Pele with 7 Ballon d’Or Awards: Now Officially Greater Than Messi

Pele World Cup Winner

Pele Copyright @ CHRTKD Depositphoto

The Ballon d’Or Award awarded by France Football Magazine is the most prestigious Award in the game. The best player in the world is crowned at the end of each year and lives in history.

Just look at the tributes to Raymond Kopa, a Ballon d’Or winner who died recently.

In 2016, France Football revised their historical awards which puts Lionel Messi into second place as the greatest player of all time. In fact, the rankings according to Ballon d’Or Awards are as follows:

1. Pele with 7 Ballon d’Ors
2. Messi with 5 Ballon d’Ors
3. Cristiano Ronaldo with 4 Ballon d’Ors

But wait a minute! I thought Pele never even won one Ballon d’Or Award!

You would be right in thinking that. When the Award was first launched in 1956, the first winner was England’s greatest ever player – the legendary Stanley Matthews.

However, the issue was that from 1956 to 1995, the Award could only go to a European player. So to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Ballon d’Or Awards in 2016, France Football re-evaluated the winners of the Awards between 1956 to 1995.

Pele was decided to have won the Ballon d’Or a record seven times! He won in 1958-1961, 1963-1964 and in 1970. Whilst France Football has not revoked the Awards to the Europeans who were given them at the time, it still means that Pele has the record to beat – 7 Ballon d’Or Awards. Messi is two behind his record and surely Ronaldo is too far behind.

Meanwhile, the great Diego Armando Maradona was only awarded two Ballon d’Or awards in 1986 and 1990. So is Cristiano Ronaldo twice as good as Maradona?


Pele: The Autobiography

Pele the greatest player of all time. All arguments about this are over. Right? And with 3 World Cup Wins in 1958, 1962 and 1970 plus single-handingly building the soccer culture in the USA and of course the Copa Libertadores and all those goals and trophies with Santos, who can argue with this?

Ballon d’Or Greatest XI


The FIFA Ballon d’Or dates back to 1959. It covers some of the greatest players to have ever played the game.

So if we were to put together a team of the very best ever players, who would be in it?

Let’s find out.

Some History

Firstly, we need to understand the history of the Ballon d’Or. It was originally created by France Football Magazine. The purpose was to celebrate the best player playing in Europe over the previous year. Until 1995, the player themselves had to be European. From 1995 onwards it could include non-Europeans playing for European clubs.

Alongside the Ballon d’Or with the famous golden globe we see Messi and Ronaldo carrying around, there was simultaneously a competing award for the world’s best player – the FIFA World Player of the Year Award. From 2007, the Ballon d’Or changed from being about European based players to players from anywhere in the world.

And then finally in 2010, the Ballon d’Or was merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year to create one trophy.

Conditions of Entry

We are going to use the official France Football Ballon d’Or winners. So this means we lose such legends as Pele who played their football outside of Europe before 2007 when the rules were relaxed and the whole of the Brazilian 1982 or 1970 squads.

Also we will not include the players who won the FIFA World Player of the Year but not the Ballon d’Or.

Some lopsided tactical issues

So by necessity there will be a heavy European influence because from 1956 to 1995 only European players based in Europe could win the prize. And the other issue is that the Ballon d’Or favors attacking players.

Some positions are easy to fill as there has only ever been one Ballon d’Or awarded to a goalkeeper – the Russian legend Lev Yashin. And few defenders have ever won the award so those spots in the team are easy to fill.

Similarly, the formation has to be altered to reflect the extreme attacking set up. As with the 1982 Brazilian World Cup team where the formation was set to allow the attacking players to play together, so we are going for a 3-4-1-2 to allow everyone to play.


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  1. Lev Yashin – Ballon d’Or winner in 1963. As the only goalkeeper ever chosen he must be selected. An icon wearing all black, Yashin won the 1960 European Championships with the Soviet Union, the 1956 Olympics and also came fourth in the 1966 World Cup. Plus was a 5 time Soviet League Champion with Dynamo Moscow – a pretty good haul

Our Ballon d’Or Greatest XI operates with a three man defence. This is necessitated by there being few defenders to pick from and the need to put in all of the attackers and midfielders at our disposal. We will need to score more than the opposition

  1. Beckenbauer – the legendary German World Cup 1974 winning Captain and also winner of the 1972 European Championships, said by many to be Germany’s greatest ever international team. Won 3 European Cups (Champions League) with Bayern Munich and elegant in both defense and attack
  2. Sammer: Winner of the 1996 European Championships and an incredible attacking and defensive dynamo. He came from East Germany and who knows what else he might have achieved if he had started his career in West Germany and had been able to continue for longer
  3. Cannavaro – the World Cup 2006 winning Captain and legend with Juventus and runner up in the 2000 European Championships. He played for Juventus and Real Madrid amongst others although his Serie A Championship trophies were later revoked due to the match-fixing scandal. A fantastic defender and rightly in the team
  1. Zidane: what kind of introduction does Zidane need? Winner of the 1998 World Cup, 2000 European Championships plus scorer of the legendary goal for Real Madrid in the 2001 Champions League Final. Numerous other awards and a ridiculously skilful player. I remember reading Beckham saying once the Real Madrid Galacticos strategy was to just give the ball to Zidane. A wise strategy. It is a bit shocking that Zidane only won one Ballon d’Or
  2. Lothar Matthäus – Germany’s 1990 World Cup winning captain. He also played in three World Cup Finals and won the 1980 European Championships. But what longevity! 23 goals and 150 appearances for the German national team. Phenomenal player and engine of our team
  3. Cristiano Ronaldo: winner of 3 Ballon d’Or awards so far and probably going to win the 2016 Ballon d’Or. We are playing him on the left wing for him to drift in. He is so versatile he can play pretty much anyway in the forward line or midfield
  4. Johann Cruyff: Winner of 3 Ballon D’Or Awards and 3 Champions League trophies plus should have won the 1974 World Cup. But he revolutionized football and would adapt really well in our team

We are playing with a ‘man in the hole’ so to speak inbetween midfield and attack.

  1. Messi: We are playing the 5 time Ballon D’Or winner behind the strikers for him to pick the ball up and either create for others or score his own chances. I don’t think we need to say much more apart from his incredible performances for club and country over a long period of time. The greatest player of all time?
  2. Di Stefano: Real Madrid’s legend and 2 time Ballon d’Or winner. He won the European Cup several times with Real Madrid in the late 1950s and without him, the European Cup may never have reached the level it did. But he could play anywhere in attack and create so much plus worked really hard. Just a legendary player
  3. Van Basten – winner of 3 Ballon d’Or awards and winner of the 1988 European Championships where he scored some goals which still to this day are incredible. Tall, great in the air with an exquisite shot like he was doing geometry in his brain. He keeps out incredible strikers such as Jean Pierre Papin, 2 time winner Kevin Keegan, Michael Owen and others

So that is our team. Heavily attack based with some players who would terrorize defences on their own. Imagine having them in combination, there would be some devastating scorelines!

Shocking Omissions

We have had to leave out 3 time winner Michel Platini and incredible French performer in the 1980s. He powered France to the 1988 European Championships as well as to the 1982 and 1986 World Cup semi-finals. But we have had to leave him out. Also the same goes for other legends such as Kaka and Eusebio and the Brazilian Ronaldo. They are brilliant but we have had to make some sacrifices.

What do you think? Do you agree with this team? Should there be other players left in or the formation changed? You can see a full list of Ballon d’Or winners here. Let us know with your comments below.

In the meantime, please keep upto date with Destination Soccer’s FIFA Ballon d’Or coverage