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They won a host of trophies for club and country but never won the Ballon d’Or
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo picked up the 2017 Ballon d’Or to level Lionel Messi’s record of five wins. The two footballers have been locked in an epic battle for supremacy that has seen them consistently outdo their own records and perform at the highest possible level for close to a decade.
Unfortunately for other players in the world, the gulf between the top two and the rest has been quite evident for a while, as can be seen in their dominance of the Ballon d’Or. The last player to win it who wasn’t either Messi or Ronaldo was AC Milan’s Ricardo Kaka in 2007.
In the 10 years since, half a generation’s worth of players have achieved significant things and put in some extraordinary performances, only to be overshadowed by the seemingly inexhaustible wealth of talent that Messi and Ronaldo possess.
The following list mentions high profile players who failed to win the coveted trophy during their peak years, in spite of being worthy of the award.
#10 Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard captained Chelsea to a win against Bayern Munich in the Champions League
Frank Lampard is widely considered to be one of the greatest Chelsea players of all time and the English midfielder has won 13 major trophies with the Blues over the course of his time at Stamford Bridge.
Lampard joined Chelsea in 2001 and quickly became a mainstay in the first-team, making over 648 appearances and scoring 211 goals for the club, making him the club’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Perhaps Lampard’s best moment in a Chelsea came against Bayern Munich in 2012 as Chelsea overcame all odds to win the Champions League. Lampard was also a part of Britain’s ‘golden generation’ of football, along with the likes of Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney.
A conspicuous lack of international honours could explain why he never won the Ballon d’Or, in spite of finishing in second place behind Ronaldinho in 2005.
#9 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic has shown no signs of slowing down with age, winning three trophies last season with Manchester United
The imposing striker from Sweden has enjoyed a glittering domestic career, winning league titles in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and France. Ibrahimovic currently plies his trade for Manchester United in the Premier League, the eighth club he has played for in his senior career.
Since making his professional debut for Malmo in 1999, the Swede has scored 420 goals in domestic competitions. His trophy cabinet has seen more than its fair share of occupants, including four Serie A titles, four Ligue 1 titles, and a La Liga title.
He is also currently the all-time leading goalscorer for the Swedish national team and French club Paris Saint-Germain, for whom he has scored 156 goals.
Incredibly, in spite of Ibrahimovic’s plethora of honours, he has never even made the top 3 in the Ballon d’Or shortlist, coming closest in 2013 when he finished fourthbehind Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery.
#8 Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry won four Premier League Golden Boots with Arsenal
Thierry Henry has achieved god-like status among Arsenal fans for his goal-scoring prowess and technical ability and the French striker is currently the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer.
Henry has enjoyed significant success at a domestic level, most notably winning a historic treble with FC Barcelona including the La Liga title, the Copa Del Rey, and the Champions League in 2009.
The striker was also a part of the Invincibles, the Arsenal team that went unbeaten for an entire season in the Premier League.
Henry won a historic treble with Barcelona in 2009
The striker has also done well with the French national team, winning the 1998 World Cup and UEFA Euro 2000, while also surpassing Michel Platini to become France’s top scorer.
Henry has come agonizingly close to winning the Ballon d’Or on two instances, coming third in 2006 and finishing as runner-up in 2003.
#7 Arjen Robben
Arjen Robben scored the match-winning goal in the 2013 Champions League final
For someone who has been criticised time and again for disappearing in important matches, Arjen Robben sure does have a lot of trophies. The winger has won league titles in Spain, England, and the Netherlands.
And he has now won pretty much every trophy that he possibly could have with Bayern Munich in Germany, including six Bundesliga titles, four DFB Pokals, and the Champions League.
Unfortunately, Robben has not seen similar success on the international level, with the Dutch team under-performing significantly in recent decades. The Netherlands and Robben came close in the 2010 World Cup, reaching the final where they lost 1-0 to Spain.
Robben has also not had much luck at the Ballon d’Or, coming closest to winning it in 2014, when he finished in 4th place.
Xavi was the engine of an immensely successful Barcelona team
Xavi Hernandez’s graduation from the Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy and his integration into their first-team perhaps heralded the advent of the style of tiki-takafootball that would make the Catalan club so successful.
