Ballon d’Or Winners (1956 – 2021)

Like any other competitive sport, soccer offers certain rewards for players who are judged to have put in great levels of performance over the course of a season or a calendar year.

And one of the most prestigious individual awards that a player could receive is the Ballon d’Or trophy.

The Ballon d’Or was ingeniously devised by France Football Magazine, and it quickly grew in recognition to become the world’s most widely recognised soccer award.

From 1956 all the way through to 1995, this prize was referred to as the European Footballer of the Year award, specifically because eligibility was strictly limited to European players who represented European teams.

However, a rule change in 2007 meant that any player could compete to win this trophy.

This was a big step forward in terms of inclusivity, as players from all over the world were afforded the opportunity to compete for the sport’s most prestigious individual honor.

Later on in 2009, the award was merged with FIFA’s very own Player of the Year prize to become the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

But that partnership between France Football and FIFA ended in 2016, which prompted the magazine to revive the Ballon d’Or prize.

With that bit of background detailed, let’s look at the historic winners of this award.

Check out the table below:

2021Lionel MessiArgentinaParis Saint Germain
2020Not Awarded--
2019Lionel MessiArgentinaFC Barcelona
2018Luka ModricCroatiaReal Madrid
2017Cristiano RonaldoPortugalReal Madrid
2016Cristiano RonaldoPortugalReal Madrid
2015Lionel MessiArgentinaFC Barcelona
2014Cristiano RonaldoPortugalReal Madrid
2013Cristiano RonaldoPortugalReal Madrid
2012Lionel MessiArgentinaFC Barcelona
2011Lionel MessiArgentinaFC Barcelona
2010Lionel MessiArgentinaFC Barcelona
2009Lionel MessiArgentinaFC Barcelona
2008Cristiano RonaldoPortugalManchester United
2007KakáBrazilAC Milan
2006Fabio CannavaroItalyReal Madrid
2005RonaldinhoBrazilFC Barcelona
2004Andriy ShevchenkoUkraineAC Milan
2003Pavel NedvědCzech RepublicJuventus
2002RonaldoBrazilReal Madrid
2001Michael OwenEnglandLiverpool
2000Luís FigoPortugalReal Madrid
1999RivaldoBrazilFC Barcelona
1998Zinedine ZidaneFranceJuventus
1997RonaldoBrazilInter Milan
1996Matthias SammerGermanyBorussia Dortmund
1995George WeahLiberiaAC Milan
1994Hristo StoichkovBulgariaFC Barcelona
1993Roberto BaggioItalyJuventus
1992Marco van BastenNetherlandsAC Milan
1991Jean-Pierre PapinFranceOlympique de Marseille
1990Lothar MatthäusGermanyInter Milan
1989Marco van BastenNetherlandsAC Milan
1988Marco van BastenNetherlandsAC Milan
1987Ruud GullitNetherlandsAC Milan
1986Igor BelanovSoviet UnionDynamo Kyiv
1985Michel PlatiniFranceJuventus
1984Michel PlatiniFranceJuventus
1983Michel PlatiniFranceJuventus
1982Paolo RossiItalyJuventus
1981Karl-Heinz RummeniggeWest GermanyBayern Munich
1980Karl-Heinz RummeniggeWest GermanyBayern Munich
1979Kevin KeeganEnglandHamburger SV
1978Kevin KeeganEnglandHamburger SV
1977Allan SimonsenDenmarkBorussia Mönchengladbach
1976Franz BeckenbauerWest GermanyBayern Munich
1975Oleg BlokhinSoviet UnionDynamo Kyiv
1974Johan CruyffNetherlandsFC Barcelona
1973Johan CruyffNetherlandsFC Barcelona
1972Franz BeckenbauerWest GermanyBayern Munich
1971Johan CruyffNetherlandsAjax
1970Gerd MüllerWest GermanyBayern Munich
1969Gianni RiveraItalyAC Milan
1968George BestNorthern IrelandManchester United
1967Flórián AlbertHungaryFerencvárosi TC
1966Bobby CharltonEnglandManchester United
1965EusébioPortugalS.L. Benfica
1964Denis LawScotlandManchester United
1963Lev YashinSoviet UnionDynamo Moscow
1962Josef MasopustCzechoslovakiaDukla Prague
1961Omar SívoriItalyJuventus
1960Luis SuárezSpainFC Barcelona
1959Alfredo Di StéfanoSpainReal Madrid
1958Raymond KopaFranceReal Madrid
1957Alfredo Di StéfanoSpainReal Madrid
1956Stanley MatthewsEnglandBlackpool


Who has won the most Ballon d’Or awards in history?

