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Top 10 countries with most Ballon d'Or winners in history

Published at :September 18, 2022 at 8:51 PM
Modified at :October 18, 2022 at 7:13 AM
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Akash Roy

The latest edition of the award was won by Lionel Messi in 2021.

Not until 1995 the France Football association decided against their policy to include non-European players playing in Europe who were also eligible for the prestigious award of Ballon d'Or. The idea for such an honor was incepted in 1956 by France Football's chief magazine editor. Renowned journalists could only vote for European players playing actively in Europe. Such a distinction eliminated the early possibility of players like Diego Maradona or Pele emerging as Ballon d'Or winners.

Despite a late start, the football-rich south American continent has impressively made up the numbers to climb towards the top. Where do other countries lie? Let us find out.

10. Spain - 3

Alfredo Di Stefano with his second Ballon d'Or award (Courtesy: Real Madrid)

Spain won two Ballon d'Ors during the 1960s. The first Spaniard to win the award was the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano in 1957, who again reclaimed the honor two years later.

It might sound confusing- at first, to those knowing that Di Stefano was an Argentine by birth. But the Real Madrid legend adopted Spain as his nationality in 1956, thus becoming eligible for contesting the award. 

The latest Spaniard to receive the Ballon d’Or was the Barcelona legend Luis Suarez (the other one) in 1960. The attacking midfielder played for the Culers during 1955–1961. It has been well over half a century, with no Spaniard winning the award since then.

9. Soviet Union - 3

The Soviet Union was an active member of FIFA until it got dissolved into smaller nations in 1991. It should be of no surprise that before the splitting, the Soviet Union had three players who won the award for this long-lost nation.

The first player to win the Ballon d’Or in 1963 was Lev Yashin! Lev Yashin is regarded to be the best goalkeeper in the history of this sport. He remains to be the only goalkeeper to win this remarkable achievement because since then, no keeper has come close to being equally as impressive as him. The next set of players to win this award were separated by more than a decade as Oleg Blokhin won it in 1975, and Igor Belanov claimed the reward in 1986. Both were honored while playing for Dynamo Kyiv, now a Ukrainian football club. On the other hand, Yashin won it while guarding the sticks at Dynamo Moscow.

8. England - 5

Stanley Matthews of Blackpool became the inaugural recipient of the honor, becoming the first Englishman, in the process, to start a lineage of legacy. He won the award with 47 points, while Di Stéfano missed it with his 45. After 1956, England had to wait for a decade until Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton became the second Englishman to win the award. Kevin Keegan won two back-to-back Ballon d'Ors in 1978 & 1979 while playing for Hamburg away from home.

Keegan, the former Newcastle manager, earned his stripes while playing for Liverpool. However, he won the award during his stay at the German side. So, it was only fitting that an active Red won the honor later in the form of another Englishman - Michael Owen, who got the commemoration for his exceptional skills in 2001.

7. Brazil - 5

One of the most favorite nations to watch is the exceptionally skilled side of Brazil. It is only natural that they would have a long list after earning eligibility almost four decades later. They are catching up quite remarkably and are already in the seventh position.

Ronaldo became the first Brazilian in 1997 to win the award, two years after earning eligibility. R9 was one of the best strikers of that era, and at Internazionale, he was a reckoning force. His domination continued in Spain as he bagged his second and the nation's third Ballon d'Or in 2002 while playing for Real Madrid. His efforts in Brazil's World Cup campaign also played a significant part in his nomination.

Ronaldo was the first Brazilian to win the Ballon d'Or (Courtesy: Marca)

Barcelona boasted with their Brazilian players during this era when Rivaldo and Ronaldinho won the award in 1999 and 2005. The last Selecao player to win the Ballon d'Or was Kaka in 2007 while playing for AC Milan. All the four magicians who brought the award to the South American nation were part of Brazil's World Cup winning side of 2002. After Kaka, the award became a horse race for the next 10 years. 

