Ballon d'Or is one of the most coveted, prestigious and renowned individual awards in football. The award was announced and established as a yearly event in 1956, with Stanley Matthews of Blackpool FC winning the first one. Each year, professional players from all over the world are eligible to be nominated for the award.
Over the years, the method of voting has seen some changes. From 1956 to 2009, the nominees were picked by journalists all over the world. Each had to pick their top three, with the final count deciding the Ballon d'Or top three as well as the winner.
Between 2010-2015, FIFA teamed up with magazine French Football to present the award together as the FIFA Ballon d'Or. Then the captains and coaches had a say in voting. However, since 2016, the partnership has ended and it has gone back to the original system.
More often than not it boils down to the number of goals and assists recorded by the winner. That is coupled with the trophies they won for club and country that year. Many big players are in contention for the 2021 edition of the Ballon d'Or.
However, there have been a few instances where the runner-up or another player has had better statistics for the given year. There have been times where the organizer's integrity has been questioned over alleged biased awards. There have also been occasions on which it seemed as though a different winner was announced just to break the pattern.
This article ranks the five players whose Ballon d'Or wins raised more questions than they gave answers.
#5 Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 (Juventus and Italy)
Fabio Cannavaro began his career in Italy, where he spent most of his playing years too. Having started off at Napoli, Cannavaro went on to play for Parma, Inter Milan and had two spells at Juventus. Between his spells at Juve, Cannavaro had a successful couple of seasons with Real Madrid.
He had a fruitful time with the Italian national team as well, winning several honors for his country at youth and senior level as well. Cannavaro's most notable triumph with Italy was the victory in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. It was the year that saw the Italian being crowned the Ballon d'Or winner. However, neither of those two victories were spoken of without mentioning Zinedine Zidane, for years.
"Zizou" had won the Ballon d'Or in 1998 and was the favorite for repeating the feat eight years later. Zidane scored nine goals and dished out 13 assists in 38 games for Real Madrid that season. In the summer, he scored three and assisted two en route to France's march to the World Cup Final where they eventually lost to Italy.
Watch Zidane's masterclass against Brazil in the quarter-final of the 2006 World Cup:
Due to his immense impact on Real Madrid, French football, and the sport in general, many expected Zidane to be awarded the Ballon d'Or. That would have been the perfect send-off.
However, that was not to be the case as Fabio Cannavaro won the award, with Gianluigi Buffon and Thierry Henry rounding off the top three. Many have since speculated it was due to Zidane's altercation with Italian centre-back Marco Materazzi. Zidane infamously headbutted Materazzi in the World Cup final that saw him getting sent off.
Whether Zinedine Zidane was reprimanded in kind for his unsavory headbutt on Materazzi or not will forever do the rounds among circles in the football world.
#4 Luka Modric in 2018 (Real Madrid and Croatia)
Luka Modric was born in 1985 in Zadar, Croatia, and began his career in 2002 with Dinamo Zagreb as a youth player. After a few loan spells to help him develop, Modric made his debut for Dinamo in 2005.
He won three consecutive league titles with the club and was named the league's best player in consecutive years (2007, 2008). That earned him a £16.5 million move to Tottenham Hotspur, a club record at the time.
Luka Modric was an important player for Spurs. He helped them make their first appearance in the UEFA Champions League in nearly 50 years in the 2010-11 season.
A year later in 2012, Modric was bought by Real Madrid for £30 million. In his first season, he was termed the worst signing in La Liga. He certainly turned that label around. He was instrumental in their four Champions League wins and remarkably rewarded with the Ballon d'Or in 2018.
Real Madrid won their third consecutive Champions League crown in 2018. Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo scored 15 goals and provided five assists in just 13 games in the competition. Ronaldo had a staggering 44 goals and 16 assists in 44 total games that season. Luka Modric played his part, too, with two goals and eight assists that season.
However, many believe it was the Croatian's contribution towards his nation's surprising run to the 2018 World Cup Final that worked in his favor. Croatia reached the final in style, only to lose to France in a high-scoring contest.
Modric's trophies and Croatia's run in the World Cup justified the Ballon d'Or to some extent. However, it confused many as to whether it was still an individual award like in the past, or whether it had been converted to a team award.