Before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo redefined the standards we expect of the world’s best players, the Ballon d’Or was considerably more communal.
In the ten years before the Portuguese machine’s first crown, the game’s top individual award was won by ten separate winners.
In the 12 years since, only Luka Modric has disrupted the two superhumans’ duopoly in 2018.
CRISTIANO RONALDO, 2008 & LIONEL MESSI, 2009
The top dogs both won their first Ballons d’Or last decade.
That’s a lot of history to rewrite, so scroll on.
ANDRES INIESTA, 2010
Before you type out WhAt AbOuT wEsLeY sNeIjDeR? please remember that this is based on the actual votes from 2010 and not our opinion.
The Dutchman was inspirational as Inter Milan won the treble as well as guiding Netherlands to the World Cup final.
However, Sneijder only finished fourth among the Ballon d’Or nominees as Barca dominated the podium.
Messi was the real winner but since he’s disqualified under our hypothetical stipulation, Iniesta takes home the award ahead of Xavi.
Scoring the winner in the World Cup final probably gave the Spanish legend the edge over his long-time friend.
XAVI HERNANDEZ, 2011
Xavi would have levlled things up a year later however as he finished third behind Ronaldo and Messi.
As the heartbeat of Pep Guardiola’s Barca—who won La Liga and Champions League in 2011—it’s a reasonable shout.
Two generational midfielders, Xavi and Iniesta would have been popular Ballon d’Or winners.
RADAMEL FALCAO, 2012
Here’s where the stipulation properly shakes things up.
Falcao finished fifth in the 2012 Ballon d’Or with just 3.67% of the votes.
However, with only Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta and Xavi ahead of him, he’s swooped in.
The Colombian was prolific at Atletico Madrid and was probably the best outright No9 in the world at the time.
We shouldn’t forget how dynamic he was before the terrible knee injury he suffered at Monaco.
FRANCK RIBERY, 2013
This will be a popular outcome.
Much like Sneijder 2010, Ribery 2013 is often cited as an individual campaign that could have potentially scuppered Messi and Ronaldo’s streak.
The Frenchman was unplayable at times as Bayern Munich won a historic treble.
His stats do not rival those of the Portuguese machine or Argentine magician, but in terms of influence on his team’s success, Ribery was right up there.
MANUEL NEUER, 2014
World Cups always have a considerable impact on the Ballon d’Or.
With Die Mannschaft beating Argentina in the final, four Germans made the top ten of France Football’s top gong.
Sweeper keeper Neuer was ever so close to edging Messi into second place—just 0.04% separated the pair in the voting.
NEYMAR JUNIOR, 2015
Another who finished third behind the weirdly consistent double act who have defined this era of the world’s most popular sport.
An uncontroversial result, Neymar complemented Messi on the reverse wing at Barcelona as the Catalans completed a treble that owed a lot of the fabled MSN attack force.
2014/15 was the Brazilian’s best European season in terms of goals—he scored 39 in all competitions, including an impressive ten in the Champions League.
ANTOINE GRIEZMANN, 2016
France may have fallen short on home soil at Euro 2016 but their Golden Boot winner ended on the Ballon d’Or podium.
Griezmann scored six goals in the tournament, twice as many as anyone else.
2015/16 was also the Frenchman’s best goalscoring season of his club career so far.
He scored 32 goals in all competitions for Atletico Madrid and was named La Liga’s Best Player at the end of the domestic campaign.
GINALUGI BUFFON, 2017
Sentimentality undoubtedly at play here.
Many neutrals wanted Juventus to win the 2017 Champions League so that Buffon could win the competition that has cruelly eluded him.
A Ronaldo brace meant there was no fairytale for the veteran keeper in Cardiff but he received many votes for the Ballon d’Or nonetheless.
Buffon finished fourth behind Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar.
LUKA MODRIC, 2018
No revisionism needed for this one, it’s as you were.
Modric was lauded for his efforts in getting Croatia to the final of the 2018 World Cup after contributing to Real Madrid’s third consecutive European crown.
The experienced midfielder excelled as a playmaker although question marks were asked of a vote that concluded Messi was just the fifth best player in the world…
VIRGIL VAN DIJK, 2019
And finally, the closest two-horse race in Ballon d’Or history.
Just seven voting points separated Van Dijk and actual winner Messi.
The tight result reflected the nature of the contest: The best attacking player in the world against the best defensive player in the world.
It could have gone either way but even the Dutchman admitted Messi was a worthy winner.
But in this parallel universe we’ve created, it’s all you Big Virg!