France Football triggered the trend. The esteemed magazine established the Ballon d’Or in 1956, an award for the best European, playing in his native continent, during each calendar year. Thirty-five years on FIFA, realising the desire to reward the finest individual performer from anywhere on the planet, launched the FIFA World Player of the Year gong (non-Europeans playing in the Old Continent became eligible for the Ballon d’Or award from 1995). Two then became one in 2010, with a merger giving birth to the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

Here, we take a statistical look at the award's star-studded history.

75 per cent of the FIFA World Player/FIFA Ballon d’Or’s winners and runners-up in FIFA World Cup™ years played in that competition’s Final. Only Hristo Stoichkov, who inspired Bulgaria to unexpectedly reach the USA 1994 semis and duly finished second; 2010 recipient Lionel Messi, whose Argentina side were eliminated in the quarter-finals in South Africa; and Cristiano Ronaldo, who suffered group-stage elimination with Portugal last year, broke the sequence. Only once did the recipient of any of the three awards, during a World Cup year, fail to appear in that year’s competition. That player was Englishman Kevin Keegan, who was honoured despite not playing at Argentina 1978 or winning silverware with Hamburg during those 12 months.

50 per cent of the top three finishers in the Ballon d’Or voting between 1972 and ’81 came from clubs from just one country: West Germany. During that period, the podium featured Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern Munich, four times), Kevin Keegan (Hamburg, three), Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Bayern, three), Gerd Muller (Bayern, two), Gunter Netzer (Borussia Monchengladbach, one), Allan Simonsen (Borussia Monchengladbach, one) and Paul Breitner (Bayern, one). West German teams seized a record six successive Ballon d’Ors between 1976 and ’81. Spanish clubs have currently captured six successive FIFA World Player of the Year/FIFA Ballon d’Ors thanks to Messrs Messi and Ronaldo.

41 is the age that makes Stanley Matthews the oldest recipient of any of the three awards. ‘The Wizard of the Dribble’ pipped Alfredo Di Stefano to the inaugural Ballon d’Or in 1956 after helping unfashionable Blackpool finish runners-up to Manchester United in the English top tier. Lev Yashin is the next-oldest, having seized the prize as a 34-year-old in 1963.

20 is the age that established Brazil’s Ronaldo the youngest recipient of any of the three awards. The year was 1996 and though O Fenômeno failed to win a domestic league or continental title during it, he did lift the Dutch Cup, Dutch Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup trophies and averaged almost a goal per game for both PSV and Barcelona.

8 successive years on the FIFA World Player/FIFA Ballon d’Or podium is what Lionel Messi achieved in 2014 – four more than his nearest challengers. La Pulga has finished first and second four times apiece since 2007. Cristiano Ronaldo claimed his fourth consecutive top-three finish last year, while Raymond Kopa did so in the Ballon d’Or initial’s four years, winning it once, finishing runner-up once and taking bronze twice.

5 players have finished FIFA World Player/FIFA Ballon d’Or runner-up on multiple occasions. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – the Argentinian came second in 2007, 2008, 2013 and 2014, while the Portuguese did in 2009, 2011 and 2012 – at least got their hands of the prize more than once, but the other three never had that satisfaction. Hristo Stoichkov lost out to Van Basten in 1992 and his Barcelona strike partner Romario two years later, David Beckham missed out against Rivaldo and Luis Figo in 1999 and 2001 respectively, and Thierry Henry was runner-up to Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho in back-to-back years. The only other men to have finished on the podium more than once but never won the award are Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Dennis Bergkamp, who was third in 1993 and 1997.

4 years had different Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year recipients from 1995, when France Football made non-European players eligible, until 2009. They were Matthias Sammer and Ronaldo (1996), Michael Owen and Luis Figo (2001), Pavel Neved and Zinedine Zidane (2003) and Andriy Shevchenko and Ronaldinho (2004).

3 is the number of times the Ballon d’Or’s top three have hailed from the same country. Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Guntar Netzer seized West Germany a clean sweep in 1972, Karl-Heinz Rumminigge, Paul Breitner and Bernd Schuster followed suit for the same country nine years later, and Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard did it for the Netherlands in 1988. The latter occasion was the only in the history of the three awards when the top three came from the same club (AC Milan).

1 vote is all that Bobby Charlton and Matthias Sammer pipped Eusebio in 1966 and Ronaldo in 1996 to the Ballon d’Or by – the closest margins in the history of the former France Football award. The next-tightest came in 1972, when Franz Beckenbauer beat two of his West Germany team-mates, Gerd Muller and Gunter Netzer, by two votes.