In 2015 France Football published a special edition which looked at the history of the Ballon d'Or. One of the articles included was a review (written by Thierry Marchand) of what might have happened if the Ballon d'Or had been open to players from around the world prior to 1995. In short they did the following: 1958: Kopa > Pele 1959: Di Stefano > Pele 1960: Suarez > Pele 1961: Sivori > Pele 1962: Masopust > Garrincha 1963: Yashin > Pele 1964: Law > Pele 1970: Muller > Pele 1978: Keegan > Kempes 1986: Belanov > Maradona 1990: Matthaus > Maradona 1994: Stoichkov > Romario Anyway, I've seen some confusion on this previously and the current Wikipedia article on the Ballon d'Or makes out as if this was some formal re-allocation. It wasn't. It was one article by one person, not a true re-evaluation. I've translated it below and tried to retain some of the character without trying to re-write it. Some of the idioms are hard to capture. We Won the Prize Who would be the victors of the Ballon d’Or if the current rules, which allow all the players from around the world to compete, had been in force from 1956? Here is a new reading of the story. When it was initiated at the baptismal font in 1956, the Golden Ball was meant to be a comprehensive award, but the list of the time was limited to the continent of Europe. It must be said that no one at the time was in a position to do better, to observe, let alone judge, the South American championships and the top performing players there. Europe dominated the world of football with its economic stature and attracted, from the beginning of the 1950s, the stars from Argentina (Di Stefano to Real), from Uruguay (Ghiggia to Roma, Schiaffino to Milan) or from Brazil (Julinho to Fiorentina) and at that time, Pele did not exist yet … Without internet or television, with still rudimentary means of transport to travel the world, it was not easy to get an idea about the value of a player, including those in the Old Continent. The written press had its relays, its correspondents, those who saw, and those who were present throughout Europe. For a long time, the Ballon d'Or only rewarded a European representative. It was not until 1995 that the trophy took on a global dimension by recognising (finally) the best performing player in a European club, whatever his nationality and, from 2007, the best player in the world. But the enlargement had become almost redundant as Europe is now a land which has a near monopoly on the best players. For nearly forty years, the greatest South American talents saw before them the most prestigious individual trophy without being able to touch it. It is this frustration that we are going to arbitrarily attempt to repair. The Pele Years He appeared like a comet, the revelation of the 1958 World Cup, in which he almost never played because of a knee injury. He did not play the first two matches of the Selecao, only coming into play against the USSR for the final first round match. At seventeen Edson Arantes do Nascimento was not yet Pele. It was from the quarter-finals, against Wales, that he set out. What followed was a tornado: six goals in three games, a symbol of the explosion of an incredible talent. Didi, who was voted best player of the Swedish World Cup, could have made a perfect Ballon d'Or 1958. But the Botafogo midfielder, who was soon to join Real Madrid (where he’s be a failure), was already getting on at twenty-nine years old, and his talent was more collective and less flamboyant than that of the future King. Pele had a freshness, madness, instinct, genius. Above all, he scored enormously, dizzying goals at the end of galloping runs, sprinkled with dribbling that twisted blood and tricks out of the hat of a magician. In 1958, Pele scored eighty goals in the colours of his club Santos. Some will object that the value of the opposition was not comparable to that of the Spanish or Italian clubs. They will be told that Pele's has no equivalent either. And at the time the World Cup represented much more than just a competition. It was a magnifying mirror, because it was a huge, huge showcase in which the Spanish Di Stefano never had a place, unable to advance La Roja in his qualifying group in 1958, before withdrawing through injury in 1962. Pele was the man of the World Cup. He contested four, won three and left his imprint on two (1958 and 1970). Between these dates, he piled up the goals, especially between 1958 and 1961, where his performance resembled the upward bidding of an auction: 100 goals in 1959, 110 in 1961. It is at this time that he reaches his peak. It is also where he will win awards and acquire an international dimension. Winning multiple times of the National Championship and that of his state (Sao Paulo), Pele wins in 1962 and 1963 the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup against Benfica and AC Milan. Those who saw the semi-final of the 1963 Copa Libertadores, facing the Botafogo of Garrincha and Jairzinho, still speak with sobs in their voice. The man behind the equaliser in the first leg (1-1), Pele managed a triple in the return (4-0) in one of the most famous games of his career. Top scorer of the tournament, he will lead his team to the triumph in the final against Boca Juniors. We could go on like this for a long time, and even give him the Ballon d'Or for the entire decade of the sixties. In 1964, the year in which he managed to score eight goals in a championship match against Botafogo, six of which were struck in the space of thirteen minutes. But, even if his productivity does not hold (97 goals in club of 1965, a year when he ends top scorer of the Libertadores), his impact will be diluted from the