The Ballon d’Or is football’s most prestigious individual award that recognizes the world’s best player.
Many greats have come and gone in football and it is such a cruel sport that since a lot of great players have featured in the same era, many have missed out on the crown that they would have probably had in any other era, while some may have been lucky enough to have been nominated/won it as well. It is also important to remember that the Ballon d’Or was awarded to only Europe’s best player up till 1995 so potentially, a lot of players missed out from 1956 to 1994.
Lionel Messi has won the most Ballons d’Or with 6, winning his last in 2019 to go ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo who is right behind him in 2nd. Next on the list is Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten – all of them have 3 each. German legend Franz Beckenbauer, former Brazilian striker Ronaldo, Alfredo di Stefano, Kevin Keegan, and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge complete the list of multiple winners with 2 each.
While the last decade or so has been all about Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, the Ballon d’Or has sprung up some surprise winners, which by no means, takes away from them being deserving but they were not the names you may have expected to be on the list of the Best Player in the World at a point in time. Here are some of the surprising Ballon d’Or winners.
1995 – George Weah
George Weah won the Ballon d’Or in 1995 – the first year of the award being opened to non-Europeans. Weah became the first winner of the award from Africa and outside Europe. Weah won the trophy ahead of German Jurgen Klinsmann who was the favourite to win it. The Liberian ended up with 144 points while Klinsmann finished with 108 in 2nd place. Former Finland captain, Jari Litmanen finished in 3rd for his incredible season at Ajax with 67 points.
What tipped the results in Weah’s favour was his incredible showing with Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League as he ended the tournament as the top scorer with 8 goals in just 11 games.
2000 – Luis Figo
Why Luis Figo being a Ballon d’Or winner comes as a surprise you ask? Well, that is simply because of who finished as the runner up in 2001. Zinedine Zidane finished 2nd in the 2000 Ballon d’Or race, which many people were unable to believe. Figo just about won the award with 197 points, just 16 ahead of Frenchman Zidane.
Zidane led France to the Euro 2000 victory and won the Player of the Tournament award. However, Juventus did not have a good showing in the UEFA Champions League, which is probably a reason as to why Figo pipped him in the Ballon d’Or race. Figo was instrumental in Barcelona’s run to the Champions League semifinals and Portugal’s success in Euro 2000 as they made the semifinals there as well.
Many are still unsure as to how the Portuguese won the best player award and believe that “Zizou” was robbed of his second Ballon d’Or.
2019 – Lionel Messi’s 6th Ballon d’Or’
No one questions Lionel Messi’s greatness and the fact that he is one of the two greatest players in the modern era and one of the best to ever play the game, but the 2019 victory came as quite the surprise given that Liverpool central defender, Virgil van Dijk had a season for the ages.
Liverpool won the UEFA Champions League for the 6th time and finished just behind Manchester City in the Premier League. He was the key influence in Liverpool’s success and becoming a mammoth team again in England and Europe.
However, Messi’s stats seemed to have please a lot of voters that worked in his favour as he just edged out van Dijk by 7 points beating him 686-679. Messi had 46 goals for club and country in all competitions. He also had 17 assists to go along with that.
What is funny though is that Messi’s Barcelona lost to Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League semifinals, but he did finish as the competition’s top-scorer with 12 goals in 10 games. He also led Barcelona to the La Liga title so that worked in his favour.
Unfortunately, goalscoring will always have a higher weightage than clean sheets so van Dijk seemed destined to miss out on the Ballon d’Or. It was more surprising because the Dutchman did win the FIFA – The Best award before the announcement of the Ballon d’Or.