History of the Ballon d'Or

2011 marks a new era for the beautiful game as the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA world player of the year award have merged into one honour. CBCSports.ca's John F. Molinaro writes the Ballon d'Or is rich with history, dating back to 1956, when it was first handed out by France Football.

Soccer magazine France Football launched the award in 1956

Juventus star Michel Platini is the only player to win the Ballon d'Or three years in a row. ((Allsport UK/Allsport/Getty Images))

After more than half a century, soccer's most prestigious and prized individual award — the Ballon d'Or — is undergoing a major change.

This year marks a new era in the history of the Ballon d'Or, as it has merged with the FIFA world player of the year honour into a single award. The world's best player will be now be awarded the FIFA Ballon d'Or each year, with the first given out next Monday (FC Barcelona teammates Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta are the finalists for the honour).

"Football has become universal, so it is a good thing to present just one prize to the world's best player. With this agreement, football is the real winner," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said when the formal announcement was made last July.

While FIFA first handed out its top accolade in 1991 to German star Lothar Matthaus, the Ballon d'Or dates back even further — to 1956, to be exact.

It was 55 years ago that respected soccer magazine France Football came up with the idea of honouring Europe's best player by polling the top soccer journalists across the continent, and awarding him Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball).

The trophy, formerly known as the European player of the year award, was given annually to the star considered to have performed the best during that calendar year. From 1956 to 1994, a player had to play for a club in Europe and be of European nationality to qualify.

Matthews was 1st winner

Stanley Matthews of English team Blackpool won the inaugural Ballon d'Or, and the long list of winners in the ensuing five decades reads like a who's who of soccer: Eusebio, George Best, Alfredo Di Stefano and Zinedine Zidane, to name a few.

The Ballon d'Or award underwent a major change in 1995 when France Football ruled that any player from a European club, regardless of nationality, was eligible. That same year, AC Milan star George Weah of Liberia became the first non-European to win the award.

In 2007, France Football once again changed the qualifications, opening it up to players from the rest of the world, regardless of nationality or their pro club. This meant that the Ballon d'Or had effectively become the world player of the year award, although it was still a separate honour for the FIFA world player of the year award.

In total, only three players have won the Ballon d'Or three times: Johan Cruyff (1971, 1973 and 1974) and Marco van Basten (1988, 1989 and 1992), both of the Netherlands, and Michel Platini (1983, 1984, 1985) of France. Only one goalkeeper has ever claimed the award: Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union in 1963.

Italian clubs Juventus and AC Milan have produced the most recipients (eight), while Germany and the Netherlands lead all countries with seven winners apiece.

For the last five years, the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA world player of the year award have gone to the same players: Ronaldinho (2005), Fabio Cannavaro (2006), Kaka (2007), Cristiano Ronaldo (2008) and Lionel Messi (2009).

Voting for the FIFA Ballon d'Or award will come from the coaches and captains of national teams — as was previously the case for the FIFA player of the year — and also from journalists, who used to nominate France Football's Ballon d'Or winner.

"This electoral college of players, coaches and journalists will make for more balance and better representation," said Francois Moriniere, managing director of France Football.

"It will also be a worldwide college of journalists, rather than a uniquely European one. All these things will lend the award more credibility."

Previous winners of the Ballon d'Or (club, player's home country)

