Hypothetical dream XI’s are a regular conversation amidst football fans and here at the Football Faithful we’re no different, though this latest line up is perhaps the most difficult we’ve had the pleasure of compiling.
The Ballon d’Or remains the most prestigious individual accolade in the sport, an award that celebrates the finest footballer on the planet each year. Throughout the years some of the game’s greatest players have received the honour, and we’ve attempted to put together the best XI of previous winners.
Defensive balance may be lacking given the abundance of attacking talent on offer, but we’re sure a side this good would have little trouble in dispatching even the most difficult of opposition.
Here is the Football Faithful’s best XI from players to have won the Ballon d’Or:
Goalkeeper: Lev Yashin – 1963
The legendary number one remains the only goalkeeper in history to have won the Ballon d’Or, which makes the former Soviet Union international a shoo-in for this stellar selection of stars.
Regarded by many as the greatest goalkeeper the game has seen, Yashin helped redefine the role of a goalkeeper as he won four league titles with Dynamo Moscow and helped the Soviet Union to European Championship success in 1960.
Named as European Goalkeeper of the Year on nine occasions, Yashin came to worldwide prominence following his performances in the 1958 World Cup, where his commanding presence and trademark all-black attire earned him the nickname ‘The Black Spider’.
Yashin’s legacy saw him named as FIFA’s Goalkeeper of the Century in 2000, whilst his 151 penalty saves is the most of any goalkeeper in the history of the sport.
Defender: Matthias Sammer – 1996
Only three defenders have ever lifted the Ballon d’Or, with Sammer the first of our trio of stalwarts in an uber-attacking 3-5-2 formation.
One of a great line of defensive icons from German football, Sammer became just the second defender to win the Ballon d’Or after helping Germany to European Championship success in 1996.
Sammer had struggled to adapt to life in Italy during a brief spell at Inter Milan and returned to his homeland with Borussia Dortmund in the early nineties, where a positional change saw the German develop into arguably the most important player in the Bundesliga.
The move from midfield to a libero role in the Dortmund backline saw Sammer inspire the club to back-to-back league titles, before being named as Player of the Tournament as Germany were victorious at Euro ’96.
His performances that year saw him finish ahead of Ronaldo and Alan Shearer to be crowned as European Footballer of the Year, before cementing his legacy by starring during Dortmund’s Champions League victory the following season.
Defender: Franz Beckenbauer – 1972 & 1976
A player often credited with the birth of the sweeper position in which the aforementioned Sammer starred, Franz Beckenbauer is a player who is rightly remembered amongst the greatest of all-time.
The German revolutionary is arguably the first of the ball-playing defenders so common in the modern game and the inspirational leader for club and country during a career of huge success.
Beckenbauer won the first of his Ballon d’Or awards after captaining West Germany to the 1972 European Championships, before helping the national side to World Cup glory two years later on home soil.
‘Der Kaiser’ became the pioneer of the sweeper role, where his defensive nous and excellence on the ball saw him win a wealth of major honours, including four Bundesliga titles and three successive European Cups in more than a decade spent at Bayern Munich.
In addition to his two Ballon d’Or victories he also twice finished as runner-up for the honour, a sporting icon who remains one of the greatest defenders the game has seen.
Defender: Fabio Cannavaro – 2006
The most recent defender to win the Ballon d’Or, Cannavaro claimed the award after captaining Italy to World Cup success in 2006.
It is those performances in helping the Italians to become world champions that will forever immortalise Cannavaro, a series of performances in which he marshalled a miserly defence that conceded just twice throughout the entire tournament – one an unfortunate own goal and the other a penalty.
The centre-back spent over a decade at the heart of the Azzurri’s best displays, whilst at club level he was part of an iconic Parma team in the late nineties before enjoying success at both Juventus and Real Madrid.
His best displays, however, came with the national team and he is the only defender this century to be crowned as Europe’s finest player, a generational leader and iconic international captain.
