The Ballon d’Or or “Golden Ball” is considered to be the most prestigious individual award a footballer can win in his lifetime. Generally awarded by French magazine France Football, the Ballon d’Or award first came into being in 1956, recognizing the best player of that calendar year. It has been an annual excellence recognition award ever since.
Until 1995, Ballon d’Or only recognized European players, which is why the great Pele and Diego Maradona never got their hands on the trophy. The competition was surely a bit unfair then, but that should not take anything away from the world-class footballers Europe has produced over the decades.
Here are the top five Ballon d’Or winners Europe has ever produced:
#5 Franz Beckenbauer
Hailed as “Der Kaiser,” Franz Beckenbauer is arguably the best footballer Germany has ever produced. The only man in history to win the World Cup both as a captain (1974) and a manager (1990), Beckenbauer was an alien among humans.
Beckenbauer, who ruled football in the 1960s and 1970s was the first “sweeper” in recorded history. He could instigate attacks deep from his own half thanks to his accurate long balls and determined runs.
As captain of Bayern Munich, the West Germany international led the club to three consecutive European Cups between 1973 and 1976.
For his heroics in club and country colors, the 1974 World Cup winner won two Ballons d’Or in 1972 and 1976.
#4 Marco van Basten
Ajax and AC Milan legend Marco van Basten was a goalscorer like no other. He could conjure goals from thin air, leaving his opponents in awe. The “Swan Of Utrecht” was fearless, had a knack for scoring acrobatic goals, and was usually the most intelligent player on the pitch.
His movements were almost impossible to predict, making him the most lethal scorer of his era.
The winner of four European Cups with Ajax (1986-87) and AC Milan (1988–89, 1989–90, 1993–94) scored 300 goals for club and country. Unfortunately, persistent ankle injuries forced him to play his last match in 1993, when he was only 28 years old.
Even in such a short spell, he claimed three Ballons d’Or in 1988, 1989, and 1992.