Michael Owen (2001)
The 2000/01 season was a very successful one for Liverpool as they collected a treble of cups – the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup. At the forefront of the Reds’ unprecedented success was their forward Michael Owen as he racked in 24 goals from 46 appearances and went on to win the Ballon d’Or for it.
Raul Gonzalez of Real Madrid had also enjoyed the best goalscoring season of his career as he scored 32 goals from 50 games in all competitions on his way to win his second Pichichi. His goals had also won Real Madrid the league title and as such the Madrid media thought that their man would finally add the missing Ballon d’Or in his trophy cabinet. But Owen won the award with 36 more votes than the Spaniard.
Fabio Cannavaro (2006)
The Italian captain became only the third defender to win the Ballon d’Or in 2006 as his heroics in leading the Azzurri to World Cup glory was recognised as worthy of the best player of the year award.
However, equally strong was the case for the goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon as he put in a slew of stupendous displays throughout the tournament to help his side clinch their fourth World Cup trophy. The Juventus man conceded just two goals in Germany – first an own goal and the second a Zinedine Zidane penalty in the final – but in the end Cannavaro took home the Ballon d’Or with 49 more votes than his teammate.
Lionel Messi (2010)
There has always been this debate around the Ballon d’Or: what is given more importance, the individual numbers or the team trophies? And perhaps the 2010 Ballon d’Or voting came the closest to answering this question.
Messi scored 47 goals in 53 games through the course of the season to help Barcelona win the league title, but that was all that Barcelona won that season. On the other hand, Wesley Sneijder was the star of the show at Inter Milan as they won a treble of the league title, the domestic cup and the Champions League. He was also at the heart of the Netherlands midfield as they reached the final of the 2010 World Cup. However, all Sneijder could manage was a fourth spot in the Ballon d’Or voting as the podium was occupied by an all La Masia line-up of Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
Cristiano Ronaldo (2014)
The legendary Soviet goalkeeper Lev Yashin remains the only goalkeeper to have won the Ballon d’Or. Germany number 1 Manuel Neuer looked a strong bet to become the second custodian since Yashin to take home the individual honour as he had helped his national team to the 2014 World Cup with some outstanding goalkeeping throughout the tournament. Without his stellar performance in the round of 16 against Algeria, Germany might not have made it to the quarter-finals. He was also instrumental in helping Bayern Munich to the league and cup double in the 2013/14 campaign.
Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, on the other hand, had gone on to win the league title as well as the Champions league. His 51 goals from 47 games being the inspiration behind Los Blancos’ success, and it were enough for the Portuguese to win his third Ballon d’Or. Neuer finished a distant third.