The Ballon d’Or is the most prestigious individual honour in football, an award given to the footballer deemed by learned judges - made up of journalists along with coaches and captains of national sides – to be at the very pinnacle of their craft. 

Put more simply, it determines who has been the greatest player on the planet across a twelve month period.

That wasn’t always the way, with only talent playing for European clubs eligible between 1956 and 2006. Originally conceived by two French journalists working for France Football it took a long while to look beyond the continent’s borders.

Ever since, the FIFA World Player of the Year has become a global event, its annual ceremony as lavish and star-studded as they come.

There are no prizes for guessing which little genius has the most Ballon d’Or wins, Lionel Messi claiming the most votes on eight occasions, while Cristiano Ronaldo is not too far behind on five. 

Truly, we are privileged to have lived through their time of greatness. 

Elsewhere, Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco Van Basten have three apiece and it may surprise to learn that Zinedine Zidane has only been furnished with the award once. 

It was the magical midfielder’s fate to be in his prime during the era of Messi and Ronaldo’s duopoly. 

Intriguingly, France, Italy and Germany have produced the greatest number of greats, five each, though England can more than hold its head up high, with four Ballon d’Or recipients. Indeed, the first ever winner was Sir Stanley Matthews, the Wizard of Dribble.

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Regarding the future, you don’t need our football tips today to gauge who is destined to be bequeathed with the honour in seasons to come. Erling Haaland is a shoo-in should he continue his phenomenal goal-scoring feats, the Norwegian coming second in 2023. 

Jude Bellingham is another dead-cert. 

And when their night of recognition eventually comes, they will join an illustrious list, a who’s who of behemoths who mastered their craft and conquered the world.

Ballon d'Or Winners:

  • 1956: Stanley Matthews (Blackpool)

  • 1957: Alfredo Di Stefano (Real Madrid)

  • 1958: Raymond Kopa (Real Madrid)

  • 1959: Alfredo Di Stefano (Real Madrid)

Sports tips would have been redundant this particular year in identifying the likeliest recipient.

Considered by some to be the greatest Argentinian footballer of all time – yes, even over and above Messi and Maradona – the ‘Blond Arrow’ was at the peak of his powers in the late-Fifties. 

A matter of months later he would combine with Puskas to demolish Eintracht Frankfurt in a European Cup final, an exhibition of brilliance the likes of which no-one had before seen. 

  • 1960: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

  • 1961: Omar Sivori (Juventus)

  • 1962: Josef Masopust (Dukla Prague)

  • 1963: Lev Yashin (Dynamo Moscow)

  • 1964: Denis Law (Manchester United)

  • 1965: Eusebio (Benfica)

  • 1966: Bobby Charlton (Manchester United)

  • 1967: Florian Albert (Ferencvaros)

  • 1968: George Best (Manchester United)

  • 1969: Gianni Rivera (AC Milan)

  • 1970: Gerd Muller (Bayern Munich)

The arch-poacher’s 38 Bundesliga goals the previous campaign set a benchmark that wasn’t topped for a generation while his ten goals at the 1970 World Cup earned the fearsome German a Golden Boot. 

Imagine the odds in the football betting in 1970 on Muller missing out on the Ballon d’Or. They would have been matched by Elvis being found on the moon.

  • 1971: Johan Cruyff (Ajax)

  • 1972: Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich)

  • 1973: Johan Cruyff (Barcelona)

  • 1974: Johan Cruyff (Barcelona)

  • 1975: Oleg Blokhin (Dynamo Kyiv)

  • 1976: Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich)

  • 1977: Allan Simonsen (Borussia Monchengladbach)

  • 1978: Kevin Keegan (Hamburg)

  • 1979: Kevin Keegan (Hamburg)

For two years running Joseph Kevin Keegan, born and raised in the mining environs of Doncaster, was the king of Europe, first inspiring Hamburg to a league title, then engineering a continental adventure that took them all the way to a European Cup final

  • 1980: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Bayern Munich)

  • 1981: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Bayern Munich)

  • 1982: Paolo Rossi (Juventus)

  • 1983: Michel Platini (Juventus)

  • 1984: Michel Platini (Juventus)

  • 1985: Michel Platini (Juventus)

  • 1986: Igor Belanov (Dynamo Kyiv)

  • 1987: Ruud Gullit (AC Milan)

  • 1988: Marco van Basten (AC Milan)

  • 1989: Marco van Basten (AC Milan)

  • 1990: Lothar Matthaus (Internazionale)

  • 1991: Jean-Pierre Papin (Marseille)

  • 1992: Marco van Basten (AC Milan)

Those of a certain age may raise an eyebrow at Van Basten’s three awards. The truth is the Dutch artist was the most complete centre-forward of his, or any other, generation. 

Were it not for cruel injuries, he would be spoken in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo quite easily. 

  • 1993: Roberto Baggio (Juventus)

  • 1994: Hristo Stoichkov (Barcelona)

  • 1995: George Weah (AC Milan)

  • 1996: Matthias Sammer (Borussia Dortmund)

  • 1997: Ronaldo (Internazionale)

  • 1998: Zinedine Zidane (Juventus)

  • 1999: Rivaldo (Barcelona)

  • 2000: Luis Figo (Real Madrid)

  • 2001: Michael Owen (Liverpool)

  • 2002: Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

  • 2003: Pavel Nedved (Juventus)

The Czech schemer is arguably the most interesting name on this entire list, a player who its easy to forget about when reeling off the magisterial midfielders of the 21st century. 

For several seasons though, for the mighty Juventus, the player bought as Zidane’s replacement in Turin was little short of immense. 

  • 2004: Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan)

  • 2005: Ronaldinho (Barcelona)

  • 2006: Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid)

  • 2007: Kaka (Milan)

  • 2008: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

CR7’s first Ballon d’Or was a no-brainer, the 23-year-old firing 31 league goals for the Reds that term and playing a pivotal part in their Champions League success.  

  • 2009: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

  • 2010: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

  • 2011: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

  • 2012: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

  • 2013: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

  • 2014: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

  • 2015: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

  • 2016: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

  • 2017: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

  • 2018: Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

  • 2019: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

  • 2020: No award due to pandemic

  • 2021: Lionel Messi (PSG)

  • 2022: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

  • 2023: Lionel Messi (Inter Miami) 

For the first time controversy accompanied a Messi victory, with many insisting the Argentine had not done enough that season to warrant an eighth garland.

Perhaps these detractors had a point given the sheer number of goal-scoring records smashed in 2022/23 by the ‘Striking Viking’ Erling Haaland.

*Credit for the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.