The most controversial Ballon d'Or winners

For some reason, choosing a player as the best over others, in a team sport and who has historically been more qualitative than statistical (despite the fact that lately they have been focusing more and more on that aspect), can be a very complicated task because the perception and opinion of people varies depending on their way of seeing the game and their particular tastes.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi - one of the surprise winners (read about why further down)
Hence, the choice of a winner for the award for the best player in the world can generate a lot of controversy and that is why in this article we bring you the most controversial Ballon d'Or winners.

Stanley Mattews (1956)

1956 was the year the award was born and at the same time it was the first edition of the European Cup (currently the UEFA Champions League), which Real Madrid won with Alfredo Di Stefano at the helm against Raymond Kopa's Reims, two legends who stood out that season and would finish in second and third place in the Ballon d'Or voting, respectively.

The winner was England's Stanley Mattews, a skillful Blackpool player whose good performances for his national team (especially one against Brazil) helped make him the first winner of the award.

Josef Masopust (1962)

The native of Prague played a large part of his career at Dukla Prague and his main endorsement for winning the Ballon d'Or in 1962 was his performance at the World Cup in Chile that year, where his team, Czechoslovakia, reached the final and he scored the only goal for his team in the final that put the Czechoslovaks ahead, although their rival, Brazil, would quickly turn the game around and win 3-1. Masopust surpassed Eusebio who, that season, had been the revelation in Europe, averaging almost one goal per game in all competitions, as well as having led Benfica to the European Cup.

Florian Albert (1967)

At that time, Bobby Charlton was considered the best player in the world, having won the Ballon d'Or in 1966 thanks to his victory in the World Cup that year and his brilliant performance at his club, Manchester United, along with the likes of Denis Law and George Best. Surprisingly, the Hungarian forward Florian Albert of Ferencvaros managed to win the 1967 Ballon d'Or thanks to his 28 goals in 27 games for his club and his good performances with his national team.

Allan Simonsen (1977)

The performance of the Danish was quite good during that 1976-77 season, leading his club, Borussia Monchengladbach, to play in the European Cup final that they would end up losing to Liverpool. The detail is that another great outstanding player of the time, Kevin Keegan, played for the red club and had become champion. The difference was 3 votes in favor of Simonsen over the Englishman and four votes over Michel Platini, being one of the most even votes in the history of the award.

Igor Belanov (1986)

Because the award was only for European players at that time, Diego Maradona, a legendary performer in the 1986 World Cup, was not an option for the award, so Gary Lineker and Emilio Butragueño were the main candidates to win the Ballon d' Or from 1986. Surprisingly, the name of the Soviet Union player Belanov appeared despite been eliminated with his team in the round of 16 of the World Cup, although he scored a hat-trick in one of the most exciting matches in the history of the competition.

That, together with the league and Soviet cup achievements and the achievement of the European Cup Winners' Cup that season, earned him the Ballon d'Or.

Andriy Shevchenko (2004)

In the case of the Ukrainian Shevchenko, the award seemed more like an award for his career up to that date than recognition of that season in particular, which had seen Deco as the main figure of FC Porto coached by Mourinho, who had won the UEFA Champions League in a more than surprising way, in addition to having dominated Portuguese football. Shevchenko's AC Milan "only" won Serie A that year and was knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in the quarterfinals. The Ukrainian also surpassed Ronaldinho, third in the vote, who had a phenomenal season in his first year at FC Barcelona.

Fabio Cannavaro
Fabio Cannavaro

Fabio Cannavaro (2006)

Here the controversy is mostly related to the position of the player (central defender) and how decisive the performance in the World Cup is in this type of awards, as we have seen in previous cases. Cannavaro had a great performance with his team, Juventus, although surrounded by some controversy over the Calciopoli case. In the World Cup, Cannavaro was at a high level, although Italy's game was based a lot on teamwork and this could make it difficult to choose the best player among them. Thierry Henry had one of his best seasons that year and it was striking that it was not enough to outvote the Italian defender.

Lionel Messi (2021)

Nobody doubts the quality of Messi, but the 2021 Ballon d'Or was something that generated a lot of controversy because Robert Lewandowski came from not one but two fantastic years and the Covid pandemic prevented the award from taking place in the 2020 edition.

Already in 2021, after a very good season and with the average giving him as the main candidate, the winner turned out to be the Argentine star who had not had such an outstanding season with FC Barcelona or with Paris Saint Germain, noting that that year, Messi changed Catalonia for Paris. The highlight was the achievement of the 2021 Copa América, although, despite being important for the Argentine's legacy in his country, did not seem to be enough to overshadow what the Polish striker had done.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.