The History of the Ballon d’Or

Last updated: Jun 5th, 2024


Last night Lionel Messi was the deserved winner of a record fifth Ballon d’Or after a sensational 2015 where he made the spectacular routine. Having scored 52 goals, coupled with 26 assists and winning the Champions League, La Liga, Copa del Rey and FIFA World Club Cup, it was easy to see why the Argentinian maestro was 1/33 to win the award. But what is the Ballon d’Or and the history behind the prestigious award? We take an in-depth look…

The idea behind honouring the best player in Europe was the dream of football magazine France Football way back in 1956, who polled the top football journalist across the continent to find Europe’s best player.

Originally known as the ‘European Player of the Year Award’, the yet to be renamed Ballon d’Or was awarded to the best player in the calendar year, having to be of European nationality and play professionally in Europe to qualify – which meant legends like Maradona and Pelé never won the award!

The ‘Wizard of Dribble’, England and Blackpool star Sir Stanley Matthews, won the inaugural Ballon d’Or in 1956, beating Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stéfano and French star Raymond Kopa. In the following years, some of the most iconic and biggest football stars in the history of the sport have all won the award, including George Best, Franz Beckenbauer, Zinedine Zidane and Eusebio.

It wasn’t until 1995 that France Football decided to make major changes and open the Ballon d’Or to any player from a European club, regardless of their nationality. This allowed AC Milan and Liberia star, George Weah, to become the first non-European player to win the award.

Twelve years passed until France Football decided to make further changes, when in 2007 they extended the Ballon d’Or to players from the rest of the world, no matter what their nationality of the player or the club they played for was. The Ballon d’Or had effectively become the world player of the year award, however, it was still not affiliated with FIFA.

It wasn’t until 2010 that FIFA and France Football agreed to merge the award into one and became officially known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

Check out these facts about the prestigious award:
• The Ballon d’Or Trophy was handmade by a team at French Jewellery House Mellerio dits Meller. It has a height of 28cm and a diameter of 22cm, with a weight of around 12kg.
• The oldest winner of the Ballon d’Or was Sir Stanley Matthews, who incredibly received the Ballon d’Or aged 41.
• At the opposite end of the spectrum, the youngest ever winner was Brazil’s Ronaldo, who picked up both prizes at 21 in 1997, with England’s Michael Owen just a few months older when he was handed the Ballon d’Or in 2001.
• Of the 58 Ballon d’Or awards to have been handed out, no fewer than 53 have gone to forwards or attacking midfielders.
• As for goalkeepers, only one has ever seen off his outfield colleagues – Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union. The ‘Black Spider’ won in 1963, becoming the first ever non-attacking player and still the sole custodian to be recognised.
• Of the 43 players to have received the Ballon d’Or, only 11 have also ever lifted the World Cup.

Who do you think will be in the running for the 2016 Ballon d’Or? Tell us your predictions below!


*Image sourced from adifansnet