Top 10 Ballon d'Or winners of all time

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Ballon d'Or: The License to Greatness
Atharva Gosavi

Close your eyes. Imagine you are in Zurich and amongst the three eagerly to win the most coveted personal glory. The anchor announces your name and BOOM! With a wide smile, you approach the podium and claim the trophy that puts you on the pedestal meant for the best player in the world.

How beautiful the dream is! The memory of a teary-eyed Cristiano Ronaldo getting up to receive the accolade just speaks of the hard-work a player puts in to have his hands on the Ballon d'Or.

Known as the Fifa World Player of the Year or the Fifa Ballon d'Or is the license to be establishing oneself as the ultimate best of all. It is the most coveted prestige on the individual level.

Since 1956 France Football has been handing out the award to those players who are on the top of their game for a particular year. Between 2010 and 2015, The Fifa World Player of the Year (1991-2015) was merged with the Ballon d'Or and known as the Fifa Ballon d'Or. Later, France Football and FIFA announced their separation and it is only known as Ballon d'Or since 2016.

With superstars from every era winning the accolade, which ones would make it to the best Ballon d'Or winners of all time? Let's have a look.

#10 Gerd Mueller (1970)

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Gerd Mueller was unstoppable in his playing days
What FC Bayern has become is thanks to Gerd Mueller. — Franz Beckenbauer

In the history of football, Gerd Mueller's scoring rate is nothing but terrific and incredible. Known as 'Der Bomber' in Germany, the dynamic Bayern Munich striker was almost impossible to stop in his attempts to score world-class goals.

The modern-day football fans might remember him as the player whose record of 85 goals in a calendar year was broken by Lionel Messi in 2012. In his time as the prolific Bayern forward, Gerd Mueller had the world at his feet. His penchant for scoring a plethora of goals was second to none.

In 1970, the German giant accumulated his only Ballon d'Or. He netted an insane tally of 42 goals in 38 appearances, 38 of which came in 33 league matches in the season 1969-70. The German was equally frightening going forward when he netted 10 goals in six appearances in the 1970 World Cup. Needless to say, Der Bomber had his name written on the World Cup Golden Boot that year.

Adding to his plaudits, Mueller also became the Bundesliga and European top scorer that season. To this day, he is fondly remembered as the best striker ever to pull on the shirt of Bayern Munich.


#9 Ronaldinho (2005)

Barcelona v Real Sociedad
The Brazilian is the architect of the Barcelona team we see today
He is the man that makes the difference between a team that plays well and another that is really memorable. He alone can decide one game. — Frank Rijkaard

In so many ways the legendary Brazilian trickster is the architect of the Barcelona team we see today. The Selecao grandmaster is one of those players who has won the most prestigious accolades in all categories.

Ronaldinho joined Barcelona and the next we know, a revolution followed. Real Madrid's stronghold slowly began crumbling as the Brazilian held the torch while guiding La Blaugrana to silverware and unprecedented success. In the process, he also mentored Lionel Messi who continues to be the world's best till date.

Destroying defences was all down to his style of play. Ronaldinho had a bag full of skills and tricks to choose from, which made him a nightmare for his opponents. The years 2004-05 and 2005-06 were his best seasons at the club when he scored a combined tally of 55 goals in 99 appearances for both club and country.

Ronaldinho won the Fifa World Player of the Year in 2005, defeating Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, scoring 225 points amongst 52 voters. The Ballon d'Or came in 2005. He also earned the title of European Footballer of the Year in the same year.

But, it was the Confederations Cup title which strengthened his domination in world football. The Brazilian captained his country and put in a man-of-the-match performance against rivals Argentina as Brazil won 4-1 in the final. Consequently, Ronaldinho also started his Champions League season which he would later go on to win in 2006.

No matter what people say, the mighty Brazilian's aura is unparalleled, which makes him a legend of a kind.


#8 Zinedine Zidane (1998)

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Zidane became a national hero after guiding France to their first World Cup
He played like a ‘general’ in midfield. He has technique, tricks, passing and also has an ability to score some of the best goals.” — Marco Van Basten

If you have every thought of watching how magic looks like when being performed, just have a look at Zinedine Zidane. That's what he actually does. He just makes people believe magic exists.

The beautiful game will never see another elegant, exquisite and graceful player like the legendary Frenchman. He clearly was a cut above the rest. It was a treat to watch the French midfielder and his sleek ball control skills.

Zinedine Zidane played at the highest level during his career. But, one particular year was responsible for helping him carve his name in the topmost echelons of the game.

It was the year 1998 and France were pitted against Brazil in the World Cup final. Brazil were being touted as the favourites with the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Cafu and Roberto Carlos walking out on the pitch in the canary yellow. However, the holders failed to control the wizardry of Zidane, who scored two similar headers in the first half. With Petit adding a third, the French touched the World Cup for the first time in their history and the bald-headed legend was awarded the man-of-the-match.

Zidane beat Davor Suker and Luis Ronaldo to win his first and only Ballon d'Or with Juventus. He won the Fifa World Player of the Year three times in a glorious career.

