·3 July 2021
·3 July 2021
The Ballon d'Or is due to make a triumphant return in 2021.
With France Football's prestigious prize spending 2020 on ice due to the global situation, fans are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of seeing the world's best player crowned again.
After all, it feels like an eternity ago that Lionel Messi made history by winning the title for a record-breaking sixth time, ousting what was undoubtedly a stunning 2019 from Virgil van Dijk.
No doubt the Barcelona star will be in contention for a seventh trophy by the time this year's ceremony rolls around, but make no mistake that there will be plenty of rivals to win the accolade.
From Robert Lewandowski to N'Golo Kante and dare we even suggest Jorginho, there is no shortage of competition from world-class footballers to be crowned the best of the best.
And whoever is unveiled as the world's best player over the last 12 months will take their place in the history books alongside previous winners who range from truly iconic to simply legendary.
However, anyone who has ever traced their finger back through the list of previous Ballon d'Or winners will be acutely aware that France Football's prize hasn't always been a worldwide affair.
Given the limitations of technology and transport at the time of the accolade's establishment in 1956, it was nigh on impossible for players outside of Europe to be fairly judged and compared.
As such, it wasn't until 1995 that players of a non-European origin became eligible and 2007 marked the moment when playing in European leagues no longer became a criteria for selection.
Now, it doesn't take a footballing expert to establish that those criteria meant that footballing legends like Diego Maradona and Pele ended their career without Ballon d'Or trophies.
However, not only was the situation remedied by both players being given honorary Ballon d'Or prizes, but France Football decided to do a retrospective into the winners for their 60th anniversary.
In a review cited as recently as October 2020 by the publication, France Football hypothetically revised the list of Ballon d'Or winners in a world where non-European players were always eligible.
The result? Nothing short of fascinating, so be sure to check out their adjusted, albeit unofficial, batch of winners down below:
Real winner: Omar Sívori
Real winner: Josef Masopust
Real winner: Lev Yashin
Real winner: Denis Law
Real winner: Gerd Muller
Real winner: Kevin Keegan
Real winner: Igor Belanov
Real winner: Lothar Matthäus
Real winner: Hristo Stoichkov
There you have it, France Football essentially admitted that Messi wouldn't be the most successful footballer in the history of the Ballon d'Or had all footballers been permitted from day one.
However, it is worth saying that the French publication explained that Pele faced far less competition than, say, Maradona did during the 1980s, hence why the Brazilian bags himself so many plaques.
As such, it's worth taking Pele's mind-boggling total of seven Ballon d'Or titles with a pinch of salt but even then, there's no denying that he deserves a hatful of the famous golden ball.
That being said, if there's one way that Messi can put his status in the GOAT debate beyond dispute then matching the number of Ballon d'Or trophies that Pele might have bagged would be it.
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