Top 10 players never to win the Ballon d’Or: Neymar, Maldini, Henry...

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's recent domination of the Ballon d'Or means a number of world-class players have missed out on the trophy, most notably Neymar. However, he is in esteemed company.

Ever since French news magazine France Football created the Ballon d'Or or 'Golden Ball' in 1956, the award has become the highest individual honour in soccer.

Over the following 65 years, some of the finest to have ever played the beautiful game have received the accolade from Sir Stanley Matthews to Lionel Messi. However, like any award, it brings debate and controversy as part of the package.

Most of the disquiet centres around who was overlooked, rather than who got the ultimate backing of a panel selected from 176 voting nations.

So, adding fuel to the fire, here's Planet Sport's take on the 10 best players to miss out on the Ballon d'Or.

Before we get to our list, we must confront the two elephants in the room - Pele and Diego Maradona.

Unfortunately, the South American duo weren't eligible for the award as the Ballon d'Or was only opened up to non-Europeans in 1995. Pele had long since retired by then and Maradona was in the twilight of his career back in Argentina.

Not that either player needed further validation.

Ferenc Puskas

Ferenc Puskas scores for Real Madrid
Ferenc Puskas scores for Real Madrid

A key member of the acclaimed 1950s Olympic gold-winning Hungarian national team for whom he scored 84 goals in 85 appearances. Puskas left his mark on the game without winning its most prestigious individual prize.

He is best remembered for his four goals for Real Madrid against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Hampden Park-held European Cup final of 1960, one of his three continental triumphs.

The enigmatic striker famously told the Bernabeu club before signing him in 1958: "I can't play, I'm too fat."

To many soccer fans, Puskas is known for being associated with the award for FIFA's 'most beautiful goal,' handed out on the same night as the Ballon d'Or, something which continues to celebrate his legacy.

He ended his career with 514 goals in 529 games in the Hungarian and Spanish divisions. Puskas even played for the Spain national side for four matches as well as making an appearance in a friendly for South Liverpool in 1967.

The Los Blancos legend's 1960 second-place finish was the only time he made the top three in the Ballon d'Or voting, as Madrid team-mate Alfredo Di Stefano tended to take the limelight.

Kenny Dalglish

Known to Liverpool fans as 'King Kenny,' Scottish striker Dalglish is arguably the most famous Brit not to win the award.

The Glaswegian is a legend at both Celtic Park and Anfield, a club where he spent 13 trophy-laden years.

His honours as a player included six First Division titles and three European Cups, with his final win in 1983, the year that he finished runner-up to France's Michel Platini in the Ballon d'Or.

He is widely-regarded as Scotland's greatest ever player and holds a record 102 caps for his country. He scored 230 goals in 559 games during his club career.

Sir Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish MBE will always be remembered as one of the best to never get their hands on the award.

Frank Rijkaard

Able to play anywhere from central defence to second striker, Rijkaard is regarded as one of the greatest ever defensive midfielders, blessed with acute technical ability and all the physical attributes.

A true all-rounder, the 6ft 3in Ajax and AC Milan icon finished third in both the 1988 and 1989 races.

He won two European Cups with the Rossoneri and a European Championship with the Netherlands as an integral component and heartbeat of a stylish side.

Often overlooked thanks to the Dutch's rich soccer history and infamously remembered for spitting at Rudi Voller at the 1990 World Cup, it shouldn't take away from his achievements as an individual.

Ryan Giggs

The Welsh wing wizard has done it all at domestic club level.

One European Cup, a Champions League, four FA Cups and 13 Premier League titles - among a host of smaller trophies to make up a total of 34 - sounds like a club's record, not a player's.

They all belong to Giggs, though, and he even has a long list of individual honours to his name such as a PFA Player of the Year award and having scored in every Premier League season bar one until his retirement in 2014.

Although plenty of players boast more personal accolades, the academy prodigy was the first of the famed Class of '92 to break through to Sir Alex Ferguson's first-team and last to retire, underlining his unequalled longevity in the English game.

The Wales manager was never truly in the running for the Ballon d'Or during his peak years but his status in European soccer as a one-club winner will always set him apart.

Paolo Maldini

When many soccer fans think of the perfect defender, they think of Paolo Maldini. The Italian legend is revered as one of the best the sport has ever seen.

