In recent years, the Ballon d’Or discourse has been focused around two men. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo won it every year from 2008 until 2018, when Luka Modric broke their streak.

It hasn’t always been such a simple decision, though.

Best Players To Miss Out On FIFA Ballon d'Or:

Modric’s selection was the result of a wider debate, and in many years, the award has been controversial, with the widely considered best player often missing out on the famous trophy.

Some of the best players of all-time have never held the Ballon d’Or (or FIFA World Player Of The Year) aloft. A combination of timing and fortune has seen some greats miss out.

We’ve compiled a list of the five best players to never win the Ballon d’Or...

Paolo Maldini

Winning individual awards as a defender isn’t easy.

Paolo Maldini came close on two occasions – finishing third in Ballon d’Or voting in 1994 and 2003 – but never finished higher than that despite being an integral part of the magnificent Milan side of the 1990s.

Maldini, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest defenders to play the game, won seven Serie A titles, five European Cups and appeared twice in the UEFA Team of the Year.

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An icon of the game, and a true one-club man, Maldini’s place in football history is secure regardless of individual honours. He almost certainly deserved to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or at least once.

The 126-cap Italian is a technical director at Milan, find out how they get on the 2020/21 campaign with 888sport’s football news and European football expert picks.

Thierry Henry

While featuring in our best Premier League XI is an obvious highlight of Thierry Henry’s career, the World Cup-winning Frenchman missed out on the greatest individual prize, the Ballon d’Or.

Henry, like Maldini, featured in the top three a couple of times, finishing second and third in 2003 and 2006 respectively. Arguably the most talented player at the time, Henry was unfortunate to miss out on the FIFA Best Player Award.

While terrorising Premier League defences in an Arsenal shirt, Henry’s candidacy for the award was strong in each and every season, but Arsenal’s failure to succeed in Europe ultimately stood in the way.

The combination of devastating pace, deadly finishing, quick feet and surprising strength saw Henry become the best striker in the world. Unfortunately, there is an element of fortune in winning a Ballon d’Or, and Henry never had that slice of luck required.

There’s no doubt he was good enough and dominant enough, but Pavel Nedved, Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon all stood in the way in 2003 and 2006.

Andres Iniesta

Andres Iniesta was always at a distinct disadvantage. Being on the same team as Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer ever, made it near-impossible for Iniesta, despite all of Spain’s tournament success, to win the Ballon d’Or.

That Barcelona team is one of the best in the sport’s long history. Iniesta was an integral part of the side, linking up brilliantly with Messi.

His game was never flashy, preferring the right pass to the one most likely to grab the headlines, but that shouldn’t takeaway from what Iniesta was capable of both as a dribbler and creator.  

The Spaniard notched a couple of top three finishes, landing second behind Messi in 2010 and third behind Messi and Ronaldo in 2012.

In 2010, Barcelona became just the second team in history to occupy the top three spots in Ballon d’Or voting, a feat also achieved by Milan in 1988 and 1989.

Ferenc Puskas

Ferenc Puskas has a FIFA award named after him, but the closest he came to lifting the Ballon d’Or was a second-place in 1960, when he was pipped to the trophy by Barcelona’s Luis Suarez.

The Ballon d’Or was only introduced when Puskas was 29, giving him a limited opportunity for success. Therefore, it probably isn't as much of a surprise that Puskas was never crowned FIFA Best Footballer Of The Year.

His peak Real Madrid years were between 1959 and 1962, as he scored 131 goals in just 117 appearances. That aligned with further La Liga glory for the Spanish giants, and two European Cups in 1959 and 1960.

Had Puskas led his side to further European silverware in 1961 or 1962, he might have found himself going one better than he did in 1960 in the Ballon d’Or voting.

If the award was around a few years earlier, Puskas may well have topped the balloting. Success with that brilliant Hungarian side would’ve helped, too.

Puskas’ former side Real Madrid are 8/1 to win the 2020/21 Champions League in 888sport’s football betting odds.

Jimmy Greaves

Despite boasting an incredible goal-to-game ratio throughout his career, Jimmy Greaves only appeared among the Ballon d’Or finalists once. It is a travesty how Greaves never appeared on the Ballon d'Or winners list.

That year was 1963, as he finished behind Soviet Union goalkeeper Lev Yashin and Milan midfielder Gianni Rivera. Greaves was coming off a brilliant season for Tottenham in which he scored 44 in 49 matches as Spurs finished runners-up in the First Division.

Starting his career with Chelsea, where he scored 132 goals in 169 appearances, Greaves was as clinical as they come in the area.

His burst of pace allowed him to make room for a shot in almost any situation, and was as calm as any forward in the world when in front of goal.

While Greaves’ England career is remembered for his cruel injury during the 1966 World Cup, he is thought of as one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of the sport.

Despite winning only 57 England caps, he’s the country’s fourth-highest goal scorer, and holds the records for most hat-tricks for the Three Lions.

*Credit for the main photo belongs to Alberto Pellaschiar / AP Photo*

Sam is a sports tipster, specialising in the Premier League and Champions League.

He covers most sports, including cricket and Formula One. Sam particularly enjoys those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – notably MLB and NBA.

Watching, writing and talking about sports betting takes up most of his time, whether that is for a day out at T20 Finals Day or a long night of basketball.

Having been writing for several years, Sam has been working with 888Sport since 2016, contributing multiple articles per week to the blog.