Karim Benzema has become the latest name to get his hands on the most coveted individual award in football – the Ballon d’Or.
The 34-year-old Real Madrid striker saw off competition from the likes of Sadio Mane and Kevin de Bruyne after an impeccable season in which Benzema helped his side to La Liga and Champions League glory.
While it is quite uncommon for most footballers, Benzema enjoyed a surge in form in the second half of his career, before which many fans may have expected Benzema to join the unwanted list of great players to never win the Ballon d’Or.
In a period of football dominated by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, recent years have been particularly prevalent for big names missing out on the Ballon d’Or – however, there are some surprising names from history who also missed out on the award.
Betting.com has shared the names of ten players it is hard to believe never got their hands on one of the biggest accolades in football.
As the beating heart of Liverpool’s midfield for almost two decades, and leading the club to Champions League glory in 2005, it is hard to conceive of the fact that Gerrard never won a Ballon d’Or.
In fact, 2005 was the year that the Liverpool legend came closest to winning the award, finishing third place in the running that year behind England team-mate Frank Lampard in second and Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho in first.
Benzema’s Ballon d’Or win unbelievably makes him the first Frenchman to win the award since Zinedine Zidane claimed it in 1998, despite there being plenty of French footballing talent in the last two decades or so.
The most surprising Frenchman not to win the Ballon d’Or in that time period is Thierry Henry. The former Arsenal striker scored 174 goals in the Premier League, won a historic treble with Barcelona and even won the World Cup with France in 1998.
Still just 23 years old, PSG and France forward Kylian Mbappe still has plenty of time in his career to add the Ballon d’Or to his list of achievements.
However, by comparison, Cristiano Ronaldo won his first Ballon d’Or at the age of 23 and Mbappe’s PSG team-mate Lionel Messi’s first of seven Ballon d’Or’s was claimed at the age of 22.
Maradona never winning the Ballon d’Or begins to make slightly more sense when you consider that non-European players were not eligible for the award before 1991.
Although the Argentine forward continued to play up until 1997, his peak years were at Barcelona and then Napoli between 1982 and 1991. Maradona was honoured with an inclusion in the Ballon d’Or dream team in 2020, not long before his untimely death.
Like Maradona, Pele never won the Ballon d’Or during his playing career because he was never eligible for the award, but he was honorarily awarded the Footballer of the Century, also known as the Super Ballon d’Or long after his retirement.
It was decided that the legendary Brazilian striker should be given the Super Ballon d’Or after a vote was made by the majority of the previous Ballon d’Or recipients who were still alive at the time.
Plenty of people were calling for Lewandowski to finally get his hands on a Ballon d’Or in 2021 after the Polish striker scored an incredible 69 goals for club and country during that year.
Lewandowski finished runner-up behind Lionel Messi who scooped a record-winning seventh award in 2021. However, it remains a mystery how the now-Barcelona striker never won a Ballon d’Or before then.
Beckham is one of the biggest household names in football both in the UK and the rest of the world, so it is hard to believe that one of the most famous footballers never won the Ballon d’Or.
Beckham did finish runner-up in the race for the Ballon d’Or in 1999, but unbelievably the former Manchester United and Real Madrid man never got closer than that to the coveted prize despite receiving ten nominations during his career – a record for English players.
A former team-mate of Beckham and the beating heart of Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominant Manchester United midfield, Paul Scholes paved the way for several playmakers like Xavi and Luka Modric to do their thing.
One-club-man Scholes does hold the unwanted record of receiving the most Ballon d’Or nominations (five) without ever receiving a single vote.
When it comes to winning trophies, Iniesta has arguably enjoyed an even more decorated career than his former team-mate and seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi. On top of all of Barcelona’s trophies, Iniesta has been a pivotal part of a Spain team that won two consecutive Euros titles and a World Cup in which he scored the winning goal.
Unbelievably, 38-year-old Iniesta is still playing football in Japan with Vissel Kobe, although it is unlikely that the Spaniard will get his hands on a Ballon d’Or at this stage in his career.
With both Karim Benzema and Luka Modric winning the Ballon d’Or in the later stages of their careers, you might be forgiven for thinking that every Real Madrid legend of that era had done the same.
The now-PSG defender who won countless La Ligas, Champions Leagues and even a World Cup in his career was quoted in 2018 as saying “I’m not interested in the Ballon d’Or. I would have played tennis if I wanted individual trophies.”
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