Ballon d’Or: A trophy that evaded legends of the game
The Ballon d’Or, until recently was the be all, end all trophy to judge the best football player on the planet. Though the choices have had their fair share of critics, but most of the times, the winner of this prestigious award has been agreed upon by the footballing world to be the best player at that point in time. In the last 9 years, Argentina’s little magician Lionel Messi and Portugal’s iron man Cristiano Ronaldo have both shared the spoils with Messi winning 5 times while Ronaldo just one behind at 4. Both of them have kept a stranglehold on the award for the last 9 years, which is an astonishing feat in itself. Many would say that these two don’t need the Ballon d’Or to prove how good they are and it is absolutely true. There have been all time greats who have laced up their boots and graced the football field while giving their heart and soul whenever they have been called upon, who have never held the Ballon d’Or trophy. Here’s looking back at some of them.
Thierry Henry: Perhaps the greatest player in Arsenal’s history, Henry won every major accolade imaginable, except the coveted Ballon d’Or. Guiding his national team France to the World Cup final and his club Arsenal to the Champions league finals in the same year, he was unsuccessful in winning the silverware on both occasions. Losing to Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and Pavel Nedved in 2003, Henry ended his glittering career without the honour of being called a Ballon d’Or winner.
Kenny Dalglish: A vital cog in the machine that was the untouchable Liverpool back in his time, Dalglish suffered due to sheer bad luck. Playing in the same era as French legend Michel Platini, Dalglish would see his Ballon d’Or dreams come to an end as Platini would beat him in 1983 to win the first of his three Ballon d’Or trophies. In the Merseyside outfit, King Kenny won six league titles, three European Cups, four League Cups and the FA Cup but his trophy cabinet would never see a Ballon d’Or.
Andrea Pirlo: After leaving Milan for Juventus, everyone thought Andrea Pirlo was on the last legs of his decorated career, but boy, were they wrong. As soon as he put on that black and white jersey of Juventus, Pirlo was a new man. It was like his second coming and to this day Milan fans rue the day when Pirlo was let go from their club. Winning the Seria A title with Juventus, unbeaten, Pirlo was playing the best football of his career in 2012. A true master with the ball at his feet, Pirlo would come very close to winning the Ballon d’Or after helping Italy reach the finals of Euro 2012, after ripping the opposition teams into shreds by his magnificent passes. Italy would, however, be unsuccessful in the final, losing 4–0 to Spain but Pirlo’s performance in the tournament was widely lauded. He won Serie A and Champions Leagues, but never the Ballon d’Or.
Gianluigi Buffon: As a goalkeeper, Buffon always had the odds stacked against him when it came to winning individual awards. You can put it any way you want but fans spend their hard earned money on football matches to see goals and due to this goalkeepers don’t always get the recognition they deserve. You can make some of the most brilliant stops in your career but if the goalie commits one mistake, that is the only thing that they will be remembered for. It is an indication of how strong–willed and brilliant goalkeeper Buffon is that he has attained legendary status in the game which is predominantly about scoring goals. He won the World Cup in 2006 with Italy but was beaten to the Ballon d’Or by his teammate Fabio Cannavaro. Though, he is still playing like he is in his 20s, Buffon is now 38 years old and his winning a Ballon d’Or at this stage see almost impossible. A bonafide legend of the game but without a Ballon d’Or to his name.
Paolo Maldini: Perhaps the greatest ever defender to don the famous red and white of AC Milan as well as the Azurri blue, this legend of the game has never held the Ballon d’Or trophy in his illustrious career. A winner of 7 Serie A titles and 5 European Cups, this Italian hero achieved cult status for his country and club. Though shortlisted for the award in 1994 and 2003, he did not win but his star power never diminished because of it. An all time great, Maldini did not need an award to define his legacy.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: What can one say about the mercurial Swedish striker that hasn’t been already said? The current talisman of Manchester United has won the league in every major country, but alas the Ballon d’Or has always eluded him. One of the most devastating strikers on his day against any given opponent, Ibrahimovic is a striker who always poses an unique ability to score from outrageous positions. Though to many his words come across as arrogant, he more often than not backs them up in the pitch. Perhaps his accomplishments are sometimes overshadowed due to playing in the same era as a certain Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan manages to keep himself in the conversation which is a feat in itself. Though a Ballon d’Or win seems unlikely at this point of his career but when has Zlatan cared about that?
Alan Shearer: The top scorer of Euro 1996, Alan Shearer retired in 2006 with 260 Premier League goals and 30 goals for his national side England. Ultimately losing to the Brazilian Ronaldo, Shearer would never win a Ballon d’Or in his illustrious career.
Xavi Hernandez: A late bloomer, but a vital member in the dominating Pep Guardiola Barcelona side, Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta are considered the oil that kept the Messi and Barcelona machine going. A player who dominated the game with his pinpoint passing, it’s a shame that he has never won the prestigious award. Now plying his trade in football wilderness after leaving Barcelona, Xavi will end his career without being called a Ballon d’Or winner and that is a crying shame.
Ryan Giggs: Considered to be the most decorated British player in the history of football, this Wales legend played 963 games for English juggernaut Manchester United, winning 34 trophies. Though it is still a mystery how Giggs has never won a Ballon d’Or, most would point out at his rather disappointing international career but seeing as Andriy Shevchenko of Ukraine won in 2004, that theory is dead in the water. Another legend, another snub as the legacy of the award goes on.
Raul Gonzalez: Before we knew Spain as the tiki taka specialist team, there was one man who was synonymous with the Spanish football named Raul Gonzalez. A Spanish and Real Madrid legend, Gonzalez scored 323 goals for the Los Blancos and 40 for Spain. A three–time Champions League winner and a surefire legend of the game, how Raul ended his career without winning the Ballon d’Or even once is astounding to this very day.