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From the left: Ferenc Puskàs, Paolo Maldini, Sandro Mazzola
Ballon d'Or oblivion: the best 11 players who never won it
Many fantastic footballers never succeeded in winning the most important individual prize. If they had played together, they would have composed an invincible team
by John Cavenaghi and Federico Formica
Does the Ballon d'Or reward the best player in the world for real? This is an endless debate. For sure, this prize never took into consideration the not-European footballers until 1995. But even after 1995, many players who clearly deserved the Ballon d'Or never won it. Take a look at this team: it is composed only by players that never won the most important individual prize. And we think it's an all-star team.


We attained to two parameters:
- we excluded players who are still in activity
- we excluded players who could not win the prize because of the rules in force in the time when they played. For example: we excluded Maradona and Pelè because they could not win the European Ballon d'Or.

Dino Zoff (goalkeeper): He was the goalkeeper of one of the best Juventus teams ever. Dino Zoff won every trophy a player could win – including the World Cup in 1982 as a captain – except for the European Cup. Unfortunately, his same teammates in Bianconero prevented him to win the biggest individual trophy. Le Roi Michel Platini won it three times and Paolo Rossi once.

Franco Baresi (center back): Another player who played in too strong a team to win a Ballon d'Or. The competition in that 90s Milan among strikers and offensive midfielders was too much for a defender. But is there anyone who asserts that Baresi was not the best center-back between the 80s and the 90s? The Milan defense he led for almost two decades was impossible to perforate for a long time. Thanks to his positioning, his tactic instinct and his clean tackles, Baresi was the perfect leader for the Invincibili and a mentor for Paolo Maldini. In the 1989 edition of the Ballon d'Or, Franco Baresi finished second behind his teammate Marco Van Basten. He had one regret only: the missed penalty in the 1994 World Cup final against Brazil.

Lilian Thuram (center back): He played as a center-back but he could have been a quality midfielder for his technique and positioning. What was Thuram's weakness? It is impossible to answer, because he did not have any. Thuram won three Serie A with Juventus, a World Cup, a Confederations Cup and a European Football Championship with France and a Uefa cup with Parma (and we only mentioned the most important trophies). If it can help: Thuram is UNICEF ambassador and he often takes stand against racism with clever and strong announcements. A great footballer, a great man.

Paolo Maldini (left back): As his teammate Franco Baresi, all his life was dedicated to Milan. Maldini was another pillar of the great Milan of Arrigo Sacchi and, then, Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti. He won 7 times the Serie A and 5 the European Cup/Champions League, but nothing with the Italian national team. A devastating left-back and then, when his pace decreased, a monumental center-back. Maldini took home every individual prize (Fifa 100, Fifa World Cup Dream Team, the Italian Football's Hall of Fame, Best Uefa player) except the Ballon d'Or, where he reached the third place in 1994 and 2003. Maldini was a very professional athlete and an example for youngsters: he retired at 41 and he had very few injuries.

Cafù (right back): He was a worthy heir of the Brazilian's right backs noble stock, which includes Djalma Santos and Carlos Alberto. But unlike his predecessors, Cafù was in full swing when the Brazilian players could win the European Ballon d'Or. But he didn't, although he was the best interpreter of this role for a decade, from 1992 to 2002 at least. He rarely scored, but his incursions on the right flank of the pitch and his crystalline talent are still in the minds of who enjoyed watching him in action. In Italy he played for Roma and Milan winning twice the Serie A and once the Champions League. With the Brazilian national team, Cafu had an overdose of trophies: two World Cups (one as a captain), two Copa America, one Confederations Cup.

Nils Liedholm (central midfielder): In the 50s he formed an extraordinary Swedish trio along with Gunnar Nordahl and Gunnar Gren. The Gre-No-Li trio became legendary for the goals of Nordahl (he is still the third all-time goal-scorer even in Serie A with 225 goals), for Gren's class and for the talent of Liedholm. He was a playmaker, and he was almost perfect at passing the ball. A legend says that the San Siro stadium clapped for 5 minutes when Liedholm missed his first pass after two years in rossonero. But il Barone was a good scorer as well: his shots were powerful and very precise. Liedholm's era coincided with the golden age of Swedish football. They lost the final in the 1958 World Cup and won the London Olympic Games in 1948. As a coach, Liedholm was as legendary as he was as a player. He won the tenth title with Milan in 1979 and he was the first to win a Scudetto with the zone defense system with Roma in 1983.

Pep Guardiola (regista): Ok, the current Bayern Munich coach is the most winning and the most paid one in the world. But Pep Guardiola has been a player also... and what a player! He was a very technically-skilled playmaker, he was almost a coach on the pitch. The orchestra leader of the Dream Team Barcelona that won the 1992's European Cup had an extraordinary mentor: Johan Cruyff. But he did not win the Ballon d'Or as his coach did for three times in the 70s. In the first great Barça, the only player awarded with the most prestigious individual prize was the Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov. At the end of his career, Guardiola landed in Italy where he played for Brescia and Roma. But he barely saw the pitch for a doping sospension, although the accusation was cancelled in 2009.