The French magician accumulated a host of trophies in 1998, winning the league title with Juventus. He was also honoured with awards such as UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year and the L'Equipe Champion of Champions.

As if that isn't enough glory, the bald genius still continues to mesmerise the football world with his management skills at the Santiago Bernabeu.


#7 Ronaldo (1997)

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Ronaldo made an invaluable contribution to Brazilian football during his career
When he was in his prime, Ronaldo was frightening. He had such incredible balance and power for someone so quick. Played with that Brazilian swagger and scored loads of goals, including some incredible ones.” — Denis Irwin

The way the bald-headed Brazilian tormented the defenders is a stuff of legend in the soccer world. Luis Ronaldo won the Fifa World Player of the Year three times and the Ballon d'Or two times in his glittering career.

When players take their first step towards becoming a professional soccer player, Ronaldo had already won the Fifa World Player of the Year at the tender age of 20 in 1996. In the following year, he would retain the title and also win France Football's Ballon d'Or, with 222 points amongst 51 voters while playing for Internazionale. Real Madrid's Predrag Mijatovic finished second with only 68 points.

The season 1996-97 was arguably the one when he carved out a niche as the ultimate best to watch in the sport. The Samba star was equally influential when he won his third award in 2002, winning the World Cup and also the tournament's Golden Shoe with 15 goals.

Due to his insane goal-scoring techniques and exploits, the Brazilian earned the pseudonym of 'Il Phenomeno', meaning The Phenomenon.


#6 Michel Platini (1984)

Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia
Platini served as the President of UEFA
When I was a kid and played with my friends, I always chose to be Platini. I let my friends share the names of my other idols between themselves. — Zinedine Zidane

Nicknamed as Le Roi meaning 'The King', Platini has rightly made the cut to the greatest footballers of all time. Known for his leadership qualities, the legendary Frenchman was the first player to win the Ballon d'Or three times in a row.

A two-footed player is known for his exquisite passing abilities, Platini was the crowned star of Juventus, winning a host of trophies in 1984. The French playmaker beat Jean Tigana and Preben Eikjaer with a mammoth tally of 110 points.

Michel Platini also made his name as a free-kick and penalty specialist. He was extremely dangerous during the set-pieces, hurling the ball in the penalty box and garnering a lot of assists for himself.

The UEFA Euro title in 1984 made Platini as the outright favourite for the most coveted trophy on the individual level for the second time. Platini was at his best that year, also winning the UEFA Super Cup, the UEFA Cup Winners Cup, and the Serie A league title with the Bianconeri. He also earned the title of the Player of the Tournament and the tournament top-scorer award at UEFA Euros.

After his playing days, the French midfielder stepped into management and then became the President of UEFA, although it ended acrimoniously.


#5 Marco van Basten (1989)

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Marco Van Basten was the best striker of his age
I’ve always said van Basten was the best player I ever played with because he only had a few years in which to show his talent. He won three Balon D’Or’s, yet was only 28 when he retired. Most players have a little more time than that.” —Demetrio Albertini

The 6ft 3in AC Milan centre-forward has his name etched in football folklore as one of the greatest ever to turn out on a football pitch. If it hadn't been for his shameful destiny, Marco Van Basten could have easily become the most decorated footballer at club level.

Even though injuries forced him to quit at 28, van Basten had won almost everything there was to win in the game. His elegance on the ball and ability to score from impossible angles earned him wide recognition and the pseudonym 'Swan of Utrecht'. Winning three Ballon d'Or awards in a career cut short by injuries is quite an achievement in itself.

The Flying Dutchman was a giant in 1989 when he won the Ballon d'Or for the second straight year, beating Franco Baresi and teammate Frank Rijkaard by accumulating 129 points. He scored 33 goals in 47 matches for AC Milan in the 1988-89 season. In a trophy-laden year, van Basten was the top scorer in Serie A and European Cup.

He also earned the title of UEFA Best Player of the Year in 1989, which subsequently led him to the Ballon d'Or. Albeit the Dutchman was poached by fate during his peak years, few would dispute that van Basten was an absolute legend of the beautiful game.


#4 Johan Cruyff (1971)

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Johan Cruyff's legacy will remain unrivalled in the years to come
"As a player, he turned football into an art form. Johan came along and revolutionised everything. The modern-day Barça started with him, he is the expression of our identity, he brought us a style of football we love." —Joan Laporta

Famous as the orchestrator during his playing and managerial days, Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff was a mammoth influence on the game in his time. His contributions to football have already been written down with golden inks in history. Johan Cruyff won the Ballon d'Or three times in his career

It wouldn't be wrong to state that Johan Cruyff was the harbinger of a renaissance in the game. Armed with good pace and prolific dribbling skills, hardly any defender was able to catch him at his top speed. The cleverest of defenders easily fell to his 'Cruyff turn' technique. One of the greatest football giants to roam on the globe, Cruyff won the Ballon d'Or three times in his career.

In the year 1971, Cruyff was at the pinnacle of his game, outdoing every team he faced. Netting 27 times in 37 matches, the Dutchman beat Sandro Mazzola and George Best after amassing 116 points and winning his first Ballon d'Or while playing for Ajax. He also won the Dutch Eredivisie, European Cup and the KNVB Cup in 1971.

