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10 players you won’t believe were shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or

John Jensen Arsenal
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5. John Jensen (1992)

Jensen was another player who lit up Euro 1992 only to lose his magic touch the minute he stepped foot inside the Premier League. In fact, the moustachioed midfielder took so long to hit the net for Arsenal (98 appearances to be exact) that “I was there when John Jensen scored” became a badge of honour among Gunners fans.

Of course, his screamer for backdoor competitors Denmark in their shock 2-0 Euros final win over Germany briefly had him hailed as the next great European midfielder, prompting George Graham to make a decidedly dodgy deal and the Ballon d’Or panel to swing three votes his way. Level with Paolo Maldini, no less.

4. Harry Kewell (2001)

Unlike Brolin, Kewell’s career thrived at Elland Road. In fact, by the time he left the club in 2003, Milan and Barcelona were just a few of the European giants battling for his signature. Two years previously, his form during Leeds’s route to the Champions League semi-finals had been so masterful that the Aussie was named alongside team-mate Rio Ferdinand on the Ballon d’Or shortlist.

However, whereas Ferdinand flourished after a move to Manchester United, Kewell struggled to fulfil his early potential in a difficult spell at Liverpool plagued by injury and self-doubt.

3. Yuri Zhirkov (2008)

Zhirkov is yet another European international who struggled to make any kind of impression following a big-money move to England. But before injury and a loss of form cut short his time at Chelsea – who paid £18m for his services in 2009 – the Russian left-sider was tipped for greatness.

His performances during his country's journey to the Euro 2008 semi-finals were deemed so impressive that he was shortlisted for that year’s Ballon d’Or. Unfortunately, they weren’t impressive enough to garner him a single vote as Cristiano Ronaldo won his first award.

2. Trifon Ivanov (1996)

Had there been an award for football’s best Wolverine lookalike back in the 1990s, then the late, occasionally-great Ivanov would have deservedly dominated the decade. But the Bulgarian defender, just as famous for his unfashionable mullet and mutton chops combo as his long-range free-kicks, was never an elite superhero on the field.

Yet after Euro 1996, the then-Rapid Vienna star picked up as many Ballon d’Or votes as Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Zidane combined. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to pip Borussia Dortmund and Germany star Matthias Sammer to top spot.

1. Traianos Dellas (2004)

Hats off to Greece for pulling off one of international football’s most unexpected triumphs. But we’re not sure that their infamously dour and defensive style of play at Euro 2004 deserved to be rewarded too.

Four Greeks were shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or that same year, including captain Theodoros Zagorakis, goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis and tournament-winning goalscorer Angelos Charisteas. But it was the inclusion of Traianos Dellas, the lumbering man mountain who briefly plied his trade at Sheffield United, which truly celebrated the art of being totally ordinary.

Five votes helped Dellas finish above Zidane and Figo, but some way below eventual winner Andriy Shevchenko.

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