The Ballon d'Or is the most prestigious individual award in football. The award was created in 1956, and Stanley Matthews was its inaugural winner. Since then the award has been lifted by some of the greatest players ever to have played the game.
The last 12 years has seen the Ballon d'Or award dominated by two players. Cristiano Ronaldo (5) and Lionel Messi (6) have won this award 11 times in the last 12 years. Luka Modric broke the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly of the award when he won the Ballon d'Or in 2018.
This rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi is one of the greatest in any sport. However, their dominance has meant that several world-class players have missed out on winning the Ballon d'Or award.
On that note, let us have a look at five of the greatest European players never to have won the Ballon d'Or.
Five great European players who have never won the Ballon d'Or:
#5. Gianluigi Buffon
The Ballon d'Or has been won by a goalkeeper only once. Lev Yashin won the prestigious award in 1963 while playing for Dynamo Moscow. Yashin is regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Since then, no other goalkeeper has come close to winning the award except the excellent Gianluigi Buffon.
The Italian finished second in the 2006 Ballon d'Or race as he was beaten to the award by his compatriot and fellow 2006 FIFA World Cup-winning teammate Fabio Cannavaro. Buffon would come close again in 2017 when he finished fourth. However, his Juventus side lost the Champions League final to Real Madrid which hurt Buffon's chances of landing the Ballon d'Or.
Buffon has been consistently brilliant since the mid-1990s and has garnered multiple records against his name. His achievements make him one of the most decorated players of all time. He won the FIFA World Cup in 2006, but its at the club level where Buffon has had even more success. The Italian has won every major trophy in club football except the UEFA Champions League. As he approaches the twilight of his career, Italy's 'Superman' looks likely to go down as one of the greatest players to have never won the Ballon d'Or.
#4. Paolo Maldini
The Ballon d'Or award has faced scrutiny in recent years for favouring attackers. Virgil van Dijk was widely expected to win the Ballon d'Or last year but it was Lionel Messi who took the award home for a record sixth time. The last defender to win the Ballon d'Or award is Fabio Cannavaro who did so in 2006 after leading Italy to FIFA World Cup glory.
Defenders have always been a near-miss at the Ballon d'Or. Paolo Maldini, one of the greatest defenders of all time, never won the prestigious award The Italian was a fabulous defender and revolutionised the art of defending. He had the Italian grit in his game, but he was elegant as well. Maldini is considered one of the smartest defenders to have ever played the game. He was also comfortable with the ball at his feet, which was rare during his time.
Maldini won every possible trophy at the club level. He won the Serie A seven times and the Champions League thrice among other trophies. Yet, he could never win the Ballon d'Or. He came close to winning the award twice in his career, though. Maldini finished third in the 1994 Ballon d'Or race after winning the Champions League and being one of the best players at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. He would finish third once more in 2003, as Pavel Nedved won the prestigious award.
#3. Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry signed for Arsenal in 1999 after a poor stint at Juventus. Henry was a winger, but Arsène Wenger saw his compatriot's potential and turned him into a striker. This positional change brought out the best in Henry.
From the early to the late 2000s, Henry was among the greatest players in the world. The striker's pace, technique and goal-scoring ability made him a nightmare to defend against. During his time at Arsenal, he won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and inspired Arsenal to an unbeaten league season in 2003-04. Henri also won the Premier League Golden Boot on four occasions.
Henry continued to be one of the best players in the world after his move to Barcelona in 2007. He won the La Liga twice and the Champions League once with the Spanish giants.
The Frenchman is one of the greatest players of his generation. He hung up his boots as Arsenal's and France's record goal-scorer. He scored 226 goals for the Gunners and 51 goals for his nation. However, Henry never managed to get his hands on the prestigious Ballon d'Or award.
The striker came close to winning the Ballon d'Or twice in his career. He finished behind Pavel Nedved in 2003 and third in 2006 in the Ballon d'Or races for the said years.
Xavi is one of the best examples of a great player missing out on the Ballon d'Or due to the dominance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Spanish midfielder was the beating heart of arguably the greatest club side and the greatest national team the game has ever seen. His ability to dictate the tempo of the game was unmatched, which was crucial to both Barcelona and the Spanish national team.
Xavi won every major trophy in his career. He won eight La Liga titles, four Champions League titles, and numerous other domestic trophies. Xavi won the European Championship twice and the FIFA World Cup in 2010.
The Spaniard is among the greatest midfielders to have ever played the sport. He inspired a generation of players. However, he could not win the Ballon d'Or. Xavi finished third in three consecutive years from 2009 to 2011 in the Ballon d'Or races, each time losing out to his Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi.
#1. Andres Iniesta
The world was fortunate to see the brilliance of Andres Iniesta for as long as it lasted. If Xavi was the orchestrator of the great Barcelona and Spain sides, Iniesta was the magician doing extraordinary things with ease.
Iniesta was a complete package, a metronome and a genius who won it all for both club and country. His ability to pick passes others could not even imagine, prowess to dribble past players, elegance, and, creativity made him the complete midfielder. Alongside Xavi, he formed arguably the greatest midfield duo the game has ever seen.
The Spaniard also had a knack for scoring famous goals. Iniesta scored the most important goal of Barcelona's treble-winning season against Chelsea in 2009 that sent his team to the UEFA Champions League final. He also scored the goal to win the Spain the FIFA World Cup in 2010.
The midfielder came close to winning the Ballon d'Or award twice. He finished second in 2010 and third in 2012 in the Ballon d'Or title races, his Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi winning the award on both occasions. Iniesta's trophy cabinet is full of numerous titles, but the Ballon d'Or award is conspicous by its absence.
Paul Merson has predicted all the GW 1 fixtures of the Premier League. More details right here