The Ballon d’Or award is the maximum individual honor for a professional footballer. We see players chasing that trophy season after season trying to do the best they can in order to get the prize. Some of the best in the history of the game have had the honor to win the golden ball after impressive seasons.
Moreover, there were other players who even though did good things, plenty of fans and experts didn’t believe they were worthy to be recipients of the prize. Controversial winners of this trophy have existed from a long time ago, but today we’re going to list the 10 we consider as the most scandalous and suspicious Ballon d’Or winners.
Here are the 10 most controversial Ballon d’Or winners in history.
Honorable Mention: Florian Albert (1967)
10. Matthias Sammer (1996)
This German midfielder shocked the world in 1996, just like his team at that moment, Borussia Dortmund. Sammer wasn’t precisely an offensive player; he was, in fact, a defensive midfielder, but the good campaign his team had served him to earn the Ballon d’Or.
Dortmund won the Champions League that year against Juventus, which was enough for the jury to believe that the German had had a better season than a young striker named Ronaldo, who enchanted everybody during his first months in Barcelona. Sammer beat Ronnie for only one point, so you know how close the voting was.
9. Igor Belanov (1986)
Back in 1986 Diego Maradona was ruling the football world. However, as the rules indicated during those years, the Ballon d’Or could only be won by European players, which left the competition to two of the best strikers during that time, Gary Lineker and Emilio Butragueño.
Lineker was the top scorer of the 1986 World Cup while ‘El Buitre’ landed as the champion of the Spanish first division and UEFA Cup. Little they knew that neither of them was to win the prize but a Sovietic player named Igor Belanov. The Ukrainian had won the Cup Winners’ Cup with Dynamo Kyiv and was one of the best players in the World Cup, even though his national team was relegated by Bulgaria in the last-16 round.
His hat-trick against Bulgaria was more meaningful for the jury than the hat-trick scored by Lineker against Paraguay or the four goals Butragueño scored against Denmark during that tournament.
8. Lev Yashin (1963)
Yes, Lev Yashin is arguably the best goalkeeper in the history of football, but that doesn’t mean his announcement as the Ballon d’Or recipient in 1963 wasn’t surprising. The Black Spider really had a marvelous career, but this is an award fans have to put an asterisk on.
Why? Well, he earned it in a year with no international competition for national sides, and he didn’t do good in the European Cup, either, as his team, Dynamo Moskow didn’t go too far. However, Yashin beat Milan’s star Gianni Rivera on the voting, even though he was probably the best player of that competition and ended up winning the title with his side.
7. Allan Simonsen (1977)
Allan Simonsen had a good season in 1977, but if we compare it to the things his maximum rival that year did, yes, you have to say that this selection was indeed unfair. The Danish winger was playing at a good level back in that year, even taking his team, Borussia Monchengladbach to the European Cup final.
But, as they landed there, they were dominated by Liverpool in a 3-1 loss where Simonsen scored the only goal for his side. So, what was the problem? Well, he faced Kevin Keegan in that final, Liverpool’s biggest star and champion of the competition, so it was a shock when Allan got elected ahead of Keegan, who went to become a total legend for the Reds while the Dane spent the rest of his playing days with more grief than glory.
6. Andriy Shevchenko (2004)
Nobody doubts that Andriy Shevchenko was one of the most talented strikers of his era, but the Ballon d’Or he earned was a little forced in the eyes of many. Sheva had done impressive things in prior campaigns which made him worthy of claiming the award, but in a season where his game wasn’t that good, he managed to take the prize home.
He won the Serie A title with Milan that year, scoring 14 goals, but getting released in the Champions League by the surprising Deportivo La Coruña. Everybody thought Portuguese midfielder Deco was to win the honor after having won the Primeira Liga, Portuguese Super Cup, Champions League, and Intercontinental Cup with Porto; in a shocking turn of events, the Ukrainian striker earned the award over the midfielder.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo (2013)
This is the most recent case of the list and perhaps some fans forgot about it seeing how good Cristiano Ronaldo was during his last three seasons with Real Madrid. Back in 2013, CR7 had scored 69 goals, having a great season individually speaking, but when it came to titles with his club, things weren’t that great for him.
The now Juventus star only won the Spanish Super Cup with Los Blancos, but, seeing how great he was for his national side the voting for the award was reopened. People think that additional voting could have helped Cristiano to win the award, as the maximum favorite to the honor was Bayern’s Franck Ribery, who did just great for the German giants and won 5 of the 6 competitions he played.
4. Lionel Messi (2010)
Yes, we’re talking about controversial winners here and it doesn’t matter if we have to mention Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Three years before the Cristiano’s episode, Messi made it to the headlines, as he won the award in 2010 when everybody believed the prize was going to someone else.
Contrary to what many considered, Messi turned out to be the recipient of the award, something that shocked everybody that day, including the Argentine star himself, who dared to say ‘I didn’t expect to win this today’. Messi’s teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez were expected to take the trophy home, as well as Dutchman Wesley Sneijder, who won the triplet with Internazionale and finished as runners-up in the World Cup.
3. Fabio Cannavaro (2006)
The Italian defender had a marvelous season with the Italy national side, helping his team to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup after his great performances. Cannavaro won the tournament and that took him to be honored as the Ballon d’Or winner.
It was the first time a defender won the trophy, but many fans expected his teammate Gianluigi Buffon to claim the prize instead. If it wasn’t Gigi, Thierry Henry was the other one expected to win the honor as he played in both the Champions League and World Cup finals, finishing as runner-up in both competitions.
2. Pavel Nedved (2003)
Not everybody considered Nedved as the best player of the world back in 2003, even though he landed in the Champions League finals and won the Serie A trophy that year. People often pointed out his age at the time he won the trophy.
The Czech player was great that season, but the majority of fans believed that Arsenal’s Thierry Henry was to get the prize. Henry’s 30 goals in the Premier League that year weren’t enough to convince the jury that he was worthy of the award and decided to give it to Nedved.
1. Michael Owen (2001)
Michael Owen was one of the best strikers in the world back in 2001, but that wasn’t good enough for fans who were outraged when the former Liverpool star got to win the Ballon d’Or, surpassing the great Raul Gonzalez, who had a great season with Real Madrid.
Owen won the UEFA Cup and European Super Cup, while Raul had won two of the last three Champions League with Los Blancos, but that year he fell short and was eliminated in the semi-finals. That didn’t help him to convince the jury to give him the prize and Owen received 26 more points than the Spaniard. The most shocking Ballon d’Or winner in history, Michael Owen.