5 superstars who deserved the Ballon d'Or ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
As soon as one mentions the Ballon d'Or, you either associate Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo with the prize. The two legends have made it a personal duel and had won the prestigious individual award every single time between themselves from 2008, before Luka Modric won the prestigious accolade in 2018.
While there is no denying the fact that both Ronaldo and Messi are undoubtedly the two greatest footballers of our generation, there are some footballers who will feel hard done by for not receiving the recognition their contributions merited.
The names on this list were simply phenomenal and deserved the top prize at least once in their legendary careers. Without much ado, let's take a look at five footballers who deserved to win Ballon d'Or ahead of the famed duo.
#5 Manuel Neuer (2014)
A goalkeeper? Best player in the world? Seriously? These are the questions that people ask whenever Manuel Neuer's name comes up for an individual prize. By far the best and most consistent goalkeeper in the past decade, Neuer had a particularly strong case for winning the Ballon d'Or in 2014, having won silverware for club and country.
Since 1963, only three goalkeepers have ever made the final three spots. Legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin remains the only shot-stopper to date to win the Ballon d'Or, while Gianluigi Buffon narrowly missed out on the prize in 2006. However, Neuer certainly deserved the award, especially after his top-notch performances in the World Cup.
Having revolutionized the art of goalkeeping with his sweeper-keeper style of play, Neuer adapted to then-manager Pep Guardiola's style of playing out from the back. He also showcased his excellent shot-stopping skills and reflexes in the World Cup against France and Algeria.
Neuer also played a starring role in Bayern Munich's Bundesliga and Pokal double and Germany's historic World Cup triumph. He certainly deserved the individual prize ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (1st) and Lionel Messi (2nd) in 2014.
After all, the World Cup is the most prestigious tournament in football, and Neuer was simply superb in FIFA's showpiece event in Brazil.
#4 Xavi Hernandez (2009, 2011)
Considered by many to be the greatest Spanish player ever, Xavi Hernandez is genuinely one of the best midfielders to ever play the game.
Having won all the major trophies for club and country, Xavi has carved a unique place for himself in the pantheon of footballing greats. The Spaniard's vision, pinpoint passing, and world-class ball control allowed him to dictate the flow of play while rarely losing possession.
His ability to control games has earned him the title, "The Puppet Master." The Barcelona legend was also known for his fantastic positioning and ability to pick out the right pass every time, which made him integral to both Barcelona and the Spanish national side.
Pulling strings in midfield, Xavi was the lynchpin of Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona team and Spain's World Cup and two-time Euro winning squad. Having made more than 180 assists in his stellar career, Xavi is one of football's all-time greats.
In 2009, while Lionel Messi ran away with all the plaudits for his miraculous performances under Pep Guardiola, Xavi was perhaps more critical to the tiki-taka style of play than the Argentine. His best chanccameas in 2011, when he was arguably the best player in the world.
#3 Franck Ribery (2013)
Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery thought he had a chance to break the duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013, following his impressive performances in Bayern Munich's incredible treble-winning season.
Full of pace, trickery, and skill, the Frenchman played a starring role in Bayern's stunning victory over Barcelona in the semi-final.
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With many pundits backing the Bayern Munich man to win the prize, Ribery was left bitterly disappointed when Ronaldo won it, even indicating that the Ballon d'Or was a popularity contest in a stunning outburst. Speaking in 2014, Ribery said:
"I learned a lot during last year's Ballon d'Or gala (2013) As soon as I got there, I told my wife that I would lose".
"I saw how Sepp Blatter was hugging Ronaldo and how his entire family was there. I'm not stupid. It was clear that he had to win it. He wouldn't have brought his entire family with him otherwise."
"But I fear it will be about politics again. The Ballon d'Or is no longer for the best player. It's all about politics. Fabio Cannavaro won it in 2006 because he won the World Cup, that's all."
While one cannot discount Ronaldo and Messi's performances in 2013, Ribery arguably deserved the Ballon d'Or above these two legends.
#2 Wesley Sneijder (2010)
One of the most complete players of his generation, Wesley Sneijder was the odds favorite to win the Ballon d'Or in 2010. The architect of Inter Milan's famous treble-winning season under Jose Mourinho and an invaluable member of the Netherlands, Sneijder was tipped to at least feature in the three-man shortlist in 2010.
However, in what came as a shock, the Dutchman was ignored entirely, with Barcelona's legendary trio of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi making the final cut. Capable of playing as a deep-lying playmaker or as a number 10, Sneijder dictated his side's play and was quite often the difference between victory and defeat.
Sneijder's impact that year could be seen from the fact that even Barcelona legend Xavi was unhappy with the fact that he was left out of the top 3. Speaking to Sport in 2010, Xavi said:
"As for Sneijder, I know that in Italy they are angry because he is not one of the finalists. I can only agree with them. The Dutchman has had a fantastic year,"
Sneijder deserved the Ballon d'Or ahead of Lionel Messi in 2010.
#1 Andres Iniesta (2010 and 2012)
Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta is perhaps one of the few footballers who can genuinely claim to be as good and technically gifted as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Iniesta won the UEFA Best Player in Europe award in 2012, and was also chosen as the Best Player of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League season. He was runner-up to Lionel Messi for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or and secured third place in 2012.
Playing starring roles in his country's astonishing World Cup and Euro triumphs, the Spanish magician certainly deserved to be crowned the best player in the world on at least one occasion. While he beat Messi and Ronaldo to the 2012 UEFA Best Player award, the Ballon d'Or voting went against him, as he eventually finished third.
A true legend of the game, Iniesta played football in a way that brought smiles to people's faces. A true artist on the ball, the Spanish great is probably the greatest player to never win the prestigious Ballon d'Or award.