If you’ve ever played football for your local team, you might have been invited to a presentation evening where a selection of trophies were handed out. As well as kill-them-with-kindness awards, such as club-person of the year or most improved player, there’s often also silverware handed to the player of the year – the archetypal ‘one that they all want to win’. At the professional level, the ultimate player of the year award is known as the Ballon d’Or, which is handed out to the individual that is considered to have bettered all others in the previous 12 months.
What Does Ballon d’Or Mean?
When you translate Ballon d’Or into English, you get ‘golden ball’. That’s a bit confusing, because the award for the best player at the World Cup is also called the Golden Ball. To eliminate any doubt, we’re talking specifically about the Ballon d’Or, which is awarded to the player considered the best on the planet by an esteemed panel of judges.
The Ballon d’Or was first dreamt up by two sports journalists, Gabriel Hanot and Jacques Ferran, who worked for the influential France Football magazine – founded 77 years ago with the publication still going strong to this day. Indeed, France Football still puts on a glitzy shindig when it awards the Ballon d’Or to one of its nominees, with the best players in the beautiful game donning their best tuxedos for the event, which is typically (but not always) held in October.
Who Votes for the Ballon d’Or?
With tens of thousands of players eligible for the Ballon d’Or – anyone from world football can win the award nowadays (it was once for European talent only), there has to be a way to narrow down the field. The journalists at France Football get their heads together and come up with a shortlist of 30 players that become eligible to win that year’s Ballon d’Or. In the interests of diversity, they tend to a nominate players in all positions – rather than just goalscorers and creative talents that dominate the headlines and public interest.
A smaller ‘jury’ of journalists, typically made up of one reporter from each of FIFA’s top-ranked member nations, is then selected to vote on the shortlist, rating each player based upon their individual and collective performances during the prior season. Points are awarded to each player, with the star accruing the most points declared the winner. They are presented with the trophy at the jazzy awards ceremony – in 2023, this was hosted by the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.
Why Is the Ballon d’Or So Important?
With nearly 70 years of history to its name, the Ballon d’Or is both one of the oldest and most iconic individual player awards in football. Its importance is derived from the fact that as many as 100 learned journalists vote on the outcome, which lends it more credibility than trophies decided by a public vote, with all of the very best players on the planet in the mix. Therefore, if you are selected as the winner, you can rightfully claim yourself to be the finest footballer of the past year.
The Ballon d’Or also recognises all positions on the pitch, with individual awards generally favouring more attacking players. In 2018, the midfield maestro, Luka Modrić, was declared the champion, while in 2006 the defensive lynchpin, Fabio Cannavaro, was named as the best player by the voting panel.
Is There a Ballon d’Or for Female Footballers?
Yes, the Ballon d’Or Feminin is every bit as prestigious as its male counterpart. Introduced for the first time in 2018, the Ballon d’Or Feminin has the same shortlisting and voting system as the male version, with France Football and a handpicked selection of journalists responsible for dishing out the points and deciding the winner.
Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural Ballon d’Or Feminin in 2018, with Megan Rapinoe following up in 2019. The award was shelved the following year due to the pandemic, before Alexia Putellas confirmed her status as one of the very best footballers in the world by lifting the trophy in 2021 and 2022.
Who Has the Most Ballon d’Or Points in History?
Between 2008 and 2021, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi shared the Ballon d’Or no less than 12 times between them – unsurprisingly, they dominate the Ballon d’Or points in the modern era. Interestingly, it seems highly likely that Messi will usurp Ronaldo at the top of the points list in 2023. The Argentine is around 200 points behind the Portuguese in the all-time points ranking, however, he is likely to win more than that amount in 2023 after a stellar year in which he won the World Cup’s Golden Ball. Ronaldo, after upping sticks to Saudi Arabia, is unlikely to score many points at all.
The number of voters has increased in recent years, hence why legends like Michel Platini, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff don’t feature particularly high on the points list. Instead, the top five is rounded out by Modric, Zinedine Zidane and Virgil van Dijk.
Has an English Player Ever Won the Ballon d’Or?
The first-ever edition of the Ballon d’Or was won by an Englishman: the iconic Stanley Matthews getting the nod in 1956. Since then, Bobby Charlton, Kevin Keegan (x2) and Michael Owen have taken the Ballon d’Or trophy back to Blighty. As far as the rest of the UK is concerned, Scotsman Denis Law (1964) and Norther Irishman George Best (1968) have also celebrated the top honour, while Welshman John Charles finished third in the 1959 voting behind the great Alfredo Di Stefano.
Can You Bet on the Ballon d’Or?
Many bookmakers offer odds on the Ballon d’Or – be it ante post (i.e. months in advance of the awards ceremony) or with a traditional market priced up after the final shortlist is revealed. You can often bet each way on the Ballon d’Or, with a payout if your player finishes second or third. You will find the Ballon d’Or odds listed under the ‘football’ or ‘specials’ categories of your chosen betting site/app.