15 Best Players to Have Never Won the Ballon D'Or

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistDecember 31, 2014

15 Best Players to Have Never Won the Ballon D'Or

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    January 12th will see the announcement of the 2014 Ballon d'Or winner, as the latest king of European football is crowned at a ceremony in Zurich.

    Four-time winner Lionel Messi and the twice-crowned Cristiano Ronaldo are going head-to-head with World Cup-winning goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for the prize, but what about all of those great talents who have never got to lift it?

    Here, we celebrate the 15 greatest players to have never been crowned the best.

But First...

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    Milan/Associated Press

    Neither Pele nor Diego Maradona were ever eligible to win the Ballon d'Or, with the FIFA Player of the Year award arriving too late in 1991.

    From its initial inception in 1956 the Ballon d'Or was only ever open to European players playing in Europe, and it was then expanded to include all nationalities playing in Europe in 1995. It wasn't until 2010 that it merged with the FIFA Player of the Year to create the award we know today, and so the great Brazil and Argentina legends were never considered for it.

    To keep things simple, we've decided that everyone on this list had to be eligible to win the Ballon d'Or in one of its forms.

    Okay? Let's go.

Paolo Maldini

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    Third place in the running for the 1994 Ballon d'Or and second in the voting for the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995, AC Milan and Italy legend Paolo Maldini wasn't really used to second best.

    The iconic defender won seven Serie A titles and an astonishing five European Cups, the same amount as Bayern Munich and Liverpool and more than Barcelona and Manchester United!

Raul

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    Until recently the Champions League's all-time record goalscorer, Raul Gonzalez was an icon and an inspiration to all at Real Madrid.

    His goals helped the club to six La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies, yet the closest he could get to the Ballon d'Or was his second-placed finish in 2001 when he missed out to Liverpool's Michael Owen, who became a teammate of his as the Bernabeu three years later.

Thierry Henry

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    Second in 2003 and third in 2006, the masterful Thierry Henry was never able to get his hands on the Ballon d'Or throughout his fantastic career.

    Having to settle for two Premier League titles, two La Liga titles, the Champions League, three FA Cups, the World Cup, the European Championships and becoming Arsenal's all-time record goalscorer isn't a bad consolation, though.

Xavi

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    Three consecutive third places between 2008 and 2010 was the best that Barcelona and Spain's midfield metronome Xavi could do, as he proved to be the mastermind behind the successes of club and country over the period and beyond.

    At 34 years old he's still going, of course, but it would take a monumental effort for him to win it now, and you suspect that he's pretty happy with his footballing legacy as it is.

Ferenc Puskas

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    DI/Associated Press

    These days FIFA have named an award for the best goal of the year after Ferenc Puskas, but he was remarkably never given the Ballon d'Or despite his legendary status for Real Madrid and Hungary.

    The closest he got was a second-placed finish behind Barcelona's Luis Suarez (not that one) in 1960, ensuring that one of the greats of the game went unrewarded despite achieving feats which many still talk about today.

Dennis Bergkamp

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    Third in 1992 and second in 1993, the stage was perhaps set for Dennis Bergkamp to win the Ballon d'Or in 1994, but the Netherlands' exit at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup in the USA at the hands of Brazil probably put an end to his chances.

    The Dutchman's move to Arsenal a year later introduced him to a whole new audience, but he was never able to capture personal glory despite three Premier League titles and four FA Cups.

Frank Rijkaard

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    Another Dutch master to go unrewarded was Frank Rijkaard, who ended up missing out due to the outstanding talents of his teammates.

    Ruud Gullit won the Ballon d'Or in 1987 and was runner-up a year later, when Marco van Basten won the first of his two consecutive crowns, leaving midfield ace Rijkaard to settle for third place in both 1988 and 1989.

Andres Iniesta

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    Scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final has to be near the top of any footballer's wishlist, and so Andres Iniesta probably isn't that bothered that he was beaten into second place in the Ballon d'Or voting by Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi in 2010, and then finished third to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo two years later.

    Still, it would be nice to see one of the modern game's great midfielders honoured with the prize, although he might still think he's got a chance to win it.

Franco Baresi

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    Like Maldini earlier, Franco Baresi was an AC Milan and Italy defensive legend who was the backbone of one of the great European teams.

    A one-club man, he came second behind Milan teammate Marco van Basten in the voting for the 1989 Ballon d'Or, the year he captained Milan to the first of his three European Cups. He also won six Serie A titles and the 1982 World Cup for good measure. 

Kenny Dalglish

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    Runner-up in 1983—the first of Michel Platini's three successive triumphs—was the closest that Liverpool and Scotland legend Kenny Dalglish ever got to the prize.

    That was the year in which he won the fourth of his six league titles with Liverpool, whilst he would also clinch three European Cups to cement his place as one of the best-ever players to come out of Britain. 

Eric Cantona

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    The closest that the upturned collar-sporting Manchester United icon Eric Cantona ever got to Ballon d'Or glory was 1993's third place behind Roberto Baggio and Dennis Bergkamp.

    That was the year Cantona had inspired United to their first Premier League title in the division's first year in a new format, and they would go on to largely dominate the division for the two decades to come. The Frenchman won four Premier League title titles in total, as well as thousands of hearts at Old Trafford.

Gianluigi Buffon

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    The only goalkeeper ever to win the award is the Soviet Union legend Lev Yashin back in 1963, and although Manuel Neuer could change all that in a couple of weeks, for now the most recent stopper to come close is Gianluigi Buffon.

    The last line of defence in the Italy team which won the World Cup in 2006, Buffon was beaten into second place by his captain and central-defensive lynchpin Fabio Cannavaro. 

Oliver Kahn

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    Before Buffon there was the Germany and Bayern Munich colossus Oliver Kahn, who was widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world at the turn of the century.

    Kahn finished third in the Ballon d'Or voting in both 2001 and 2002, years in which he won the Champions League and was the runner-up in the World Cup respectively. Before his third-placed finish in 2001, no goalkeeper had been voted into the top three since Czechoslovakia's Ivo Viktor in 1976.

Jurgen Klinsmann

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    Jurgen Klinsmann's sole appearance in a Ballon d'Or top three was in 1995, when he came second to George Weah after moving to Bayern Munich from Tottenham Hotspur.

    The German goalscoring legend won both the World Cup (1990) and the European Championships (1996), and these days he's the figurehead of the US team's attempts at continuous improvement following another encouraging World Cup showing in Brazil.

Bobby Moore

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    Associated Press

    The image of England's iconic 1966 World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore might still adorn posters and t-shirts, but he was never recognised with the Ballon d'Or during his career, with the closest the centre-back coming to glory being his second-place finish in 1970.

    That was the year of his famous tackle on Brazil's Jairzinho at the World Cup in Mexico, a moment which is perhaps second only to him lifting the trophy itself in the minds of England fans.