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The best to not win

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Bayern Munich have made a habit of decimating opponents in the UEFA Champions League. Last night, it was RB Salzburg’s turn to find out the same. The Bavarians hit their Austrian counterparts for seven, going through 8-2 on aggregate. Leading the way was Robert Lewandowski who had another record-breaking game.

A hat-trick within 23 minutes made him the fastest to achieve that feat in the competition. The Pole threw in an assist as well for good measure.

 

Lewandowski became the top-scorer in the process with 12 goals. Furthermore, he has also surpassed the 40+ goals mark for the seventh season in a row. His numbers read for spectacular reading year after year. 168 goal contributions in his last 122 games are superhuman numbers. Despite Bayern winning silverware galore, Lewandowski’s Ballon D’or remains missing. It will not seem an exaggeration to suggest that he is the greatest player to not win the award.

 

Of course, there are several others along with Lewandowski who have never been able to win. The reasons are varied from their clubs not winning trophies to other players overshadowing them.ย FootTheBallย looks at 10 players who should have lifted the Ballon D’Or at least once in their illustrious careers.

 

Robert Lewandowski

There’s really no other place to start this debate. Lewandowski has been one of the most premier goal-getters of his generation. Having started gaining attention since his Borussia Dortmund days, Lewandowski was destined for the top. 103 goals from 187 games brought two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final place. Lewandowski transferred to Bayern in 2014 and had a somewhat underwhelming debut campaign by his standards.ย Onlyย 25 goals has been followed by shattering of records and winning countless accolades.

 

2020 was one of the greatest individual seasons by a player in history. 55 goals across all competition and Bayern winning the sextuple. It was real shame that the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Ballon D’Or. As if to get his revenge, Lewandowski broke Gerd Muller’s scoring record in the Bundesliga with 41 goals in 2020-21.

Some of the major honours that Lewandowski have won include FIFA Men’s Player of the Year (twice), FIFPro World XI (twice), IFFHS Best Male Player (twice), UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, and the European Golden Shoe last season.

 

This year is shaping up to be another great chance for him to win. Lionel Messi and Cristiano have both struggled respectively with new clubs. Lewandowski will keep on scoring and if Bayern make a deep run in the Champions League, the prize may finally be coming.

 

Luis Suarez

People seem to forget how good Suarez really has been over his career. Hence, when the conversation turns to players who have not won the Ballon D’Or, Suarez has to be there. The former Ajax, Liverpool and Barcelona hitman was a menace in his prime. 111 goals in 159 games for the Dutch giants saw a transfer to Anfield unfold in January 2011.

Suarez had a slow start and landed in controversy after being found to have racially abused Patrice Evra. During his four-year stay, it was the final two seasons that really saw his full power come to light.

 

61 goals across all competitions, including 31 in the Premier League for 2013-14 saw him win the European Golden Boot. Barcelona came calling and though Suarez had to sit out the first four months due to the biting incident at the World Cup, the MSN had been formed. Suarez alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar became the foremost front three in football, scoring 364 goals in three seasons together.

The Uruguayan was racking up goals and assists at an astonishing pace, having honed his game. Suarez scored 25 goals and 20 assists in his first season at Camp Nou. His second was his most prolific ever, netting 59 times and assisting a further 22 across all competitions. 40 of them came in La Liga, thereby winning the Pichichi Trophy and the European Golden Shoe.

 

Barcelona were dominant in Europe and Spain at the time, winning the quintuple in 2015. Suarez kept up his scoring ways after being humiliatingly cut by the Blaugrana in 2020. Atletico Madrid won the title last season and Suarez was a big reason why, scoring 21 times in the league. That was a reminder that he is far from finished at the elite level.

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The man, the myth, the self-proclaimed legend. Few others can match Ibrahimovic’s off-field persona. Fewer still can match up to his on-field exploits. The greatest player to not win the Champions League. PSG’s former all-time leading goal scorer, a feat he achieved in just four seasons while top-scoring in three of them.

