The English Premier League is arguably the most competitive and talent-rich footballing league on the planet. Unfortunately, the quality of the league is yet to have an impact on the country’s Ballon d’Or winners’ tally.
20 years since its last Ballon d’Or win, the country is desperate to see the rise of a new challenger. England need a player who will not only be ruthless but will also be able to inspire a generation of world-class talents. That is at least what the four Ballon d’Or winners have done.
Here is how England’s Ballon d’Or winners stack up against one another:
#4 Michael Owen
Fans in Spain tend to remember Michael Owen as a failed Galactico, a prospect who did not thrive at Real Madrid. But Liverpool fans and the England faithful fondly remember the striker who flourished at Anfield, winning the Ballon d’Or in 2001 as a 22-year-old.
Under Liverpool manager and legend Gerrard Houllier, Owen emerged as one of the best centre-forwards in the Premier League. He was quick off the block, had the stamina to chase down balls, and was never tired of having a go at goal.
It was Owen’s tenacity that gave Liverpool the edge, as was prominent in the 2000-2001 season.
Influenced by Owen’s late FA Cup final brace against Arsenal, Liverpool won a treble of the FA Cup, the League Cup, and the UEFA Cup. It was not as prestigious as the regular Champions League, league, and domestic cup treble, of course, but it was enough for the ultimate prize.
Owen, who netted 24 goals in 46 games in the 2000-01 season, won the Ballon d’Or, becoming the last English player to win the prestigious accolade.
#3 Sir Stanley Matthews
Sir Stanley Matthews is widely hailed as one of the best players in the history of English football. He only played for two clubs, Stoke City and Blackpool, excelling as a forward at both teams.
Matthews was the definition of a complete forward. He could dribble better than anyone around, score outrageous goals, and he also was an excellent crosser of the ball.
The great Franz Beckenbauer considered Matthews to be one of the best in the business, saying it was almost impossible to stop the Englishman.
Matthews is the only footballer in history to be knighted while being an active player. He is also the oldest player in history to play in England's top football division (50 years) and to represent the country (42.3 years).
Matthews was also the first player to win the Ballon d’Or, winning the accolade during his time with Blackpool in 1956.
#2 Sir Bobby Charlton
The Ballon d’Or has acknowledged many fine gentlemen over the last 65 years, but very few have been as brave as Sir Bobby Charlton. Promoted to Manchester United’s first team in 1956, Charlton was always destined for greatness. But the impact he had after the Munich air disaster in 1958 was surprisingly unexpected.
Charlton, who was not the captain of Manchester United at the time, led the team with poise and valor. His brilliance in front of goal was only eclipsed by the leadership skills he had, and United were lucky to have been treated to both.
Charlton spent 17 years at Manchester United, scoring 199 goals as an attacking midfielder, winning three league titles, one FA Cup, and a European Cup. However, club-level success was not enough for him to land the Ballon d’Or. He also had to be equally impressive for his country.
At the 1966 World Cup, Charlton led England with ferocity, helping them to their first and only triumph. His most memorable performance came in the semi-finals against Portugal.
Charlton’s matchwinning brace knocked Eusebio’s side out of the competition, setting up an all-important finale with West Germany. Geoff Hurst ran the show in the final, but Charlton’s contribution was positively noted.
Thanks to an outrageous World Cup campaign and 18 goals in club football over 1965-66, Charlton won the 1966 Ballon d’Or. The win marked England’s return to the podium, a decade after Matthews won the inaugural “Golden Ball.”
#1 Kevin Keegan
Calling Kevin Keegan an English sensation or legend would be an understatement of the highest order. He was England’s knight in shining armor. He is the only Englishman in history to win the Ballon d’Or more than once.
Kevin Keegan first stole the spotlight while plying his trade at Liverpool. The prolific goalscorer joined the Reds in 1971 and was a constant contributor for the next six seasons. Over the course of his spell at Anfield, Keegan won three league titles, an FA Cup, two UEFA Cups, and the 1976–77 European Cup.
The European Cup triumph marked Liverpool’s first successful campaign in the competition.
For his exploits with Liverpool, Keegan managed to break into the three-man shortlist for Ballon d’Or in 1977. He was ultimately beaten by Borussia Monchengladbach’s Allan Simonsen. But his fortunes turned after he joined SV Hamburger in 1977.
Keegan’s 12-goal haul in his debut season in Germany won him the 1978 Ballon d’Or. Improving upon his tally, Keegan scored 17 next year and led Hamburger to their first league title in two decades. His inspiring performances allowed him to retain the Ballon d’Or in 1979.