Smiles better: FC Barcelona playmaker Lionel Messi celebrates with his four FIFA Ballon d'Or trophies
With just a few days to go until the 2013 Ballon d’Or winner is announced, we take a look back at the past winners and power rank those stars who were crowned European Footballer of the Year.
Now, although the Ballon d’Or itself dates back to 1956, we will start in 1991, the year world football’s governing body introduced its own accompanying World Player of the Year award, with the two individual gongs having been merged together four years ago to form the FIFA Ballon d’Or trophy, which will be presented in Zurich on Monday.
So here are the past 22 winners then, power ranked in descending order, and let us know whether you agree or disagree with our final selections …
The first non-European to have won the award after the rules were changed that year, so long as the player in question was representing a club on the Continent that is.
However, still a slightly odd winner though, with the Liberian claiming just a domestic cup double with Paris Saint-Germain in 1995 to see off Bayern Munich striker Jurgen Klinsmann in second place.
The Olympique de Marseille frontman strolled to the trophy 23 years ago after his goals fired the Ligue 1 giants all the way to that season’s title, as well as runners-up spot in the UEFA Champions League, in which the Frenchman was also joint top scorer.
The FC Barcelona superstar made history by becoming the first player ever to have won the award four times after yet another goal-filled 12 months, although many thought the trophy should have gone to his great rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, who inspired Real Madrid to La Liga, while the Catalans won just the Copa del Rey that year.
The Divine Ponytail’s inspiration and invention in attack inspired Juventus to win that year’s UEFA Cup, as the Italy international saw off the challenge of Inter Milan forward Dennis Bergkamp in second place, although this was far from a vintage 12 months.
The Englishman’s clinical finishing fired Liverpool to the Treble that year, including victory in the UEFA Cup final over Alaves, while the diminutive striker also netted a hat-trick against Germany in Berlin a few months before the voting closed which saw him just squeeze out Real Madrid’s Raul into the runners-up spot.
Still a bit of a mystery this one, in that the wide man won nothing with either club, Barcelona and Madrid, or country, although he did shine with Portugal at Euro 2000.
And that, ultimately, was enough to help the Portuguese see off the challenge of second-placed Zinedine Zidane, who himself had inspired France to victory in Netherlands and Belgium that summer.
Legendary Dutch striker whose plethora of goals helped AC Milan win Serie A that year, as well as firing Netherlands to the semi-final of Euro 92, as FC Barcelona playmaker Hristo Stoichkov just missed out on the title.
A thoroughly well-deserved win for the clinical AC Milan frontman, who won his only Serie A title with the Rossoneri in 2004.
Again, another hugely popular victor, with the Czech Republic international driving Juventus to that year’s league title in Italy, and it could have been so much better for the Old Lady of Italian Football had the blond-haired midfielder not missed their 2003 UEFA Champions League final loss to Milan on penalties due to suspension.
The graceful Brazilian playmaker strolled to that year’s title, much like he and AC Milan had done in the 2007 UEFA Champions League final against Liverpool, when Kaka turned in a memorable man-of-the-match display to help avenge their loss to the Merseysiders two years before.
The Argentinian continued to tear up the goalscoring record books in this particular calendar year, and not surprisingly Barcelona also managed to retain their La Liga crown as a result.
However, many neutrals thought the award should have actually gone to either Wesley Sneijder, who helped Inter Milan win the Champions League and Netherlands reach the World Cup final, or second-placed Andres Iniesta, who claimed a La Liga and World Cup double.
Few complaints here as the powerful attacker was both the stand-out performer and the top scorer as Brazil surprisingly won a record fifth World Cup in Japan and South Korea that summer.
What a year for the Borussia Dortmund and Germany sweeper, who led his club side to that year’s Bundesliga, before then helping his country win Euro 96 at Wembley, although he only won the title by just one vote from FC Barcelona’s Ronaldo though.
However, nice to see a defender finally get some long overdue recognition in this award.
Again, much like with Sammer, an all-too-rare win for a defender, however, a fully justified victory nonetheless as the Italy centre-back marshalled his side to an upset triumph in that year’s World Cup in Germany,
However, the Juventus and Azzurri skipper’s award was slightly soured after the Serie A champions had their title stripped due to the Calciopoli scandal.
The Brazilian was at the peak of his powers at this stage of his career, with the forward’s goals helping to fire Barca to a second consecutive Liga title that year as Manchester United’s David Beckham came in a distant second in the voting.
The Barcelona attacker was easily the best player on the Continent that year as the Catalans won La Liga, while just for the record, Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard was runner-up, although some way behind the Brazil international.
No player could hold a candle to the brilliant Bulgarian in 1994 as the playmaker inspired Barcelona to a fourth straight Liga crown, as well as his country to a shock run all the way to the semi-finals of that summer’s World Cup in the US.
The Brazilian was in blistering form in front of goal that year, first for Barca and then for new club Inter Milan, helping the Catalans win a cup double with victories in both the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the Copa del Rey.
There were goals galore from the Manchester United forward in 2008, without which the Red Devils would not have won both the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, the latter in which the Portuguese opened the scoring in the final against Chelsea in Moscow.
The little playmaker’s first-ever win came on the back of a spectacular 12 months for FC Barcelona, who finally got their hands back on La Liga after a three-year drought, before then going on to win their third European Cup, with the Argentinian genius heading home his side’s second goal in their 2-0 win over Manchester United in the final in Rome.
The Frenchman collected the highest number of votes ever recorded in the period in question between 1991 and 2006, after which the voting system changed, on the back of being the catalyst behind France’s World Cup triumph that summer, as well as Juventus retaining their Serie A crown.
And it could have been even better for the playmaker had Juve not been upset by Real Madrid in the 1998 UEFA Champions League final, although two headed goals in les Bleus’ subsequent victory over Brazil in the World Cup final more than made up for that loss.
It was a landslide win for the twinkle-toed attacker three years ago, with Messi claiming 47 per cent of the votes ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in second place, and his third in a row too after he and FC Barcelona claimed virtually every single trophy there was to win that year.
A third straight La Liga crown, a second UEFA Champions League title in just three years, with the Argentina international of course scoring a sensational strike in the final against Manchester United at Wembley, as well as triumphs in the UEFA Super Cup, the Spanish Supercopa and the FIFA Club World Cup, with Messi also scoring in all those three finals too.
And in total throughout that calendar year, Messi managed to register an eye-catching 43 goals and 21 assists in just 47 matches for Barca in both the league and in Europe.