The greatest individual accolade in football, the Ballon d’Or recognises the best footballer in the world each year, with many of the game’s greats having been awarded the prestigious honour.
The annual shortlist is often a collection of footballing royalty, but throughout the years we have witnessed some questionable names featuring amongst European football’s elite.
We’ve decided to look back at some of the more surprising inclusions amongst the nominations, here are five of the worst players to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or:
Nikos Machlas – 1998
The European Golden Shoe has been shared between Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez over the course of the past decade, but the pre-points system prize as the continent’s top scorer had a more eclectic feel throughout the nineties, less than stellar names including the likes of Porthmadog’s David Taylor and Margveti’s Zviad Endeladze scooping the honour.
Sandwiched between prolific Brazilian internationals Ronaldo and Mario Jardel also came a triumph for Greek forward Nikos Machlas, the forward enjoying a goal-laden spell in Dutch football at Vitesse Arnhem.
The Eredivisie side has failed to win a single league title in their 128-year history, so the presence of their talisman amongst the leading names in European football came as somewhat as a surprise despite his goalscoring exploits.
Machlas received just a solitary vote – finishing ahead of names such as Andriy Shevchenko, Pavel Nedved and Roberto Baggio – but finished a long, long way adrift of eventual winner Zinedine Zidane.
El-Hadji Diouf – 2002
El-Hadji Diouf, somewhat remarkably, is a two-time African Footballer of the Year and Ballon d’Or nominee, despite rarely demonstrating any sort of quality at the very highest level of the game.
The Senegalese forward shot to prominence during the 2002 World Cup as the African nation reached the quarter-finals – shocking holders France in the tournament opener – before being named in the all-star team despite failing to score a single goal.
Those achievements, plus Senegal’s runner-up finish in the African Cup of Nations, saw him included amongst the Ballon d’Or nominations, but that proved to be the high point in a career more memorable for its controversies than footballing moments.
A move to Liverpool proved a disaster as the forward scored just three league goals over two seasons, a series of spitting incidents disgracing his reputation as he bounced between clubs such as Bolton, Sunderland, Blackburn and Rangers.
Diouf failed to score double figures in any of his 13 league seasons in English football, enduring three goalless campaigns and becoming a pantomime villain for opposition fans.
Hatem Trabelsi – 2003
Remember him, Manchester City fans?
The Tunisian full-back spent a single, largely forgettable, spell in English football at the Etihad before being released, but just three years prior to that move to Manchester was listed amongst the marquee names of European football.
Then at Ajax, Trabelsi found himself amongst the shortlist for the game’s greatest individual honour, though perhaps unsurprisingly failed to receive a single vote in the final rankings.
Pavel Nedved was crowned as Europe’s finest player that year, the Czech midfielder finishing ahead of runner-up Thierry Henry and third-placed Paulo Maldini.
Traianos Dellas – 2004
Leicester’s Premier League title success is widely held aloft as one of the great sporting shocks, but before that fabled Foxes side came a Greece team who defied their underdog status on the international stage.
Greece’s triumph at the 2004 European Championships ranks amongst the most unexpected major tournament successes, a victory built on a resolute defence and Angelos Charisteas’ ability to head home vitals winners.
Dellas may have scored a silver goal winner at the quarter-final stage, but the towering defender’s inclusion still came as a surprise alongside several of his international teammates, as did his five votes to finish ahead of the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ captain Patrick Vieira.
That last eight goal was also his sole strike for his country and the highlight of an otherwise unremarkable career, taking in stints in both his homeland and Italy alongside a two-year spell in England at then second tier Sheffield United.
Milan Baros – 2004
Ballon d’Or votes can certainly be skewed during international tournament years, with former Liverpool forward Milan Baros another to benefit from a 2004 European Championships packed with shocks and surprises.
Few could have anticipated the Czech striker finishing as the tournament’s Golden Boot winner following a season on Merseyside that yielded just one league goal, Baros surprisingly scoring five times during his country’s run to the semi-final stage.
That run saw Baros amongst the nominees for the Ballon d’Or and finish a respectable 12th in the voting, level with a young Cristiano Ronaldo and ahead of names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto’o.
Baros, however, never reached those heights again and averaged less than a goal every four games throughout a five-year spell in England at Liverpool and Aston Villa.
A decent, mid-tier Premier League striker, yes.
A potential Ballon d’Or winner, certainly not.
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