Compared to a sport like baseball or football, soccer doesn’t have too many counting statistics. Outfield players can rack up goals and assists, goalies can record clean sheets, but you’re not going to see pages of raw numbers after every single game. But that doesn’t mean the beautiful game lacks major awards, though. Each year, FIFA names a Men’s Player of the Year; who has taken home that title besides Barcelona star Lionel Messi, though?
From the Ballon d’Or to the Best FIFA Men’s Player
Historically, the most prestigious award in world soccer was the Ballon d’Or. Literally “the Golden Ball” the trophy has been presented since 1956.
The award itself, however, has undergone some changes during its lifetime. From 1956 through 2010, the Ballon d’Or was an independent award presented by France Football. In 2010, the award merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year Award; the hybrid was unsurprisingly named the FIFA Ballon d’Or. In 2016, the awards separated again with the Ballon d’Or and the Best FIFA Men’s Player becoming their own separate entities.
Past Ballon d’Or winners
During the 20th century, some of soccer’s biggest names took home the Ballon d’Or. Players like Eusebio and Bobby Charlton battled for the trophy in the late 1960s, before giving way to the likes of George Best and Gurd Muller. Johan Cryuff first took home the award in 1973; his compatriots Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, and Frank Rijkaard all made the podium in 1988.
In the 1990s, Brazilians started to assert themselves in Ballon d’Or voting, with names like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho dominating the ballots. The trophy became synonymous with a blend of style and substance; Ballon d’Or winners didn’t just score, they made the sublime look easy.
Messi And Ronaldo take over
While the Ballon d’Or was never historically dominated for too long by one player, that all changed in the late 2000s. Since 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi been named player of the year with shocking frequency.
Ronaldo has won the award five times, taking home the trophy in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2016; he’s also been the runner-up an additional six times. Messi, on the other hand, has won the Ballon d’Or five times, plus the 2019 FIFA Best Men’s Player title. Whether you think the Portuguese striker or the Argentine winger is a better player, it’s clear that both are legends.
Who else has won the Ballon d’Or since 2000?
While Messi and Ronaldo have kept a firm grip on the trophy in recent years, several other players have won the Ballon d’Or in the 21st century. English striker Michael Owen won the award in 2001, followed by Ronaldo in 2002; Pavel Nedved infamously won the award over Thierry Henry in 2003.
The then Ballon d’Or went to Ukraine with Andriy Shevchenko, before returning to Brazil with Ronaldinho. After a year in Italy with Fabio Cannavaro, Kaka reclaimed Brazil’s spot atop the soccer world.
After that, the reign of Ronaldo and Messi started. Since 2008, only one player outside of those two has taken home the Ballon d’Or: Luka Modric, who had a strong year in both Champions League and World Cup action.
Who comes next?
While Ronaldo and Messi may be dominant, no player can remain at the highest level forever. When they eventually ride off into the sunset, who will take their spot atop the Ballon d’Or podium?
The leading candidates are Neymar, assuming he can stay healthy, and Kylian Mbappe. Beyond those two, there are countless young stars who might take the next step; maybe we’ll be returning to an era when the Ballon d’Or is an actual event and not just a foregone conclusion.