Football has been the most popular sport in the world for a quite a while now. It has been the most popular sport all over Europe, Africa, and South America and catching on in the rest of the world. India, a cricket crazy nation is one of the many countries that is now taking to the beautiful game of football.
With two major football leagues as well as a Futsal league in the country, the Indian crowd is now able to watch some great players from around the world showcase their skill right in front of them. The coverage of European football games as well as international tournaments has never been better in the country. Many experts have dubbed India to be one of the superpowers of the sport in the future.
With the growing popularity of the sport, it is only natural that we can expect visits from some of the best players in the world, not just to play football but also the promote the game. Many great players have visited the country before, including Oliver Khan, Zico, David Trezeguet, Roberto Carlos and more greats, but only a few Ballon d’Or winners have visited the country so far. Here is a list of the Ballon d’Or winners who have had a glimpse of India.
The magician from Brazil is one of the most popular and most loved football players on the planet. On November 19, 2005, when Ronaldinho had the crowd in Santiago Bernabeu on its feet applauding him, none of us would have thought the legendary Brazillian would one day play in India, attracting the same reception from the Indian crowds.
At the age of 36, with his football career fading away, Ronaldinho signed up for India’s new sporting venture in Premier Futsal – a five a side futsal tournament. After a disappointing first game fo the Goan franchise, Ronaldinho took the tournament by storm in what would be his second and last game of the tournament.
The Ballon d’Or winner tore apart Bengaluru 5s’ defense as he netted five goals, telling the world that he still has some magic left in him. The crowd in Chennai were truly lucky to witness the skilled Brazillian exhibit his skills.
#4 Zinedine Zidane
The current Real Madrid coach, Zinedine Zidane travelled to the country in June as Kanakia Paris’ wellness ambassador. The legendary French midfielder is widely regarded as one of the best in his position and won the Ballon d’Or in 1998 while he finished as the runner-up behind Luis Figo in 2000.
Although Zidane did not travel to Mumbai to play the football, the French player was unable to resist himself from the temptation of having a little kick about. He watched a 5-a-side football match which included Sunil Chhetri and Baichung Bhutia and Zidane himself took three penalties and converted them all successfully. The 3000 people who were out to witness the game thoroughly enjoyed Zidane’s penalties.
The legendary Brazillian football player, Pele, often dubbed as the greatest ever to play the sport , visited India in 1977. His team New York Cosmos took on one of India’s most decorated football clubs, Mohun Bagan, in an exhibition game. “The Black Pearl” was joined by other popular football players like Giorgio Chinaglia (Italy), Carlos Alberto (Brazil), Ramon Mifflin (Peru) while German legend Franz Beckenbauer missed out due to an injury.
The two teams locked horns in front of an 80,000 capacity crowd at Kolkata’s Eden Garden. Cosmos took the lead in the 17th minute only to concede a minute later. After Mohun Bagan took the lead in the 33rd minute, the Cosmos equalized in the 73rd through a controversial penalty. The game ended 2-2 in what would be a historic football match for Indian football. Pele also hit the crossbar with a free kick in this game.
Although Pele did not win a Ballon d’Or during his playing days - since the award was meant only for European players in those days - he was awarded the Ballon d'Or Prix d'Honneur in 2013. He was also part of the Le nouveau palmarès (the new winners) of the Ballon d’Or trophy that France Football published this year.
#2 Diego Maradona
Young and old alike put on their Blue and white kits as the city of Kolkata prepared to welcome the legendary Argentine football player Diego Maradona to their city. The World Cup winner travelled to the country to inaugurate a private soccer academy in the outskirts of Kolkata. He also watched an exhibition game at the Salt Lake Stadium which included Indian players from the past and present.
‘El Diego’ did not play the game but was able to send the crowd in Kolkata wild when he juggled the ball for the crowd during the half time break. "I thought there were no more surprises left in life but my visit to Kolkata has changed that; I didn't know people loved soccer so much in this part of the world,” said Diego recalling his visit to India.
Maradona did not win the Ballon d'Or despite playing in Europe since the award was meant only for European players till 1995. He was given an honorary Ballon d’Or - the winner in the Le nouveau palmarès (The new winners) as the deserving winner of the award in 1986 and 1990.
#1 Lionel Messi
The Argentine maestro, Lionel Messi, who is considered to be the greatest to have ever played the game, visited India in 2011. Argentina played a game against fellow South Americans Venezuela in a friendly game, which featured Messi.
This game would also turn out to be the beginning of something special as Alejandro Sabella, the man who led Argentina to the World Cup finals would begin his tenure with the Albiceliste in Kolkata.
Sabella handed the captain’s armband to Lionel Messi upon his arrival and started off with a 1-0 victory over Venezuela. Argentina played good football creating many chances during the game. The solitary goal came through Manchester City defender who then played for Porto Nicolas Otamendi headed home from a Lionel Messi corner. The crowd in the Salt Lake City stadium would surely cherish the night they watched the greatest on their home turf.