Ballon d'Or: 10 great players who have never made the award's top 3

  • The Ballon d'Or is football's most prestigious award, but these 10 legends never finished in the award's top 3.
  • Among current players, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale have somehow missed out on a top three finish.
Scott Newman
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 02 May 2020, 18:50 IST

Gareth Bale has never made the top 3 of the Ballon d
Gareth Bale has never made the top 3 of the Ballon d'Or

The Ballon d’Or is undoubtedly the most prestigious individual award in the world of football.

Since its inauguration in 1956, the list of players who have won it reads like a who’s who of the game. From legends of the 1960’s and 1970’s like George Best and Johan Cruyff, to modern-day superstars like Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo, the award has seen the best and only the best lift it.

Today’s two consensus greatest players in the world – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – have won the award a mind-boggling 11 times between them. And while some legends of the game such as Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry never won the award, they at least placed in the top 3 at some point.

Somehow though, the following 10 players – all of whom were or are considered world class performers – have never been named on the Ballon d’Or podium.

#1 Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez's best Ballon d'Or finish was 5th place in 2015

Although it’s easy for opposition fans to dislike Luis Suarez, it’s hard to dispute that the striker has been one of the most outstanding players of his generation. Somehow, he’s never made the top three when it comes to the Ballon d’Or.

The Uruguayan rose to fame with Ajax, with whom he spent 4 seasons from 2007 to 2011, but his career really skyrocketed during his time with Liverpool. Suarez scored 82 goals in just 133 appearances for the Reds – including 31 in 33 matches in 2013-14, winning the European Golden Shoe in the process.

The summer of 2014 saw him move to Barcelona, where he continued to score goals at a ludicrous rate, even scoring 59 in 53 appearances in the 2015-16 campaign. However, the best he has been able do in the Ballon d’Or so far was a 5th place finish in 2015.

The truth is perhaps that a number of controversies – a charge of racism in 2011 and 3 unsavoury incidents that saw him bite opposition players – may have swayed voting. However, this brilliant goalscorer’s talents should’ve been better recognised by the Ballon d’Or at some point.


#2 Gareth Bale

Despite his achievements, Gareth Bale has never made the top 3 in the Ballon d
Despite his achievements, Gareth Bale has never made the top 3 in the Ballon d'Or

When Gareth Bale moved to Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 for a fee of somewhere around £86m, he became the most expensive player in football history. But despite winning numerous trophies during his 6 and a half seasons at the Bernabeu – including 4 Champions League titles – the flying Welshman has never placed in the top three in the Ballon d’Or.

The idea seems almost preposterous. Bale shot to fame at Spurs in the 2010-11 season with his incredible performances in Europe against both Milan clubs. In 2012-13, he was arguably the Premier League’s most outstanding performer, and was named as the PFA Player’s Player of the Year.

Since moving to Real, he’s shown himself to be capable of absolute brilliance. His debut season saw him score the winner in the Copa Del Rey with a ridiculous solo goal, and he also netted in Los Blancos’ Champions League final victories in 2013-14 and 2017-18.

What are the things likely counting against Bale in the voting for the award? The presence of Messi and Ronaldo has obviously made things trickier, as have the Welshman’s multiple injuries during his time in Spain. But in 2016, when he helped Wales to an unlikely European Championship semi-final and won the Champions League, he was surely worthy of a top three finish. 

#3 Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney is Manchester United
Wayne Rooney is Manchester United's all-time top goalscorer, but the Ballon d'Or evaded him

When he emerged onto the scene in 2004 with some amazing performances in that summer’s European Championship, it was hard to deny Wayne Rooney’s status as the most exciting youngster in the game. In the years that followed, the Everton product would win multiple trophies and also become the all-time top goalscorer for both Manchester United and England.

Despite these achievements, Rooney never placed in the top three in the Ballon d’Or voting. Pinpointing exactly why remains an interesting question. The forward undoubtedly had some ups and downs during his time at Old Trafford, but his best seasons were outstanding.

2007-08 saw him help United to a Premier League and Champions League double, while he scored 34 goals in both the 2009-10 and 2011-12 campaigns, the former of which saw him claim the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award.

