Ballon d’Or: The Nevermen Of The Golden Ball

The Ballon d’Or has been handed out for 2008 and as is the case every year, and with everything football, whenever there’s a winner, there has to be a loser.’s KS Leong takes a look at some of the best players past and present never to have won the coveted gong.

This year’s Ballon d’Or race has been without doubt one of the most talked about in history and certainly one of the most hotly contested.

And for those who have grown sick of hearing the names ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’ or ‘Lionel Messi’ over the past few months, you can now rest easy… although you might want to brace yourself for some gloating in the coming weeks.

But down the years, there have been many great players who were not afforded the opportunity to boast and revel in their Golden Ball triumph because they missed out on the accolade for one reason or another.

Here’s a look at some of the best players over the past 10 years never to have won the coveted prize. Keep in mind, however, that some of these players can still very well go on to win it in the coming years, regardless of their current age. After all, anything can happen in football.


Gianluigi Buffon (Italy/Juventus)

Long regarded and still accepted as the best goalkeeper in the world today. Like many of the astonishing acrobats who fly between the sticks week in, week out, Buffon has never been highly favoured for the Ballon d’Or, despite his countless other individual awards including six Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year titles.

He did pick up the Silver Ball in 2006 after helping Italy win the World Cup that same year, losing out marginally to teammate and countryman, Fabio Cannavaro. But you just get the feeling that if he was to finish runner-up to anyone, he would rather lose to his good friend than to someone else.

Oliver Kahn (Germany/Bayern Munich/Retired)

The Bayern Munich giant was perhaps the only man to rival Buffon for the title of best goalkeeper in the world over the past decade. Like Gigi, he has an overflowing cabinet full of other individual accolades but he never got his massive hands on the big prize.

He has, however nabbed third place twice (2001, 2002) and there is little or no argument that he would have been the first goalie to bag the Golden Ball since Lev Yashin in 1963 had he led Germany to World Cup glory in 2002.

Peter Schmeichel (Denmark/Manchester United/Retired)

Before there was the lunatic Ollie Kahn, there was the barking mad Peter Schmeichel. Even though he was at the end of his prime by the late 90’s, he still played a significant role in helping Manchester United to the famous ‘Treble’ in 1999. But he had the misfortune of playing at a time when goalkeepers simply were not considered Ballon d’Or material.

Famous for his miraculous saves as well as the propensity to go ballistic on his own defenders, the big Dane was, however, voted the best goalkeeper ever – ahead of greats such as Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks – in a public poll organised by Reuters in 2001.


Paolo Maldini (Italy/AC Milan)

It’s criminal how one of the best defenders in the game, if not the best, has not only never won the Ballon d’Or, but he’s never even really come close. The only times he placed in the top three was in 1994 and 2003 but even then, he was a long way away from eventual winners, Hristo Stoichkov and Pavel Nedved.

Despite a career spanning two and a half decades – and counting – the now 40 year old has, oddly, won very few individual honours. In fact, he has only once been voted Serie A Defender of the Year (2003) and his lack of international success could explain why the Golden Ball is missing from his collection.

Roberto Carlos (Brazil/Real Madrid/Fenerbahçe)

The Brazilian defender was widely recognised as the best left-back in the world during his prime from the late 90’s up until the early parts of 2000. It was thought that his flair and attacking penchant would help him join the very exclusive club of defenders/defensive players to bag the award, but he would often be overshadowed by someone else.

A good case in point would be in 2002, when he had the bad luck of going up against the comeback story of the century, Ronaldo, and had to eventually settle for the Silver Ball.

Cafu (Brazil/Roma/AC Milan/Retired)

The right-sided version of Roberto Carlos and the Brazilian equivalent of Paolo Maldini. But, unlike the duo, he has never even made the top three of the Ballon d’Or classification.

With so many mind-boggling attacking talents in the Seleção decade after decade, it’s little wonder why he never really stood a decent chance, despite captaining his country to the 2002 World Cup.


David Beckham (England/Manchester United/Real Madrid)

Controversial choice? Well, there’s one in every list. Whether you want to call him over-rated, a mere marketing machine, the best crosser of the ball or the best free-kick taker, there’s no denying that his right foot has been the saviour for both club and country on many occasions.

But to be crowned the best footballer of the year as a midfielder, a player needs to dazzle fans and critics with fantasy-like skill, flair and flamboyance: everything that’s missing from Beckham’s game. He did come in second behind Rivaldo in that glorious treble-winning year in 1999.

Fernando Redondo (Argentina/ Real Madrid/Retired)

A sharp contrast to Beckham, Redondo was one of the most under-rated midfielders during his time. The Argentine only really gained worldwide acclaim after his outrageous heroics for Real Madrid throughout the 1999/00 Champions League campaign.

