Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Lionel Messi have been sweeping the FIFA Ballon d’Or for a very long time. But have you ever wondered, who could have won if it hadn’t been for them? In the past decade, right from 2008, it has always been either Messi or Ronaldo who has swept the win.
The two first featured on the list in 2007 but lost to Brazil’s Kaka. Cristiano Ronaldo was 2nd and Messi finished 3rd. But in the very next year, the duopoly began with Ronaldo drawing first blood. But without them in the way, who could have won the Ballon d’Or?
Fernando Torres – 2008
The Spaniard was unlucky enough to be stuck in the first year of the Messi-Ronaldo domination. The then 24-year old was playing for Liverpool at the time under Rafael Benítez. He was even Liverpool Player of the Year for the 2007-2008 season. The Spanish striker had accumulated 179 points in the Ballon d’Or race. He would have been leading compatriots Iker Casillas and Xavi. The goalkeeper scored 133 points and the midfielder had 97 points to his name. Torres currently plays for Turkish club
Xavi – 2009, 2010, 2011
The Barcelona midfielder is the definition of thrice unlucky. The Spaniard finished behind teammate Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively for two years. He was also 3rd in 2010 behind Messi again, and Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta. Xavi currently plays for Qatari club, Al Sadd. The deal would essentially make him the ambassador for the 2022 World Cup to be held there. If Xavi had won the Ballon d’Or in those three years, he would have led Iniesta and Samuel Eto’o in 2009. Similarly, in 2010 he would have led Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder and Uruguay’s Diego Forlan. Finally, in 2011, Xavi would have led Iniesta and England’s Wayne Rooney.
Andres Iniesta – 2012
Yet another Spaniard who features on the list, Iniesta was part of the backbone of Barcelona’s midfield. If Iniesta had triumphed, he would have been ahead of Barcelona teammate and compatriot, Xavi. Also, lying in third place would have been Colombian striker Radamel Falcao. Now, Iniesta is playing for Japanese club Vissel Kobe after spending most of his career with Barcelona.
Franck Ribery – 2013
The Frenchman finished the 2013 race as best of the rest. Once called the ‘Jewel of French Football’ by Zinedine Zidane, Ribery has shone for Bayern Munich. In an alternate world where there is no Messi or Ronaldo, Ribery would have won from Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazil’s Neymar. As a Bayern player, he has formed a rock-solid partnership with Dutchman, Arjen Robben.
Manuel Neuer – 2014
Again sticking to the alternate universe theme, Neuer would have been the second goalkeeper to win since Lev Yashin. The sweeper keeper was 3rd behind the usual suspects in the Ballon d’Or race. Without the two star strikers, the Bayern goalie would be leading his teammates, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller.
Neymar – 2015, 2017
Back when the Brazilian was still a Barcelona player, Neymar, Messi and Luis Suarez were a deadly trio. In a perfect world with no Messi or CR7, Neymar would have won the Ballon d’Or ahead of Polish star Robert Lewandowski and Barca teammate Suarez. Now playing for Paris Saint-Germain, the Brazilian has been quite unhappy there. Similarly, in 2017, Neymar once again finished 3rd ahead of Gianluigi Buffon and Luka Modric.
Antoine Griezmann – 2016
The French striker has been an excellent player for Atletico Madrid. In 2016, Griezmann finished behind the winner, Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. In other words, Griezmann would have won with Barcelona’s Suarez and Neymar in 2nd and 3rd respectively. Atletico’s talisman accrued 198 points compared to Suarez’s 91 and Neymar’s 68.
Now, in the 2018 edition, one of the favourites is Luka Modric. Further adding fuel to fire is the fact that Modric was crowned the FIFA Best Men’s Player of the Year. In the process, he has become the first non-Messi or Ronaldo player since Kaka in 2007 to lift such an award.