The Ballon d’Or, organised by the France Football magazine, is awarded annually to the world’s best footballer who was a cut above the rest and stood out with their performances over the previous year.

The Ballon d’Or award is the brainchild of former France footballer and journalist Gabriel Hanot, who is also credited for conceiving the Ligue 1 championship in France and co-founding the European Cup - now known as the UEFA Champions League - with L’Equipe colleague Jacques Ferran.

Instituted in 1956, the Ballon d’Or award was initially considered as the European Footballer of the Year award as it was only open to European players at European clubs.

However, the rules for eligible winners of the Ballon d’Or award were amended when AC Milan’s George Weah became the first non-European Ballon d’Or winner in 1995. Two years later in 1997, Brazil’s Ronaldo was the first South American winner of the Ballon d’Or award.

Since 2007, the eligibility to win the Ballon d’Or award has been expanded to all players from every continent.

Between 2010 and 2015, the France Football magazine and FIFA formed a partnership where the Ballon d’Or would merge with the FIFA World Player of the Year award to be known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

In 2018, the France Football magazine introduced the Ballon d’Or Feminin award for the best woman football player in the world.

Since its introduction in 1956, the Ballon d’Or has been cancelled just once in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who was the first Ballon d’Or winner?

Stanley Matthews won the first-ever Ballon d’Or award in 1956. Known for his exquisite close contro, great dribbling ability and intelligence on the field, Matthews inspired a famous come-from-behind 4-3 victory for Blackpool in the 1953 FA Cup final against Bolton Wanderers. The fixture later came to be known as the ‘Matthews final’. 

He also finished as a runner-up in the English top-flight with Blackpool in the 1955-56 season en-route to becoming the first Ballon d’Or winner.

Who won the first Ballon d'Or as a female football player?

Norway striker Ada Hegerberg is the first winner of the Ballon d’or Feminin award that was introduced in 2018.

Hegerberg, then 23, finished as the leading goal-scorer for Olympique Lyonnais in the 2017-18 Division 1 Féminine (31 goals) as well as in the UEFA Women’s Champions League (15 goals).

How is the winner of Ballon d'Or decided?

Who has won most Ballon d’Or?

Lionel Messi has won the most Ballon d’Or awards in history, with seven wins, two more than rival Cristiano Ronaldo. The Argentina captain won four successive Ballon d’Or awards between 2009 and 2012 and was the first player to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

The Barcelona icon, who currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain, won a record seventh Ballon d’Or in 2021 as he helped Argentina claim the Copa America and also won the Copa Del Rey 2020-21 with the Catalan giants.

Ballon d’Or winners list

1956: Stanley Matthews (Blackpool)

1957: Alfredo Di Stefano (Real Madrid)

1958: Raymond Kopa (Real Madrid)

1959: Alfredo Di Stefano (Real Madrid)

1960: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

1961: Omar Sivori (Juventus)

1962: Josef Masopust (Dukla Prague)

1963: Lev Yashin (Dynamo Moscow)

1964: Denis Law (Manchester United)

1965: Eusebio (Benfica)

1966: Bobby Charlton (Manchester United)

1967: Florian Albert (Ferencvaros)

1968: George Best (Manchester United)

1969: Gianni Rivera (Milan)

1970: Gerd Muller (Bayern Munich)

1971: Johan Cruyff (Ajax)

1972: Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich)

1973: Johan Cruyff (Barcelona)

1974: Johan Cruyff (Barcelona)

1975: Oleg Blokhin (Dynamo Kyiv)

1976: Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich)

1977: Allan Simonsen (Borussia Monchengladbach)

1978: Kevin Keegan (Hamburg)

1979: Kevin Keegan (Hamburg)

1980: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Bayern Munich)

1981: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Bayern Munich)

1982: Paolo Rossi (Juventus)

1983: Michel Platini (Juventus)

1984: Michel Platini (Juventus)

1985: Michel Platini (Juventus)

1986: Igor Belanov (Dynamo Kyiv)

1987: Ruud Gullit (Milan)

1988: Marco van Basten (Milan)

1989: Marco van Basten (Milan)

1990: Lothar Matthaus (Inter Milan)

1991: Jean-Pierre Papin (Marseille)

1992: Marco van Basten (AC Milan)

1993: Roberto Baggio (Juventus)

1994: Hristo Stoichkov (Barcelona)

1995: George Weah (Milan)

1996: Matthias Sammer (Borussia Dortmund)

1997: Ronaldo (Inter Milan)

1998: Zinedine Zidane (Juventus)

1999: Rivaldo (Barcelona)

2000: Luis Figo (Real Madrid)

2001: Michael Owen (Liverpool)

2002: Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

2003: Pavel Nedved (Juventus)

2004: Andriy Shevchenko (Milan)

2005: Ronaldinho (Barcelona)

2006: Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid)

2007: Kaka (Milan)

2008: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

2009: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

2010: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

2011: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

2012: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

2013: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

2014: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

2015: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

2016: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

2017: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

2018: Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

2019: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

2021: Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)

Ballon d’Or Feminin winners list

2018: Ada Hegerberg (Lyon)

2019: Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)

2021: Alexia Putellas (Barcelona)

Author: William Paul

Featured photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP