Lionel Messi has won an unprecedented seventh Ballon d’Or as his incredible year is rewarded with the prestigious gong. The Paris Saint Germain forward fended off competition from several other worthy winners following 12 months in which his off-field exploits have been just as remarkable as his on-field contributions.
Messi’s dramatic Barcelona exit was the story of the summer. The Catalan club’s rising debt and LaLiga’s registration rules meant that the legendary forward could not renew his contract.
He departed for PSG and has endured a mixed time in the French capital. The 34-year-old has scored just one goal in Ligue 1 despite making seven appearances.
That has prompted suggestions that he should not have been awarded the Ballon d’Or and that another candidate would have been more deserving.
The strongest argument from a player who missed out might be Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.
Several records have been broken by the Polish marksman, including the long-standing most goals scored in a Bundesliga season.
Lewandowski struck a staggering 41 goals in just 29 appearances during the 2020-21 campaign. He has followed that up with 14 in 13 matches this term.
The 33-year-old’s goals earned him the European Golden Shoe and a place in the Bundesliga Team of the Season.
But Lewandowski is not the only player to unfairly miss out on the Ballon d’Or. Express Sport looks at some other unlucky stars over the years.
Luis Suarez – 2016
There were a couple of unlucky Ballon d’Or contenders between 2016 and 2020.
Virgil van Dijk’s performances in 2019 made him a strong candidate, helping Liverpool win the Champions League, but defenders very often miss out on the award. Indeed, Fabio Cannavaro is the only defender to win the Ballon d’Or in the 21st century.
But former Reds striker Suarez was hugely unfortunate to miss out in 2016.
Suarez finished the year with 37 La Liga goals for Barcelona, five more than his closest challenger Messi.
He was a full 10 goals ahead of his counterparts in England and Germany, where both Sergio Aguero and Robert Lewandowski made it to 27 strikes.
Then-Real Madrid forward Ronaldo was handed his, so far, penultimate Ballon d’Or.
Thierry Henry – 2003
Pavel Nedved was surprisingly given the award in 2003 – much to the dismay of Arsenal supporters.
That is because Gunners forward Henry scored an incredible 42 goals for club and country in the calendar year. He ended up winning 62 fewer votes than Nedved.
At the time, little did those Arsenal fans know that some of those strikes had put them on course to go unbeaten in the Premier League during the 2003-04 campaign.
It remains their last top-flight title and Henry was a huge part of their success. The former France hotshot went his entire career without winning the Ballon d’Or. He came third in 2006.