The Ballon d'Or remains one of the greatest individual awards in football. In a sport where team accomplishments take center stage, it is worth noting that some individuals have stringed together consistent performances throughout the year to win the award.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been the obvious headline grabbers when it comes to the Ballon d'Or in recent times. The Argentine has won the award six times and many reckon he could win a seventh later this year. Ronaldo, on the other hand, has five Ballon d'Or awards to his name and few would bet against him winning another before he calls time on his career.
Messi and Ronaldo have won 11 of the 20 Ballons d'Or awards since 2000, which pays testament to their incredible consistency. At least one of them has finished in the top three for the award every year since 2007, a simply staggering record.
Though the duo have been entirely dominant in the last 20 years, there have been other legendary winners of the award in that time. Here, we look at the five greatest Ballon d'Or winners of the 21st century.
#5 Ronaldo Nazario (2002 Ballon d'Or winner)
Ronaldo Nazario remains one of the most talented strikers to have stepped foot on a football pitch. He was gifted with incredible pace, technical ability and the Samba skills that come with any Brazilian forward. Injuries plagued Ronaldo's career time and time again, but he still managed to win numerous titles and the Ballon d'Or on two occasions.
Ronaldo's first Ballon d'Or came in 1997, but it was his second that was special as it reminded the world how good he was once again. Despite an injury-stricken 2001-02 club season, the Brazilian was pivotal for his nation in the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Ronaldo scored eight goals in the tournament, including two in the final against Germany as the Selecao were crowned world champions once again.
He then moved to Real Madrid at the start of the 2002-03 season and registered a stellar 30 goals in 44 matches for Los Blancos in his debut campaign. Ronaldo's exploits helped the Spanish giants secure La Liga, the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. That was enough to bring him his second Ballon d'Or in 2002.
#4 Ronaldinho (2005 Ballon d'Or winner)
One of the most skilled players to have graced the beautiful game, it almost seemed like the world stopped doing everything else to enjoy Ronaldinho when he hit full flow. Few footballers created magic on the pitch the way the Brazilian did, dribbling, passing and finishing with panache, flair and certainty.
Ronaldinho's on-field abilities were on full display during the 2004-05 season. Then at Barcelona, the forward helped the Blaugrana end their six-year wait for a La Liga title. Ronaldinho finished his club campaign with 13 goals and 16 assists in 42 matches as Barca finished atop the top-flight, four points clear of arch-rivals Real Madrid.
But he wasn't done just there. Ronaldinho then played a starring role in the 2005 Confederations Cup, netting three goals and providing an assist as Brazil stormed to the title. His incredible performances for club and country brought Ronaldinho his first and only Ballon d'Or in 2005.