Gold. Always believe in your soul. You’ve got the power to know. You’re indestructible. It’s not known whether Spandau Ballet are football enthusiasts, but when they penned the lyrics to their smash 1983 hit they tapped into a universal truth: gold is everything. There’s even a saying – the gold standard – which is held over for the best in their field, so in our own ways we’re all striving for gold.
Which brings us nicely on to the football… You may have heard the phrases ‘golden boot’ and ‘golden ball’ mentioned before – typically towards the end of the season or as a major tournament reaches its business end. But, what do they actually mean? And, what’s the difference between the two?
What Is the Golden Boot?
When you play in a local football league, if you finish as a division’s top goalscorer you might be awarded with a trophy to recognise your feat at a presentation evening held in a working men’s club in your nearest village, town or city. But when you are the leading goalscorer in a major competition, you are awarded with a golden boot. Not literally – it’s very hard to gold-plate a Doc Marten, after all, but a trophy representation of a golden boot is awarded; the visual embodiment of the best goalscorer around – the gold standard, if you will.
History of the Golden Boot
The leading goalscorer of a league or competition has always been recognised, of course, but in England an actual Golden Boot trophy wasn’t introduced for the first time until the Premier League era began in 1992. Pub quiz fans will want to know that Teddy Sheringham was the inaugural Premier League Golden Boot winner at the end of the 1992/93 season, while Thierry Henry has won more Golden Boots – four – than any other EPL player in history.
The Premier League Golden Boot trophy has been sponsored every year since 1994, with the likes of Carling, Barclays and Coca-Cola getting their branding into the mix. It’s an unwritten rule that the sponsor will hand the winner of the Golden Boot £1,000 for every goal that they have scored, which is then donated to a charity of the individual’s choosing.
Football on the continent has its own version too. The European Golden Shoe, originally known as the French translation ‘Soulier d’Or’ and first given out in 1968, rewards the top goalscorer across Europe’s top divisions.
It’s not as simple as just giving it to the leading scorer, mind you. A weighted calculation determines who wins the award based upon the perceived quality of the league in question using UEFA’s coefficients – so the Premier League will have a higher weighting than the Polish Ekstraklasa, for example.
Top Winners of the Golden Boot
Only two winners – Henrik Larsson (2001) and Mario Jardel (1999 and 2002) – have won the European Golden Shoe while not playing for a club in one of the ‘big five’ divisions; the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1, which have a higher coefficient. That man Messi has won the Golden Shoe on six occasions – more than any other player, with his old nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo is next best with four.
The World Cup has its own Golden Boot award too, given out to the top goalscorer at each tournament since 1982. The first winner? Italy’s Paolo Rossi. Incredibly, no player has won the World Cup Golden Boot more than once.
What Is the Golden Ball?
If the golden boot is awarded to the top goalscorer of a competition, who is the recipient of the golden ball? The Golden Ball is an award handed out at the FIFA World Cup every four years, and it’s winner is the player considered to have been the best at the tournament. This is voted on by a dedicated panel, and only one player – Lionel Messi – has ever won the Golden Ball more than once.
History of the Golden Ball
Although most of the top leagues have a ‘best player’ award, while the finest on the planet is rewarded with the Ballon d’Or each season, the Golden Ball refers specifically to the trophy handed to the player adjudged the best of the tournament at each World Cup. The Golden Ball was introduced at the same time as the Golden Boot trophy in 1982, and there have since been ten different winners of the award – Messi, as mentioned, the only star to win it twice.
How Is the Golden Ball Decided?
In theory, the Golden Boot awards itself – the player with the most goals wins. Of course, there can be scenarios where players are tied on the same number of goals. Some competitions will simply declare it a draw and award golden boot trophies to the players involved, whereas at the World Cup the tie-breaker is first how many assists each player has delivered and then if they are still locked in a stalemate, the number of minutes played at the tournament is the next decider.
While the Golden Boot is handed out objectively, the winner of the Golden Ball is determined in rather more subjective fashion.
Adidas Golden Ball winners through the years ⭐
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 17, 2022
FIFA’s technical committee draws up a shortlist of the players they believe have had the most impact upon the tournament. Members of the media are then invited to cast their vote on the shortlisted selection.
The winner receives the Golden Ball trophy, with the runner-up bagging the Silver Ball and the third-place player – you guessed it – clinching the Bronze Ball. FIFA have decided to hand out the Golden Ball immediately after the World Cup final – that has the potential for embarrassment, such as in 2006 when Zinedine Zidane won the trophy despite getting sent off in the final and France losing on penalties!