The closest run Ballon d’Or races of all time

Rightly or wrongly (definitely wrongly in the eyes of 90min’s Jack Gallagher), Lionel Messi has beaten Robert Lewandowski to thee 2021 Ballon d’Or, while the Bayern Munich forward has still not been awarded the cancelled 2020 gong that he would almost certainly have won.

At least he won the brand new ‘Striker of the Year’ award, eh?

The Argentine won his seventh golden ball by just 33 votes, making it one of the closest run races in the history of the award.

But it definitely wasn’t the closest race – let’s have a look back through the years to see which ones were even tighter…

1st – Stanley Matthews (47)
2nd – Alfredo di Stefano (44)
3rd – Raymond Kopa (33)

The very first Ballon d’Or was decided by just three points from the 243 that were awarded, with Blackpool’s Sir Stanley Matthews edging Real Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano to the prize.

The Spanish striker and third-placed Kopa would both go on to win the award over the next two years, so no harm done in the end, eh?

1st – Bobby Charlton (81)
2nd – Eusebio (80)
3rd – Franz Beckenbauer (59)

Ten years after Matthews’ triumph, Sir Bobby Charlton became the second Englishman to win a Ballon d’Or.

And he undoubtedly needed his World Cup triumph – helped by a semi final win against Portugal in which he grabbed a brace to cancel out Eusebio’s penalty – in order to squeeze his way to this individual victory.

1st – Gianni Rivera (83)
2nd – Luigi Riva (79)
3rd – Gerd Muller (38)

1969 was the first year in which the top two players on the Ballon d’Or podium were from the same country.

Milan’s Gianni Rivera was the victor that year, seeing off the challenge of Cagliari’s Luigi Riva.

1st – Franz Beckenbauer (81)
=2nd – Gerd Muller (79)
=2nd – Gunter Netzer (79)

West Germany boast the proud distinction of being the only country to hold all three places on the Ballon d’Or podium in the same year – and they did it twice.

The first came in 1972 off the back of their triumph at the European Championships, with Der Kaiser just about winning France Football’s biggest honour.

1st – Allan Simonsen (74)
2nd – Kevin Keegan (71)
3rd – Michel Platini (70)

Okay, the semantics of this one admittedly carry the narrative a little.

Kevin Keegan won the Ballon d’Or in 1978 and 1979 – voters may not have awarded him those if he was victorious in 1977.

Nevertheless, the history books say that if not for Allan Simonsen, King Kev would have become the first player to win the award three years running.

1st – Matthias Sammer (144)
2nd – Ronaldo (143)
3rd – Alan Shearer (107)

Nearly two decades passed before our next entry on this list. Footballers were presumably harder to judge back in the days of black-and-white televisions with about four channels on them.

And sure, you couldn’t stream games on the internet in 1996, but we had a better understanding of the global game for sure.

Just after his 20th birthday, Ronaldo was denied the Ballon d’Or by Mathhias Sammer. Way to ruin the fun for everyone, Matthias.

FBL-FIFA-BALLONDORFBL-FIFA-BALLONDOR

Eyes on the prize / FABRICE COFFRINI/GettyImages

1st – Cristiano Ronaldo (1365, 27.99%)
2nd – Lionel Messi (1205, 24.72%)
3rd – Franck Ribery (1127, 23.36%)

When FIFA and France Football combined forces to award the Ballon d’Or, the scoring went off the scale – I mean, these three all received over 1000 votes, while fourth-placed Zlatan Ibrahimovic only just broke the 250 mark.

Journalists still had votes to cast, but so did members of FIFA’s football committee, plus the head coach and captain of every national side.

The 2013 race was the closest as a joint award, with Cristiano Ronaldo winning his first Ballon d’Or as a Real Madrid player.

Lionel MessiLionel Messi

Messi won his sixth Ballon d’Or / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

1st – Lionel Messi (686)
2nd – Virgil van Dijk (679)
3rd – Cristiano Ronaldo (476)

After a mammoth three years without a Ballon d’Or, Messi reclaimed the throne in 2019 after another impressive season for Barcelona.

They were, however, knocked out of the Champions League by Virgil van Dijk’s Liverpool, throwing away a 3-0 lead in the semi-finals as the Reds marched on to European glory.

Van Dijk – widely considered the best defender in the world at the time and one of the catalysts behind Liverpool’s rise to glory – was tipped to win the Ballon d’Or for his efforts, but Messi just about beat him to the gong.