The English game has always been a provider of big names to the beautiful game. From Sir Bobby Charlton to Wayne Rooney, George Best to the making of Thierry Henry, the legendary Bobby Moore to the current leading English prodigy in Jadon Sancho. England’s top league has provided and made some of the best players the game has ever seen, however, like many players to have played in England’s top division through the years, not many have garnered the appreciation their talent has deserved over the years. Sir Tom Finney and the Busby Babes are among many in the list who have eluded the biggest individual prizes solely due to the fact that they didn’t gather enough trophies across their careers.
Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, are some of the names who have won the biggest individual prize of the game due to their exploits at some of the biggest clubs across Europe. Some of the biggest names in British football have won the Ballon D’or as well, Stanley Mathews Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law to name a few. The last British Ballon D’or winner was Michael Owen for Liverpool back in 2001 and the last player to win the Ballon d’Or with an English club was a Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2008.
Ballon d’Or is arguably the biggest prize an individual can win in the beautiful game. It is awarded to the player who has been the best across a calendar year, and one who has put up a worldly level of stats or been a key member of a team who has dominated the competition(s) they have played in. It has been around since after the world cup starting from 1956.
Grounds on which a Ballon D’or winner is selected:
This is most obviously the deciding factor as to how good a nominee does in gathering the votes of the pool of judges selected to decide the winner. Someone may have won a treble despite just being a utility player and not exactly being a difference-maker. The trophies won during the year isn’t enough, the stats put up to contribute to the trophies won is a key factor in deciding how likely a player is to win the ultimate prize. This does help in explaining why only three defenders and only ever one goalkeeper have ever won the Ballon D’or and all of the defenders had an international trophy at the very least under their belt to solidify their stake at the Ballon D’or (Franz Beckenbauer and Fabio Cannavaro – World Cup, Mathias Sammer – European Championship) while the goalkeeper, Lev Yashin, was becoming a name who would forever change the goalkeeping role by becoming arguably the best ever in his position to take to the field. Sometimes the stats and contribution in goals do pervert the selection criteria as one player who may have been more influential to his team’s success would most likely be dwarfed by someone who puts up very high numbers even if his team wasn’t helped to the same level in comparison.
Behaviour on and off the pitch
This is also an important indicator as footballers around the world are ambassadors of the beautiful game. Their conduct on and off the pitch reflects on the game as a whole and the clubs and values that they represent. Even if one may have contributed to a ridiculous amount of goals to his club/country’s march to the trophy, a notable misconduct would be enough for him to miss out on the prize despite his achievements that year.
Despite providing the beautiful game with so many icons, not many British players have won the biggest individual prize, nor have many won it with an English club. Some might consider it to be snubbing, or disregarding of the English counterparts, but that really hasn’t been the case. Regular entrants have been in the top 10 Ballon d’Or nominations, thus it is hard to understand why exactly there haven’t been more Ballon d’Or winners from the English top flight. One explanation would be that since 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have maintained their duopoly with the sole exception of 2018 when Luka Modrić won it for his stellar year with the rest of the 11 being shared between two of the best there ever will be, but that doesn’t explain the period prior to the rise of this beautiful rivalry.
Five different English clubs have won the biggest club competition with 13 titles between them, with Manchester United and Liverpool contributing to nine of them. Many would consider winning the Champions League with a decent performance to be enough to get a nomination into the top 30 of the Ballon d’Or list, and a top-class performance across the year and the UCL would get one to be considered a serious contender for the biggest individual prize. Despite this, there have been a number of players who missed out on the prize despite having the best year of their careers in terms of trophies and in terms of their performance on the field.
Players who missed out on the prize
Wesley Sneidjer (2010) – He had one of his best season n 2009/10 when he played an instrumental part in the helping Inter Milan complete the coveted treble and he later went on to help his nation reach the World Cup final in the summer of 2010. With 23 goal involvements across 41 games for Inter Milan and scoring 5 and setting up another for the national side as the Netherlands romped their way to the final only to fall at the end to the golden generation of the Spanish national team. Such an impressive year still wasn’t enough for him to be crowned the best player of the year.
