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A Brief History of FIFA Ballon d’Or | 2019 Updates

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The FIFA Ballon d’Or, which literally stands for “Golden Ball”, is an annual soccer trophy given by FIFA to the best male footballer who gave the best performance in the previous calendar year. The award is now considered as the highest individual honor of football and is based on the votes from national team coaches and captains. Sports journalists from around the world also vote in this award to choose the best performer in the previous season.

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The Brief History

The original Ballon d’Or is now referred to the European Footballer of the Year award. Since its inauguration, the award was an annual soccer award which was presented to the player who had been voted to give the best performance over the previous football season. The original FIFA best player award was the brainchild of Gabriel Hanot, the chief magazine writer of France Football. Hanot first asked his media collogues to vote the best soccer player of the year in Europe way back in 1956. Stanley Matthews of Blackpool club received the first inaugural FIFA best player award.

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Until the award received few modifications 1995, the sports journalists could only vote for the European players who play at European clubs. The players who played in European football clubs but is not a European or the players who neither played for a European club nor is a European were ineligible for the original Ballon d’Or such as legendary footballers such as Pelé and Diego Maradona. The modification in 1995 allowed non-European players to qualify for the FIFA best player award if they played for a European club.

AC Milan’s George Weah became the first non-European to receive the honor in the same year after the rule change. Another modification was made in 2007 for which any footballer in the world became eligible to receive the honor. The modification of 2007 also increased the number of journalists allowed to vote from 52 Europe-based journalists in 2006 to 96 journalists all over the world. Sports journalists gave the vote to choose their top five players for the original Ballon d’Or.

A Brief History of FIFA Ballon d'Or
The Legendary Gala

Three football players have won the original FIFA best player award three times each, Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, and Marco van Basten. Michel Platini is the only footballer to receive the original FIFA best player award honor three times consecutively from 1983 to 1985. After non-Europeans were made eligible by the modification in 1995, Ronaldo became the first Brazilian to obtain the honor in 1997.

Footballers from Germany and Netherlands won the original Ballon d’Or the most with seven awards each. Footballers of the Italian clubs Juventus and AC Milan won the original Ballon d’Or the most; six players have received eight awards while playing for each team. The final recipient of now-defunct Ballon d’Or was Lionel Messi. He received the honor as the first Argentine citizen and became the third Argentine ever to win the award.

Ballon d'Or
The Trophy

Two of the highest honor for the soccer players, the FIFA best player award and the men’s FIFA World Player of the Year award, were merged to inaugurate the final and modern FIFA Ballon d’Or in 2010. Since then, the honor has been awarded to the world’s best male footballer. On a contrary, UEFA inaugurated the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award in 2011 so that they can carry the prestige of the old Ballon d’Or after it changed its rules and was merged to create the modern FIFA best player award.

FIFA Ballon d'Or History
The Trophy – Who’z Next?

After the merging of France Football’s Ballon d’Or and the men’s FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2010, Lionel Messi became the first football player to receive the award. Messi then continued to successfully defend his highest honor for the following two years. The original FIFA World Player of the Year award now became a women-only award after the merging of Ballon d’Or and World Male Player of the Year in 2010.

The modern FIFA Ballon d’Or has been solely dominated by two of the best modern footballer, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo. The FIFA Ballon d’Or now became an integral part of their ongoing soccer rivalry. Cristiano Ronaldo recently became the most recent recipient of the FIFA Ballon d’Or while defeating Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer to the award for the 2014 football season.

Ballon d'Or Infos
Lionel Messi with his awards

There are several special honors of Ballon d’Or were given to legendary soccer players besides naming the original Ballon d’Or each year. A special FIFA best player award under the name of Super Ballon d’Or was given to Alfredo Di Stéfano during the 30th anniversary of the French magazine in December 1989. Three of the legendary footballers were nominated for voting where Di Stéfano surpassed Johan Cruyff and Michel Platini to win the Super Ballon d’Or.

Recently legendary Brazilian footballer Pelé was given an honorary Ballon d’Or in 2014. FIFA decided to proceed with the special FIFA best player award for Pelé as he won three FIFA World Cups with Brazil but never received an individual award from FIFA. During Pelé’s heydays, only European-based players were eligible to win the original and now defunct FIFA best player award.

Ballon d'Or
Cristiano Ronaldo Receiving the award

The original creator of the FIFA best player award, France Football, consulted their former Ballon d’Or winners to vote for the Football Player of the Century in 1999. Brazilian legend Pelé received the highest attention and has been voted as the greatest of all time by 17 of the Football Player of the Century voters. 30 out of the former 34 FIFA best player award winners from 1956 to 1999 cast their votes while choosing the Football Player of the Century.

Three Ballon d’Or winners, Stanley Matthews, Omar Sivori and George Best, refused to give their votes for choosing the century’s best footballer. The other Ballon d’Or winner, Lev Yashin, had died of stomach cancer nine years earlier of the voting for Football Player of the Century.

More to add to the history of Ballon d’Or, feel free to comment below.

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