Midfield: Lothar Matthäus – 1990
Providing an essence of defensive balance in a side packed with creative talent is another stalwart of German football, Lothar Matthäus.
The most capped player in the history of the German national side, Matthäus was regarded as one of the finest players in world football during the late eighties and early nineties, captaining his nation to World Cup success at Italia ’90.
Matthäus was a complete footballing talent, bringing leadership, versatility, power and technical ability. After beginning his career with Borussia Monchengladbach he joined Bayern Munich, where he won three consecutive Bundesliga titles with the Bavarian giants.
Equally comfortable scoring spectacular goals or dictating the play from a deeper role, he would star following a move to Inter Milan – winning the Scudetto in 1989 – as Serie A hosted the planet’s premium talents.
Winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1990 before claiming the inaugural FIFA World Player of the Year award the following year, the once swashbuckling Matthäus reverted to a sweeper role following a serious Achilles injury where he continued to excel – winning a further four Bundesliga titles during a second stint at Bayern.
Midfield: Zinedine Zidane – 1998
The first attacking role in a seriously talented midfield left us torn between two of French football’s greats, though we’ve opted for the sublime talents of Zinedine Zidane over three-time Ballon d’Or winner Michel Platini.
Zidane at his glorious peak was an artist of a footballer, possessing skill, class and an elegant grace.
After emerging at Bordeaux, Zidane left his homeland to join Juventus, helping the club to consecutive league titles and back-to-back Champions League finals.
His legend, however, was built on the international stage.
The son of Algerian immigrants, he became the face of a new generation for France and inspired the nation to a first ever World Cup on home soil – scoring two headers in the final as Brazil were defeated in Paris.
Those performances saw Zidane named as the winner of the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year – the latter an award he would win a further two times throughout his career.
He helped France to European Championship success in 2000, being named Player of the Tournament in the process, before a world-record move to become the latest Galactico signing at Real Madrid.
Zidane ended his debut campaign at the Spanish giants with a career-defining moment, a sensational winning goal in the Champions League final to crown Madrid champions of Europe, spending five seasons with Los Blancos and winning the La Liga title in 2003.
Once again named as the tournament’s best player as France were beaten in the 2006 World Cup final, Zidane’s career sadly ended in shamefully iconic fashion, sent off in the showpiece after a head-butt on Marco Materazzi following derogatory family-themed insults from the Italian.
Midfield: Johan Cruyff – 1971, 1973 & 1974
Few, if any, men have impacted the game of football quite like the late Johan Cruyff.
Cruyff became one of the exponents of the ‘Total Football’ philosophy that became associated with both Ajax and Dutch football, later exerting his influence on a Barcelona side that is still feeling his presence more than four decades later.
The midfielder played the game like no other player, his technical brilliance and innovative methods marking him out as a star following his emergence as a precocious talent in Amsterdam.
Cruyff won six league titles and three consecutive European Cups with the great Ajax side of the late sixties and early seventies, winning the Ballon d’Or three times in four years and cementing his position as the best player in world football.
The latter of those triumphs came after a move to Barcelona, where the Dutchman inspired the Catalan side to the Spanish league title during his debut season at the Camp Nou.
At international level he led the Netherlands to two successive World Cup finals – losing both – whilst he gained worldwide notoriety for his fabled ‘Cruyff turn’, a piece of skill still widely used in modern football.
He later moved into coaching and guided Barcelona to the European Cup in 1992, Cruyff one of the undisputed greats in footballing history.
Right-wing: Lionel Messi – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 & 2019
The record six-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, Messi’s list of achievements make it hard to think of new superlatives to describe arguably the finest footballer of all-time.
Messi came through the academy system at Barcelona to cement his status as the planet’s finest, possessing an ability to make the extraordinary routine and shattering records and perceptions of what a footballer is capable of.
The greatest goalscorer in the history of Barcelona and Spanish football, Messi’s list of achievements includes winning ten La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies, in addition to winning the European Golden Shoes as the continent’s leading scorer on a record six occasions.
His current record stands at 627 goals in 718 appearances for the Catalan giants, whilst he is also the record goalscorer in the history of the Argentinian national side after eclipsing Gabriel Batistuta in 2016.
Messi’s speed, passing and dribbling is a spectacle unlikely to be witnessed again, and football fans should saviour his final seasons whilst he remains at his unrivalled best.
Left-wing: Cristiano Ronaldo – 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016 & 2017
The Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo comparisons have been as unavoidable as they have been tedious for more than a decade, the two eternal rivals competing for a status as the world’s best player.
Ronaldo’s ability to influence the biggest occasions has seen the Portuguese superstar stake his claim as arguably the best of all-time, winning five Champions League titles and becoming the record goalscorer in the history of Europe’s leading competition.
The forward’s legacy has also seen him win major domestic titles in England, Spain and Italy, in addition to becoming the all-time leading scorer in the history of Real Madrid.
Emerging as a promising but frustrating winger, Ronaldo evolved into a goal machine – his unbreakable desire to be the best aiding the development of a player seemingly capable of it all.
A five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo joins Messi on the flanks of our dream XI, though neither will be asked to track back…
Forward: Marco van Basten – 1988, 1989, 1992
Marco van Basten, for a time, was simply unplayable.
The stand-out star in a long list of brilliant Dutch forwards, Van Basten burst onto the scene at Ajax, scoring prolifically for the capital club to gain the attention of the footballing world.
He finished as the leading scorer in the Netherlands for four consecutive seasons, helping Ajax to three league titles and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup after beating Lokomotive Leipzig in 1986.
It would be at AC Milan, however, where he became the game’s greatest goalscorer, thriving alongside compatriots Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard as the Italian giants dominated both at home and abroad.
Winner of the Ballon d’Or three times in just five years, he won three league titles and two European Cups with the Rossoneri, whilst he inspired the Netherlands to a first major tournament victory by finishing as the leading scorer in the nation’s victorious 1988 European Championships campaign.
His winning goal in the final – a stunning dipping volley from an acute angle – remains one of the most iconic goals in football history.
Van Basten’s career was sadly cut short by injury, aged just 28, though he retired having scored 274 goals in just 367 appearances and will be forever remembered as a player capable of magical moments.
Forward: Ronaldo – 1997 & 2002
Long before the arrival of the aforementioned Cristiano, another Ronaldo reigned as the most exciting talent in world football.
Few players have ever thrilled football fans quite like the emergence of a young Ronaldo Nazario, a player who but for injury could perhaps have become the greatest the game has seen.
Ronaldo made a stunning impact upon his arrival in European football, scoring prolifically for PSV Eindhoven to earn a world-record move to Barcelona, where a single glorious season delivered a treble of trophies and the first of two Ballon d’Or awards.
The Brazilian scored 47 goals in just 49 appearances in the colours of the Catalan club, before completing a second world-record move to Inter Milan, becoming the most expensive player in history twice before his 21st birthday.
Ronaldo, or O Fenômeno as he became known, was a player who revolutionised the game, combining a bullish strength with balletic poise and an ability to operate at breakneck speeds with flawless technique.
His career in Italian football began well as he scored prolifically to be named as Serie A Footballer of the Year, but he would suffer the first of two career-threatening injuries that threatened to rob the game of its brightest talent.
After a long and gruelling road back, Ronaldo inspired Brazil to World Cup success in 2002, earning redemption after a pre-match seizure shadowed his performance in a final defeat to France four years earlier.
He joined Real Madrid that summer and despite not being the same player as his unstoppable early years, scored over a century of goals for the club in five seasons before later spells at AC Milan and Corinthians.
Ronaldo finished his career as a three-time winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year award and the second-highest scoring player in the history of the Brazilian national side, and even with injuries has a strong claim as the greatest ever number nine.