After retiring as a player, the Dutchman proved equally hard to beat as a manager. His famous 'Total Football' philosophy is the base of Barcelona's style of play. No doubt, Johan Cruyff's legacy and service to the game will always remain unrivalled in the years to come.


#3 Alfredo Di Stefano (1957)

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Di Stefano was an integral part of Real Madrid in the '60s
The greatness of Di Stéfano was that, with him in your side, you had two players in every position.” — Miguel Munoz(his manager at Real Madrid)

The dynamic Argentine has to be the sole reason why Real Madrid established their base as the greatest football club in the world. Alfredo Di Stefano won the Ballon d'Or twice in his entire career.

Di Stefano is particularly known for being a part of the devastating trio consisting of himself, Gento and Puskas. The three legends led Real Madrid to an era of unprecedented success in Francisco Franco's reign.

The shining beacon that spearheaded Real Madrid to five back-to-back European Cups, Di Stefano was perhaps the most crucial player the Spanish giants have ever had in their unparalleled history.

Di Stefano became the second player in history to win a Ballon d'Or in 1957 after finishing runner-up behind Stanley Matthews in the previous year. He beat Billy Wright, Duncan Edwards and fellow teammate Raymond Kopa to claim the title with 72 points.

The 1956-57 season was the chief reason why he won the prestigious award. Nicknamed as 'Blond Arrow', Di Stefano was at the height of his powers in that season, playing 43 times and averaging a goal a game for the Los Merengues. The Pichichi trophy and the European Cup top scorer trophy highlighted his personal glory and placed him on the pedestal as one of the greatest players to grace the beautiful game.

The only regret with Di Stefano is the fact that he never appeared in the World Cup. Had he done that, Pele would certainly have locked horns with an equal.


#2 Cristiano Ronaldo (2016)

FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2014
CR7 is the outright favorite to win a fifth Ballon d'Or this year
If you stop him from shooting from distances, he will dribble his way into the box. If you stop him from shooting from inside the box, he will score from headers. IF your left-back stops him, he will make your center-back suffer. If you stop him from dribbling he will use his pace to get past you. If you stop him from scoring he will assist. In short, if you stop him from anything, he will get past you anyways. — Gary Neville

What a year 2016 was! Probably the best Cristiano Ronaldo has ever seen. A rare year where the Portuguese skipper proved himself on almost every level of the game. Ronaldo has amassed four Ballon d'Ors and one Fifa World Player of the Year award in his career.

The Champions League, the UEFA Euro 2016 and countless of other awards that you will be tired of counting. Looking at the endless list of accolades of Cristiano Ronaldo tells you the enormity of the superstar.

Speaking of his abilities, is there anything he can't do? Long shots. Free-kicks. Penalties. Headers. He has it all. There is utterly no way to stop the mighty Real Madrid talisman from scoring a number of goals he usually does in a season. No wonder he has won the most prestigious award on individual level four times and is in contention for a fifth one this year.

Except for the World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo has won almost everything in the game. He has also moved ahead of Lionel Messi on the international level after winning the Euro in 2016. In the season 2015-16, he scored 51 goals in 48 matches in all competitions.

Since 2007, Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the football world like never before. He beat Messi to win the fourth Ballon d'Or in 2016 by with a whopping tally of 745 points, compared to the latter's 316. In so many ways, Ronaldo is the beast you would never want to face on a pitch.


#1 Lionel Messi (2015)

FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015
Messi has won the Ballon d'Or for a record five times in the history of football
Messi does not need his right foot. He only uses the left and he’s still the best in the world. Imagine if he also used his right foot, Then we would have serious problems.— Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Who else than him? He might look diminutive, but Lionel Messi's achievements are equal to the zenith. The Argentine has won a record five Ballon d'Ors and a Fifa World Player of the Year award in his career.

The day Carles Rexach signed Leo, little did he know that he was safeguarding Barca's future for more than a decade. Years later, the Nou Camp thanked him as Messi claimed the crown of the undisputed king of the game.

You can bring a team of eleven defenders, but Messi's wand of a left foot always finds ways to score goals. And not just handful, but a plethora of them. In so many ways, the Argentine magician reminds us what a great sport football is. His dribbling will never ever be matched in the future. In the pantheon of the greatest ever to grace the game, Messi rightly occupies the throne to himself.

2015 saw the Barca forward reach his pinnacle again as he won the second treble of his career, with the Champions League, La Liga and the Copa Del Rey all in his basket of titles. His goal-scoring feats were jaw-dropping as usual, scoring 58 goals in 57 appearances in all competitions. He beat Cristiano Ronaldo to reclaim the title of Ballon d'Or after securing 41.33% votes.

It is almost a decade and Messi and Ronaldo have been winning the famous accolade as if it was their personal property. Around the globe, people are still waiting to see the player who beats both these titans to the title.

One thing is meant for sure, the whole world will weep like never before when Leo Messi calls it a day in the beautiful game.

Edited by Amit Mishra


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