For one decade, two footballers have shared the game’s biggest individual honour; the Ballon d’Or.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the top spot, while the rest of the world’s best players have watched on from the sidelines.
In the 10 years before the duo established their dynasty, the list of recipients was littered with some of the most iconic players ever to play the beautiful game.
Zinedine Zidane (1998), Luis Figo (2000), Ronaldo Nazario (2002) and Ronaldinho (2006) were all crowned as the best player in the world during a period in which no contender won the coveted prize on more than one occasion.
Since 2008, the catalogue of outstanding footballers who haven’t got their hands on the trophy is exhaustive; but what if Ronaldo and Messi had been exempt from the shortlist during that time? What would the list of winners look like?
Here we take a look at how the Ballon d’Or list could have looked if both of the five-time winners had never won..
Every year, a panel of journalists vote for the player they deem to have been the best over the calendar year. They take into account trophies won and individual achievements. By the same process, we will pick an alternative Ballon d’Or winner, starting with the 2008 award.
2008: Fernando Torres
Trophies: UEFA Euro 2008
Individual Honours: Premier League PFA Team of the Year, FIFPro World XI, UEFA Team of the Year, Euro 2008 Final Man of the Match.
After Torres touched down in Liverpool it did not take long for El Niño to establish himself as one of the most deadly and memorable strikers, not only of the Premier League era, but in world football.
‘The kid’ slotted seamlessly into the Red’s team forming a lucrative partnership with Steven Gerrard that helped him go on to score 33 goals (24 in the league) in his debut season.
Liverpool were unable to secure any silverware that year but Torres carried his scintillating form with him into the European Championships with Spain and helped the national side win their first major tournament.
He scored the only goal in the final against Germany earning him the man of the match award and a place in the history books.
If all that doesn’t justify his selection, the blonde hair, long sleeves and wonder-goal against Blackburn should be enough to convince you.
2009: Andres Iniesta
Trophies: UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Copa Del Rey, FIFA Club World Cup
Individual Honours: Footballer of the Year (Spain)
One defining moment made picking Andre Iniesta a simple decision.
Iniesta’s match-winning strike was his only goal of the 08/09 Champions League campaign, but it was crucial.
In a tense Champions League semi-final second leg, his deciding goal in stoppage time was technically superb and showed a grit and determination to win in a close-fought encounter.
Paired up with Xavi in midfield, the two forged a formidable midfield partnership under the management of Pep Guardiola, in his first season for the club.
In 26 La Liga appearances, Iniesta scored four times and assisted 13 goals, making him a key figure in Barcelona’s treble-winning team; they won La Liga, Copa Del Rey and the Champions League in 08/09.
The Spanish magician always had the killer pass.