Remembering the greatest Ballon d’Or winners

An award which is presented to the world by French magazine France Football, winning the Ballon d’Or is widely regarded as the ultimate individual prize in the game of football.

This year’s winner, Lionel Messi, is one of the game’s greatest ever talents, but he isn’t alone in wowing audiences over the years. In fact, the beautiful game has been treated to some truly magnificent professionals since the award was established in 1956.

After all, to win the Ballon d’Or you have to be performing at the highest level on a consistent basis. Lionel Messi has done exactly that, especially after finally managing to guide Argentina to a momentous Copa América victory in July.

Messi, like many before him, is a player who commands attention given his unique ability. His potential Champions League last-16 battle with Cristiano Ronaldo, which didn’t materialise given the draw chaos which you can read about in MansionBet’s Champions League blog, would have been an occasion to savour for modern football fans but, in truth, followers of the beautiful game have had plenty to feast on already.

It’s some of the former heroes that we’re focussing on in particular, especially as many of them helped inspire the stars of today, including the aforementioned Lionel Messi. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the greatest Ballon d’Or winners of all-time below.

Franz Beckenbauer
An undoubted legend of the game, Franz Beckenbauer goes down in history as the first defender to win the Ballon d’Or, not just the once, but twice. The German stopper won the award in 1972 and 1976, which coincided with a hugely successful period in Bayern Munich’s history, with the German giants managing to win three consecutive European Cups between 1974 and 1976.

Beckenbauer was also a mainstay in the Germany side, helping the national team to victory at the 1974 World Cup and the 1972 UEFA European Championship. Credited with inventing the sweeper role, Franz Beckenbauer is one of the greatest defenders the game has ever seen.

Ronaldo Nazario

Arguably the best striker to have graced football, Ronaldo Nazario managed to win the Ballon d’Or twice during an illustrious career that was devastatingly hampered by injury. Despite Ronaldo’s issues physically, the delightful Brazilian was a joy to watch and managed to achieve a great deal of success at Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

In fact, the Brazilian legend won the prestigious award for the first time at the age of 21, making him the youngest Ballon d’Or winner in football history as a result. Alongside registering 47 goals in 49 matches for Barcelona, Ronaldo played a key role in Brazil’s World Cup win in 2002, landing the Golden Boot award with eight goals in the competition and showcasing his immense skill and finishing ability throughout. Put simply, Ronaldo had it all.

Johan Cruyff

A maestro with a ball at his feet, Johan Cruyff became the first Dutch player to win three Ballon d’Ors, bringing them home in 1971, 1973 and 1974. A player who epitomised Ajax’s revolutionary “total football” philosophy, Cruyff’s exploits have led him to earn the label as one of the most influential footballers to have played the game. His ability on the ball and all-around intelligence on the football pitch made him a truly rare professional, with his legacy still going strong at the likes of Ajax and Barcelona today.

Kevin Keegan
A Ballon d’Or winner in both 1978 and 1979, Kevin Keegan’s ability perhaps goes under the radar in today’s modern world, but the England striker was a talented forward. The first English player to win the award since Bobby Charlton in 1966, which is certainly no mean feat, Keegan won the Ballon d’Or after earning the Golden Ball prize playing for Hamburg in Germany, which helped fire them to title success in 1979.

This achievement, coupled with successes at both Liverpool, Southampton and Newcastle, helped Keegan become of the best attackers in his time.

Other Ballon d’Or winners worth mentioning are Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Alfredo Di Stefano, Marco van Basten and Michel Platini.