The 2022 Ballon d’Or ceremony is right around the corner with Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema emerging as the clear favourite to take home the award.
The Frenchman enjoyed a stellar 2021/22 campaign which saw Los Blancos secure a memorable double under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti. Benzema was the heartbeat of the side, with his 27 La Liga goals and 15 Champions League strikes thrusting Real to glory in both competitions.
The 34-year-old is the understandable favourite for the crown, but France Football have a knack of surprising the masses on awards night.
Here are some instances in Ballon d’Or history when, perhaps, the rightful victor went unrecognised.
Voting points: 44
Achievements: La Liga, European Cup, Small Club World Cup, Pichichi Trophy.
1956 Ballon d’Or winner: Stanley Matthews
France Football crowned Stanley Matthews as the first Ballon d’Or victor in 1956, but the award should’ve gone to the great Alfredo Di Stefano. Matthews is an English icon, but this crowning felt more like a lifetime achievement award. He was 41 at the time, and had just produced a distinctly underwhelming campaign with Blackpool, a side that didn’t lift any major honours that year.
On the contrary, Di Stefano was just arriving at his peak as he inspired Real Madrid to victory in the first-ever European Cup final. In Spain, Di Stefano scored 29 times in 37 games and was undoubtedly the best player in the world at the time.
He would go on to win the award twice in his illustrious career.
Voting points: 143
Achievements: KNVB Cup, Johan Cruyff Shield, FIFA World Player of the Year, World Soccer Magazine Player of the Year.
1996 Ballon d’Or winner: Matthias Sammer
1996 was the tightest outcome in Ballon d’Or history as Germany’s Matthias Sammer pipped the electric Ronaldo to the award by one voting point.
Sammer was excellent at the back for Germany as they won the 1996 European Championship, and the libero also led Borussia Dortmund to their second consecutive Bundesliga title. This was undoubtedly one of the finest calendar years ever produced by a defender, but Sammer was no Ronaldo.
The Brazilian earned a record-breaking move to Barcelona midway through the year before embarking on a majestic start to the 1996/97 season which saw him take home the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Ronaldo’s sole season in Catalonia was, arguably, the most breathtaking in La Liga history.
Voting points: 128
Achievements: FA Cup, FIFA Confederations Cup, Onze d’Or, FIFA Confederations Cup Golden Ball & Golden Shoe, PFA Team of the Year, PFA Players’ Player of the Year, FWA Footballer of the Year, UEFA Team of the Year, French Player of the Year.
2003 Ballon d’Or winner: Pavel Nedved
This has to be the biggest robbery in Ballon d’Or history. It’s criminal that Thierry Henry never got his hands on the illustrious award, and the closest he came was in 2003.
The Frenchman, who once again lit up the Premier League with Arsenal, was pipped to the post by Juventus’ Pavel Nedved. The Czech superstar enjoyed an excellent year in Turin, notching 28 goal contributions in Serie A and the Champions League as the Bianconeri lifted both titles.
However, Nedved was suspended for the Champions League final against AC Milan, and his numbers pale in comparison to Henry’s. The Arsenal hitman scored 42 times and added 26 assists, breaking the single-season Premier League assist record in the process.
% of vote: 14.46
Achievements: Serie A, Champions League, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana, FIFA Club World Cup, World Cup runner-up, UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year, UEFA Team of the Year, FIFPro World XI.
2010 Ballon d’Or winner: Lionel Messi
Wesley Sneijder is one of three midfielders that, perhaps, should’ve pipped Lionel Messi to the 2010 Ballon d’Or. Messi’s Barcelona teammates, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, enjoyed incredible years and finished second and third respectively in the final voting.
Sneijder, meanwhile, finished fourth, but many feel that the Dutchman was the deserving winner.
He was the creative hub of Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning Inter and the heartbeat of an unfancied Dutch side at the World Cup in South Africa that lost in the final. Sneijder outperformed Messi in both of the competitions they competed in that year, yet the award went to the majestic Argentine.
% of vote: 23.36
Achievements: Bundesliga, Champions League, DFB-Pokal, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, French Player of the Year, UEFA Team of the Year, UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, Bundesliga Team of the Season, FIFPro World XI.
2013 Ballon d’Or winner: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo was incredibly productive in 2013, scoring 69 times, but his goals didn’t actually amount to much as Real Madrid finished second in La Liga and were knocked out of the Champions League in the semi-finals.
Ribery, on the other hand, played a starring role for a treble-winning Bayern. FC Hollywood were the best team on the planet and Ribery was their best player, so his 2013 Ballon d’Or snub was certainly unjust.
Voting points: 679
Achievements: Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, PFA Players’ Player of the Year, PFA Team of the Year, UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award, UEFA Champions League Defender of the Season, UEFA Team of the Year, FIFPro World XI.
2019 Ballon d’Or winner: Lionel Messi
Just three defenders have won the Ballon d’Or – Franz Beckenbauer, Sammer, Fabio Cannavaro – and Virgil van Dijk should’ve become the fourth in 2019.
2019 Van Dijk is, arguably, the most dominant iteration of a centre-back we’ve seen in the Premier League and his persistently stout performances helped Liverpool to Champions League glory.
The Dutchman was far and away the best defender in the world, and he came very close to beating out Messi for the 2019 Ballon d’Or. The Argentine was once again spectacular, but he failed to get Barcelona over the line in Europe – memorably succumbing to Virgil’s Reds in the semi-finals.
Van Dijk’s all-conquering 2019 deserved to conclude with a Ballon d’Or victory.
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema is the odds-on favourite to win the 2022 Ballon d’Or. The Frenchman led Los Blancos to La Liga and Champions League glory in 2021/22 as he scored 42 goals in those two competitions.
Benzema’s teammate, Vinicius Junior, as well as Robert Lewandowski, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane are the other leading contenders.
Seven-time winner, and the current holder of the Ballon d’Or, Lionel Messi was not nominated for the 2022 award.
With the Ballon d’Or now recognising a player’s achievements over the season as opposed to the calendar year, Messi simply didn’t do enough during his debut campaign at Paris Saint-Germain to earn a nomination.
The arguable GOAT scored just six times in Ligue 1 and five times in the Champions League as Les Parisiens failed to achieve their ultimate goal of European glory once again.