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World Football

Top five best finishes for African players in Ballon d'Or history

Published at :August 23, 2023 at 11:53 PM
Modified at :January 13, 2024 at 6:17 PM
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Manav Chowdhury


Only one African player has won the Ballon d’Or

Africa is the second-largest and second-most populated continent in the world. It houses a variety of languages, cultures, beliefs, and traditions. Amidst all of this diversity, there is one thing that unites all souls across Africa: their love for football. Football isn’t just the most popular sport in Africa; it is an emotion. For some, it is their livelihood.

To many, it is an inspiration. To most others, it is what gives them hope in the grimiest of days. Former AC Milan star George Weah is, to this date, the only African to have won the prestigious trophy. The continent finally had its first winner in the 40th edition of the Ballon d’Or in 1995, the very first year they allowed non-Europeans to have a crack at the award.

Here is the list of the top five African players who have had the best finishes in the history of the Ballon d’Or:

5. Mohamed Salah

He has finished in the top 6 in two consecutive years since 2018. He was always seen as a pacey, exciting winger with the ability to do a little bit of everything. However, few could have predicted that the Egyptian winger would become one of the best goalscorers in the world since joining Liverpool.

He finished fifth in the 2022 Ballon d’Or rankings. He won the FA Cup, EFL Cup, and Community Shield that year. Salah won the Premier League golden boot and playmaker award in the 2021–2022 season with Liverpool after scoring 23 goals and providing fourteen assists.

4. Samuel Eto’o

He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or a whopping 10 times in his career. Eto’o had sublime quality on the ball, could dribble at great speed, found a pass that midfielders would be proud of, and worked hard to help his team in any way possible. Eto’o finished 5th in the 2009 ceremony after winning the Champions League, La Liga, and Copa del Rey with Barcelona.

En route to winning the La Liga title, Eto’o finished the season with 30 goals. The Cameroonian guided the Indomitable Lions to finish as runners-up in the 2008 AFCON, where he was named the top goal scorer of the tournament. Eto’o made the Ballon d’Or rankings in 2004, finishing 15th. The fact that he continued to make his presence felt on the grandest stage of football for the next eight years straight is testimony to his greatness.

3. Didier Drogba

2006 was a great year for the Ivorian striker. He had just won back-to-back Premier League titles with Chelsea and played a pivotal role in the process. Drogba, playing for Chelsea, won the 2006/07 FA Cup, EFL Cup, and Premier League golden boot with 20 goals.

In 2007, he finished 4th in the Ballon d’Or rankings, behind Lionel MessiCristiano Ronaldo, and the winner, Kaka. It would be the closest he would come to winning the grand prize. Interestingly, he failed to even win the African Player of the Year award and was beaten by Malian Frederic Kanoute.

2. Sadio Mane

richest african footballers 2023 Sadio Mane Ballon d'Or
Sadio Mane missed out on winning the trophy in 2022

A versatile forward, Mané is a prolific goalscorer whose main traits are his finishing, speed, technique, and trickery in possession, as well as his decision-making, tactical awareness, creativity, agility, balance, control, touch on the ball, and dribbling skills.

Sadio Mane, in 2022, was announced as the runner-up in the Ballon d’Or rankings. The Senegalese were impressive in the 2021–22 season, winning the EFL Cup and FA Cup and finishing as runners-up with Liverpool in the Champions League. He helped his national team win their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations title and also secured a World Cup slot. He finished 23rd in 2017, 22nd in 2018, and then jumped all the way up to 4th in 2019.

1. George Weah

During his prime in the 1990s, Weah was regarded as one of the best strikers in the world. He was lauded for his speed, work rate, stamina, and attacking instincts, as well as his physical and athletic attributes, which he combined with his finishing, technical ability, and creativity.

A fast, powerful, physically strong player with an eye for goals, he was the first and still is the only African player to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or. He won the Ligue 1 in the 1994–95 season, the Coupe de France, and the Coupe de la Ligue. He also won the FIFA World Player of the Year award that season.

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