You could probably guess which players would be in the running for having the most Ballon d’Or trophies.

A good starting point would be to pick out the dominant players from each of the last couple of decades.

From there you’d be able to draft up a pretty accurate shortlist!

But instead of doing all that, you can simply continue reading this article as it’s going to reveal the answer.

So, let’s cut right to the chase…

Lionel Messi has won the most Ballon d’Or awards, as the Argentinian legend has amassed seven of these trophies over the course of his professional playing career.

7 time ballon d'or winner - lionel messi

Other years where Messi won the Ballon d’Or include 2019, 2015, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

He collected the record-breaking seventh in the 2021 campaign, coming ahead of other great players in the vote like Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Chelsea’s Jorginho.

The latter – who managed to win the European Championships with his Italian national team as well as claiming the UEFA Champions League trophy in the same season – could only get a distant third place finish.

It was a great season for Messi that year, as he collected his first senior trophy with Argentina when they won the 2021 edition of the Copa America tournament.

What that tells you is how good of a player Lionel Messi clearly is, as he comfortably beat another contender who had won two of the biggest team accolades in the game.  

On a separate note, Cristiano Ronaldo follows closely behind Messi with five Ballon d’Or awards to his name.

In fact, here’s a better breakdown of the tallies:

PlayerNationalityNumber of AwardsYear(s)
Lionel MessiArgentina72009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019, 2021
Cristiano RonaldoPortugal52008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017
Johan CruyffNetherlands31971, 1973, 1974
Michel PlatiniFrance31983, 1984, 1985
Marco van BastenNetherlands31988, 1989, 1992
Alfredo Di StéfanoSpain21957, 1959
Franz BeckenbauerWest Germany21972, 1976
Kevin KeeganEngland21978, 1979
Karl-Heinz RummeniggeWest Germany21980, 1981
RonaldoBrazil21997, 2002


How is the Ballon d’Or winner selected?

The criteria for winning this award has certainly raised eyebrows in the recent past, as there have been a few contentious wins and narrow misses.

A good case in point is the 2010 season when Wesley Sneijder won a historic treble with Inter Milan.

His team picked up Serie A, Coppa Italia and UEFA Champions League trophies all in the same campaign.

Sneijder was seen as a strong candidate for the Ballon d’Or that season.

The Dutchman was the creative lynchpin of that side, and in addition to his exemplary club performances he had very impressive exploits for his national team that finished as runners-up to Spain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

It’s possible to argue all day about whether or not Sneijder should have won the Ballon d’Or that season, but that would be going off on an unnecessary tangent.

Here’s a bit of insight into the Ballon d’Or selection criteria…


1. On-field performance

ballon d'or winner selection criteria - on field performance

According to FIFA’s Rules of Allocation document, one of the ways in which the world football governing body bestowed the previous FIFA Ballon d’Or award was by evaluating on-field performance.

This would include things like talent, skills and trophies won throughout the season, as well as goal contributions and overall attacking influence during matches.


2. Overall behavior

ballon d'or winner selection criteria - overall behavior

Another aspect that FIFA used to consider was a player’s overall behavior on and off the pitch.

What this meant was that players had to exhibit the qualities of a good role model, which meant that their overall character and media profile would be taken into account as part of the selection criteria.

Discipline was paramount and it meant that players like Luis Suarez – who received a four-month ban from all football-related activities for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 FIFA World Cup – would suffer when it came to Ballon d’Or voting.

Here’s a great video that sums all this information up:


Which female players have won the women’s Ballon d’Or?

Soccer isn’t just a men’s game!

Quite recently, a female version of this award was created to honor the sporting exploits of women who play the game.

In 2018, the Ballon d’Or Féminin was launched to commemorate the top performers in women’s soccer.

Here’s the list of winners, right from the award’s inception:

2021Alexia PutellasSpainFC Barcelona
2020Not Awarded--
2019Megan RapinoeUSAReign FC
2018Ada HegerbergNorwayOlympique Lyon


Final thoughts

This article has revealed all the Ballon d’Or winners recorded in the history of soccer.

If you’ve enjoyed the read then you should check out the top goal scorers in England’s most prestigious league since 1992.

Samuel Waihenya
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