Lionel Messi added a sixth Ballon d’Or to his collection on Monday night. With the Argentinian now one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, naturally debate was raging about which of the pair is the greatest of all time. However, what about the world class players who have never won the trophy? We take a look at five of the best players never to win a Ballon d’Or.
The greatest foreign import ever to grace the Premier League? Quite possibly. Thierry Henry sits fourth in the list of all time Premier League goalscorers with 175 goals from 254 appearances across his eight year spell at Arsenal.
His main rival for that honour, Sergio Aguero, will surely overtake him this season, having scored 173 goals in 250 appearances. However, whilst the Argentine has a fine collection of domestic trophies with Manchester City, Henry did it with Barcelona and France as well.
Having been part of the Arsenal’s famous invincibles side, he finished his career with a haul of 2x Premier Leagues, 2x FA Cups, 2x La Ligas, 1x Copa Dey Rey, 1x Champions League, 1 x European Championship and 1x World Cup.
Henry came close to winning the Ballon d’Or on two occasions, finishing second to Pavel Nedved in 2003 and then third behind the Italian defensive duo of Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon in 2006. Which brings us to…
Considered by many to be the finest defender of all time, the Italian never quite did enough to win the Ballon d’Or.
A one club man throughout his highly decorated playing career, Maldini made his AC Milan debut in 1984 and carried on right through the 90s, when Serie A ruled the world, before finally retiring a staggering 25 years later in 2009. During that time he won a ridiculous 7x Serie A titles, 6x Italian Cups and 5x Champions Leagues.
He finished third in the Ballon d’Or standings on two occasions, 1994 and again in 2003, so what prevented him from winning the big prize?
For one thing it is traditionally hard for defensive players to win. In fact since 1990, Matthias Sammer (1996) and Fabio Cannovaro (2006) are the only two who managed to win the award and the former spent half of his career playing as a midfielder.
Additionally, having finished as runners-up and losing semi-finalists in each of the World Cup and European Championships, he didn’t receive the boost of international honours. However, he is undoubtedly the greatest defender not to win a Ballon d’Or.
By all rights Xavi should also be on this list but the pairs careers were so heavily entwined that it effectively would have meant listing the same achievements twice.
Iniesta gets the edge owing to his incredible performance in the 2010 World Cup for Spain when he virtually dragged them to glory himself, including scoring the winning goal in the final.
Not a flair player like others on this list, he was a metronome in the heart of midfield during the golden eras of Barcelona and Spain and a firm driver of tiki-taka football. Finishing in the top 3 of the Ballon d’Or on two occasions, 2010 and 2012, Iniesta won 9x La Liga titles, 13x Spanish Cups, 4x Champions Leagues, 2x European Championships and 1x World Cup.
Undeniably one of the most technically gifted players to grace the game. Never won the Ballon d’Or though.
He’s not everyone’s cup of tea and he seems to deliberately get injured every year just before his sister’s birthday which is weird. However, you can’t deny that Neymar is an incredibly talented player.
He has suffered more than any other at the hands of the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly in recent years, finishing third behind the pair in both 2015 and 2017.
Neymar actually left Barcelona for Paris Saint Germain in a bid to escape the Argentinian’s shadow but his plan hasn’t worked and the move, as well as sister-inspired injuries, have set his career back in recent years.
Still just 27 and with Messi and Ronaldo into their 30s, there is still time for him to get back on track and land that elusive Ballon d’Or but the Brazilian desperately needs a move in addition to some international success.
Staggeringly not only did Andrea Pirlo never win the Ballon d’Or, he never even finished in the top three.
The mercurial Italian playmaker is one of Italy’s most famous players, having had spells at Brescia, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus as well as notching up 116 caps for his country. He won 6x Serie A titles, 2x Italian Cups, 2x Champions Leagues and inspired Italy to the 2006 World Cup but it just wasn’t enough.
Like Iniesta before him, Pirlo wasn’t exactly a flair player and you would struggle to list a series of sensational statistics to make his case. However, in the minds of football purists who were in love with the way that players such as he, Iniesta and Paul Scholes could orchestrate a game from the centre of midfield, he was up there with the best.