Ballon d'Or

Ballon d’Or: France Football’s Dream Team

Tom Gott
The Ballon d'Or is football's top prize
The Ballon d'Or is football's top prize / GABRIEL BOUYS/GettyImages
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As far as individual awards in football go, they don't come bigger than France Football's Ballon d'Or.

Given to the best player in the world each calendar year since 1956, the Ballon d'Or has been won by a veritable who's who of footballing greats.

The 2020 edition was cancelled because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, but that didn't stop France Football from revealing an 'all-time dream team' of Ballon d'Or winners - here's who made the cut from 140 elected journalists from around the world.


1. Goalkeeper - Lev Yashin

Lev Yashin
Yashin dominated Europe / -/GettyImages

Legendary Russian stopper Lev Yashin, the man known as 'the Black Spider' and widely heralded as one of the finest goalkeepers in history, received the nod in goal.

He won the Ballon d'Or in 1963 and was named the European Goalkeeper of the Year nine times between 1956 and 1966.

In 2019, France Football unveiled the Yashin Trophy, named in his honour and handed to the best goalkeeper in the world across the last year.


2. Defender - Cafu

Cafu
Cafu enjoyed lots of international success / -/GettyImages

Brazilian right-back Cafu never actually won the Ballon d'Or, but his status as one of the game's all-time greats cannot be disputed.

Winner of the 2002 World Cup, Cafu earned himself a respectable 15th-placed finish on the Ballon d'Or shortlist that year - not bad considering the award is infamously hard to win for defenders..

A Serie A winner with both Roma and AC Milan, Cafu added Champions League glory with the Rossoneri in 2007 and picked up no fewer than two World Cups with Brazil.


3. Defender - Franz Beckenbauer

Franz Beckenbauer
Beckenbauer made history as a defender / Alessandro Sabattini/GettyImages

As the only defender with two Ballon d'Or wins to his name (1972 and 1976), Franz Beckenbauer's place in this team is obvious.

Der Kaiser reinvented the idea of defending with his success in the sweeper role, in which he dominated for Bayern Munich between 1964 and 1977. Beckenbauer won four league titles and three European Cups with Bayern, before adding another title triumph with Hamburg later in his career.

On the international stage, he led Germany to victory at the 1972 European Championships and 1974 World Cup.


4. Defender - Paulo Maldini

Paolo Maldini
Maldini is a Milan legend / Etsuo Hara/GettyImages

Another of those never to have won the award, Paolo Maldini came close on a number of occasions.

He was third in 1994 and 2003, while he was the first defender to ever be shortlisted for the FIFA Player of the Year award in 1995.

Maldini racked up seven Serie A titles and five European Cups with Milan, establishing himself as an all-time great.


5. Midfielder - Xavi

Xavi Hernandez
Xavi was a pass master / David Ramos/GettyImages

A key cog of arguably the most dominant club side in history, Xavi did not need individual honours to prove his outrageous talent.

He came close to the Ballon d'Or twice. He finished third in both 2010 and 2011, with another Barcelona team-mate (who you just might see later in this list) pipping him to the prize.

Xavi was one of the greatest midfielders of his generation, and his tally of eight La Liga titles and four European Cups speaks volumes.


6. Midfielder - Lothar Matthaus

Lothar Matthaeus
Matthaus won the Ballon d'Or in 1990 / STAFF/GettyImages

No player has played at more World Cup's than Lothar Matthaus, who made it to five with Germany between 1982 and 1998.

After captaining his country to glory in 1990, Matthaus was awarded the Ballon d'Or, and he took home the World Player of the Year award 12 months later.

One of the most complete midfielders of all time, Matthaus was tough-tackling, yet graceful with a pass and ferocious with a shot. He could do it all.


7. Midfielder - Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona
Maradona won an honorary Ballon d'Or / El Grafico/GettyImages

The late Diego Maradona was something special, but his success in Ballon d'Or voting was penalised by an archaic rule that banned non-Europeans from winning the prize.

In 1995, when the rule was overturned to allow George Weah to win, Maradona's career was just coming to an end, but he was still given his own award to thank him for his services to football.

Had he been permitted to win earlier, there's no doubting that Maradona would have lifted the golden ball in 1986, when he led Argentina to World Cup glory.


8. Midfielder - Pele

Pele
Pele could have made Ballon d'Or history / -/GettyImages

It was a similar story for Pele, who had to settle for a Ballon d'Or Prix d'Honneur in 2014 as an acknowledgement of his dominance during his playing days.

When France Football overturned their rule in 1995, it was determined that Pele would have actually won seven Ballons d'Or, which would have made him the record holder.

That prize was kept from him, but Pele still won pretty much everything else you can imagine.


9. Forward - Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi
Messi has plenty of Ballons d'Or / Kristy Sparow/GettyImages

The current record holder, nobody has picked up more than the six Ballons d'Or lifted by Lionel Messi.

Just 22 when he picked up his first in 2009, Messi has kept the individual accolades coming. He won four on the bounce (another record) and also set the record for the highest winning margin in the trophy's history.

He's seen as one of the best to ever do it for a very good reason.


10. Forward - Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo has enjoyed a great rivalry with Messi / Power Sport Images/GettyImages

The only man to genuinely threaten Messi's modern legacy, Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger to Ballons d'Or either.

He interchanged the award with Messi, winning it in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 - fair rewards for his league title successes across England, Spain and Italy.

In 2021, Ronaldo broke the record for all-time international goals, and continues to rack up numbers at an unbelievable rate.


11. Forward - Ronaldo

Ronaldo Nazario
They don't come much better than Ronaldo / Claudio Villa/GettyImages

Once the only Ronaldo there was to know, the Brazilian phenomenon is heralded by many as the greatest striker the world has ever seen.

Injuries weren't kind to Ronaldo, whose peak ended just as quickly as it started, but when he was on it, he was on it. There wasn't a defender around who could stop him.

Ronaldo picked up the Ballon d'Or in 1997, becoming the youngest player to ever win it at the age of 21, and he added a second in 2002 after guiding Brazil to World Cup glory.

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