He played 25 seasons for AC Milan, in which he won 25 trophies, proving what a prosperous time Maldini had at his hometown club.

A whopping five European Cups/Champions Leagues and seven Serie A titles for the Rossoneri was, in part, down to his partnership with Franco Baresi, particularly in the 1992/93 season, when the duo only shipped 21 goals.

Just like the 2006 World Cup win came too late for the already-retired Italian, the defender couldn't get his hands on the Golden Ball despite frequently appearing on all-time lists and being the prototype for defenders to come.

Playing until the age of 40, the club and country captain and pillar of the red side of the San Siro is surely the greatest defender never to win the Ballon d'Or.

Thierry Henry

Anyone who was an integral part of winning a World Cup, European Championship, domestic treble and unprecedented unbeaten title triumph deserves to go down in soccer history.

Henry was the star of Arsenal's seemingly untouchable Invincibles team and went on to score 175 goals in 258 appearances for the club. For France he collected 123 caps - winning back-to-back major tournaments as the 2000s dawned. Finally, he contributed to unprecedented success at Barcelona. He's undoubtedly an idol for the modern generation.

Second in 2003 and third in 2006 was the closest he got to the Ballon d'Or, but don't let that lessen the impact he had on the game and as a true entertainer.

Xavi Hernandez

Number six for Barcelona and eight for Spain, Xavi was the conductor of Pep Guardiola's game-changing team of the late noughties.

Able to exploit space and see the game before it happened, the deep-lying playmaker supplied some of the best Barca attackers this century with 236 assists for his club in a mammoth 859 matches.

Helping La Roja reign supreme on the international stage with two European Championship wins sandwiching World Cup success in South Africa, Xavi personified La Liga and its nation's dominance.

Playing in a team filled with superstars made it difficult to stand out despite his vital presence, but among the world's top midfielders - especially those without the Ballon d'Or - he is a class apart.

Finishing third for three years running from 2009 to 2011, he was firmly the best in his position during that period.

Andres Iniesta

Eight for Barca, six for Spain, Iniesta remains one of the most elegant players to ever grace the middle of a soccer pitch.

His partnership with Xavi is well-documented but Iniesta wasn't just a one-position man and managed to form soccer friendships with other top players as his teams evolved.

Starting off as a wide forward before being considered the best progressive playmaker of his generation, the La Masia graduate won it all, including four Champions Leagues, nine La Ligas and three FIFA Club World Cups.

Scoring the extra-time winner to give Spain their first ever World Cup crown, Iniesta was known for his spellbinding displays on the highest stage as he orchestrated many an aesthetically-pleasing attack at the elite level until 2018.

We should feel fortunate to have witnessed this man's finest years but he's undoubtedly unfortunate not to have picked up the award. He earned second- and third-place finishes in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

Sergio Ramos

Love him or loathe him, Sergio Ramos' longevity and success make him deserving of commemoration.

As the most-capped European player to date, Ramos won a hat-trick of trophies for his country (the 2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2012 European Championships) and at club level, he has reigned in the Spanish capital for the last 15 years. Scoring in the Champions League final to help win the allusive La Decima is his hotly-contested highlight.

He was Los Blancos' most important player, thanks to his leadership and dependable defensive duties, consistently proving priceless for Zinedine Zidane's side. In 2021, though, he moved to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer and will be hoping to guide the French team a craved for Champions League win to boost any future Ballon d'Or credentials.

Neymar

Neymar fans will tell you that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow has all-to-often loomed over the Brazilian and denied him the Golden Ball.

Winning it all at Barcelona by his mid-20s, the winger's accomplishments are generally undervalued due to the amount of talent in that team. However, his unforgettable performance in La Remontada reaffirmed his ability and individual importance.

Now plying his trade at Paris Saint-Germain, the side who were the victims of that stunning comeback from Barcelona, the 28-year-old is closing in on Pele's 77-goal record on the international stage and Cafu's 142 caps.

Like Ramos, another Champions League win will likely be his best chance to finally get his hands on the Ballon d'Or. Or maybe a World Cup success. 

Neymar's Brazil are 11/2 to win the 2022 FIFA World Cup.