Remembering every Ballon d’Or winner of the past decade would not prove much of a challenge for most football fans, with just Luka Modric breaking the Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi duopoly of the game’s most prestigious individual honour.
The nineties, however, were a much different time, an unforgettable era of football that saw the birth of the rebranded Premier League and Champions League amongst its most notable moments.
The era also saw several iconic names battling to be crowned as the world’s finest footballer, and we’ve decided to take a nostalgic look back at some of the game’s greats of the decade.
Here is every Ballon d’Or winner from the 90’s:
Lothar Matthäus – Inter Milan (1990)
German football has a long and illustrious history of producing leading talents, but Lothar Matthäus undoubtedly sits at the top table of one of the world’s proudest sporting nations.
The most capped player in the history of the national side, Matthäus was regarded as one of the finest players in world football during the late eighties and early nineties, captaining Germany to World Cup success at Italia ’90.
Matthäus was a complete footballing talent, bringing leadership, versatility, power and technical ability. After enjoying much success in his homeland – including winning three consecutive Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich – he moved to Inter Milan during a time in which Serie A hosted the planet’s premium talents.
He helped the Nerazzurri to title success before being named as the winner of the Ballon d’Or following World Cup glory, later claiming the inaugural FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1991.
He returned to Germany after four years at Inter and continued to excel, starring in four different decades and winning a further four Bundesliga titles during a second stint at Bayern.
Jean-Pierre Papin – Marseille (1991)
The only player in history to have won the Ballon d’Or whilst playing his club football in France, Jean-Pierre Papin was acknowledged as Europe’s finest footballer following a prolific period in the colours of Marseille.
Papin was the focal point of an exciting Marseille side in the late eighties and early nineties, winning four consecutive Ligue 1 titles and finishing as the leading scorer in France’s top tier for five seasons in succession.
The forward’s unshakeable self-belief when presented with goalscoring chances also saw him fire Marseille to the final of the European Cup in 1991, one of three consecutive seasons in which he finished as the competition’s leading scorer.
Papin’s exploits saw him join AC Milan in a world-record transfer the following year, but despite two league titles and Champions League success with the Italians, he failed to replicate his goalscoring feats in a defence-orientated side under Fabio Capello.
Marco van Basten – AC Milan (1992)
Arguably the best player in world football at the turn of the decade, Van Basten won the final two Ballon d’Or awards of the eighties before adding a third crown to his collection in 1992.
The former Netherlands international was the star of a formidable AC Milan side which dominated both at home and in Europe, flourishing alongside compatriots Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard in a golden period for the Rossoneri and Italian football.
Van Basten’s became just the third player – after Johan Cruyff and Michel Platini – to win the award for a third time after a prolific 1991/92 campaign, finishing as the leading scorer in Serie A as Milan were once again crowned as champions of Italy.
Simply unplayable at his peak for both Ajax and Milan, Van Basten’s career was sadly cut short by injury, aged just 28. His early retirement was a sad end for a player recognised as one of the greatest centre-forwards of all-time, Van Basten scoring 274 goals in just 367 appearances and winning 13 major honours.
On this day in 1992, Marco van Basten scored this beauty! pic.twitter.com/Igg4Gyb7K6
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) November 25, 2018
Roberto Baggio – Juventus (1993)
The Ballon d’Or headed to Italy for third time in four years following the coronation of Roberto Baggio in 1993, the Juventus forward enjoying a brilliant season to win the accolade alongside the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Baggio was the undoubted star of a Juventus side who lifted the UEFA Cup under Giovanni Trapattoni, scoring twice in the club’s 6-1 aggregate victory over Borussia Dortmund in the final.
The mercurial forward finished as the runner-up for the Golden Boot in Italian football and produced a series of mesmeric displays, including a four-goal destruction of Udinese as Juventus finished fourth in the division.
The dazzling feet of ‘The Divine Ponytail’ delighted the masses in Italy, Baggio the stand-out domestic star in a league packed with the world’s finest footballers. Few can forget the sight of the Italian hurdling and evading robust challenges on his way to goal, a wonderfully creative talent and a player who helped truly define the nineties.
Hristo Stoichkov – Barcelona (1994)
Widely regarded as the greatest Bulgarian footballer of all-time, Stoichkov formed part of Johan Cruyff’s dream team at Barcelona before helping his country to the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup.
