The Cristiano Ronaldo/Lionel Messi duopoly of the Ballon d’Or shows no signs of letting up any time soon, with the two Spain-based superstars having passed the award between themselves for the last 10 years. In this slideshow, we pick out some of the more unlikely nominees for the biggest individual prize in football…
10. Adrian Mutu (2003)
At the time, few could argue with Mutu’s inclusion on the 2003 Ballon d’Or shortlist. At Parma, the Romanian had forged one of Europe’s most clinical striking partnerships with Brazilian sharp-shooter Adriano, and his early form for Chelsea (four goals in three matches) suggested even better things lay ahead.
They didn’t. Failing a drug test for cocaine and subsequent moves to Juventus and Fiorentina – both culprits in the 2006 Calciopoli scandal – ensured Mutu’s name will always be more synonymous with controversy than on-field glory.
9. Neville Southall (1988)
It’s hard to disagree with Neville Southall’s selection during his Everton heyday – only Liverpool conceded fewer top-flight goals in 1987/88. To a modern football audience more accustomed to prancing sweeper-keepers, however, it's easy to forget that the Merseyside favourite was once legitimately among the world's finest goalkeepers.
The Welsh shot-stopper, who has recently reinvented himself as the sport’s most woke Twitter user, lined up alongside fellow keepers Michel Preud’homme, Rinat Dasayev and Walter Zenga on the 1988 list. Sadly Southall only picked up a single vote as a pesky striker – Marco van Basten – got his hands on the award.
8. Dean Saunders (1991)
Despite the fact they were relegated from the First Division after winning just five of their 38 games, Derby found themselves harbouring an unfashionable contender for the title of Europe's best footballer.
Saunders found himself in the illustrious company of Jean-Pierre Papin, Lothar Matthaus and Van Basten that year, having bagged 17 goals for the struggling Rams to earn a £2.9m summer move to Liverpool. The Welsh striker’s deadly form for the Merseysiders in Europe helped him achieve a joint-13th-place finish in the 1991 poll.
7. Gennaro Gattuso (2006)
On paper, Gattuso’s shortlist nomination in 2006 doesn’t seem particularly surprising. After all, the ball-winning midfielder had just won the World Cup with Italy and was already a one-time Serie A-winner and European champion with Milan.
Yet even by his own admission, Gattuso wasn’t the most technically gifted footballer. Scrappy, short-tempered and supremely aggressive, the current Milan boss was Serie A’s answer to Dennis Wise, but his contributions for club and country were clearly appreciated by some.
6. Tomas Brolin (1994)
Regularly ranked as one of the worst players ever to grace the Premier League, Brolin prompted chants of “who ate all the pies?” when he joined Leeds in 1995.
It’s easy to forget, then, that the Swede was once a highly gifted midfielder who helped guide both his homeland and club side Parma to success far beyond expectations. He narrowly missed out on a top-three finish in the 1994 ballot, finishing behind only Hristo Stoichkov, Roberto Baggio and Paolo Maldini.
5. John Jensen (1992)
Denmark international Jensen lit up Euro 1992, only to lose his magic touch the minute he stepped foot inside the Premier League. The midfielder took so long to score for Arsenal (98 games to be exact) that “I was there when John Jensen scored” became a badge of honour among Gunners fans.
His goal in the Euros final defeat of Germany briefly had him hailed as the next great European midfielder, though, a feat which earned him a move to north London and three votes in that year’s Ballon d’Or – enough to rank him level with a certain Paolo Maldini.
4. Harry Kewell (2001)
By the time Kewell departed Leeds in 2003, Milan and Barcelona were among the European superclubs battling for his signature. Two years previously, his form in the Whites’ run to the last four of the Champions League was so masterful that he 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 struggled to make any kind of impression following a big-money move to England in 2009, but the Russian was tipped for greatness before a loss of form cut short his time at Chelsea and led to a premature return to his home country.
Yet before that his performances during his country's run to the semi-finals at Euro 2008 were considered so impressive that he was shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or. Unfortunately, they weren’t impressive enough to garner him a single vote as Cristiano Ronaldo scooped the prize for the first time in his career.
2. Trifon Ivanov (1996)
The Bulgarian defender was just as famous for his unfashionable mullet and mutton chops combo as his long-range free-kicks, but he nevertheless managed to bag a spot on the Ballon d’Or shortlist in 1996.
Some eye-catching performances at that year’s European Championship saw the then-Rapid Vienna star collect as many votes as Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Rui Costa combined. Not bad going for a Wolverine lookalike, even if it wasn’t quite enough to pip Matthias Sammer to top spot.
1. Traianos Dellas (2004)
Four Greeks were shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or following their sensational success at Euro 2004, including skipper Theodoros Zagorakis, goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis and tournament-winning goalscorer Angelos Charisteas.
But it was the inclusion of Dellas, the lumbering man mountain who briefly plied his trade at Sheffield United, that truly celebrated the art of being totally ordinary. Five votes helped the rugged centre-half finish above Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo, but some way below eventual winner Andriy Shevchenko.
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