Ibrahimovic’s consistency in front of goal has been key to his longevity. The four-time Serie A and Ligue 1 winner had his most productive years in France. 156 goals from 180 games just further enhanced his reputation after superb spells with Ajax, Inter and AC Milan.

 

Ibrahimovic’s eye for the spectacular and his aerial dominance has been the stuff of greatness. Furthermore, the variety of leagues he has played in also qualifies him to be called the most adaptable goal scorer. Ibrahimovic has hit the ground running in Spain (16 goals from 29 games), England (17 goals from 28 games), and the MLS (53 goals from 58 games). The combined years he has spent in these countries is four years. If that is not the sign of a lion, nothing is anymore.

 

The closest Ibrahimovic came to the Ballon D’Or was in 2013, finishing in fourth-place. The Swede has won individual honours in every country he has been in. Some of the most notable ones include FIFPro World XI (2013), Serie A Player of the Year (thrice), Serie A Golden Boot (twice), MLS All-Star (twice), and MLS Best XI (twice). Ibrahimovic is still going strong at the age of 40, scoring in double-digits over the past two seasons.

 

Thierry Henry

The all-time leading scorer for Arsenal with 228 goals and Premier League Hall-of-Famer. Henry was instrumental in the Gunners rise through the early 2000s. Apart from bamboozling defenders, confounding goalkeepers and smashing the ball into the net, Henry was also a great leader. Arsenal went the entire 2003-04 league season undefeated, becoming the ‘Invincibles.’

Five of his eight seasons in England ended with him scoring 24 or more goals. Henry scored 24 times and assisted 20 times in 2002-03, becoming the first player to achieve the feat. Furthermore, he still remains the joint holder of most assists in a single season.

 

The four-time (record) Golden Boot winner moved to Barcelona in 2007 and enjoyed even more silverware success. Henry was mostly used on the wing but still managed to become the club’s top-scorer for the season with 19 strikes. The trio of Henry, Messi and Samuel Eto’o scored 100 times in 2008-09 on their way to a historic sextuple.

Henry’s impact can be felt at every club except Juventus, having succeeded in the MLS as well. Nevertheless, Henry’s exploits with Arsenal were his best personally and the Ballon D’Or did come close.

 

Henry finished second in 2003, behind Pavel Nedved and third in 2006 behind the Italian duo of Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon. Furthermore, he has also been runners-up twice as FIFA Footballer of the Year (2003, 2004). Three European Golden Boots, Premier League Player of the Year (twice), MLS Best XI (thrice), and MLS All-Star (four times). Though his managerial career has not been great, Henry remains one of the greatest goal scorers for club and country.

 

Franck Ribery

The famed French winger who lit up defences with mazy runs and supreme technical ability. Ribery, forming one half of the dangerous ‘Robbery’ duo, was a fixture for Bayern Munich for over a decade. A return of 124 goals from almost 500 games is more than solid for a player who plays out wide. Ribery has won nine Bundesliga and six DFB-Pokal titles, along with being the top-assists provider from 2010-2013. The 2012-13 campaign would be one for the record books and Ribery’s best shot at winning.

 

Bayern would win a historic sextuple, with only the DFL- Supercup missing. Ribery had 10 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga. His strong gameplay, linkup with the strikers, and strong performances had many pinning Ribery for the Ballon D’Or.ย  However, in a stunning twist, Ribery would finish third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. That was one of the most stunning finishes in the award’s history.

 

Though Ribery kept going strong, even winning Fiorentina’s Player of the Year for 2019-20. The Frenchman is currently with Salernitana in Serie A and battling relegation but his career highlights deserved that Ballon D’Or.

 

Raul

The Los Blancos legend was one of the faces of the revolution at Real Madrid in the late ’90s and 2000s. Raul spent 16 years with Madrid, winning six La Liga titles and three Champions League crowns. 323 goals from 741 matches across all competitions saw him headline a generation of Galacticos. Raul remains the top scoring Spaniard in Europe ever, with 256 goals. He scored in double digits in 11 seasons, top-scoring in 1999 (29 goals) and 2001 (32 goals).