  • 2009 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona, Argentina)
  • 2008 - Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal)
  • 2007 - Kaka (AC Milan, Italy)
  • 2006 - Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid, Italy)
  • 2005 - Ronaldinho (FC Barcelona, Brazil)
  • 2004 - Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan, Ukraine)
  • 2003 - Pavel Nedved (Juventus, Czech Republic)
  • 2002 - Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Brazil)
  • 2001 - Michael Owen (Liverpool, England)
  • 2000 - Luis Figo (Real Madrid, Portugal)
  • 1999 - Rivaldo (FC Barcelona, Brazil)
  • 1998 - Zinedine Zidane (Juventus, France)
  • 1997 - Ronaldo (Inter Milan, Brazil)
  • 1996 - Matthias Sammer (Borrussia Dortmund, Germany)
  • 1995 - George Weah (AC Milan, Liberia)
  • 1994 - Hristo Stoichkov (FC Barcelona, Bulgaria)
  • 1993 - Roberto Baggio (Juventus, Italy)
  • 1992 - Marco van Basten (AC Milan, the Netherlands)
  • 1991 - Jean-Pierre Papin (Olympique Marseille, France)
  • 1990 - Lothar Matthaus (Inter Milan, Germany)
  • 1989 - Marco van Basten (AC Milan, the Netherlands)
  • 1988 - Marco van Basten (AC Milan, the Netherlands)
  • 1987 - Ruud Gullit (AC Milan, the Netherlands)
  • 1986 - Igor Belanov (Dynamo Kiev, Russia)
  • 1985 - Michel Platini (Juventus, France)
  • 1984 - Michel Platini (Juventus, France)
  • 1983 - Michel Platini (Juventus, France)
  • 1982 - Paolo Rossi (Juventus, Italy)
  • 1981 - Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Bayern Munich, West Germany)
  • 1980 - Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Bayern Munich, West Germany)
  • 1979 - Kevin Keegan (Hamburger SV, England)
  • 1978 - Kevin Keegan (Hamburger SV, England)
  • 1977 - Allan Simonsen (Borussia Monchengladbach, Denmark)
  • 1976 - Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich, West Germany)
  • 1975 - Oleg Blokhin (Dynamo Kiev, Russia)
  • 1974 - Johan Cruyff (FC Barcelona, the Netherlands)
  • 1973 - Johan Cruyff (FC Barcelona, the Netherlands)
  • 1972 - Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich, West Germany)
  • 1971 - Johan Cruyff (Ajax Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
  • 1970 - Gerd Muller (Bayern Munich, West Germany)
  • 1969 - Gianni Rivera (AC Milan, Italy)
  • 1968 - George Best (Manchester United, Northern Ireland)
  • 1967 - Florian Albert (Ferencvarosi TC, Hungary)
  • 1966 - Bobby Charlton (Manchester United, England)
  • 1965 - Eusebio (Benfica, Portugal)
  • 1964 - Denis Law (Manchester United, Scotland)
  • 1963 - Lev Yashin (Dynamo Moscow, Russia)
  • 1962 - Josef Masopust (Dukla Praha, Czechoslovakia)
  • 1961 - Omar Sivori (Juventus, Italy)
  • 1960 - Luis Suarez (FC Barcelona, Spain)
  • 1959 - Alfredo Di Stefano (Real Madrid, Spain)
  • 1958 - Raymond Kopa (Real Madrid, France)
  • 1957 - Alfredo Di Stéfano (Real Madrid, Spain)
  • 1956 - Stanley Matthews (Blackpool, England)

Previous winners of the FIFA world player of the year award

  • 2009 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona, Argentina)
  • 2008 - Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal)
  • 2007 - Kaka (AC Milan, Italy)
  • 2006 - Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid, Italy)
  • 2005 - Ronaldinho (FC Barcelona, Brazil)
  • 2004 - Ronaldinho (FC Barcelona, Brazil)
  • 2003 - Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid, France)
  • 2002 - Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Brazil)
  • 2001 - Luis Figo (Real Madrid, Portugal)
  • 2000 - Zinedine Zidane (Juventus, France)
  • 1999 - Rivaldo (FC Barcelona, Brazil)
  • 1998 - Zinedine Zidane (Juventus, France)
  • 1997 - Ronaldo (Inter Milan, Brazil)
  • 1996 - Ronaldo (FC Barcelona, Brazil)
  • 1995 - George Weah (AC Milan, Liberia)
  • 1994 - Romario (FC Barcelona, Brazil)
  • 1993 - Roberto Baggio (Juventus, Italy)
  • 1992 - Marco van Basten (AC Milan, the Netherlands)
  • 1991 - Lothar Matthaus (Inter Milan, Germany)