In the Messi-Ronaldo Era since 2008, they have dominated the European Football Scene, having won 12 out of the 13 available, with Lionel Messi winning the lot with 7 to his name. Winning one is considered a remarkable achievement, so having 5 to your name puts Cristiano Ronaldo on the list of the greatest sportsmen ever to take to the field.
The Ballon D’or always divides opinion among athletes and fans, as everyone has their definition of a winner, so let’s look at the list of real winners since 2008 if you could only win it once:
2008: FERNANDO TORRES
Everyone seems to forget the 2007/08 season of El Niño. In his debut season at Anfield, the Spaniard came the closest to nicking the Ballon D’or, having netted 33 goals in 46 appearances while taking the Reds to the last 4 of the Champions League and winning the Euro 2008 with Spain, which ended with him scoring the winner in the final against Germany. The trophy went to Manchester United’s, Cristiano Ronaldo, with Torres in 3rd place.
2009: LIONEL MESSI
Having finished third in 2007 and then runner-up in the following season, Lionel Messi won the 2009 Ballon D’or and deservingly so. Lionel Messi led FC Barcelona to the La Liga title, the Champions League trophy, and Copa Del Rey in a treble-winning season while netting 38 goals and 19 assists in 51 appearances. Messi won the award by a then-record margin, 240 points ahead of 2008 winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
2010: WESLEY SNEIJDER
One of the biggest snubs in the history of the Ballon d’Or came in 2010 when Lionel Messi won the reputed trophy ahead of Sneijder, who didn’t even make up the podium, as he came in at 4th. Having helped Inter Milan win the treble under Jose Mourinho and finishing runners-up with the Dutch national team in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it’s fair to say Sneijder had an unbelievable season for both club and country and was well worthy of the Ballon d’Or.
As Jorge Valdano put it: “If football were a science, Xavi would have discovered the formula. With a ball at his feet, no one else has ever communicated so intelligently with every player on the pitch.” FC Barcelona won the Champions League and the Spanish League Title in another dominating season, with Xavi at the forefront with 14 goals and eight assists in 51 appearances. The Spaniard came in at 3rd with his teammate, Lionel Messi, taking it home and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, coming in a close 2nd.
2012: ANDRES INIESTA
The fact that no Spaniard won the Ballon d’Or from 2008-12, in which Spain dominated the international scene, is perhaps surprising, but that’s just a testament to how far ahead of the rest Messi and Ronaldo were at this point. The Spanish maestro was a key figure as Spain powered to win Euro 2012, their third consecutive international trophy as he won Player of the Tournament. He registered ten goals and 15 assists as he came in at 3rd in the Ballon d’Or rankings.
2013: FRANCK RIBERY
Franck Ribéry found out in 2013 that not even a quintuple-winning season at Bayern Munich can help you beat Ronaldo and Messi. Everyone thought this was finally going to be the season where the Messi- Ronaldo streak would end, no one came in terms of vote share to breaking the duopoly before Luka Modric managed it years later. Ribery finished with 23.36% of the votes, behind Messi on 24.72% and Ronaldo on 27.99%. The French winger managed 34 goal contributions in 43 appearances but managed only a 3rd place finish becoming one of the biggest snubs in the trophy’s history.
2014: MANUEL NEUER
After a stellar season at both club and country level, helping Germany win the 2014 FIFA World Cup as well as being crowned with “Golden Glove” accolade and doing the domestic double with FC Bayern, Neuer was definitely in the run-in to win the Ballon d’Or, with Lev Yashin being the only goalkeeper ever to win it. Neuer came in 3rd behind the usual culprits, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
2015: NEYMAR JR
Neymar would never have thought that after scoring 39 goals in all competitions and winning the Spanish title, Champions League and Copa del Rey in a treble-winning season, they would still make him an outsider for the Ballon d’Or crown. Still, unfortunately for him, there was no stopping Messi and Ronaldo. It is no secret that Neymar has long lusted the Ballon d’Or, with the Brazilian desperate to follow in the footsteps of Kaka, Ronaldo Nazario, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho, who all picked up the prize in the decade before the Messi-Ronaldo era was established.
2016: ANTOINE GRIEZMANN
Atlético Madrid’s superstar ended 2016 without any trophies, but such was his influence over his club and country that he came within a couple of kicks of winning both the Champions League and European Championships. The Frenchman registered 32 goals and won the Euro 2016’ Golden Boot. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, he lost to Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League, EURO 2016 Final and the Ballon D’or standings.
2017: CRISTIANO RONALDO
Ronaldo was as motivated as ever, coming at the back of a historical Euro win with Portugal. He guided Real Madrid to the Spanish League title and the Champions League while registering 42 goals and 12 assists in 46 appearances. He rightfully ended up winning the trophy, equaling his tally with Lionel Messi with 5 Ballon d’Or victories each, as the Argentinian came in second and his Barcelona teammate, Neymar, finished 3rd.
2018: LUKA MODRIC
The domination had finally come to an end after a year stint with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo winning five each in the time. In a period of such domination, Luka Modric deserves everyone’s respect with him at the helm of Croatia’s excellent performance in the 2018 FIFA World Cup finishing runners-up to France, with him being crowned as the player of the Tournament as well guiding Real Madrid to a 3rd Champions League Title in a row. Messi didn’t make the podium for the first time since 2006, finishing fifth behind Modric, Ronaldo, Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.
2019: VIRGIL VAN DIJK
Van Dijk found himself at the wrong side of the closest two-horse race to the Ballon d’Or, finishing just 7 points behind the eventual winner, Lionel Messi. Many would argue that the Dutch centre-half deserved to follow in Modric’s footsteps after the performances he put in at the heart of the Liverpool defence as they won the 2019 Champions League, finishing a point behind English Champions Manchester City and at the centre of the Dutch National Team’s rejuvenation taking them to the inaugural UEFA Nations League Final eventually losing out to Portugal. Virgil van Dijk would have become the first defender since Fabio Cannavaro to win the award if Messi had not been around.
2020&2021: ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI
Getting snubbed once in the Ballon d’Or can be heartbreaking on its own. Still, the Pole experienced this heartbreak twice, with FIFA deciding to null the 2020 Ballon d’Or and finishing runner-up to Lionel Messi in 2021. Had the 2020 Ballon d’Or been awarded, Lewandowski would likely have won after his outrageous goalscoring feats took Bayern to a sextuple – the same trophies as their 2013 quintuple, but with added German Super-cup. The Bayern Striker. In the 2020-2021 period, Lewandowski registered 103 goals and 19 assists in 87 appearances. These numbers are definitely out of this world and will most likely make him the biggest snub in the Ballon d’Or history.