The Ballon d’Or was first awarded in 1956 and was an award created by a French football magazine, aptly named “France Football”. Stanley Matthews was the first player to win this prestigious accolade, which essentially seeks to recognise the best footballer in the world. It was initially known as the European Footballer of the Year award and was only open to European players. This was changed in 1995 so that non-European footballers who were active with European clubs could win it and then altered again in 2007 to become fully global.
It is currently voted for by a mix of media experts, as well as coaches and captains of nations ranked inside FIFA’s top 100. There have been various other changes over the years, including a brief merger with FIFA’s Player of the Year award and changes to what period the award covers. But whatever the name, voting method or exact format, any player who lifts the Ballon d’Or can claim to be the best in the world at that time. But who has won this award the most?
GOAT of GOATs Lionel Messi Tops Ballon d’Or Pile
We are not going to enter the Messi v Ronaldo debate (or have we done that by calling Messi the GOAT?!) but what is an indisputable fact is that Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or more times than any player in the history of football. The incredible Argentine has won the Ballon d’Or an astonishing seven times. What’s more, he has been runner-up a further five times and finished third once.
The former Barcelona man made his debut for the Catalan club during the 2004/05 season and was a regular by the 2006/07 campaign. He made his Argentina bow in 2005 and he first registered a vote in the Ballon d’Or in 2006. Below we can see how he has got on each year from then on wards, although note that the voting/points system has changed many times during his career.
|2006||Joint 20||2||Fabio Cannavaro|
|2022||Not nominated||NA||Karim Benzema|
* The 2020 award was cancelled due to the global health crisis.
The 2023 award is based on a “season” that included the 2022 World Cup, won by Messi’s Argentina. At the time of writing the Inter Miami man is the huge favourite to be crowned winner of the Ballon d’Or and it is almost impossible to see any other player winning. As such, whilst Messi currently has seven “Golden Balls” to his name, we will almost certainly be making that eight very soon. Records are there to be broken and we are wise enough not to say that Messi’s record eight (probably) wins in the Ballon d’Or will never be bettered but we certainly don’t expect it to happen any time soon.
Ronaldo Second with 5
Unsurprisingly it is Cristiano Ronaldo who comes in second and with five wins to his name, and there is every chance that even overtaking him will not be something any player is able to do for many years. CR7 was the first of the duo to win the game’s biggest individual honour, in 2008. However, a year earlier he had been second to Kaka, with Messi third, and since then the modern game’s great two have completed a one-two in this award no fewer than nine times. They were also both in the top three in 2007, as said, and again in 2019 (when Virgil van Dijk came second to separate the pair).
Ronaldo’s greatest era in terms of the Ballon d’Or was in the 2010s when he came second in 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2018 but claimed four wins out of five between 2013 and 2017. As noted, the voting system has changed several times but one of the most dominant wins by any player in terms of that came in 2017, when Ronaldo landed 946 votes (Messi got 670), although the Portuguese ace arguably did even better in 2016 when his 745 was more than double the 316 of second-placed Messi.
The former Real Madrid legend is older than his great rival and has not made the top three of the Ballon d’Or since coming third in 2019. Now playing in Saudi, he is unlikely to feature again, although his continued goalscoring with his national side could alter that, especially if he is able to fire Portugal to glory at Euro 2024.
Multiple Winners of the Ballon d’Or
The greatest players of the modern era are well ahead when it comes to wins in the Ballon d’Or but there are many other multiple winners. The complete list of footballers to have won this prize more than once reads like a who’s who of the game’s finest and can be seen below. None of these come close to the top two in terms of overall wins or finishes in the top three but all are absolute legends of the sport.
|Wins||Player||Years Won||Years 2nd||Years 3rd||Top 3 Finishes|
|7||Lionel Messi||2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019, 2021||2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017||2007||13|
|5||Cristiano Ronaldo||2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017||2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2018||2019||12|
|3||Michel Platini||1983, 1984, 1985||0||1977, 1980||5|
|3||Johan Cruyff||1971, 1973, 1974||0||1975||4|
|3||Marco van Basten||1988, 1989, 1992||0||0||3|
|2||Franz Beckenbauer||1972, 1976||1974, 1975||1966||5|
|2||Alfredo Di Stefano||1957, 1959||1956||0||3|
|2||Kevin Keegan||1978, 1979||1977||0||3|
|2||Karl-Heinz Rummenigge||1980, 1981||1979||0||2|