Each year since 1956, the Ballon d’Or, football’s most prestigious individual award, has been dished out by France Football to the greatest player in the world for that given year. Well, European player until 1995 anyway.
Of course, some of the biggest names in the history of football have lifted the trophy from Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo to Marco Van Basten, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer. However, some of the other winners (especially in the European only days) have been less widely remembered.
Here are five Ballon d’Or winners you’ve (probably) never heard of.
Josef Masopust (Czechoslovakia)
Back in 1962, Josef Masopust fought off competition from Benfica sensation Eusébio to lift the Ballon d’Or, in what was a stellar year for the central midfielder.
Masopust’s club side, Dukla Prague won their second consecutive Czechoslovak First League title but his Ballon d’Or victory was largely put down to his phenomenal showings with Czechoslovakia at the 1962 World Cup.
Already seen as one of the finer midfielders around, Masopust cemented his place in history as he led his country to the World Cup final, where they were ultimately undone by the mighty Brazil – despite Masopust’s opener in the 3-1 defeat.
Despite the loss, he had proven himself one of the very best around that year.
Flórián Albert (Hungary)
In 1967, the only thing stopping Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton from retaining the Ballon d’Or was Hungarian
Oleg Blokhin (Soviet Union)
More recognisable names Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff earned spots on the podium for the 1975 Ballon d’Or, but Dynamo Kyiv superstar Oleg Blokhin won the voting by a landslide.
Not only was he the most prolific forward in the USSR at the time, but Blokhin was one of the finest around at the time. His goals fired them to another Soviet Top League title, and they also established Dynamo on the European stage.
They lifted the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1975 with a 3-0 win over
Allan Simonsen (Denmark)
As a bizarre footnote, the skilful forward left Barcelona to sign for Charlton Athletic in England’s second tier five years later, reportedly rejecting offers from Real Madrid and Tottenham.
Igor Belanov (Soviet Union)
A teammate of Blokhin at Dynamo, Igor Belanov was a fantastically gifted attacking midfielder who was made to wait for his success. He was 24 when he got his chance at Dynamo, but he wasted little time in proving himself to the world.
He quickly proved to be a star of the team. In 1986, he fired them to glory in both the league and the Cup Winners’ Cup – in which he was the top scorer of the entire competition – before carrying that momentum into the 1986 World Cup.
Belanov erupted on the biggest stage, scoring four and assisting six goals before USSR crashed out in the round of 16. It was enough to prove he was the finest around at the time, as he finished ahead of Golden Boot winner Gary Lineker and Real Madrid’s
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