Ballon d’Or: Every winner of the Ronaldo vs Messi era if players could only win it once

Robert Lewandowski was beaten to the 2021 Ballon d’Or by Lionel Messi on Monday night.

Many fans and pundits thought that the Bayern Munich striker was the deserving winner having produced a barely-believable goalscoring record of 48 strikes in just 40 appearances last season.

Marry that to a lightning start to the 2021/22 campaign with 25 goals in 20 games as well as FIFA Club World Cup and Bundesliga glory to see that Lewandowski had a pretty strong claim for the title.

Messi beats Lewandowski to the Ballon d’Or

However, this is Messi that we’re talking about: arguably the greatest footballer to have ever walked the earth and one who now boasts a record-breaking total of seven Ballon d’Or trophies.

Now, that’s all well and good, but a lot of voices within the footballing community can’t help feeling as though it’s unjust that players like Lewandowski could end their careers without Ballon d’Or glory.

Messi himself even alluded to the fact that Lewandowski should have been garlanded with the 2020 edition, which was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during his victory speech in Paris.

Chelsea 1-1 Man Utd Match Reaction (Football Terrace)

Players who missed out on Ballon d’Or glory

But Lewandowski most certainly isn’t the first victim of the Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo dominance when it comes to the Ballon d’Or with countless other legends having missed out on the prize.

It’s surely a given that the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Gianluigi Buffon, Franck Ribery and more would have won at least one of the golden footballs if they had played in a different era.

Well, bearing that thought exercise in mind, ESPN Senior Writer Gabriele Marcotti attracted attention on Twitter by imagining a world in which players could only win the Ballon d’Or once.

Alternative Ballon d’Or winners since 2008

In other words, if Ronaldo and Messi were able to take their Ballon d’Or gongs and run in 2008 and 2009 respectively, which players would have benefitted with their own versions of the iconic title?

Well, that’s exactly what you can discover down below by checking out the highest-placed player in each year’s Ballon d’Or vote who had not previously won the prize.

2008 – Cristiano Ronaldo


2009 – Lionel Messi

2010 – Andres Iniesta

2011 – Xavi

2012 – Radamel Falcao


2013 – Franck Ribery

2014 – Manuel Neuer

2015 – Neymar

2016 – Antoine Griezmann


2017 – Gianluigi Buffon 

2018 – Luka Modric

2019 – Virgil van Dijk

2021 – Robert Lewandowski


A fairer distribution of winners

It just seems, well, fairer, doesn’t it?

Sure, there’s a certain poetry to Messi and Ronaldo’s totals of seven and five Ballon d’Or trophies propping them above previous winners as talents of an entirely different calibre.

However, it comes at the expense of phenomenal players like Xavi, Iniesta and Lewandowski not winning the awards that they would surely have been nailed on to take in previous eras.


Naturally, none of this is the fault of Ronaldo and Messi, who have undoubtedly deserved the majority of their Ballon d’Or wins, but a lot of supporters would agree that it feels like a shame.

Who knows, though, perhaps this will be one of very few positives that will come from Messi and Ronaldo winding down their careers in the coming years, because even they can’t go on forever.

But come on, France Football, just give Lewandowski the 2020 prize!


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