Considered by many as the most prestigious individual award in football, the Ballon d’Or has been a symbol of excellence for almost 65 years. From 1956 to 1994, the award was given only to players born in Europe but from 1995 the rules were changed to allow players from any country playing for European clubs to be eligible for the award. The award was globalized in 2007 and in 2010 it was merged with FIFA best men’s player award and for six years the award was named “FIFA Ballon d’Or”. Lionel Messi has won the most Ballon d’Or awards with six victories while Cristiano Ronaldo sits behind him with five wins. Here we look at five players who were crowned the best player at a very young age,
5. Oleg Blokhin (winner – 1975, age – 23 years 1 month 25 days)
The Dynamo Kyiv striker was an absolute superstar in the Soviet Union and he was the first Ukrainian player to win the award. He was the top scorer in the Soviet League in the 1974-75 season and scored five goals in Dynamo Kyiv’s 1975 UEFA Cup winners’ Cup . He won amid heavy competition from his contemporaries as legends like Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff were at the peak of their career. Blokin went on to manage Ukraine national football team after retirement and has briefly served as a parliament member.
4. George Best (winner – 1968; age – 22 years 7 months 2 days)
The stories about Best and his gifted footballing skills are still being told with pride by those who saw him at his peak. Best was everything that a footballer wants to be in his wildest dream. He had the flamboyance in his game that made everyone worship him and he won the Ballon d’Or in 1968 as Manchester United won their first ever European Cup in the same year. He could have achieved a lot more if not for his alcohol addiction which led to a massive decline in his career.
3. Lionel Messi (winner – 2009; age- 22 years 5 months 7 days)
When the magician won his first award in 2009, few would have thought he would win five more despite his achievements at a ridiculously young age. In 2009, Messi scored the goal that won Barcelona the UCL final and was instrumental for Barcelona in all competitions. He was still not at the peak of his career as he would break his own records in the subsequent seasons and became the first player to win four consecutive Ballon d’Or awards
2. Michael Owen (winner-2001; age – 22 years 4 days)
Michael Owen is another forgotten player who belongs to the “Too good, too soon” category as his career gradually declined with age. But during his Liverpool stint, He was simply the best striker in England and his exploits for the national team in the 1998 World Cup made him a darling of the public. In 2001, Liverpool won a Cup treble of UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup thanks to Owen’s contribution and he eventually won the Ballon d’Or that year. His move to Real Madrid and long term injuries destroyed his potential and he retired as a pale shadow of the player he was at Liverpool.
1. Ronaldo Nazario (winner -1997; age -21 years 3 months 5 days)
Another player whose career was plagued by injuries, a young and fit Ronaldo Nazario is arguably the greatest attacker this world has ever seen. After two unforgettable seasons as a teenager for PSV, Ronaldo moved to Barcelona for a then world record fee. In the 1996-97 season, He scored 47 goals in 49 games for Barcelona and won the Copa Del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. He won both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA best player award in the same year before moving on to Inter Milan where he would become a Serie A legend.