It’s possible that Rooney’s underwhelming performances for England in major international tournaments held him back. His best seasons were all followed by either a World Cup or European Championship, and despite his strong performances for United, he could never reproduce his best form on those stages. Even so, the fact that he never made the top three remains surprising.

#4 Francesco Totti

Francesco Totti
Francesco Totti's lack of silverware may have held him back when it came to the Ballon d'Or

Since 1990, only two Italian players – Roberto Baggio and Fabio Cannavaro – have won the Ballon d’Or. The likes of Paolo Maldini and Gianluigi Buffon have placed in the top three, but many other Italian legends missed out on even this, and amongst their ranks is playmaker and forward Francesco Totti.

A one-club man, Totti is considered the biggest legend in Roma history. No other player has made more appearances for the club than his 785 games, and he’s also their all-time top goalscorer with 307 strikes. Over the course of 23 seasons with the club, he was voted the Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year 5 times.

A lack of silverware may have been held against Totti, as he won just one Scudetto during his career. But he was also outstanding during Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph, making the most assists during the tournament and being named in the competition’s All-Star Team.

Despite this, the playmaker was somehow not even voted in the top 25 in that year’s Ballon d’Or, and countrymen Cannavaro and Buffon, as well as Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Luca Toni and Gianluca Zambrotta were all voted ahead of him. Quite why this was remains a mystery!

#5 Roy Keane

Roy Keane
Roy Keane's style may not have been flashy enough for the Ballon d'Or

One of the most decorated players in English football history, Roy Keane won 7 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups and the Champions League during his time with Manchester United. He was recently voted the Premier League’s greatest European import by Match of the Day’s pundits, and made the PFA Team of the Year on 4 occasions.

Despite all of this, the Irish midfielder never made the top three when it came to the Ballon d’Or. Keane’s best placing was 6th in 1999, the year that saw him help the Red Devils to win a treble of the Premier League title, FA Cup and Champions League.

That year saw Barcelona’s Rivaldo claim the award – while Keane’s teammate David Beckham finished in 2nd place. It’s true that the Irishman missed United’s ultimate triumph in the Champions League final thanks to a suspension, but it’s also true that the team likely wouldn’t have made it that far without him.

Not the flashiest player, Keane’s game was never about scoring or creating goals – his tough tackling, driving style made him the heartbeat of United’s side during his time at the club. And while it gained him recognition at Old Trafford and eventually worldwide, his lack of pizzazz in comparison to his contemporaries may have held him back when it came to the Ballon d’Or.

#6 David Villa

David Villa
David Villa's goals for Spain weren't enough to net him a top 3 finish in the Ballon d'Or

Spain’s success in the 2010 World Cup – as well as the 2008 and 2012 European Championships – meant that their star players became widely recognised amongst the greats of their generation. Indeed, Fernando Torres, Xavi and Andres Iniesta all finished in the top three in the Ballon d’Or during that time period.

One man whose contributions were strangely overlooked, though, was forward David Villa. He became Spain’s all-time top goalscorer over a period of just over a decade, scoring 59 goals in 98 appearances for La Roja. Those goals included winners against Sweden at Euro 2008, and Portugal and Paraguay in the 2010 World Cup, and he also claimed the Golden Boot in the former tournament.

At club level, Villa was equally successful. He scored 129 goals in 225 appearances over 5 seasons with Valencia, and then joined Barcelona, where he found more silverware. His 23 goals in the 2010-11 campaign helped Barca to the LaLiga title and the Champions League, with only Lionel Messi scoring more.

In the end though, Villa’s best placings in the Ballon d’Or were 7th in 2008 and 8th in 2010. Perhaps that’s understandable given the incredible talents of his international teammates – as well as Messi of course – but it’s still a little disappointing that this great goalscorer didn’t quite receive his due.

#7 Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo's skills from midfield couldn't net him a Ballon d'Or award

Another great Italian who never received a lot of plaudits when it came to the Ballon d’Or, Andrea Pirlo’s best finish when it came to the award was 5th place in 2007. In reality though, the deep-lying playmaker’s talents were worthy of much more – perhaps even a Ballon d’Or win.

Over his career, Pirlo won a ludicrous amount of silverware, claiming the Scudetto on 6 occasions (twice with Milan, four times with Juventus), as well as two Champions League triumphs with Milan. He also won numerous other minor trophies, and was named the Serie A Footballer of the Year on 3 occasions.

