The Ballon d’Or is an annual football award presented by French news magazine, France Football.
It is one of the oldest awards in football and is generally regarded as one of the most prestigious individual awards for football players.
But despite the fact that the award has been a common thing amongst footballers in the modern game, less is known about the award itself- how it came about and why it is bestowed.
It is not what you think…
Born in France in the tail end of the 19th century, Gabriel Hanot(1889-1968) played football for clubs in both France and Germany, eventually picking up 12 caps for the French national team in the early decades of the 1900s.
But after being involved in a plane-related accident, Hanot hung up his boots and decided it was time to make a name for himself in the world of sports journalism. Making his way through the industry, he ended up working for the most established sports outlets in France, L’Equipe and France Football.
Hanot was a visionary, by the end of the 1930s, he helped professionalize football in France, setting up a league that would eventually become Liga in 1948, haven heard about the highly successful South American championship of champions tournament from some of his reporters. Hanot, then editor of L’Equipe, began proposing the creation of a continent-wide knock-out tournament.
This proposed tournament would eventually become the European Cup, now known as the Champions League. But Hanot was not done. In 1956, along with a group of France Football journalists, he helped set up the Ballon d’Or, an annual award to help celebrate the best football player in Europe.
In the first iteration of the award, Stanley Matthews, then of Blackpool Rovers, narrowly beat off competition from two Real Madrid players, Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa, to win. Both players would go on to win the award in subsequent years. And since then, the Ballon d’Or has been won by an incredible cast of luminaries, from Lev Yashin and Johan Cruyff, to Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer.
However, Lev Yashin remains the only goalkeeper to ever win the award and Fabio Cannavaro remains the only defender to ever win the award, as far back as 2006.
But if your concern is English players, you will have to go back in 2001 when Michael Owen won the award. Till date, George Weah, who won the award in 1995 was rhe first non-European and the first and only African to ever win the award. Initially, the award had been restricted to European players, but in 1995, eligibility was expanded to include all players from any origin, that had been active at a European club.
Ronaldo became the first South American winner in 1997.
How a winner is picked…
There have been different mechanisms of nomination and voting over the years, but the general format has stayed the same. The award is bestowed by a jury of football journalists accredited to the national football federations within UEFA.
However, as from 2007, the pool of voters was expanded to include a jury of specialist journalists as well as the coaches and captains of national teams from each of the national football associations around the world.
In its present guise, France Football continue to act as a nomination board for the final list of candidates, a list which typically include 30 options. Initially, voters were asked to cast ballots for five of the candidates on the list, indicating their preference in the form of a ranking, by allocating five points to their first ranked candidate, four for the second and so on.
The candidate with the most point is elected the winner. Although since 2010, voters have been able to cast only three ballots, ranking their top 3 candidates who in turn receive five, three and one votes, respectively.
Beyond these changes in format, the award also went through something if an upheaval in the 2000s. In the years between 2010 and 2015, the Ballon d’Or was merged with another award, the FIFA World Player of the Year Award, to create the FIFA Ballon d’Or, a prize which was awarded to the world’s best male player.
However, after 2015, FIFA and UEFA decided not to continue the merging agreement.
In the 65 years since it begun, the Ballon d’Or has grown and is now seen by some as a transcendent award, beyond the game’s team trophies.
Credit: YouTube| Tifo Football.