The fiery forward formed a brilliant understanding at club level with Brazil great Romario and the duo terrorised defences during a short stint in Catalonia, firing the club to the Spanish league title and final of the Champions League during the 1993/94 season.
Stoichkov finished the season with 24 goals in all competitions before establishing himself as one of the stars of USA ’94, scoring six times to win the World Cup’s Golden Boot as Bulgaria beat the likes of Argentina and Germany on their way to the last four.
‘The Dagger’ enjoyed two spells at the Camp Nou and won five league titles and the European Cup amongst his honours, an explosive and temperamental talent who played a key role in one of club football’s greatest ever sides.
George Weah – AC Milan (1995)
The mid-nineties saw the Ballon d’Or open up to players outside of Europe and the first edition under the new rulings saw George Weah claim the honour, the Liberian claiming the award following his performances for both Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.
Weah finished as the leading scorer in the Champions League as PSG reached the last four in 1994/95, scoring a brilliant individual goal in a group stage clash against Bayern Munich.
The forwar’s performances in Europe attracted the attention of Milan and he moved to the San Siro in 1995, finishing as the club’s leading scorer as the Rossoneri were crowned champions in his debut season.
Weah’s mix of explosiveness, athleticism and brilliant footwork marked him out as one of the most exciting talents in Italian football and he was crowned as winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1995, the first – and so far only – African player to receive the accolade.
Matthias Sammer – Borussia Dortmund (1996)
One of just three defenders in history to have won the Ballon d’Or, Sammer followed in the footsteps of fellow libero and compatriot Franz Beckenbauer to be named as the winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1996.
Amongst the last of his kind, Sammer switched from a midfield role into the backline following an unsuccessful spell at Inter Milan before establishing himself as arguably the most important player in the Bundesliga at Dortmund.
The positional change into the now largely-defunct sweeper position saw Sammer flourish, inspiring the German outfit 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.
He remains the most recent German winner of the Ballon d’Or.
Ronaldo – Inter Milan (1997)
Arguably the greatest true centre-forward in football history, Ronaldo was deemed unfortunate not to win the Ballon d’Or in 1996 before claiming the award for the first time the following year, becoming the youngest ever player to be named as European Footballer of the Year and the first ever South American winner of the prize.
The Brazilian scored 47 goals in just 49 appearances during a sensational single season at Barcelona during the 1996/97 campaign, inspiring the club to three trophies before joining Inter Milan in the second world-record move of his career.
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.
He recovered, however, to inspire Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002 and win a second Ballon d’Or, alongside becoming a three-time FIFA World Player of the Year.
Zinedine Zidane – Juventus (1998)
Zinedine Zidane’s legacy as a great of French football is built on his role in the nation’s inaugural World Cup success at home, an artist of a footballer possessing skill, class and elegance and the inspiration behind that triumph on home soil.
The son of Algerian immigrants, he became the face of a new generation for France, 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.
Before that he had helped Juventus to the final of the Champions League, though the Bianconeri would suffer an agonising defeat to Real Madrid in Amsterdam, a side the midfielder would later join for a world-record fee.
Somewhat surprisingly, Zidane’s 1998 victory was the only Ballon d’Or of a career in which he was largely recognised as the finest footballer on the planet, later leading France to European Championship success in 2000, before scoring a stunning goal to seal the Champions League for Real Madrid in 2002.
Rivaldo – Barcelona (1999)
The final Ballon d’Or winner of the nineties was Barcelona’s Rivaldo, who stepped into the role of the aforementioned Ronaldo at the Camp Nou to establish himself as a star of the world game.
Rivaldo was named as the world’s finest footballer following a season that saw the forward inspire the Catalan side to a second successive Spanish title, scoring 24 league goals and providing a further 14 assists to emerge as the most influential player in the division.
The Barcelona of Rivaldo’s era were not the all-conquering side of recent years, but in the Brazilian they had a player capable of producing moments of brilliance, his performances seeing him finish ahead of Manchester United treble-winner David Beckham and Ukrainian superstar Andriy Shevchenko in the voting.
One of a long line of his fellow countryman to have starred in the surroundings of the Camp Nou, Rivaldo later helped Brazil to World Cup success in 2002 and won the Champions League during a less successful stint with AC Milan.