The Best FIFA Men’s Player in stats
Lewandowski, Messi and Salah are vying to win The Best FIFA Men’s Player
Award was previously called The FIFA World Player of the Year and FIFA Ballon d'Or
We deliver some stats behind an honour in its 31st year
It surprisingly took 30 years for a Germany-based player to win the award, with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski ending the drought last year. It had taken 17 years for an England-based player to triumph, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United in 2008.
Ronaldo ‘Fenômeno’ was 20 when he received the award for 1996, making him its youngest-ever recipient. Lionel Messi was the next-youngest, being 22 when he collected it for the first time in 2009.
15 of the first 18 names in the top three were forwards: Jean-Pierre Papin, Gary Lineker, Marco van Basten, Hristo Stoichkov, Roberto Baggio, Romario, Dennis Bergkamp, Romario again, Stoichkov again, Baggio again, George Weah, Jurgen Klinsmann, Ronaldo, Weah again and Alan Shearer. Then, a power shift transpired, with at least one midfielder featuring in each of the next 11 years.
Ronaldo finished on the podium in an unprecedented 14 successive years from 2007 to 2020. Lionel Messi made the top three alongside his rival in each of those years except 2018, but will tie the Portuguese for podium finishes overall on 17 January.
Luis Figo pipped David Beckham by just 12 points (250-238) to lift the trophy in 2001 – a record low proportionately. The most comfortable all-time winner was Ronaldo in 1997, having got 480 points to runner-up Roberto Carlos’s 85 after a season in which he hit 47 goals in 49 appearances for Barcelona.
The award incredibly went to a Spain-based player for 11 consecutive years from 2009 to 2019: Messi (6 times), Ronaldo (5) and Luka Modric (1). The only winners based outside of La Liga in that century were Zinedine Zidane (Juventus in 2000), Kaka (AC Milan in 2007), Ronaldo (Manchester United in 2008) and Lewandowski (Bayern Munich in 2020).
An unparalleled eight trophies have gone to Brazil thanks to Romario (1994), Ronaldo (1996, 1997 and 2002), Rivaldo (1999), Ronaldinho (2004 and 2005) and Kaka (2007). Argentina and Portugal are next on six apiece, with the former’s all indebted to Lionel Messi and the latter’s due to five Ronaldo trophies and one from Luis Figo. France have three, all thanks to Zinedine Zidane, while Italy is the only other nation with multiple triumphs, Baggio and Fabio Cannavaro giving them two.
Seven players have made the podium on multiple occasions without lifting the award. They are Stoichkov (1992 and 1994), Bergkamp (1993 and 1997), Beckham (1999 and 2001), Thierry Henry (2003 and 2004), Xavi (2009, 2010 and 2011), Andres Iniesta (2010 and 2012) and Neymar (2015 and 2017). Mohamed Salah will join the bracket if he fails to triumph this month.
Spanish players have featured on the podium seven times – a record for a nationality yet to taste glory. They were Raul (2001), Fernando Torres (2008), Xavi (2009, 2010 and 2011) and Iniesta (2010 and 2012). English players have made the top three five times without having ever won it. They were Lineker (1991), Shearer (1996), Beckham (1999 and 2001) and Frank Lampard (second in 2005).
Only four of the 94 top-three finishers have been defensive players. Paolo Maldini and Roberto Carlos came second in 1995 and 1997 respectively, Cannavaro won it in 2006 after helping Italy win the FIFA World Cup™, and Virgil van Dijk was runner-up to Messi in 2019.
Lewandowski, Messi and Salah ensure three continents will be represented on the podium for the first time in 16 years. The same three – Africa, Europe and South America – were represented in 2005 courtesy of Samuel Eto’o, Lampard and Ronaldinho. A same-continent podium has occurred thrice, all courtesy of Europe: in 1991 (Matthaus, Papin and Lineker), 1992 (Van Basten, Stoichkov and Thomas Hassler) and 2001 (Figo, Beckham and Raul).
Only two goalkeepers have made the podium. Oliver Kahn finished runner-up to Ronaldo in 2002 – the same year during which the Brazil No9 got the better of the Germany No1 In the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan final™ – before Manuel Neuer came third in 2014.
Just one of the 30 winners has come from outside Europe or South America, with George Weah claiming the prize for Africa in 1995. Europe currently leads South America 15-14 for trophies.