Ballon d’Or: Will a Brit ever win again?

Scott Salter

The Ballon d’Or shortlist for 2016 saw Cristiano Ronaldo regain the crown from Lionel Messi, but for fans of the British game, one of the most alarming takings from the award was the lack of British presence. Only two British players appeared on the shortlist for football’s most prestigious individual prize.

What does this say about the state of the British game? Does it suggest that the British game does not produce enough talent? Does it suggest that the days of the English Premier League being the best league in the world and England being a powerhouse in European football, are gone?

Does it suggest that there is little hope of a British winner again? Not since Michael Owen in 2001 has there been a British Ballon d’Or winner and with only two nominated in 2016, the future does not look bright on the British shores.

Expectedly, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have led the way in recent Ballon d’Or shortlists.

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Gareth Bale was the highest-ranked British player in 2016 (6th), but even the world’s most expensive player struggled to break into the top three. Whilst Messi and Ronaldo lead the way, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Neymar are all way ahead of Bale in World football right now.

The only other Brit to make the shortlist was Jamie Vardy – Leicester’s title-winning hero. It marked his unbelievable rise from non-league player to placing 8th on the Ballon d’Or vote of the world’s best players. Despite this, everything suggests that it was a one-season-wonder from Vardy and on this season’s form, he’ll be nowhere near the shortlist come nomination time.

The Premier League is often billed as the best league in the world, yet only one Brit playing in the Premier League was nominated for football’s biggest award.

Where does the problem lie? Many would suggest the influx of foreign stars in the Premier League. With big clubs shipping in the world’s best talents, youth development in this country is hugely impacted.

Since the inaugural Ballon d’Or of 1956, there have been seven British winners (including two for Kevin Keegan). That leaves Britain (England with five, Scotland and Northern Ireland have one each) top of the list of countries with the most winners.

Stanley Matthews (1956)
Denis Law (1964)
Bobby Charlton (1966)
George Best (1968)
Kevin Keegan (1978)
Kevin Keegan (1979)
Michael Owen (2001)

Michael Owen was the last British winner of the Ballon d’Or, with Frank Lampard the closest British player to winning it since, coming second in 2005 behind Brazilian magician Ronaldinho. For the past nine years, there hasn’t been a single British player in the top three of the Ballon d’Or.

Gareth Bale leads the way for British players; he plays for arguably the biggest club in the world, Real Madrid, and was a star for Wales at last summer’s European Championships.

He is, though, in the shadows of the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez and Neymar. They are world-class and Bale is touching that group but remains some way off.

Beyond the Welshman, there are few players who stand a real chance of breaking the barrier for British players in the Ballon d’Or. Dele Alli is one of few players who can play at the highest level, with links to Real Madrid this summer suggesting that he is destined for the top.

Will he reach that level? Time will tell, but it seems as though British hopes for the future are resting on the shoulders of one 21-year old who was playing League 1 football just a couple of years ago. With other country’s producing top class talent, the path forward for Alli is difficult.

Rival countries are producing incredible talent; France’s Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembélé, Germany’s Julian Brandt and Leroy Sane, Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus and many more are prime examples of players who will probably surpass Dele Alli’s level.

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With few British talents being developed on these shores, the future doesn’t bright for Britain’s chances of a Ballon D’Or win. Unless Gareth Bale wins one in the next few years, or Dele Alli surpasses some of the best talents in world football, the chances of the next generation threatening the top three are unlikely.

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