The two most successful players in Ballon d’Or history have won the award a combined 12 times since 2008. Prior to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s duopoly, however, Ballon d’Or voting provided a catalogue of different winners.
Karim Benzema became the 12th Ballon d’Or winner of the 21st century in October 2022. Let’s take a look at every player to win the sport’s most prestigious award over the last 22 years.
Luís Figo – 2000
Luís Figo won the Ballon d’Or in 2000, largely for his performances with Barcelona in the first part of the year.
It was an eventful year for the Portuguese, as months prior to his Ballon d’Or win, he moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid for a world-record fee, becoming the focal point of an incredibly hostile Clasico rivalry.
Surprisingly, Figo was just the third Real Madrid player to win the award. It was also an unusual year of Ballon d’Or voting as Figo came out on top despite not winning any major team trophies.
Michael Owen – 2001
Already a world-renowned star, Michael Owen had just turned 22 years old when he won the 2001 Ballon d’Or.
Owen starred as Liverpool won an FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup treble in 2000-01, scoring crucial goals – including a hat-trick against Germany – and proving himself as one of the best finishers on the planet.
The Chester native followed in the footsteps of Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton and Kevin Keegan to become the fourth Englishman to win the Ballon d’Or.
Over two decades later, no other English player has topped the voting.
Ronaldo Nazário – 2002
Five years after his first, Ronaldo Nazário won his second Ballon d’Or in 2002. Winner of the Golden Shoe and Silver Ball as Brazil won the World Cup, O Fenômeno bounced back from major injury issues to reassert himself among the sport’s elite.
Like Figo, Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or year also featured a blockbuster transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu. He only narrowly pipped teammate Roberto Carlos to the award, however, with four Brazilians placing in the top 12 in voting.
Pavel Nedved – 2003
A runner-up in the Champions League and Serie A winner in 2003, Pavel Nedved collected a haul of individual honours, including Serie A Footballer of the Year and the Ballon d’Or.
Nedved was the first Czech player to win the award since Josef Masopust in 1962, and the sixth different Juventus player.
Nedved isn’t the flashiest of Ballon d’Or winners, but his combination of supreme technical ability and tireless work rate was invaluable to Juventus, as it was for Lazio before.
Andriy Shevchenko – 2004
Milan had won the Champions League in 2003, when Andriy Shevchenko finished fourth in the voting. In 2003-04, he top scored in Serie A as Rossoneri won the Scudetto, and he scored four goals in the Champions League as they reached the quarter-finals.
Shevchenko pipped Deco, a Champions League winner with Porto, and Ronaldinho. Following Greece’s historic success in the Euros, Theodoros Zagorakis finished fifth.
Ronaldinho – 2005
Having had to settle for third in 2004, Ronaldinho was top of the podium in 2005 finishing far clear of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in second and third respectively. This was the last time any English player finished in the top three of Ballon d’Or voting.
Ronaldinho won the 2004-05 La Liga title with Barcelona, and was on his way to another spectacular campaign at the start of 2005-06, which ended with a second La Liga and a Champions League triumph.
One the sport’s greatest entertainers, the Brazilian was a landslide winner with 33 first place votes.
Fabio Cannavaro – 2006
It’s not often defensive players are in Ballon d’Or consideration.
Fabio Cannavaro bucked that trend in 2006 following Italy’s World Cup win, where he was given the nickname ‘Il Muro di Berlino’ by the Italian fans. He became the first defensive player to hold the trophy aloft since Matthias Sammer in 1996.
Following the World Cup win, the impacts of Calciopoli pushed Cannavaro to leave Juventus for Real Madrid in the summer of 2006. He was named Serie A Footballer of the Year in 2006, and went on to win La Liga in 2006-07.
Kaká – 2007
Milan avenged their 2005 Champions League final loss to Liverpool in the summer of 2007, with Kaká starring throughout the run.
The Brazilian was peerless in 2007, finishing as top scorer in the Champions League and dazzling in domestic action. He was also named Serie A Footballer of the Year for a second time.
Elegant, mobile and a perfect technician, Kaká was a joy to watch at his peak. It is fitting that the Gama native preceded the decade-long Messi-Ronaldo by beating both of them to the Ballon d’Or with a massive share of the vote.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo won the first of his five Ballons d’Or in 2008 off the back of a Champions League win with Manchester United. Ronaldo was a contender for the award over the next decade-plus, ultimately winning it 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017. The final three aligned with three more Champions League triumphs with Real Madrid.
Messi is the only player in the history of the award to win it more often than Ronaldo. The former Juventus striker is also the third Portuguese winner of all-time, following Eusebio and Luís Figo.
Ronaldo went back-to-back twice — only six other players have ever won consecutive Ballons d’Ors.
Lionel Messi – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019, 2021
Messi began his dominance of the Ballon d’Or in 2009, winning the award in four consecutive seasons. That stretch alone made him the most successful player in the award’s history, and a lengthy battle with Cristiano Ronaldo continued through the 2010s.
Messi was a runner-up to Ronaldo in 2008, as he was again in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
The diminutive Argentine won his fifth in 2015, however, adding a sixth in 2019 and a seventh in 2021 to leave him two clear of Ronaldo and four ahead of anyone else.
Overall, Messi was a top-two Ballon d’Or finisher for 10 straight years. He is surprisingly the only Argentine to win the award, but his tally alone means Argentina has produced the joint-most Ballon d’Or wins with the Netherlands, France Portugal and Germany.
Luka Modric – 2018
Luka Modric became Croatia’s first Ballon d’Or winner in 2018, and the first Croatian to feature in the top three of voting since Davor Šuker placed second behind Zinedine Zidane in 1998.
Modric had long been in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and others during Real Madrid’s Champions League wins in the 2010s, but that all changed in 2018 as Los Blancos were crowned champions of Europe yet again and Modric won the World Cup Golden Ball after leading Croatia to the final.
Karim Benzema – 2022
Much like Modric, Karim Benzema was integral and overlooked at Real Madrid for a long period. With Ronaldo departing, Benzema was able to take centre stage, and he delivered in a big way as Real won La Liga and the Champions League in 2022.
Los Blancos defied the odds to defeat Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG in the knockout rounds of Europe’s premier club competition with Benzema scoring 15 goals in the process. He was every bit as impressive in La Liga, winning Best Player and Pichichi Trophy.
The 2022 Ballon d’Or was the first time since 2006 that neither Ronaldo or Messi finished in the top three as Benzema followed Zinedine Zidane, Jean-Pierre Papin, Michel Platini and Raymond Kopa to become the fifth Frenchman to win the award.