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Ranked! The 12 best players never to win the Ballon d’Or

Ballon d'Or

The Messi/Ronaldo stranglehold could well be broken in 2018, but what about the other greats who've missed out on football’s top individual prize?

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Note: This covers the last 20 years – before the mid-90s, only European players were eligible for the award. That explains Pele and Diego Maradona missing out on the original honours – but it doesn’t cover the absence of this lot…

12. Sergio Ramos

Take whatever feelings you might have about Real Madrid’s cuddly captain out of the equation and you’re left with a player who’s simply a medal magnet. At age 32, he’s had a hand (plus the odd knee) in winning every major honour for club and country, while racking up 161 caps and counting for Spain.

The argument is that defenders don’t often win this type of award. What makes Ramos unique is not only his eye-catching technical ability, but his nose for game-changing goals. In his first two Champions League finals he scored vital goals to help Real lift the trophy – yet he’s never even had a top-three Ballon d’Or finish. He must have annoyed some people along the way or something.

11. Ryan Giggs

Football’s most decorated player, possibly ever. Certainly in Manchester United’s history, anyway. More than that, the old blood-twister was exactly the style of footballer who does well with these sort of gongs: a jinking left-winger with an eye for goal and/or humiliating an opposition full-back.

Yet it’s perhaps easy to understand why Giggs has never had a Ballon d’Or look-in. His longevity, from teenage tyro to yoga-stretched veteran, is what’s remarkable about the Welshman, rather than one stand-out season. Still, a token third place doesn’t seem out of the realms of possibility. In 1999’s Treble-winning season, say, or his second Champions League-winning season of 2007/08, or any of the 13 damn times he won the Premier League.

10. Neymar

Not a universally popular player, we’re given to understand. But few would deny his talent. Even playing third fiddle to Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi at Barcelona, he looked a world-beater at times. In particular, as he showcased his will and skill to lead Barça to that astonishing 6-1 win over PSG in 2017.

Neymar also has 60 goals for Brazil – two behind Ronaldo, 17 behind all-time leader Pele – and he’s 26 years old. If he stays fit, he’ll gazump both. And if he can just spend more time thrilling us with his rainbow flicks rather than enraging us with his turf rolling, Neymar may well go on to claim the award that reportedly fuelled his move to Paris in the first place.

9. Philipp Lahm

Defenders don’t win this award often, but Lahm is a special case. For a while, the 5ft 7in ‘Magic Dwarf’ might have been the best right-back, the best left-back and the best central midfielder that both Germany and Bayern Munich possessed.

Boasting stamina, technique and an astute football brain, Lahm was more than just a versatile footballer. He was, in retrospect, the stand-out player of a German generation that he captained to World Cup glory in 2014. That came just a year after he’d skippered Bayern to a Treble. If Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro can win the Ballon d’Or for his performances in 2006, the least Lahm deserved was a podium spot eight years later.

8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Not the greatest player ever – although we won’t say that within the big man’s earshot – but arguably the greatest ever scorer of spectacular goals. Certainly, nobody scores goals quite like Zlatan; his vision and invention paired with the unique, kung-fu dexterity of his 6ft 5in frame.

Few have proven themselves greater travellers either: Sweden’s record goalscorer has won major honours in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France and England. The knock against him is his Champions League CV, which features 48 goals, but never an appearance in the final. Odd, as his record over in major club games shows he’s no flat-track bully, yet it explains the Ballon d’Or absence despite his jaw-dropping talent.

7. Thierry Henry

SEE ALSO Thierry Henry’s forgotten 2002/03: how Arsenal's record-breaking Frenchman reinvented the Premier League striker

With respect to Michael Owen, a Ballon d’Or winner after an excellent 2001, his victory has become a byword for the curious anomalies that awards can throw up. As in; Owen won this prize, Thierry Henry never did – yet anybody who watched the Premier League during the late ’90s and early noughties can tell you who the superior striker was.

Boasting searing pace, skill and an eye for goal, a peak Henry made the impossible commonplace. Ending his career as France and Arsenal’s all-time top scorer, Henry also won everything from a World Cup to a Premier League/FA Cup double, to a Treble with Barcelona.

Perhaps a lack of match-clinching final goals to really rubber-stamp a triumphant year held Henry back. The highest he ever finished was second to Pavel Nedved in 2003.