With Lionel Messi set on winning his record-setting 8th Ballon d'Or today – his third in three decades — let's look at the greatest players who should have won it. Below are five players who suffered one of the biggest robberies in football. Will Erling Haaland, with 71 goal/assist contributions and a Man City treble, soon be added to this list?
Paolo Maldini, 1994
Arguably one of the greatest defenders ever, the Italian spent his entire career at AC Milan, winning seven Serie A and five Champions League titles. The Ballon d'Or, however, eluded him.
He should have taken it home at least once, especially in 1994, when he finished in third place. But Brazil beat Italy in the World Cup finals, and even then, Baggio might have taken the crown.
Should've Won: In 1994, Hristo Stoichkov won the Ballon d'Or.
The all-time top scorer for Real Madrid until Cristiano Ronaldo broke his record, Raúl won six La Liga and three UEFA Champions League titles. But during 2001, he was stellar, guiding Real Madrid to La Liga and winning the UCL and La Liga Golden Boot.
“It's a scandal that Raul didn't win the Ballon d'Or,” Francesco Totti once said.
Should've Won: In 2001, Michael Owen won the Ballon d'Or instead. Owen won the FA Cup, Europa, and EFL Cup for Liverpool that season.
Robert Lewandowski, 2020
Can we right this wrong? Robert Lewandowski was the Ballon d'Or winner for 2020 until Covid canceled the ceremony. He scored 55 goals in 47 games that season, guiding Bayern Munich to Champions League, Bundesliga, and DFB-Pokal triumph.
The same could be said for the following season, in which Lewy was equally prolific. However, Messi won for his heroics in Argentina's Copa America victory.
Should've Won: In 2020, but COVID canceled the ceremony.
Thierry Henry, 2003
The closest Thierry Henry came to winning the Ballon d'Or was during the 2002-03 season. Arsenal's legendary striker scored 32 goals and notched 28 assists that season. Nedved achieved half the stats but starred in some amazing individual displays for Juventus, which lost the UCL final that season.
“It is what it is. You can't debate opinions,” said Henry reminiscing in 2023.
Should've Won: In 2003, but Pavel Nedved took it home.
Iniesta and Xavi, 2010
Iniesta and Xavi were two of three Barcelona players who finished in the top three voting for the 2010 Ballon d'Or. But they lost out to teammate Lionel Messi, who tallied 60 goals and assists the prior season.
Interestingly, Iniesta and Xavi also won the 201 World Cup, arguably the same reason Messi is winning the 2023 version.
Should've Won: 2010, but Messi 🤷
Gianluigi Buffon, 2006
Winning the Ballon d'Or as a goalkeeper will always be a stretch. Lev Yashin is the only goalie with that record under his name.
But if it were going to be given to a second goalkeeper, Buffon had to be in the running. The Italian kept five clean sheets while guiding Italy to the 2006 World Cup. Teammate Fabio Cannavaro won the award, while Buffon finished second.
Should've Won: 2006