 

Raul would finish as runners-up behind another striker, Michael Owen, in 2001. That would be the closest he came to winning the Ballon D’Or. Moreover, Raul also came second in the FIFA World Player of the Year rankings for the same year. Raul would be a force to be reckon with for Schalke as well, scoring 40 times in 98 games. Surely a player who would have deserved his Ballon D’Or for his exploits in front of goal.

 

Andres Iniesta

The 2010 World Cup winner who scored the winning goal in the final. Iniesta remains one of the most premier midfielders to ever play the game. His partnership with Xavi was the linchpin of the imperious Barcelona sides of the previous decades. The little maestro had magic in his feet and could make the ball talk. Iniesta was never a prolific scorer and nor he needed to be. The Spaniard’s overall play, eye for the killer passes and running the game through midfield have become the template for midfielders to follow.

 

Iniesta has won 35 trophies so far in his career, making him the most successful player from his country. That haul includes nine La Liga titles, four Champions League crowns, and three trophies with La Roja. Iniesta was regularly ranked as one of the best players and his personal distinctions prove it. However, the Ballon D’Or remained out of grasp.

Iniesta finished second in 2010 and third in 2012, both years with Spain winning an international trophy. Furthermore, he was named in the FIFPro World XI nine times, UEFA Team of the Year six times, and the Euro 2012 Player of the Tournament.

 

Iniesta continues playing with Vissel Kobe in Japan, where he has also racked up honours. One of the finest players across positions who continued doing his work regardless of jersey or conditions.

 

Gianluigi Buffon

The ageless goalkeeper recently signed a contract extension with Parma to extend his playing career till age 46. Buffon has been the stalwart goalkeeper of a generation with some solid competitors. The Italian has won 10 Serie A titles, six Coppa Italia cups, and was a three-time finalist in the Champions League. However, among the multiple peaks of his career, 2006 stands out.

 

Buffon and Italy won the World Cup in Germany. He finished second in Ballon D’Or rankings behind teammate Fabio Cannavaro. In the years since, Buffon has gone onto break the Serie A record for most appearances (657), Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year (twelve times), FIFA Best Goalkeeper of the Year, and Serie A Footballer of the Year.

 

Buffon has been a ever-reliable since his earliest days with Parma. However, his attempts at becoming only the second goalkeeper to win the Ballon D’Or remained unfulfilled. Buffon had another great chance in 2015, having swept up all domestic trophies but was not even named in the top 50. He boycotted the awards ceremony as he remains of the most deserving players to nthe ot win.

 

Paolo Maldini

From Juventus to AC Milan, one of the greatest defenders ever. Maldini was the definition of a one-club man, making a record 902 appearances across all competitions. He won 25 trophies including five Champions League titles, seven Serie A titles, and four UEFA Super Cup crowns. He was the linchpin of the great Milan backline under Arrigo Sacchi and then Fabio Capello.

 

Maldini would come second to George Weah for FIFA Player of the Year in 1995. He finished third twice in 1994 and 2003 for the Ballon D’Or. Maldini has received a whole host of individual accolades over an incredibly long and glittering career.

 

Dennis Bergkamp

The ‘Non-Flying’ Dutchman who lit up Ajax and Arsenal. Bergkamp scored 103 goals in 182 league matches in the Eredivisie over seven seasons. 75 of those came in the final three seasons before he truly regained his form at Arsenal. Bergkamp came third in 1992 and second in 1993 for the Ballon D’Or, teasing people to think his time was near. However, an early exit from the 1994 World Cup for the Netherlands dashed those chances.

 

In England, he was the perfect foil for Thierry Henry and his highest scoring season came in 1997-98 with 22 goals. Nevertheless, Bergkamp was a true pioneer of the game, lauded for his incredible goals and visionary passing. He was inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame last year, a just reward for years of exemplary service.

Ratul Ghosh
His name means Red and a fan of devilish food, which equals to his favourite team being Manchester United. Can be found sleeping or in front of the TV otherwise. Hates waking up early but loves staying up late for football.

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