#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.