Neymar is on the verge of completing a move to Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal, effectively putting an end to his Ballon d’Or hopes but is he the best player to never win the prestigious award? And who are some of the others?
Brazilian superstar Neymar has become the latest figure in the exodus of European-based footballers to Saudi Arabia.
The skilful forward has signed a two-year contract with Al-Hilal who reached an agreement with Paris Saint Germain for his signature.
18:42 - 15.08.2023
Al-Hilal have unveiled Neymar who is set to earn up to $300m over two seasons in Saudi Arabia
Fabrizio Romano’s ‘Here we go!’ was followed by Al-Hilal's official confirmation of the deal and by extension, Neymar’s non-participation in European football for at least the next two years.
And as a direct consequence, his already anorexic chance to be named the best footballer in the world just became even slimmer as only players based in Europe are considered for the Ballon d’Or.
But it is not only Neymar who is on this table, here is a list of 10 world-class players who also never won the Ballon d’Or including the aforementioned Brazilian who is seemingly also heading down that path.
Top 10 players who never won the Ballon d’Or including Neymar
Here are 10 superstars of the modern game who never won the prestigious Ballon d’Or in no particular order.
1. Xavi Hernandez
Xavi currently coaches his boyhood club, FC Barcelona and is long retired but during his playing days, he was revered as one of the best footballers of his generation.
The Spaniard spent 17 of his 22-year playing career in the heart of Barcelona’s midfield, controlling the tempo and dictating play.
He was a key part of the dominant Barcelona teams, winning eight La Liga titles, three Copa Del Reys, six Spanish Super Cups, four Champions League titles, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups accompanied by a host of individual awards.
However, the Ballon d’Or remained missing from his cabinet, despite finishing in the top three for three consecutive years, Xavi never quite had enough to be considered the outright best player in the world.
Xavi finished third from 2009 to 2011 with his Barcelona teammate at the time, Lionel Messi emerging as the winner on all three occasions.
His three entries are also the most any player have made the Ballon d’Or top three without actually winning the award.
2. Andres Iniesta
Another player who fell victim to Lionel Messi’s Ballon d’Or dominance was Andres Iniesta who finished second in 2010 and 2012 but never could win the prize.
16 years at the top of football with FC Barcelona helped Iniesta amass a barrage of individual awards minus the Ballon d’Or which he most likely would have won had it not been for the dominant Mess/Ronaldo streak.
3. Neymar Jr
Unlike the other two, Neymar still has a chance to win the Ballon d’Or despite currently heading to Saudi Arabia for the next two years.
The disappointment surrounding the transfer stems from the enormous expectations people had of the Brazilian in his teenage years.
And the 31-year-old has had a successful career by all standards, especially at Barcelona before making the world-record transfer to Paris Saint Germain in 2017.
The only regard in which Neymar has underachieved is in comparison to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two players who swapped first and second places in 2015 and 2017 as the Brazilian superstar finished third on both occasions.
As earlier mentioned, it is entirely possible that Neymar could return to Europe as a 33-year-old and play the best football of his life to win the elusive Ballon d’Or, after all Karim Benzema won his first and only as a 35-year-old last year.
4. Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann’s name barely comes up in legacy conversations but his football career is pretty much etched in stone at 32 years old.
At 32 and still going strong for Atletico Madrid and the French national team, there is still a chance Griezmann can get off this list by winning the award but there is a general sense that the ship has sailed.
5. Thierry Henry
Before Neymar, Thierry Henry used to be the poster boy for this conversation, however from the standpoint of him being robbed rather than underperforming.
The Frenchman was one of the very best strikers in the world in his playing days, gaining notoriety at Arsenal where he spent the majority of his career and then wrapped it up with a trophy-laden spell at Barcelona.
Henry probably should have won it in 2003 but the award went to Pavel Nedved instead who in fairness had a stellar year himself for Juventus.
The French striker would never come that close again although he finished third in 2006 behind Fabio Cannavaro and Gigi Buffon, he retired as arguably the best player to never be named world footballer of the year.
6. Paolo Maldini
It is not particularly a surprise that Maldini never won the Ballon d’Or as awards like this are heavily skewed in favour of attackers.
However, since only one defender has ever won it and he just happened to be Italian, one would think it would be Italy’s greatest defender Maldini and not Fabio Canavaro.
Maldini was so good, he actually finished third once, in 2003, behind Pavel Nedved and Thierry Henry but that was as good as it got for him.
He retired as undoubtedly the greatest defender from Italy and one of the very best to ever play the game, Ballon d’Or or not.
7. Oliver Kahn
Again, the absurdity of a goalkeeper in this conversation is understood but this is not just any goalkeeper, this is Oliver Khan.
The German shot-stopper made the Ballon d’Or top three twice consecutively in 2001 and 2002, an incredible feat for any footballer let alone a goalkeeper.
His 21-year career was split between Karlsruher where he played for seven years and Bayern Munich where he ascended to legendary status for 14 years.
8. Robert Lewandowski
In the books of many football fans, Robert Lewandowski won the 2020 Ballon d’Or but the problem is there was no Ballon d’Or to win that year under rather strange circumstances.
The awards ceremony was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic and the organising body declined to hold a virtual event despite pleas from the fans and football stakeholders.
Unfortunately for Lewandowski, that was his year, with 55 goals in 47 games across all competitions for Bayern Munich in what was also a treble-winning season, he was the clear and obvious favourite and would have won it had the ceremony been held in 2020.
The Polish marksman did it all again the following year but this time his 48 goals in 40 games for Bayern could only earn him second-place behind Lionel Messi.
9. Luis Suarez
Suarez was the only player not named Messi and Ronaldo to win the European Golden Shoe between 2010 and 2019 and he did it twice, outscoring the two GOATS at the peak of their powers.
Despite all of this, Suarez never even made the Ballon d’Or top three let alone win the prestigious award.
Now 36 years old and playing for Brazilian side, Gremio, it is safe to say that Suarez’s Ballon d’Or prospects are done and dusted.
10. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic only recently called time on his 24-year playing career for most of which he was considered one of the best strikers in the world.
The larger-than-life Swede played for some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Ajax, Juventus, AC and Inter Milan, Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain and Manchester United.
Despite all of his football achievements, Zlatan hardly came up during discussions about the best players in the world.
A fourth-place finish in 2013 was the closest he came to winning the award so he cannot necessarily blame Messi and Ronaldo like other strikers of his generation.