mid-60s. Exhibited more and more often in Europe during lucrative friendly meetings, he’s less present on the South American scene (only one Libertadores played in from 1965), the King derives a ransom (money) from his glory, but it’s not always to his advantage. Wildly fouled by the Portuguese and Bulgarians at the 1966 World Cup, he retired wounded, and Brazil with him. To better rise from the ashes in 1970. For all those who were lucky enough to have reached an appropriate age at that time, the 1970 World Cup, the first broadcast in colour on TV, remains forever a high point. Pele is twenty-nine years old. We already know that this World Cup will be his last. We also know that Brazil are perhaps the most beautiful team of all time. More than the goals of Pele (4 anyway), it is his gestures, his individual actions, which will live long in the memory: the devilish 60 yard lob over the Czech goalkeeper Viktor, the bewildering feint that mystifies the Uruguayan keeper Mazurkiewicz, the lightning header against England and the reflexes of Banks, the no-look pass to Carlos Alberto on the fourth goal Brazil in the final ... Many times he comes close, but nobody cares that he misses. The gesture, here, takes precedence over everything. He actions live long in posterity. Pele will win his last World Cup. He will be crowned Ballon d'Or 1970. His seventh and last. Garrincha: The time of a summer We can not pretend to not give priority to the World Cup, the flagship competition that consecrated the majesty at the time, and to hide Garrincha in the annals of the Golden Ball. If one sticks only to club football, the year 1962 is owned by Pele, who dominates with Santos (see above). But at the World Cup in Chile, the King injured himself on a long-range shot in the second match against Czechoslovakia. We will not see him any more this tournament. In two matches and some dribbling from another galaxy, Garrincha then becomes the absolute ruler, a man shining in a firmament in which he was not necessarily the brightest star. "The Angel with Curved Legs" had already demonstrated the extent of his talent in 1958 at a World Cup where the English press described him as "a mix of Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and a snake charmer". "Stronger than Pele," said Welsh defender Mel Hopkins. More popular in the heart of the Brazilian people, also "the little bird" (Garrincha in Portuguese) inspired the chants of the fans. From the quarter-finals, he will wow the crowds, however hostile as they are, as in the semi-final against host country Chile (4-2). "What planet does Garrincha come from?" asked a local newspaper, as Garrincha, author of the first two goals for Brazil, had eliminated England single-handedly in the quarter-finals (two achievements, including one of his famous banana shot, another "Thierry Henry-esque” moment before the hour). Garrincha will not be the man of the final against Czechoslovakia, a meeting he should not have played. Expelled against Chile, after having responded to a new aggression, his suspension will be lifted after the intervention of the Brazilian Federation. But he will play the final diminished by a strong fever. Brazil will be crowned champion, Garrincha top scorer and best player of the tournament. And, at the end of the year, receive the Ballon d’Or of France Football. Kempes - In the Tournament In the official history of the Ballon d'Or, the World Cups represents many intersections of crossed paths and destinies. Often, the trophy created by France Football has crowned if not one of the winners of the flagship test of international football (Bobby Charlton, Zidane, Cannavaro), at least the top scorer of an edition (Gerd Muller, Stoichkov), when it was not both at once (Ronaldo, Paolo Rossi)). Frequently, they have only come to life on the end of the campaign, or from the knock-out phase, which is almost the same. This is the case of Rossi, whose six goals were scored in the last three matches of Italy in 1982. That of Garrincha also, which we have unofficially committed in 1962. It will also be that of Mario Kempes, who is admitted to the pantheon for his contribution to the Argentine title of 1978. At the age of twenty-four, Kempes was not a stranger in 1978. He played in Spain (Valencia CF), scored a lot (39 goals during the season 1977-8) in a championship where he had just been crowned two times in a row as the top scorer, and his growing physique of a gaucho (what a mane!) ensured he would be at the forefront. In a poisonous atmosphere created by the political context of the era and the horrors of the military junta, Kempes inspires and gives relief to Argentina. Anonymous in the first round, he scores six goals in the last four meetings, ie three doubles, against Poland, Peru and the Netherlands in a tense final (3-1 after extra time), to pass the test with flying colours. What would happen today? In the first match of the second round, against the Poles, Kempes who opened the scoring, conceded a penalty in the 39th minute for a saving handball on the line, the same reflex judgment that caused Luis Suarez to be expelled in 2010 in the quarter-final against Ghana and suspended for the semi-final. A different age, different rules. On the field of Rosario, Mr. Erikson went neither yellow nor red. Deyna missed a penalty and Kempes could continue to pour out his passion. He was voted best player of the World Cup, footballer of the year in South America and now Ballon d'Or 1978 ahead of Kevin Keegan, who had not won anything that year and didn’t even went go Argentina with England, victim of Poland in qualification (Comment: Actually it was Italy who eliminated England). Maradona: