The World Cup 2022 will, as usual, see the player of the tournament honoured with the Golden Ball.
It hasn't always been that way, though: until 1978, there was no prize for the best individual performer at the finals – and FIFA didn't introduce an official award until 1982.
Nonetheless, we've put together a full list with the help of respected football historian Ejikeme Ikwunze's list from his book World Cup (1930-2010): A Statistical Summary (part of FIFA's official library). Here's every player to be recognised (whether at the time or retrospectively) as World Cup player of the tournament...
The full list of every World Cup Golden Ball winner from 1930 to World Cup 2022
1930: Jose Nasazzi (Uruguay)
An all-time Uruguay legend, defender Jose Nasazzi indelibly etched his name into World Cup history by becoming the very first player to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy – captaining La Celeste to glory on home soil.
1934: Giuseppe Meazza (Italy)
Arguably his country's greatest-ever player, Giuseppe Meazza was instrumental to hosts Italy's glorious maiden World Cup campaign. He scored twice at the tournament, including the winner against Spain in the quarter-finals.
1938: Leonidas (Brazil)
Often credited as the inventor of the bicycle kick, Leonidas scored top-scored with seven goals at the 1938 World Cup in France – concluding with a brace as Brazil beat Sweden in the third place play-off.
1950: Zizinho (Brazil)
Idolised by a certain Pele, Zizinho was a sensational player in his own right. Brazil fell short at the 1950 World Cup as they capitulated against Uruguay, but Zizinho has been acknowledged as the tournament's standout performer.
1954: Sandor Kocsis (Hungary)
When you think of Hungary's golden generation, Ferenc Puskas is almost certainly the first name who comes to mind. It was Sandor Kocsis who took the 1954 World Cup by storm, though, top-scoring with 11 goals as Hungary finished as runners-up to West Germany.
1958: Didi (Brazil)
In 1958, Brazil finally got their hands on the Jules Rimet Trophy. The finals in Sweden were where 17-year-old Pele announced himself to the world, but it's knuckleball free-kick inventor Didi who's gone down as the player of the tournament.
1962: Garrincha (Brazil)
One of six joint top-scorers at the 1962 World Cup (along with teammate Vava), devislish dribbler Garrincha became all the more important for Brazil following Pele's injury in their second game of the tournament.
He netted four times as the Selecao retained their title as world champions, bagging a brace in the semi-final against hosts Chile before seeing red (although he didn't miss the final as there were no suspensions back then).
1966: Bobby Charlton (England)
Geoff Hurst was England's hat-trick hero in the 1966 World Cup final, but Bobby Charlton's semi-final brace against Portugal got them there.
The Manchester United legend also settled a few English nerves earlier in the tournament, opening the scoring for the Three Lions – who had drawn their first group game against Uruguay – as they beat Mexico 2-0.
1970: Pele (Brazil)
Pele could have named player of the tournament after the way he exploded onto the scene at the 1958 World Cup – but he eventually got that recognition for his inspirational showing in 1970.
As Brazil claimed their third title, the nation's favourite footballing son was involved in 53% of their goals – of which he scored four, including the opener as the Selecao defeated Italy 4-1 in the final.
1974: Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)
One of the finest players never to win the World Cup – maybe the finest – Johan Cruyff came closest to getting his hands on football's ultimate prize at the 1974 tournament in West Germany.
The great innovator captained the Netherlands to the final – which they lost to the hosts – scoring three goals along the way and, most memorably, introducing the world to the Cruyff in the turn during the Oranje's group stage draw with Sweden.
1978: Mario Kempes (Argentina)
A controversial tournament (opens in new tab), the 1978 World Cup was probably the dirtiest to date – but amid all the allegations of match-fixing, it's a fact that Argentina's Mario Kempes top-scored with six goals.
That will have helped the then Valencia star – who bagged a decisive brace as the hosts defeated the Netherlands after extra time in the final – to win the tournament's unofficial best player award.
1982: Paolo Rossi (Italy)
Paolo Rossi remains one of only three players (and the only European player) to finish as top scorer, player of the tournament and win the World Cup itself at the same finals.
The late Azzurri icon scooped the inaugural Golden Boot and Golden Shoe awards, notching six goals – among them the opener in the final against Germany – as Italy triumphed in Spain.
1986: Diego Maradona (Argentina)
Diego Maradona deserved the 1986 World Cup Golden Boot for his 'Goal of the Century' against England alone – but it didn't exactly do his chances any harm that he generally tore it up in Mexico.
As Argentina became world champions for the second time, their diminutive legend netted five times and provided three assists. He won the Golden Ball by almost 1,000 votes from West Germany's Toni Schumacher.
1990: Salvatore Schillaci (Italy)
The second Italian to do the double of Golden Ball and Golden Shoe, Salvatore Schillaci's goals almost fired Italy to the World Cup final on home turf for the second time.
It wasn't to be as the Azzurri lost on penalties to Argentina in the semis – where Schillaci controversially refused to step up in the shootout, citing injury – but 'Toto' had done enough to secure two individual awards. (Curiously, his international career petered out after that, and he only ever scored one more goal for his country.)
1994: Romario (Brazil)
Romario would play for Brazil until 2005 – but USA 94 turned out to be the prolific goalscorer's second and final World Cup.
His five goals weren't quite enough for the Golden Boot, but he remains – perhaps surprisingly – the last player to scoop the Golden Ball while playing for the tournament winners.
1998: Ronaldo (Brazil)
Ronaldo's first World Cup ended in the strangest of circumstances as a mysterious health scare rendered him a shadow of his usual self in the final – which Brazil lost 3-0 to hosts France.
Nonetheless, the 1996 and 1997 FIFA World Player of the Year's performances during the rest of the tournament earned him the Golden Boot.
2002: Oliver Kahn (Germany)
Not considered among the favourites heading into the 2002 World Cup, Germany reached the final thanks largely to skipper Oliver Kahn's goalkeeping's heroics.
The Bayern Munich legend played a perfect tournament – until his mistake let in Ronaldo to open the scoring for Brazil in the final. Kahn remains the only 'keeper to win the Golden Ball, but one can't help but slightly wonder what might have been.
2006: Zinedine Zidane (France)
Such are the ignominious circumstances in which his 2006 World Cup (and career) ended, it's easy to forget that Zinedine Zidane was utterly brilliant right up the point of retirement.
But that he was – and the three-time FIFA World Player of the Year capped a career chock-full of individual accolades by becoming the first (and, so far, only) French winner of the Golden Ball.
2010: Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
Diego Forlan missed out on the Golden Boot in South Africa due to the somewhat dubious tiebreaker of assists, but there are worse consolations than being recognised as player of the tournament.
The flowing-haired Uruguay frontman struck five times as La Celeste made it to the semi-finals for the first time in 40 years – including the opener in that quarter-final win against Ghana.
2014: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Lionel Messi will need to win the World Cup to fully emulate Diego Maradona – but he's already joined him in claiming the Golden Boot, finishing ahead of Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben in Brazil.
Messi scored all four of his goals at that tournament in the group stage, but we all know he doesn't need to be putting the ball in the net to be an absolute inspiration to his team – and he inspired Argentina to the final, only for Germany to win it in extra time.
2018: Luka Modric (Croatia)
The Golden Ball can seem like something of a consolation prize, but Luka Modric did also win the Ballon d'Or in 2018, ending Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's stranglehold on the award.
His country's string-puller-in-chief, Modric was the main man for Croatia as they finished as runners-up to France in Russia. The Real Madrid playmaker scored two goals at the tournament, most notably a 25-yard strike as Zlatko Dalic's side beat Argentina 3-0 in the group stage.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1