The Ballon d’Or is one of the most prestigious awards in world football.  The annual award is presented every year by the France Football magazine to the player deemed the best in men’s football in the past year. The French football writer Gabriel Hanot founded the award, and it was first given in 1956 to Stanley Matthews, an English player who played for Blackpool at the time, often considered one of the greatest dribblers of the ball the game has ever known. 2nd and 3rd place Ballon d’Or awards are also handed out every year. The selection process for deciding the nominations and the Ballon d’Or award is often hotly disputed every year, always bringing controversies and debates over players. Many fans across the globe feel as if the panel members blissfully overlook the performances of some of the most productive, highly talented footballers across the world, disagreeing with their choices. To learn more about the Ballon d’Or, what it is, and who the most awarded players are, carry on reading. 

Why is the Ballon d’Or So Important in Football

Winning the Ballon d’Or is unique as the reward symbolizes that a player is currently regarded as the best in the world. Initially, the Ballon d’Or was only awarded to players from nations across Europe, so it was formerly widely known as the ‘European Footballer of the Year Award.’ However, in 1995 the Ballon d’Or was expanded to include players from outside of Europe playing for European Clubs. A memorable moment came in 1995 when the Liberian Striker George Weah, then of AC Milan in Serie A, became the first-non-European to win the special award. 

Iconic Serial Winners of the Ballon d’Or 

To win the Ballon d’Or once is a great privilege and an honor for any player in world football. So, it’s particularly unique when a player is able to win the award multiple times, and it shows not just how highly they are rated not just by the deciding Panel but also by the global football community as a whole. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are modern-day magicians of the game who have managed to win a flabbergasting 7 and 5 Ballon d’Ors in their careers so far. The Argentine and the Portuguese attacker are number one and two when it comes to the players who have won the most Ballon d’Or awards. The Barcelona midfield maestro legend and current team manager Xavi recently defended Messi against critics claiming he was overrated by commenting that he deserved the 7th Ballon d’Or he was given in November 2021 and calling it “total justice.”

Other legends of the game who have won the Ballon d’Or on several occasions include Dutchmen Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, and Frenchmen Michel Platini, who have all won the award three times each. It may come as a surprise for those who remember him better as a failed manager of clubs in the English Premier League and for his stint as the coach of the England National Team. Still, Kevin Keegan was a skillful player in his day and won the Ballon d’Or two times in 1978 and 1979. 

How the Panel Decides on the Ballon d’Or Winner

Awarding the Ballon d’Or starts with the weekly French Football magazine initially coming up with a 30-player shortlist. Then the best sports journalists in the world are faced with nominating who they believe to be the five best football players in the world in the last year, and the top player out of this selection of five wins the Ballon d’Or award. 

The Ballon d’Or selection panel looks at three different types of criteria. Number one involves looking at individual and collective performances for their team. In the second criteria, the jury takes a look into the talent demonstrated by the player and whether they have upheld fair play in the game of football. Finally, they look at the bigger picture and the overall career the player has enjoyed. 

There are so many top talented footballers playing professionally across the world, so coming up with a Ballon d’Or winner can be a rather tough task for the Panel in some years. Football fans across social media sites such as Twitter love going on crazy rants and participating in passionate debates whenever the Ballon d’Or nominees are publicly announced. For instance, some pundits and supporters think it’s a disgrace that Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or for the 7th time instead of the Polish Bayern Munich Striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored 41 goals in 29 games in the 2020-2021 season in the Bundesliga. Some people feel the fans who watch the players in-person and on screens week-in, week-out would be in the best position to choose who should win the Ballon d’Or, as opposed to journalists. 

Even in 2022, the Ballon d’Or remains a highly coveted prestigious football award. Every professional footballer dreams of one day getting their hands on a Ballon d’Or trophy; it is undoubtedly a career achievement that winners should take immense pride in.