But he is still considered one of the best all-round midfielders and one of the pioneering modern deep-lying playmakers in today’s game. However, he was constantly eclipsed by the much bigger superstars in Argentina’s national team and at Madrid.  

Michael Ballack (Germany/Bayer Leverkusen/Bayern Munich/Chelsea)

There are still many who are not convinced that Ballack is the real deal: never consistent enough and never can quite deliver in the big games in the big stage. He may be a three-time German Footballer of the Year (2002, 2003, 2005) but he has more runners-up medals than any other player in football today: 13 in total, the same number that he always wears at the back of his jerseys.

He still remains one of the most imposing midfielders today but at 32 years of age, his time could very well be up and his chance for Ballon d’Or success over, especially with more and more young midfield wizards cropping up.


Raul (Spain/Real Madrid)

The Golden Boy of Spain has more goalscoring records than any other current, active striker. The five-time La Liga Best Player of the Season also has more winners’ medal at club level (16 in total) than almost any other footballer. He was at his best during his early to mid-20’s and many were left stunned when he lost out to Michael Owen in the 2001 edition, the only time he was really in serious contention to win it.

There have always been enormous expectations placed on Raul to deliver and perhaps his failure to replicate his unrivalled club success at international level with Spain is the main reason behind his Ballon d’Or disappointment.

Alessandro Del Piero (Italy/Juventus)

Like Raul, Del Piero is now in the twilight of his career, although he is currently playing some of his best football since his early days. But, even more shockingly than Raul, he has never once placed amongst the top three European Footballers of the Year. He also has a staggering number of honours and silverware but only once has he been named Italian Footballer of the Year (1998).

If the two recent most editions of the Ballon d’Or have taught us anything, it is that the power of youth rules the day. But if there’s one player over the age of 30 who can still win it based on present form, it would be Pinturicchio.

Francesco Totti (Italy/Roma)

Another Italian player who has been grossly overlooked time and again but, admittedly, the Romanista is a rather mysterious figure when it comes to international football. At club level, Totti is unsurpassed but for one reason or another, he would flop at the big stage with Italy.

He was sent off in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, infamously spat at a rival at Euro 2004, and, after a lengthy three-month injury in the lead up to the 2006 World Cup, he was unable to leave his mark on the tournament, despite his country lifting the trophy. Curiously, he has been voted Italian Footballer of the Year more times than Del Piero (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007).

Thierry Henry (France/Arsenal/Barcelona)

Another player who’s seemingly done playing his best football, yet he was never recognised for his phenomenal talent and contributions when he was at his peak. His best Ballon d’Or performance to date was a second-placed finish in 2003, losing out to Pavel Nedved.

An undisputed force at his former club, Arsenal, he was the heart and soul of the team but with the French national side, there was no question who would outshine him in every major international tournament.


Now that the 2008 awards have been handed out, there comes a new class of inductees. The question for them is, will they ever get a better chance of claiming the Ballon d’Or than this year? Will the disappointment spur them on in the future and make them grow even hungrier? Or will they join the list of some of the best players never to become European Footballer of the Year?

Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona)

Third in 2007, second in 2008. Any guesses where he will place in 2009? There’s no doubt that he’s inching closer and closer to the holy grail and even less doubt that he is an extra-terrestrial talent, but ‘The Messiah’ still has to lead either his club or country to a major title. Barcelona look good this season for the 2008/09 Champions League, but failing that, there’s always the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to look forward to.

Fernando Torres (Spain/Liverpool)

Despite his goalscoring exploits last season – overshadowed only by a certain Cristiano Ronaldo – you just get the feeling that El Nino is only getting warmed up. He looks certain to stay at Anfield and keep scoring goals for the Kop for years and years to come, but like Henry, he needs to demonstrate that strike ratio for his country before he can attain individual acclaim.  

Iker Casillas (Spain/Real Madrid)

Only managed fourth place in this year’s race, despite being touted as one of the favourites at one stage. 2008 could very well have been Saint Iker’s one and only chance to win the Ballon d’Or. Who knows when Real Madrid will have as solid a defence as they had last season and who knows when he will guide Spain to another major international title.

Xavi Hernandez (Spain/Barcelona)

Rounded up this year’s top five. Although he is creeping closer and closer to 30 years of age, Xavi in fact is only getting better and better. A player like him who relies on vision and intelligence instead of speed and flair will only improve as they continue to mature. If he can maintain his present form, 2009 could be his year, although like many in the past – and in this article – he might have the misfortune of going up against an even better player in his own team in the form of Messi.

As with any list, there will be a few names missing from the catalogue. But that’s where you, the readers, come in. Who did we leave out? Who do you think are some of the best players never to have won/yet to win the Ballon d’Or?

KS Leong,