6. Italy - 5  

Italy had five different winners to receive the coveted prize. The winning tally began with Omar Sivori of Juventus in 1961. Within the same decade, in 1969, Gianni Rivera of AC Milan made it two for Italy.

The Old Lady's luck struck again as the next two Italians to win the award were also Juventus players. The first of those two was Paolo Rossi in 1982, followed by Roberto Baggio in 1993. Fabio Cannavaro, who was a reliable candidate in Juventus' backline won the award in 2006. The win was lauded by the footballing fraternity, as it was difficult for defenders to surpass the attackers in bagging the award.

5. France - 7

France Football association's award was won on six occasions by four Frenchmen. The prize is remembered the most in the 20th century for Michel Platini's hat-trick of consecutive wins in 1983, 1984, and 1985. He bagged all three wins while playing for Juventus.

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Though Platini won the most as a Frenchman, he got preceded by Raymond Kopa, who was the first to bring the award home as a Real Madrid player in 1958. Needless of mention, France produced some of the most iconic football talents during the 90s.

In 1991, Marseille's Jean-Pierre Papin won the Ballon d'Or. He is the only player to receive the award from Ligue 1. The last Frenchman was the legendary Zinedine Zidane in 1998. He was also a Juventus player, like most in this list. Karim Benzema won the Ballon d'Or 2022.

4. Argentina - 7

Lionel Messi with his award in 2021 (Courtesy: Associated Press)

Perhaps, Lionel Messi will always be the most impressive record holder for winning the Ballon d'Or seven times single-handedly for his country. As was the case for Brazil, Argentina too, suffered from the same ineligibility till 1995. Thus, several greats from their World Cup-winning side, the obvious one being Diego Maradona, did not win the award, despite being the very best from that era.

Under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, Messi became a living legend for this generation while playing at Barcelona. His rivalry with his Real Madrid counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo, made the competition exclusive between these two men. It is noteworthy that Messi has the same number of solo awards won in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019, and 2021 as the country with the most winners. He still has a few more years left in his tank to take his nation towards the top of this list.

3. Portugal - 7

Though Cristiano Ronaldo contributed five out of those seven in numbers, Portugal was lucky to have diversity in their winners, unlike Argentina. Ronaldo's wins in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017, coupled with Eusebio's triumph in 1965 and Luis Figo's win in 2000, takes the nation third in this metric.

Ronaldo won the first while playing in England for Manchester United, and the remaining ones at Real Madrid. Eusebio's award came while he was playing for Portuguese giants Benfica. Luis Figo meanwhile, won the prestigious award while playing for the Los Blancos.

2. Netherlands - 7

Seven Ballon d'Or awards have got shared between three of the greatest playmakers. While playing for Ajax and later at Barcelona, the legendary Johan Cruyff became the first Dutchman to win the award on three separate occasions 1971, 1973, and 1974. He was the first person to win it three times.

By 1987, Milan's Ruud Gullit won the Ballon d'Or to become the second Dutchman in the line. Marco van Basten also did a hat-trick of his own when he received the honor in 1988, 1989, and 1992. He became the third player to win the award three times after Johan Cruyff and Michel Platini.

1. Germany - 7

In 1970, Gerd Muller became the first German player to win the Ballon d'Or (Courtesy: FC Bayern)

Five different German players have won the award to three unique Dutch players. Germany's unreal tally came into existence with Bayern Munich's legendary German striker Gerd Muller in 1970. Two years later- another Bayern player won the award as Franz Beckenbauer received his first. His second arrived in 1976.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge dominated at the start of the 1980s by winning back-to-back Ballon d'Ors in 1980 and 1981. Notably, Rummenigge was also a Bayern Munich player. For a change, another recipient Lothar Matthaus won it while playing for Internazionale in 1990. The last German to bag this accolade was Matthias Sammer, who received the same in 1996 for an incredible season at Borussia Dortmund.

** This article was last updated on October 17, 2022.