It was in 2006 that his greatest triumph took place, though. The midfielder helped Italy win the World Cup, and was named the Man of the Match 3 times during the tournament – more than any other player – including during the final. And later, Euro 2012 saw him lead Italy to the final – again winning 3 Man of the Match awards.

Somehow, all of this was never enough to net Pirlo a place in the top three when it came to the Ballon d’Or. Unfortunately – like other deeper-lying players – the Italian’s talents perhaps weren’t quite flashy enough for the panel voting on the prestigious award.

#8 Harry Kane

Harry Kane may need silverware to net himself a top three finish in the Ballon d
Harry Kane may need silverware to net himself a top three finish in the Ballon d'Or

One of the best strikers to emerge in the past decade, Tottenham’s Harry Kane has been a goal machine since bursting onto the scene in the 2014-15 season. Since that time, he’s scored a tremendous 181 goals in 278 appearances for Spurs, winning the Premier League Golden Boot twice.

At the international level too, Kane has been massively successful. The current England captain, he’s already scored 32 goals for the Three Lions in just 45 appearances, moving him into 6th place on their list of all-time top goalscorers. He won the 2018 World Cup’s Golden Boot with 6 goals, and also finished as the highest scorer in Euro 2020 qualifying.

Despite this, Kane’s highest Ballon d’Or finishes came in 2017 and 2018, with both years seeing him finish in 10th place. The likely thing holding the striker back? A lack of silverware. The England captain has won numerous individual awards, but has yet to pick up a trophy with either Spurs or the Three Lions.

If he can remedy this in the near future – particularly with Messi and Ronaldo beginning to slow down – he could well find himself removed from a list like this. Right now though, he’s definitely up there with the best players to never receive a top 3 finish in the prestigious award.

#9 Alessandro Del Piero

Despite his success with Juventus and Italy, Alessandro Del Piero never finished in the top 3
Despite his success with Juventus and Italy, Alessandro Del Piero never finished in the top 3

One of the most decorated players in Italian football history, Alessandro Del Piero represented Juventus from 1993 all the way until 2012, appearing for the Old Lady on 705 occasions and scoring 290 goals. He still holds the record for most appearances and most goals in Juventus history.

Despite winning 6 Scudetto titles as well as the Champions League in the 1995-96 campaign, Del Piero was never able to achieve a top three finish in the Ballon d’Or. He came very close, though. The 1996 edition of the award saw him finish in 4th place, but he was edged out by Alan Shearer, Ronaldo and winner Matthias Sammer.

The likely reason for this? Del Piero’s Italy side struggled in the 1996 European Championship – a tournament in which Sammer and Shearer thrived. But in reality, his performances for Juventus in the preceding season should probably have pushed him up in the rankings.

2006, meanwhile, saw the forward help Italy to a World Cup victory. The Juventus man scored in the semi-final victory against Germany and netted during the final’s decisive penalty shoot-out. However, the fact that his club were embroiled in the Calciopoli scandal probably stood against him, making him an easy entrant on this list.

#10 Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes received more plaudits after retiring than he did during his active career
Paul Scholes received more plaudits after retiring than he did during his active career

Former Manchester United and England midfielder Paul Scholes was a player who perhaps didn’t receive as many plaudits as he should’ve done during his active career. Scholes has been named by legends such as Xavi, Thierry Henry and Pele as one of the best players of his generation – but despite this, he never placed in the top three of the Ballon d’Or.

Incredibly, the midfielder never even came close. Scholes received 5 nominations for the award – in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007 – but never received a single vote during any of those years. And he wasn’t even nominated in 1999 despite helping United to a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.

That same year, of course, saw his teammate David Beckham finish in 2nd place – while Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke, Jaap Stam, Ryan Giggs and Andy Cole all finished in the top 25. So what exactly held Scholes back when it came to the prestigious award?

The most likely answer is that while he was very consistent, he was never the key player for United, and nor did he perform at his best for England during the international tournaments he featured in. Despite this, his incredible trophy haul – 11 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cups and 2 Champions Leagues – definitely marks him out as one of the best to never receive a top 3 finish in the award. 

Published 02 May 2020, 18:50 IST
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