2008-2021 Ballon d'Or winners if Messi & Ronaldo didn't exist

It could have been Lewandowski
It could have been Lewandowski / Aurelien Meunier/GettyImages

The Ballon d'Or is the most prestigious individual award in football, and over the past decade it has been dominated by just two men: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The pair have won 12 of the past 13 iterations of the award, with Luka Modric - who was crowned in 2018 - the only player who has managed to break the duopoly.

Over the years Messi's and Ronaldo's unwillingness to share has resulted in some legendary players missing out on their special moment.

Here is who would have won the Ballon d'Or if these two trophy-hogs didn't exist.

1. Fernando Torres - 2008

Fernando Torres
Torres helped Spain win the Euros in 2008 / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

Before he was broken by an ill-fated move to Chelsea, Fernando Torres was one of the best strikers in the world.

2008 was a particularly good year with Torres scoring for fun for Liverpool and forming an important part of the Spain team that won Euro 2008.

2. Xavi - 2009

Barcelona's midfielder Xavi Hernandez ce
The pass master / LLUIS GENE/GettyImages

Pep Guardiola's arrival as Barcelona coach in 2008 was one of the best things that ever happened to Xavi.

The midfielder kicked on massively in 2009, helping his side secure a famous treble. He was perhaps even a bit unlucky to finish behind Ronaldo in third in that year's Ballon d'Or voting.

3. 2010 - Andres Iniesta

Andres Iniesta
Iniesta won Spain the World Cup / Jamie McDonald/GettyImages

This is the closest we came to seeing the Messi-Ronaldo axis broken up before 2018.

Iniesta - who helped Barcelona and Spain conquer the world in 2010 - finished just 5% behind La Pulga in the voting.

The other player on the podium? Xavi. Not a bad year for La Masia.

4. 2011 - Xavi

Xavi Hernandez
It was another incredible year for Xavi / Denis Doyle/GettyImages

2011 would have seen Xavi claim his second Ballon d'Or...if Messi and Ronaldo were not around, of course.

It was more of the same from the midfielder in 2011, with Barcelona securing a La Liga and Champions League double.

5. 2012 - Andres Iniesta

Andres Iniesta
Mad this guy never won the top prize / Jasper Juinen/GettyImages

It's that man again, Iniesta. The Spaniard's performances at Euro 2012 set him apart from the pack.

He won player of the tournament as Spain romped to their third successive major competition triumph.

6. 2013 - Franck Ribery

Franck Ribery
Ribery was consistently excellent / Lars Baron/GettyImages

By 2013 Spain's dominance over world football had begun to wane, and this was reflected in who came third in the Ballon d'Or voting.

That honour went to Franck Ribery, the star man in Bayern Munich's treble-winning side.

7. 2014 - Manuel Neuer

Manuel Neuer
Safe hands / Clive Rose/GettyImages

The 2014 Ballon d'Or might have had a German flavour too, if not for Messi and Ronaldo.

Sweeper keeper extraordinaire Manuel Neuer secured the bronze medal that year, thanks to some inspired displays for both Bayern and World Cup winners Germany.

8. 2015 - Neymar

Neymar seems extremely unlikely to ever win the Ballon d'Or / Laurence Griffiths/GettyImages

Never winning the Ballon d'Or haunts Neymar to this day, but in truth he's never been properly close to topping Messi and Ronaldo.

In 2015 he scored and assisted for fun as his side won the Champions League - yet still won just 7.86% of the vote.

9. 2016 - Antoine Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann
Griezmann lit up Euro 2016 / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

2016 was a strange year for football, what with Leicester triumphing in the Premier League and Portugal winning the Euros.

Antoine Griezmann thrived in this chaos, playing well enough to add a third-place Ballon d'Or trophy to his Euro 2016 player of the tournament gong.

10. 2017 - Neymar

Another missed opportunity for Neymar / Dean Mouhtaropoulos/GettyImages

Signing for PSG was supposed to be Neymar's route to Ballon d'Or glory - and it all started so well when he secured third place part way through his inaugural season with the club.

It's not gone well since then, though...

11. 2019 - Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk
What a man / Matthias Hangst/GettyImages

Few players have ever had such a dramatic, instant impact on a team than Virgil van Dijk on Liverpool.

It takes a lot for a defender to win the Ballon d'Or and the fact he finished just seven voting points behind 2019 winner Messi deserves huge credit.

12. 2021 - Robert Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski
He was overlooked in 2021 / Aurelien Meunier/GettyImages

After the 2020 award - which he was destined to win - was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, most were tipping Robert Lewandowski to scoop the Ballon d'Or in 2021.

It didn't happen, with Messi winning his seventh crown.

Lewandowski did at least secure the hastily-cobbled together Striker of the Year - because that isn't patronising in any way.

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