An XI of Ballon d’Or runners-up who maybe deserved more

Editor F365
Former Arsenal and Barcelona forward Thierry Henry presents Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo with the 2014 Ballon d'Or

Robert Lewandowski should think about getting in touch with the Ballon d’Or runner-up support group Thierry Henry set up all those years ago.

Lionel Messi is the Ballon d’Or winner yet again, with the PSG star at the head of the pack for a seventh time.

Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated top spot over the past 13 years, leaving world-class talents like Robert Lewandowski with silver. Here’s an XI of players who have felt the Polish striker’s pain in just missing out on gold at the prestigious award ceremony.

 

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Italy’s most-capped international
lifted the World Cup with the Azzurri in 2006 but couldn’t quite finish above international teammate Fabio Cannavaro in that year’s Ballon d’Or rankings. The Juventus legend’s second place spot was a huge achievement in itself, considering Lev Yashin remains the only keeper to have won the award, with the Russian icon finishing top in 1963. If you fancy a goalkeeper challenge, try naming the other keepers to have made the Ballon d’Or top three.

 

Centre-back: Franco Baresi
After picking up gold in 2006, Fabio Cannavaro achieved something his legendary predecessor couldn’t. Franco Baresi marshalled Italy’s backline for over a decade and captained AC Milan to two European Cup wins during a golden age for the Rossoneri. However, second spot in the 1989 rankings was his highest finish in the Ballon d’Or, with club teammate Marco van Basten taking first place as Frank Rijkaard completed an AC Milan top three.

 

Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk’s imperious form in 2019 meant the Dutch defender ran Lionel Messi close for top spot in the Ballon d’Or rankings. Four Liverpool players made the top ten that year, with Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Alisson (the highest-placed goalkeeper) joining van Dijk. Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Georginio Wijnaldum also featured further down the order.

 

Centre-back: Bobby Moore
England’s World Cup-winning captain finished fourth in the 1966 Ballon d’Or rankings but an international teammate and fellow Bobby did take home the gold. Manchester United legend Charlton added two silver balls to his collection in the following years but Moore was the highest-placed Englishman in 1970, with the West Ham immortal finishing narrowly behind prolific German striker Gerd Muller.

 

Right-wing: David Beckham
There may not be a plethora of Manchester United players in the running for the Ballon d’Or in modern times, but back in the club’s halcyon days of 1999, no less than seven Red Devils received votes. Club captain Roy Keane made the top ten but the Irishman’s colourful persona couldn’t match the pin-up profile of David Beckham. Goldenballs had to make do with a silver ball, though, losing out on top spot to Barcelona and Brazil maestro Rivaldo.

 

Central midfield: Andres Iniesta
Rivaldo’s win in 1999 continued a long tradition of Barcelona players winning gold at the Ballon d’Or, one that Messi has of course continued in the modern age. The Argentinean’s decade of dominance alongside Ronaldo saw the two icons trade top spot from 2008 until Luka Modric broke up the duopoly in 2018. Andres Iniesta did at least manage to push Messi close in 2010, with a winning goal in a World Cup final helping the Spaniard’s cause. Compatriot Xavi completed an all-Barcelona top three.

 

Central midfield: Frank Lampard
Gerrard or Lampard? The great debate that has seemingly raged on since time immemorial and one that will still cause arguments in years to come for generations that never saw them play. However, Super Frank managed to get one over on his England teammate in 2005, narrowly edging out Gerrard for second place in the Ballon d’Or rankings. Both of them finished some way behind clear winner Ronaldinho, with the Barcelona star becoming the third Brazilian to take top spot.

 

Left-wing: Paul Breitner
The 1972 Ballon d’Or marked the first occasion that three men from the same country took the podium spots, with the world-class trio of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Gunter Netzer knocking Dutch legend Johan Cruyff out of contention. Die Mannschaft provided the top three again just nine years later, as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge took home the gold for a second year in a row. Bayern Munich star Paul Breitner finished second, ahead of controversial midfield maverick Bernd Schuster.

 

Striker: Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry’s long list of personal and team honours during his time with Arsenal had a couple of notable accolades missing, with the Ballon d’Or and Champions League title evading the World Cup winner. After coming oh so close in 2006 with the Gunners, his move to Barcelona finally got him that coveted victory in Europe’s premier club competition but the Ballon d’Or remained out of the Frenchman’s grasp. A second-place finish behind Pavel Nedved in 2003 was as good as it got.

 

Striker: Kenny Dalglish
After six successful seasons with Liverpool in the ’70s, Kevin Keegan decided to move on to pastures new with a transfer to Hamburg. His replacement was Scottish forward Kenny Dalglish, who went on to eclipse his predecessor’s achievements at Anfield, with the club dominating at home and in Europe under Bob Paisley. However, while Keegan ended up winning two golden balls, Dalglish’s best finish was as runner-up to Michel Platini in 1983.

 

Striker: Ferenc Puskas
Despite scoring four goals for Real Madrid in the 1960 European Cup final, Hungarian icon Ferenc Puskas still came up short in the Ballon d’Or rankings that year. Luis Suarez (the Spanish one, obviously) took top spot, leaving Puskas to remain envious of club teammate Alfredo di Stefano’s two golden balls. The mightiest of the Magyars was already well into his 30s by that point but if the Ballon d’Or had started earlier than 1956 there’s a good chance Puskas would’ve claimed first place at least once.

James Wiles – whose Instagram has a whole load more XIs