His presence in the heart of that team truly made them tick. It’s one of the reasons why he won the La Liga eight times.
Barcelona’s domestic dominance also coincided with Spain’s period of international success, with Xavi playing an important role in the Spanish team that won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup, and Euro 2012. The only footballer more successful than Xavi in Spain’s history is his teammate Andres Iniesta.
Xavi came close to winning the Ballon d’Or on multiple occasions, finishing third in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
#5 Gianluigi Buffon
Gianluigi Buffon is considered to be one of the best goalkeepers of all time
The Ballon d’Or has always been a tad biased towards attacking players, but even defenders have had significantly better luck in the awards than goalkeepers. To date, the only goalkeeper to have ever won the prize is Russian shot-stopper Lev Yashin, who took home the prize in 1963.
However, Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has repeatedly come close to winning the Ballon d’Or in recent years, coming 2nd in 2006.
Buffon has been immensely successful at the domestic level with Juventus, winning 10 Serie A titles with the club. He has also won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 and finished as runners-up in the 2012 European Championship.
Buffon has been decorated with a multitude of personal honours for his goalkeeping abilities, winning the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year trophy a jaw-dropping 12 times.
#4 Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs was very successful with United but failed to reciprocate that success on the international level with Wales
Ryan Giggs played a prominent role in the Manchester United side that enjoyed domestic and European success under Sir Alex Ferguson in the 1990s and 2000s. Giggs joined United at the age of 14 in 1987, where he would go on to make over 950 appearances in all competitions.
He was renowned for his passing and dribbling, and also received praise for his discipline, having never been sent off while playing for United. He won a staggering 13 Premier League titles while at United, along with two Champions League trophies and four FA Cups.
He scored 168 goals for United and provided 160 league assists, making him the Premier League’s all-time leading assist provider.
However, in spite of his considerable achievements with Manchester United at the club level, Giggs has never made the top 3 positions for the Ballon d’Or.
#3 Philipp Lahm
Lahm captained Germany to the 2014 World Cup
Philipp Lahm is considered to be one of the best full-backs of his generation and the German defender has captained both Bayern Munich and Germany to success over the course of his career.
His ability to play on both flanks, along with his intelligence and tactical awareness has been lauded by his peers and his coaches. Lahm has won eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB Pokals and the Champions League with Bayern Munich, making over 600 appearances for the club.
Lahm has also captained Germany to a World Cup triumph in 2014, the third World Cup that he has played in. The full-back has also bagged himself a host of individual awards, making it into the FIFPro World XI on two separate occasions and finishing in 6th place in the 2014 Ballon d’Or.
#2 Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini won the Champions League five times
Paolo Maldini is one of the most successful players in the history of AC Milan and the Italian defender was voted 21st in World Soccer’s list of greatest players from the 20th century.
Maldini currently holds the record for most appearances in the Serie A with 647 which came over the course of the 25 seasons he spent at Milan. The defender won seven Serie A titles, five Champions League trophies, and three Supercoppa Italianas.
Maldini also performed well with the Italian national side, featuring in 4 World Cups and 3 UEFA European Championships. While he failed to win any of these competitions, the Italian side managed to reach the final of the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000.
He has also come close to winning the Ballon d’Or twice, finishing in third place in 1994 and 2003.
#1 Andres Iniesta
Andres Iniesta scored the game-winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final
Perhaps it was fate that Andres Iniesta was the one to score the winning goal in the World Cup final of 2010. In that competition, Spain’s dominance over international football was truly proven by one of the most hard-working players to have ever put on the Spanish shirt.
Iniesta has repeatedly shown that he is a player blessed with footballing talent, athleticism and intelligence, and his performances for Spain and Barcelona have made him the most successful footballer in Spanish history.
Iniesta has won everything he possibly can as a Barcelona player. including eight La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies. He has made over 650 appearances for Barcelona over the course of his domestic career, and has scored 56 goals for the club.
He has also won the World Cup and two European Championships with Spain, but has never won the Ballon d’Or. He has come close to winning on three separate occasions, with the closest being a second-placed finish in 2010.