the Ballon d’Or – coming second in 2003 to Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved and third in 2006, missing out to Italy’s World Cup winning heroes, Gianluigi Buffon (2nd) and Fabio Cannavro (1st) respectively.

Henry was perhaps unfortunate in that during his highly successful spell at Arsenal, he was overshadowed, one by Italy’s World Cup win and the fantastic performances by captain Cannavaro and two, by the emergence of Ronaldinho as one of the greatest players of his generation.

Xavi Hernandez

Another player who has missed out due to playing in an era of greatness; this time, a teammate. Xavi has been the core of the Barcelona side that has dominated Europe since 2009. Two Champions League wins, countless leagues and cups and national team supremacy with Spain has seen Xavi establish himself as one of the greatest midfielders of all time.

Whilst it is hardly fashionable for deep-lying midfielders to prosper come award season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to make the argument for Xavi as the world’s best at some point over the last six years.Unfortunately for him, he has reached his peak at the same time that teammate Lionel Messi has, not to mention La Liga rival Cristiano Ronaldo. No matter how good the Spaniard has been, he would never have been able to surpass the achievements of the two players who have been the very definition of the ‘el Clasico’ rivalry in recent years.

Kenny Dalglish

One of the greatest players of all time, but never a Ballon d’Or winner. Dalglish came close in 1983, placing second behind Frenchman Michel Platini. Even with three European Cup wins during his stint at Liverpool and six league championships, he was without recognition for his achievements.

The dominance of German football at the time also counted against Dalglish, with Hamburg’s Kevin Keegan winning back to back awards in 1978 and 1979 respectively, followed by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in 1980 and 1981. Paolo Rossi’s triumphant comeback and World Cup win in 1982 set him apart the following season. Despite these obstacles, it seems unlucky that Dalglish would never have come out on top, or at least achieve more top three finishes.

Ferenc Puskas

A member of the great Real Madrid team of the 50s and 60s, Puskas played alongside some of the greatest of all time, such as Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa (both Ballon d’Or winners). The Hungarian forward was unable to achieve recognition as the world’s best however, despite his incredible career.

Even four goals in the 1960 European Cup Final weren’t enough to secure anything better than a second place finish to Barcelona’s Luis Suarez. However, one would imagine that three European Cup winners medals would trump any individual award. Not only that, but Puskas had the honour of playing in arguably the greatest club side of all time.

Paolo Maldini

The great Paolo would only manage two third place finishes in his career in the Ballon d’Or – in 1994 and 2003. Both in the wake of terrific achievements; a World Cup final at USA ’94 and another Champions League win with Milan at Old Trafford in 2003.

Arguably one of the greatest defenders ever to take the field, Maldini has won all there is to win. A one-club man, he has captained his nation at World Cups and European Championships, as well as dominating Serie A as part of the great Milan side of the early-to-mid 90s.


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