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5 non-Europeans who could've won the Ballon d'Or before 1995

The coveted Ballon d'Or wasn't always a global award
The coveted Ballon d'Or wasn't always a global award
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Sayan Chatterjee

The Ballon d'Or is an award which signifies the best footballer on the planet. Also known as the 'Golden Ball', it is the most coveted recognition for any footballer. The award is reserved for the greatest of the greats, and has seen legendary footballers win it over the years.

Since its initiation in 1956, the Ballon d'Or was initially reserved only for players of European origin. Rules regarding eligibility criteria were first changed in 1995, when all professional footballers playing across Europe were deemed fit for the award. George Weah, as a result, was the first non-European to win the Ballon d'Or. Only in 2007 did it become a global prize, making players from all around the world eligible.

Due to the fact that the Ballon d'Or was only awarded to European players before 1995, many non-European great players missed out on the award. 'France Football' later carried out a re-evaluation of the award on their 60th anniversary which saw 12 of the Ballon d'Or awards from 1956 to 1994 awarded to South American footballers.

On that note, let us take a look at

5 non-Europeans who could've won the Ballon d'Or before 1995

Special mentions: Zico, Socrates, Rivellino, Carlos Valderrama.


#5 Mario Kempes

2014 FIFA World Cup Final Draw - Previews
2014 FIFA World Cup Final Draw - Previews

Mario Kempes was the man behind Argentina's first FIFA World Cup triumph back in 1978. Widely known as 'El Matador', Kempes was a sensational goalscorer and led from the front for Argentina.

Kempes racked up six goals in the 1978 FIFA World Cup campaign, winning both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball award of the tournament. The Argentine legend etched his name in the history books with a brace in the final against the famous Netherlands side.

Mario Kempes' second goal v Holland, 1978 World Cup Final in fantasy and flesh. https://t.co/lKeQryjcqt

Kempes may not have had a glorious club career but he was renowned for his time at Valencia. Going into the 1978 FIFA World Cup, he was winner of the Pichichi award in Spain. There is no doubt that he could have won the Ballon d'Or had it not been for the eligibility criteria at the time.


#4 Romario

Romario of Brazil and Dino Baggio of Italy
Romario of Brazil and Dino Baggio of Italy

One of the greatest forwards Brazil produced, Romario was blessed with supreme dribbling skills and finishing. He was known for his exploits at PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona, demonstrating his might as one of the best of his era.

Romario was pivotal for Brazil's fourth FIFA World Cup title in 1994. The legendary Brazilian scored five goals in that tournament, winning the Golden Ball for his majestic displays. In 1994, Romario also had an excellent campaign with Barcelona. For his sensational accomplishments, he was elected FIFA World Player of the Year.

Romario at the 1994 World Cup. What a player! https://t.co/3AtvCniXsU

The great Brazilian eventually ended up scoring 55 goals for his nation before hanging up his boots. There is little doubt that he deserved to win a Ballon d'Or and he very likely would have as well, had it not been for the eligibility rule at the time.

#3 Garrincha

Garrincha was hailed as one of the best players ever, even by his team-mate Pele. Image credits: Getty Images
Garrincha was hailed as one of the best players ever, even by his team-mate Pele. Image credits: Getty Images

Even a Ballon d'Or award might not have done justice in celebrating the great Garrincha. Arguably the most naturally gifted Brazilian of all time, Garrincha left an incredible legacy in the history of the sport. Garrincha was an integral part of the great Brazilian team in 1950s and 1960s, helping his nation dominate the world stage in an unprecedented manner.

Garrincha was a terrific player who had it all - technique, flair, grace, dribbling - among other notable traits. The legendary attacker was born with natural defects in his body, which makes it even more awe-inspiring when we think about the player he was.

Garrincha, a compatriot of another great Brazilian, was often overshadowed by his teammate's stardom. Yet he was the undisputed star of the Brazilian team in 1962, when his exploits helped them win another FIFA World Cup.

Garrincha was the first player in history to win the Golden Boot, Golden Ball, and the World Cup itself in the same tournament. The 1962 Ballon d'Or winner, Josef Masopust, was nowhere near the Brazilian's achievements.

Counting Garrincha’s dribbles during 1962’s World CupMega thread, will be constantly updated https://t.co/uncV9XI7C9

Garrincha was a fan favorite due to his charisma on and off the pitch, which is why he was hailed as the "Joy of the people". Undoubtedly, he could have won the Ballon d'Or in 1962, if non-Europeans had been eligible for the award.


#2 Diego Maradona

WORLD CUP FINAL 1986
WORLD CUP FINAL 1986

Widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, Diego Maradona was a force of nature. His impact on the game made him immortal with his revolutionary persona on the pitch amassing huge popularity in Argentina. The legendary Argentine's exploits in 1986 have been etched into football folklore, making the Ballon d'Or award seem like an insufficient honor to the legend.

Following a lackluster outing at his first FIFA World Cup, Maradona took matters into his own hands in the 1986 FIFA World Cup campaign. He scored five goals, including the greatest goal in World Cup history against England. His exploits helped Argentina win their second World Cup in history.

⚽️Argentina 2-1 England🗓22.06.1986📍Mexico City🏆World CupThis Quarter-Final took place 4 years after the nations faced off at war. The game itself was the Diego Maradona show - he scored arguably the best goal of all time as well as the most infamous - the ‘Hand of God’. https://t.co/tua1kwWHrE

Igor Belanov was the Ballon d'Or winner in 1986 but he was nowhere near Maradona's caliber. Maradona was awarded an honorary Ballon d'Or award in 1995, but one would be silly to argue against the fact that he deserved the real deal.


#1 Pele

Pele Knows Best
Pele Knows Best

The age-old GOAT debate as to will always continue to rage on as it has been for decades. Surely, Pele will always be a resounding name in that debate of who the greatest footballer of all time is. The legendary Brazilian is football's first ever superstar, with his records still echoing many decades after his retirement.

Pele, as evident from his whopping goalscoring record, was a clinical finisher. With allegedly over 1000 goals to his name, Pele remains in a league of his own. He led Brazil to three FIFA World Cup triumphs and is the only player in history to be a part of three World Cup title-winning teams.

For his exploits, Pele was awarded an honorary Ballon d'Or award in 2013, with a resounding agreement that the Brazilian could have racked up multiple Ballon d'Ors during his time. As per France Football's reevaluation, Pele could have won as many as seven Ballons d'Or, had he been eligible. If there is anyone who could've won the Ballon d'Or award more times than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it would almost certainly be Pele.

Edited by Aakanksh Sanketh
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