Patrick Vieira (defensive midfielder): The former captain of Arsenal has been the leader of the English club for almost a decade. He’s been one of the few regrets of the 1990s Milan, who didn’t believe in him when he was just a teenager. At the end of his career he’d be one of the few players to play for the three top clubs in Italy: Milan, Juve and Inter. He combined technical skills to great power- thanks to his 1.93m body-, and the end result was a gracious warrior of the midfield. He was a key player for the invincible French national team of the end of the 1990s, and won every international trophy there was to win: World Cup (1998), European Championship (2000), Confederations Cup (2001). He was never in the top three of the Ballon d’Or: obviously playing alongside a God such as Zinedine Zidane didn’t help increase his chances.

Sandro Mazzola (fantasista): The most penalized side of the eternal dilemma of Italian football: “Mazzola or Rivera?” Sandro Mazzola, son of another football legend- Valentino Mazzola, captain of the Great Torino in the 1940s- was a fantastic player, who had in speed his lethal weapon. Absolute protagonist of the Grande Inter of the 1960s, he won everything with the neroazzurri. In 1971 he was second in the race for the Ballon d’Or, in what ended up being quite a prestigious podium: Johan Cruijff, Mazzola, George Best. He was European Champion with Italy in 1968. Unfortunately, he missed the opportunity to become world champion in 1970, as Italy lost to Brazil 4-1 in the final. He was preferred to Rivera, and this decision is still amongst the most debated in Italian bars. Everyone keeps forgetting that they could have (should have?) played together…

Gigi Riva (forward): “Rombo di Tuono” won a Scudetto with Cagliari. This feat alone should have guaranteed him a Ballon d’Or. Instead, he only reached a second and third place in 1969 and 1970 respectively, losing to Gianni Rivera and Gerd Muller. His left foot was so sublime and dangerous at the same time, that a famous journalist claimed that “Gigi Riva needed his right foot only to step on the bus”. Actually, he was much more complete than that, as he used extremely well his powerful body also for his aerial game, which was extremely effective. He was also a European Champion with Italy in 1968, and also lost to Pele’s Brazil in the final of 1970. He ended his career as the top striker in the history of the Azzurri (35 goals- still leads today).

Ferenc Puskás (forward): One of theleaders of the 1950s and 1960s Real Madrid, a team that could definitely be considered as the precursor of Florentino Perez’s first Galacticos (Di Stefano, Puskás, Kopa, Gento). He was able to score 4 goals in a Champions League final in 1966 against Eintracht Frankfurt. With his national team he won a gold medal in 1952, but missed the train to become world champion in 1954, when his Hungary surprisingly lost to West Germany, a team that would be accused of doping in the following years. He ended his international career with 85 caps and 84 goals.

On the bench:
Peter Schmeichel – Danish legend, won the most incredible European Cup with his national team in 1992. He defended Man United’s goal for 8 years, during which he also became European Champion in 1999. Still today considered as one of the strongest goalkeepers in history.


Alessandro Nesta – Considered to be the heir of Franco Baresi, he lived up to these high expectations. World Champion in 2006, and two time Champions League winner with Milan, he formed a magnificent duo with Paolo Maldini as centre-backs.


Roberto Carlos – Inter’s biggest regret (they are still looking for a replacement today, after 18 years!), Roberto Carlos had the most powerful left foot in the world. Made the headlines with an incredible free-kick versus France in 1997, he was considered as the best set piece shooter in the world, together with Siniša Mihajlović. World Champion with Brazil in 2002, and three time Champions League winner with Real Madrid.


Giacinto Facchetti – With his long legs, the captain of Inter and Italy would be the first full-back to run down the right flank to attack, as well as defend. He scored many goals in his career (75 with Inter), and won every single team trophy, except for the World Cup. He reinvented the full-back position, and was a gentleman, on and off the pitch.


Frank Rijkaard – One of the pillars of Sacchi’s Milan. He could do it all: defend, attack, score. He hever won a Ballon d’Or because he played alongside Van Basten and Ruud Gullit.


Johan Neeskens – He was dubbed Johan II because he and Cruyff formed an extraordinary duo with Ajax, the Dutch national team and Barcelona. Neeskens was an all-round-midfielder: he was able to play in every position of the pitch. Neeskens was definitely the personification of the Dutch Total-Football.


Thierry Henry – Arsenal star has been one of the most exciting players to watch in the Premier League for almost a decade. He almost won the prize twice (2003, 2006), but could never celebrate in the end.


Raul Gonzalez Blanco – Unforgotten captain of Real Madrid, he has been one of the top strikers in Europe for around 10 years (between the 1990s and 2000s). He won everything he could with Real Madrid, and would have deserved to win the Ballon d’Or in 2001, when he lost to Michael Owen. Never won anything with Spain, as he was not part of the winning campaigns of 2008, 2010, 2012.


Just Fontaine – Still holds the record for most goals scored in a single edition of the World Cup: 13 (in 6 games!) in 1958. He was a scoring machine, and was third in the Ballon d’Or run in 1958.

Friday, December 26 th, 2014
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