The most sought after one-man trophy in all of football; the Ballon d’Or. Such a prestigious award typically evokes thoughts of overseas excellence. Kaká won it in 2007 after leading Milan to a Champions League victory, leaving Ronaldo and Messi as runners up. Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer trading first and second place year-after-year. The travesty that Pirlo never even finished in the top three. Today we take a look at our home-grown heroes. These are the four English players winners of the Ballon d’Or.
4 English winners of the Ballon d’Or
It’s not too often you hear of a player that carried on in the top-flight until 50 years of age. Stanley Matthews was one of football’s true early greats. Pele, Zola and Bobby Charlton are just a few of the legendary names that have paid tribute to Matthews for setting a new standard at which the game should be played.
Matthews won the Ballon d’Or in 1956 for his continued efforts with Blackpool, one of just two clubs he played for in his career, the second being Stoke City. 717 games for both clubs in a professional life which spanned over thirty years.
A tactile, agile and keen dribbler, Matthews was dubbed The Magician in a time where football super fandom was few and far between. He was also the first-ever Ballon d’Or winner and the only footballer to be knighted whilst still an active player.
Next up on our list of English winners the Ballon d’Or is Sir Bobby Charlton. Instrumental in England’s 1966 World Cup win, Charlton went on to win the coveted Ballon d’Or in the same year.
Almost a lifetime at Manchester United, he moved up to the senior club after a successful youth career in 1956. The next seventeen years saw the Red Devils win three First Division titles, one FA Cup and a European Cup, with Charlton scoring 199 goals in over 600 games.
Bobby Charlton represents an early era of United, a player full of grit, determination and pure ability; One of the Busby Babe’s, survivor of the tragic Munich Air Disaster and a central figure in the rebuilding of the Manchester side post-1958.
The only English player to win back-to-back Ballon d’Ors, Kevin Keegan was a force to be reckoned with in the mid to late ‘70s.
His successful six-year spell at Liverpool ended with their first-ever European Cup victory and three First Division titles. His move to Hamburg in 1977 propelled the 26-year old into stardom, which for £500,000, broke both the English and German transfer fee records at the time.
Driven by his newly acquired perm and the momentum of his last season, Keegan made early waves in the Bundesliga. Despite a not so optimal league finish, his 12 goals were enough to win him his first Ballon d’Or in ‘78.
The arrival of Hamburg’s new manager Branko Zebec helped send the club to new heights, with a first league win in two decades. Keegan clinched 17 goals that season putting him in the top spot for a consecutive Ballon d’Or and the only Englishman to win two in a row.
It took a whole twenty-two years from Kevin Keegan claiming the prestigious award for another English player to have it firmly in his hands. Michael Owen is the fourth and final (so far) entry on our list of English Ballon d’Or winners after Liverpool’s incredible run in 2001.
The turn of the twenty-first century is an era of football that will live long in the minds of Liverpool fans everywhere. Houllier’s Liverpool clinched the treble, winning the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup where Owen played a pivotal role.
Owen was the star man of the FA Cup final, claiming two late goals to snatch the trophy away from a dismayed Arsenal side. Prior to his move to Real Madrid in ‘04, Owen scored 118 goals in 216 games for Liverpool. Easily one of the most prolific strikers of the time. Which future Ballon d’Or winners could be English and become the fifth name on the list?
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