As expected, Lionel Messi
won his fifth FIFA Ballon d'Or as the best player in the world in voting by national team coaches and captains and journalists
. The most
any other player has won is three awards, mostly recently by Cristiano Ronaldo
(2008, 2013, 2014).
The others won three awards when the Ballon d'Or was known as the European Player
of the Year: Johan Cruyff
(1971, 1973, 1974), Michel Platini
(1983, 1984, 1985) and Marco van Basten
(1988, 1989, 1992). (Zinedine Zidane
won the Ballon d'Or and FIFA
Player of the Year in 1998 and FIFA Player of the Year awards in 2000 and 2003.)
Does that make Messi the greatest player of all time? Before him, such South American greats as
, Diego Maradona, Garrincha
were excluded from consideration for the Ballon d'Or.
From its inception in 1956 to 1994, the Ballon d'Or ("Golden Ball"),
launched and organized by the Paris magazine France Football, was picked by European journalists and awarded to a European player.
(The Real Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano
was born and raised in Argentina and won in 1957 and 1959, qualified as a European because he played briefly for Spain. Same thing for "Italian" Omar Sivori
, the winner in 1961.)
Beginning in 1995, the rules were modified, and all players playing in Europe were eligible for the Ballon d'Or. Indeed, the 1995 winner was AC Milan forward (and part-time Staten Island resident)
In 2007, the rules were again changed, and the Ballon d'Or was open to any player. The voting was also changed to include non-European journalists from
countries that had played in the World Cup.
Since 2010, the award has been known as the FIFA Ballon d'Or, reflecting the merger of the Ballon d'Or and FIFA Player of the Year awards, not
without the protest of the three former editors in chief of France Football who had organized the voting since 1955 and objected to France Football's publishers "selling out" to FIFA.
Indeed, the first vote for the unified award backed up some of the concerns as Wesley Sneijder
, first in the media voting, finished only fourth overall behind Messi in 2010, and Messi's
Barcelona teammates, Andres Iniesta
when national team captains and coaches were factored in.
But is Messi
indeed the greatest player ever ahead of the greats from the past? In celebration of 60 years of the Ballon d'Or, France Football published a special edition and looked at all the years when
non-Europeans were excluded and determined whether the voting would have been the same if the award was open to everyone. The results? Pele would have won seven Ballon d'Or awards in the 12 years that
would have been produced a different winner.
Ballon d'Or, The Remake:
1958 Pele (Kopa)
1959 Pele (Di
1960 Pele (Suarez)
1961 Pele (Sivori)
1962 Garrincha (Masopust)
1963 Pele (Yashin)
1964 Pele (Law)
1978 Kempes (Keegan)
1986 Maradona (Belanov)
1990 Maradona (Matthaeus)
1994 Romario (Stoitchkov)
Football also asked Jacques Ferran, who was its editor in chief in 1956 and organized the first voting, mostly of its European correspondents, who he'd pick among the players who have won the
award, and Ferran, now 95, picked Di Stefano, Cruyff and Platini, 1-2-3, over Messi.
His argument? Di Stefano was more important to his club, the great Real Madrid of the 1950s and early
1960s, than than Messi is to Barcelona, and neither was a factor on the national team level.
"Everything went through him," Ferran explained of Real Madrid's tactics that were built
around Di Stefano. "I never saw that, except with Pele and perhaps for a short time Cruyff at his peak."
2015 U.S. Votes:
Jurgen Klinsmann: 1. Messi 2. Neymar 3. Cristiano Ronaldo.
Captain Michael Bradley: 1. Messi 2. Ronaldo 3. Suarez.
Media Paul Kennedy: 1. Messi. 2. Cristiano Ronaldo