Franck Ribery (2013) – Despite having arguably his best ever season in 2013, Franck Ribery lost the Ballon d’Or to Cristiano Ronaldo who had a spectacular season contributing to 68 goals but couldn’t really storm Real Madrid to any silverware, whereas Ribery had contributed to 34 goals in 43 appearances for Bayern Munich. What’s more baffling is Franck Ribery came third behind by Lionel Messi in the Ballon d’Or rankings. He was widely tipped to be the one of lifted the famous prize but was left empty-handed, as he somehow came third in a year when he won everything there was to win at club level.
Andres Iniesta (2010) – In a period where he played a pivotal role in probably one of the best club sides to be ever set up, Andres Iniesta managed to dominate the midfield against any opposition he would face. In 09/10 he was key to the Barcelona and the Spanish national team, as he helped the Catalan giants romp to their 20th league title, and lift another three trophies, and helped La Roja lift the biggest prize there is in the beautiful game. He was pipped to the Ballon d’Or by the prodigious Lionel Messi. It was cruel to see the little man from Catalan go home empty-handed that evening, as that would be the closest, he would ever come to lifting the Ballon d’Or.
Xavi Hernandez (2010) – Another name from that famous Barcelona side and Spain’s golden generation, was Xavi. He came third in the 2010 rankings after Iniesta and it was the second year of a three-year spell where he would find himself beaten to it to the third position. Like Iniesta, Xavi wasn’t one blessed by the stats, but one can’t imagine that the Blaugrana would have reached the heights that they did in between 2008-12 if even one of their midfield generals hadn’t been a part of their team.
Eric Cantona (1993) – Cantona had helped Manchester United win the first-ever premier league title in ’93 and the FA Cup by contributing to a breathtaking 31 goals that season in the league and was instrumental to France scoring 5 in 7 appearances for his national side. He still only managed to finish 3rd in the rankings. He missed out to Juventus’s Roberto Baggio who had a brilliant year but only managed to lift one trophy while helping his nation to qualify for next year’s world cup and Dennis Bergkamp who had a brilliant season with Ajax and the Dutch national team but like Baggio only managed to lift one cup in a relatively less competitive nation in comparison.
Raul (2001)- Raul missed out on the Ballon d’Or to a young Michael Owen who had collected five cups in technicality in ’01 scoring 24 in 46 games for Liverpool and 6 in 8 for England in a year in which Raul had scored 32 in 50 for Real Madrid and 6 in 8 for the Spanish national side while helping Real win a league and cup double. In his most prolific year at Real Madrid, he still wasn’t able to beat Michael Owen who won three recognised trophies.
There are many players who have won the ultimate prize in utmost controversy, and many who have missed out on it as well, and that fact can be blamed onto many reasons, be it favouritism by the voters, or just a vendetta against another player or just pure bad luck at times. It can’t be denied that footballs ultimate individual prize does accost a very price to the worldwide fans, as it has always sparked a debate, if not a petition by the fans themselves for the utter disgrace that they feel regarding the final results.
Players like Henry, Puskas, Moore and Maldini, world-class players in every accord, have somehow been unable to win the ultimate prize in their illustrious careers, with a trophy cabinet only a dream for most of the playing population. Whereas players like Nedvěd, Cannavaro, Figo, Belanov, among others have won it, under controversial circumstances. This doesn’t take away their legacy from the beautiful game, nor from their time at the clubs which elevated to such high heights in the first place, but in the eyes of the fans, it does taint their achievement on some level which implicates that their achievement will always be taken with a pinch of salt.
It is certain, that so many great players will be deserted of that final stamp of certification that the Ballon d’Or brings with it, it has to be kept in mind, that their achievements are the reason that they made it into the conversation in the first place. As the time goes by, and people look back at history, it should be hoped that the remembrance is more nostalgic and appreciative instead of a fierce debate as to why he did win it or he didn’t. after all, all the players are human at the end of the day, except for Messi may be, let’s hope we can figure out his home planet as the years goes by.