The Ballon d’Or is one of the most prestigious football awards in the world. It is an absolute achievement to be named as a recipient. However, some award decisions have sent shock waves through the fans. Fans and football pundits have been divided over these decisions, during a heated debate over a recipient deserving the award or note.
The Ballon d’Or was established by the French football magazine, France Football, in 1956. Conceived by sports writers Gabriel Hanot and Jacques Ferran, the award honours the best male (and more recently, the best women’s) performing player from a previous football season. Most of the time, the recipient is widely applauded by everyone. However, some decisions are deemed controversial.
Therefore, this article lists the top 10 most controversial Ballon d’Or winners.
Top 10 most controversial Ballon d’Or winners
Before we begin, it is essential to note that the voting process to determine the winner has changed over the years. From 1956 to 2006, voting was done by football journalists alone.
Then FIFA teamed up with France Football to present the award together as the FIFA Ballon d’Or from 2010 to 2015. Also, captains and coaches were allowed to vote at that time. However, the partnership between FIFA and the French magazine and the old system was put back in place.
Now, let us return to revealing the top 10 most controversial Ballon d’Or winners in football history.
10. Matthias Sammer (1996)
Brazilian legend, Ronaldo Nazario, had his breakthrough football season in 1996. He scored 50 goals in 48 matches for Barcelona, which made him a favourite to lift the Ballon d’Or. France Football thought otherwise as Matthias Sammer was given the award.
Everyone, including Sammer himself, was shocked when his name was announced as the winner. Sammer had a great season but it was not convincing enough to win the prestigious award, according to popular opinion. The fact that Ronaldo lost to him by a single point proved that the 1996 award was one of the most controversial ones.
9. Igor Belanov (1986)
Diego Maradona was considered the best football player in 1986. The “Hand of God” led Argentina to their second FIFA World Cup title. However, he did not win the Ballon d’Or because he was not European, an important requirement to be eligible for the award at the time. The second favourite was Gary Lineker who won a World Cup Golden Boot.
But it was Dynamo Kyiv’s Ukrainian striker, Belanov, who got the award for helping his team win to lift the Cup Winners’ Cup.
8. Cristiano Ronaldo (2013)
Ronaldo was phenomenal for Real Madrid in 2013. However, his 66 goals in 56 games were not enough to convince some people that he deserved the Ballon d’Or award.
Many thought Franck Ribery, who was the star in Bayern Munich’s treble, deserved the award. But the Frenchman came third behind Lionel Messi, who was ranked in second position second for the prize.
6. Andriy Shevchenko (2004)
Shevchenko was incredible at AC Milan and took the crown due to his role in winning Serie A. However, many felt his contributions could not be compared to Anderson Luís de Souza OIH, also known as Deco. The Portuguese attacking midfielder inspired Porto to four trophies that year: the Primeira Liga, the Portuguese Super Cup, the Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup.
5. Lionel Messi (2010)
Spain won the 2010 World Cup and made history as the first European country to win the title outside the continent. On the back of winning the most prestigious football title, many thought that the Ballon d’Or would go to the La Roja duo, Andres Iniesta and Xavi. But it was their Barcelona teammate, Messi, that was crowned with the title.
Also, Wesley Sneijder was a top contender for the title after the Dutchman helped Inter Milan win a treble that year and was part of the Dutch team that reached the final of the World Cup.
4. Luka Modric (2018)
Let us be honest, Messi and Ronaldo have been dominant since they came into the picture. However, their stars did not shine in 2018. Instead, the star shone for former Croatian refugee, Luka Modric, who led his country to a second-place finish in the FIFA World Cup.
For years, many thought the Real Madrid midfielder did not get enough recognition for his achievements but the pendulum swung his side that year while star man, Messi, finished fifth. Ronaldo was in the top running for the award, having contributed a staggering 44 goals and 16 assists in 44 total games that season. But Modric’s fantastic performance during the World Cup edged him out, making many people wonder if the Ballon d’Or was still an individual award or a team award.
3. Luis Figo (2000)
Moving from Barcelona to Real Madrid was not the only controversial thing about Figo in 2000. His Ballon d’Or win caused further uproar when he beat Zinedine Zidane to the prestigious title. Figo later confessed that Roma’s Francesco Totti should have won.
“Sorry for stealing the Ballon d’Or in 2000 – you deserved it,” Figo said in a message to the Italian.
2. Pavel Nedved (2003)
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi normalised players scoring 42 goals and 26 assists in a football season. In 2003, it was practically unheard of until Thierry Henry did it, making him a frontrunner for the Ballon d’Or that year. Many figured if by some fate he did not get it, the award would go to Serie A ace player, Paolo Maldini.
Guess who finally won the award? Pavel Nedved, the second Czech player to win it, with 31 goal contributions in 46 games.
1. Michael Owen (2001)
Owen remains the last Englishman to win the Ballon d’Or. He scored 24 goals in 46 games for Liverpool as the Reds won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup. Owen also featured for England in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was third in line for Ballon d’Or but it was Raul Gonzalaz’s second place that was the most controversial.
Owen was fantastic at the UEFA Cup, but the Real Madrid striker was the leading goalscorer in the Champions League that year as he inspired Los Blancos to the European title.
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