World Cup Golden Ball Lionel MessiGetty/GOAL

World Cup Golden Ball: Full winners list & how best player award is decided

Winning the World Cup requires a team effort, with knockout football demanding cohesion and togetherness of a group. However, inevitably, individuals shine, particularly the supremely talented, and FIFA acknowledges this with an array of awards.

Among those awards is the Golden Ball, which is reserved for the individual who has been identified as the best player at the tournament.

GOAL brings you everything you need to know about the Golden Ball, the full winners list and how it is decided.

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What is the World Cup Golden Ball?

The World Cup Golden Ball is the award given to the best player at a particular World Cup tournament.

As well as a Golden Ball, FIFA awards the Silver Ball to the player deemed second best and a Bronze Ball to the third-best player.

The award is currently sponsored by the German sportswear manufacturer adidas and the French sports magazine France Football.

World Cup Golden Ball winners list

World CupGolden BallSilver BallBronze Ball
2022Lionel Messi (Argentina)Kylian Mbappe (France)Luka Modric (Croatia)
2018Luka Modric (Croatia)Eden Hazard (Belgium)Antoine Griezmann (France
2014Lionel Messi (Argentina)Thomas Muller (Germany)Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
2010Diego Forlan (Uruguay)Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)David Villa (Spain)
2006Zinedine Zidane (France)Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
2002Oliver Kahn (Germany)Ronaldo (Brazil)Hong Myung-bo (South Korea)
1998Ronaldo (Brazil)Davor Suker (Croatia)Lilian Thuram (France)
1994Romario (Brazil)Roberto Baggio (Italy)Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)
1990Salvatore Schillaci (Italy)Lothar Matthaus (West Germany)Diego Maradona (Argentina)
1986Diego Maradona (Argentina)Harald Schumacher (West Germany)Preben Elkjaer (Denmark)
1982Paolo Rossi (Italy)Falcao (Brazil)Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

The World Cup Golden Ball award has officially been handed out since the 1982 World Cup in Spain, with Italy legend Paolo Rossi winning it on that occasion.

Since then it has been won by some of the best players in football history, including Diego Maradona (1986), Ronaldo (1998), Zinedine Zidane (2006) and Lionel Messi (2014 & 2022).

The complete list of World Cup Golden Ball winners can be seen in the table above, which also includes the winners of the Silver Ball and the Bronze Ball.

In 1978, the unofficial World Cup best player award was given to Argentina hero Mario Kempes.

Who has won most World Cup Golden Balls?

Lionel Messi has, after finally getting his hands on world football's biggest prize, become the first man to win the Golden Ball on two occasions.

Having collected the award after suffering final heartache in 2014, the Argentine talisman had multiple reasons to celebrate at Qatar 2022 as he inspired his country to a first global crown since the days of Diego Maradona.

Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn is the only goalkeeper to win the award, after picking it up in 2002, with goalkeepers now also having a category of their own in the form of the Golden Glove.

How is the Golden Ball winner decided?

The winner of the World Cup Golden Ball is decided by the FIFA Technical Study Group, which draws up a shortlist, and members of the international media, who cast votes based on the players in the shortlist.

Naturally, factors such as overall individual performance, importance to a team and team performance come into play, as well as stats such as goals, assists and clean sheets.

What other World Cup awards does FIFA give?

As well as the Golden Ball (and Silver, Bronze Balls), FIFA gives awards at the World Cup for:

  • World Cup Golden Boot (top scorer)
  • World Cup Golden Glove (best goalkeeper)
  • FIFA Young Player Award (best young player)
  • FIFA Fair Play Award (team that advanced to second round with best record of fair play)

Previously, FIFA also announced an 'All-Star' team of the tournament, but since 2010, this has not been the case.

Is the World Cup Golden Ball different to the Ballon d'Or?

The World Cup Golden Ball is a completely different award to the Ballon d'Or, though the latter translates from French into English as 'Golden Ball'.

As the name suggests, the World Cup Golden Ball is confined to players who are competing at a given World Cup and the award is subsequently given out every four years.

The Ballon d'Or, on the other hand, is an annual individual award which takes into consideration a player's performance over the course of a classic season. Until 2022, the award was based on performance over a calendar year.