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Football: The last 14 Ballon d'Or winners without Messi or Ronaldo

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema won the 2022 Ballon d’Or to end a remarkable period of dominance by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

A year before Benzema's triumph, Messi had claimed a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or and either the Argentina ace or his great rival Ronaldo had scooped the award at 13 of the 14 ceremonies between 2008 and 2021.

Those of you who are old enough to remember football before Messi and Ronaldo may recall that the Ballon d’Or was usually awarded to someone different each year. 

In the 10 years before the GOATs took over, the list of winners read: Zidane, Rivaldo, Figo, Owen, Ronaldo (the Brazilian one!), Nedved, Shevchenko, Ronaldinho, Cannavaro, Kaka.

That's a pretty decent roll of honour, and in the years since, Benzema and his fellow Real Madrid star Luka Modric were the only winners apart from Messi and Ronaldo, so we’re taking a look at who the recipients could’ve been during the big two's reign.

2008 - Fernando Torres

Let's start in 2008, when Ronaldo and Messi had established themselves as the two best players in the world although the Argentinian wizard wasn’t yet the goalscoring force that Ronaldo had become. 

Ronaldo’s Manchester United knocked Messi’s Barcelona out of the Champions League, going on to lift the trophy, and that was a major factor in him winning his first Ballon d’Or but in third place that year was Liverpool’s Fernando Torres.

Signed in the summer of 2007, Torres took the Premier League by storm. 

Only Ronaldo scored more goals than him, and he was named in the PFA Team of the Year before winning Euro 2008 with Spain, scoring the only goal in the final victory over Germany.

2009 - Xavi

Moving on to 2009, which was the first of many straight shootouts between Messi and Ronaldo. 

The Portuguese hadn’t quite hit the heights of the previous year, and Messi beating his United side in the Champions League final helped seal his first Golden Ball.

In third place that year was Messi's Barcelona colleague Xavi, instrumental in their La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League successes. 

As well as making the Ballon d'Or podium, Xavi was named La Liga Midfielder of the Year.

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2010 - Andres Iniesta

Remember Wesley Sneijder in 2010? Sensational for club and country, he won the treble with Inter and took the Netherlands to the World Cup final, but even that wasn’t enough for a top-three finish.

Xavi was third again in 2010, narrowly pipped to second by compatriot Andres Iniesta, who played a huge role in Spain’s World Cup win, scoring the extra-time winner in the final to cap a man-of-the-match performance.

2011 - Xavi

By 2011, well established as the world’s best player, Messi won his third consecutive Ballon d’Or by a landslide, earning nearly 50% of the vote. 

Ronaldo came second while another La Liga and Champions League double was enough for Barca's midfield maestro Xavi to secure third place.

2012 - Andres Iniesta

We've reached 2012, the year in which Messi scored an extraordinary 91 goals. 

Ronaldo also had his best-scoring year with a mere 61 but a penalty-shootout defeat to winners Spain cost his Portugal side a place in the Euro 2012 final. 

He was also on the wrong end of a shootout loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals but Real Madrid did win La Liga with a record points total as well as the most goals scored in a season. Barcelona's Spain star Iniesta was a distant third that year.

2013 - Franck Ribery

Despite not picking up a trophy in 2013, Ronaldo won his second Ballon d’Or, narrowly beating Messi, but it was not a convincing victory as less than 5% of the vote split Ronaldo and the third-placed Franck Ribery. 

A stellar campaign from the Frenchman saw him win the Champions League with Bayern as well as being named Bundesliga Player of the Year.

2014 - Manuel Neuer

Ronaldo won again in 2014 although Manuel Neuer came third with just 0.05% of the vote denying him second place ahead of Messi. 

Neuer had revolutionised the goalkeeping position with his eye-catching performances throughout the year, most notably during Germany's triumphant World Cup campaign in Brazil.

2015 - Neymar

Neymar announced himself on the world stage in 2014 before lifting the Champions League with Barcelona in 2015, scoring seven goals from the quarter-finals onwards, and he was third in the Ballon d’Or, albeit a long way behind Ronaldo and winner Messi.

2016 - Antoine Griezmann 

2016 saw Atletico Madrid finish just three points behind champions Barcelona, as well as taking rivals Real all the way in the Champions League final, losing on penalties, but it was Antoine Griezmann’s performances at Euro 2016 which sealed third place in the Ballon d’Or that year. 

He scored six goals – five of them coming in the knockout stage – as France reached the final, and Griezmann also won the Player of the Tournament award.

2017 - Neymar

“While there is a 1% chance, we will have 99% faith,” were the words of Neymar after Barcelona’s 4-0 Champions League last-16 first-leg defeat to Paris St-Germain. 

Barca stormed back to win the home leg 6-1 and the Brazilian was the orchestrator of that legendary comeback, also scoring the winner in the Copa del Rey final in what was his last game for the Catalan giants. 

A strong start to his PSG career saw Neymar finish third in the Ballon d’Or once again as Ronaldo romped to his fifth title.

2018 - Luka Modric

2018 finally saw the duopoly toppled as Modric’s imperious performances for runners-up Croatia at the World Cup, where he was named Man of the Match three times, saw him win Player of the Tournament shortly after lifting a second Champions League with Real.

2019 - Virgil van Dijk

Normal service was resumed 12 months later, though. Virgil van Dijk had established himself as the world’s best defender, helping Liverpool to a first Premier League title, but that wasn’t quite enough to win him the Ballon d’Or as he narrowly missed out to Messi.

2021 - Robert Lewandowski

After the cancellation of the 2020 ceremony, Messi took his Ballon d'Or tally to seven in 2021, helped by the fact that he had won his first international trophy with Argentina at the Copa America, where he was named Player of the Tournament.

Messi pipped Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski by 613 points to 580 in the vote and the prolific Pole was arguably unfortunate to miss out after scoring 41 Bundesliga goals in 2020/21, breaking a long-standing record held by the great Gerd Muller.

In third place was Jorginho, a key part of Chelsea's Champions League-winning side and the Italy team who beat England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.

While Lewandowski just missed out on Ballon d'Or glory in 2021, Benzema simply could not be ignored by the voters following his spectacular Champions League campaign for Real. 

The France striker scored 15 goals in the competition including stunning hat-tricks against PSG and Chelsea, and three goals across two legs of a dramatic semi-final win over Manchester City.

Benzema was also La Liga's top scorer by a distance as Real were crowned Spanish champions and Sadio Mane, of Liverpool and Bayern, and City's Kevin De Bruyne finished second and third – the first time since 2006 that neither Messi nor Ronaldo made the top three.

So there you have it, the last 14 winners of the Ballon d’Or without Ronaldo or Messi: Torres, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi, Iniesta, Ribery, Neuer, Neymar, Griezmann, Neymar, Modric, Van Dijk, Lewandowski and Benzema. Not bad for the best of the rest, eh?

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