Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been the dominant forces in soccer for the past 20 years, winning numerous Ballon d’Or awards. While their greatness is undeniable, some footballers may feel overlooked for their own achievements in the sport.
This list includes some of the greatest athletes of all time, and each of them should have won at least one gold medal, World Cup winner Manuel Neuer and the Dutch centre back Virgil van Dijk are some of the players who missed out on this prestigious award. The two legends Messi and Ronaldo had made it a personal duel and won the prestigious individual award every time between themselves from 2008 before Luka Modric won the prestigious accolade in 2018.
Here we look at some of the players who deserved to win the Ballon d’Or ahead of the famed duo:
Xavi Hernandez – (2009,2011)
Considered by many as the greatest Spanish player ever, Xavi Hernandez is genuinely one of the best midfielders to ever play the game. Number six for Barcelona and eight for Spain, Xavi was the conductor of Pep Guardiola‘s game-changing team of the late noughties. Because of his skill at manipulating games, he has earned the moniker “The Puppet Master.”
The Spaniard’s vision, pinpoint passing, and world-class ball control allowed him to dictate the flow of play while rarely losing possession. Helping La Roja reign supreme on the international stage with two European Championship wins sandwiching World Cup success in South Africa, Xavi personified LaLiga and its nation’s dominance, Playing in a team filled with superstars made it difficult to stand out despite his vital presence. Finishing third for three years running from 2009 to 2011, he was firmly the best in his position during that period.
Wesley Sneijder – (2010)
One of the most complete players of his generation, Wesley Sneijder was the odds favourite to win the Ballon d’Or in 2010. Sneijder has never finished in the top three in the standings in his entire career, which is outrageous. After falling out of favour at Real Madrid, the Dutchman was the creative lynchpin of Inter Milan‘s 2009-10 treble-winning team. Wesley Sneijder made an immediate impact at Inter Milan, helping the team win the Serie A and Champions League in 2010.
Capable of playing as a deep-lying playmaker or as a number 10, Sneijder dictated his side’s play and was quite often the difference between victory and defeat. Sneijder’s impact that year could be seen from the fact that even Barcelona legend Xavi was unhappy with the fact that he was left out of the top 3. Speaking to Sport in 2010, Xavi said: “As for Sneijder, I know that in Italy they are angry because he is not one of the finalists. I can only agree with them. The Dutchman has had a fantastic year”.
Andres Iniesta – (2010 and 2012)
Eight for Barca and six for Spain, Iniesta remains one of the most elegant players to ever grace the middle of a soccer pitch. His partnership with Xavi is well-documented but Iniesta wasn’t just a one-position man and managed to form soccer friendships with other top players as his teams evolved. Iniesta won the UEFA Best Player in Europe award in 2012 and was also chosen as the Best Player of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League season. He was runner-up to Lionel Messi for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or and secured third place in 2012. When it comes to the beautiful game, this Spanish legend is without a doubt the best player who has never received FIFA’s Ballon d’Or award.
Frank Ribery – 2013
Franck Ribery was widely expected to win the 2013 Ballon d’Or, only to lose out to Cristiano Ronaldo. Lionel Messi also finished ahead of the then-Bayern Munich star, with claims that the voting process was “unfair”. Ribery never won the award and still feels aggrieved nine years on. It remains the most controversial Ballon d’Or in the history of the award.
At the time, Ribery was widely tipped to win the award after he led Bayern Munich to a historic treble, winning the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB-Pokal. While one cannot discount Ronaldo’s and Messi’s performances in 2013, Ribery arguably deserved the Ballon d’Or above these two legends.
Robert Lewandoski – 2021
Bayern Munich striker and Polish forward Robert Lewandowski was regarded as unlucky to miss out on the 2020 Ballon d’Or award, which was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he was awarded the 2021 Goalscorer of the Year award in recognition of his record-breaking season when he scored 41 league goals. It’s very difficult to get away from the fact that Lewy missed out in 2020 after the award was cancelled.
He was in the midst of helping Bayern to a historic sextuple, having already won the Bundesliga, DFB Cup, UEFA Champions League, DFL Supercup, Club World Cup and UEFA Supercup. Ahead of the 2021 main award, France Football issued a ‘best goalscorer’ award, which some may believe is an attempt to acknowledge the fact that the Polish striker missed out on recognition.