And God in all this? We can never compare Pele and Maradona because these two are incomparable. Some will be offended by the disproportion between the number of Golden Balls "awarded" to one (seven for the Brazilian King) compared to the other (two for the Argentine Pibe), but the study of their respective cases reveals two things: 1. Maradona, unlike Pele, played in Europe (eleven years, from 1982 to 1993) and was able to compete with the continent's major players; 2. The competition at that time (roughly 1980s) was much harder than twenty years earlier. When Pele erases from the winner’s enclosure Law, Yachine, Masopust or Sivori, Maradona has to steal from Rummenigge, Platini, Gullit or Van Basten, which is not quite the same thing, especially since they all played simultaneously in the same championship as he, in Italy. We will not return to the qualities of Maradona, his technique, his vision, his passes, his dribbling and his play … with his hand. More about his influence. If he did not win anything with the Barca (1982-4), far from being a powerhouse like they have been in the 21st century, he inspired Napoli in that decade, a side who enjoyed the most beautiful period in their history. Maradona offered two league titles in 1987 and 1990, at a time when Serie A (which he was top scorer in 1988) was the best league in the world, and a UEFA Cup in 1989, a competition whose level was then well above the current Europa League. To claim victory, Napoli had to knock out Bordeaux in the eighth-finals, Juve in the quarter and Bayern in the semis. It is at this time, that is in the latter part of the 80's, that Maradona reaches his pinnacle. This is where he accumulates the titles. He’s on fire. In Naples Maradona reached stratospheric heights, but it is with Argentina that he takes his place in eternity. In 1986 first, where he remained almost silent during the first round of the World Cup (one goal in the group stage against Italy) and until the quarter-finals. After that, he’s on fire, the “Hand of God” (against England), that special goal at the end of a sixty-meter run where he rips apart Bobby Robson's team, his two brilliant goals (the second especially) against Belgium in the semis, the decisive pass for the winner of Burruchaga in the final against West Germany. His first Ballon d’Or. The 1990 Word Cup is more debatable. This year, the Pibe is hampered by an ankle injury. He will not score, will have less impact on the game and will miss even a penalty in the quarters against Yugoslavia. But which player really emerges from poor World Cup, where Salvatore Schillaci is elected best player and scorer? Who has more aura, charisma, personality than this Maradona who will lead an underwhelming selection until the last act for one of the most traumatic World Cup finals in history? Matthaus the Golden Ball? Although he is world champion, he only scored once (a penalty) from the eighth finals and his West Germany are never irresistible. Maradona has shone all year round, scored more goals in the league (16 goals against 11 for Matthaus) and especially conquered the title of Serie A (winning 17 games at home) against a Milan just crowned double champion of Europe, while Inter of the German finished third. But is there debate? Maradona wins the Ballon d'Or for the second and last time. Romario: The Last of the Hindered In his editorial of France Football dated December 26, 1995, Gerard Ernault, editor, outlined the reasons that caused the amendments to the Ballon d'Or and especially its rules: 1. the quota of non-European players in the European clubs has become too important to be ignored; 2. the majority of these players take on important roles in these same clubs; 3. Europe is not their retirement home, but the ground for their learning and achievement. George Weah is the first beneficiary of these new rules that extend to the entire planet the rightof the eligible players. And Romario the final victim of a code that has become too strict, not to say obsolete. In 1994, the native of Rio won the lot. The World Cup with Brazil, the championship of Spain with Barca, also finalist of the Champions League, as well as the titles of best player of the World Cup, top scorer in La Liga (30 goals in 33 matches) and FIFA player of the year (now FIFA Ballon d'Or since its twinning with the trophy of France Football in 2010), not forgetting some other trinkets, such as champions’ champion of the newspaper L'Equipe. It’s hard to do better. In fact, Romario is almost the most indisputable Ballon d'Or ... that never won the Ballon d'Or. What did the Brazilian striker do this year? Everything. From his three goals and a decisive pass during an intoxicating Clasico (5-0) in January to the destruction of Manchester United (4-0 in CL) in November ("The worst night of my career" says Steve Bruce), to punching Diego Simeone in an encounter with Sevilla (a five game suspension) and, it is on the summit, a World Cup where he will have mark on the scoresheet at all the matches, except in the round of 16 (1-0 against the United States, a goal of Bebeto scored on a Romario pass) and in the final (0-0 against Italy), although he did hit the post. We don’t need any more examples! As playful as he was a great player, lucky as well as inimitable, Romario was an explosive phenomenon that should have won much more than this phantom Golden Ball that is awarded here. He was only twenty-eight in 1994, and all his time competing with his countrymen Ronaldo (elected in 1997 and 2002) and Rivaldo (1999). A tumultuous relationship with Cruyff and mismanagement of his career meant otherwise. But others have had the Golden Ball for less than that.