Ronaldo, Messi, Zidane: The greatest XI of Ballon d'Or winners

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The Ballon d'Or is the most prestigious individual prize in the beautiful game.

You know that you're various shades of world-class if you've lifted that golden trophy above your head at France Football's star-studded ceremony - and countless legends have done exactly that.

Sadly, the tragic global situation meant that Robert Lewandowski was denied the Ballon d'Or he so badly deserved in 2020, but fans have their fingers crossed that the award will return this year.

Ballon d'Or winners

Besides, the amount of Ballon d'Or trophies that players earn can make a massive difference to their legacy and the GOAT (greatest of all time) debate in general.

After all, I'm sure you're acutely aware that Lionel Messi got one over Cristiano Ronaldo when he won his sixth Ballon d'Or plaque in 2019, surpassing the five in his rival's trophy cabinet.

However, we've decided to zoom out from the modern era and look at the Ballon d'Or prestigious history as a whole because, believe it or not, there was a world before Messi and Ronaldo.

And having become dazzled by all the legendary names to have been crowned the player of the year, we couldn't resist working out what the best possible XI would look like from all the winners.

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Greatest Ballon d'Or XI

And while that might seem like an easy task on paper - I'd be spoiled for choice, right? - the bias towards attacking midfielders and strikers made it almost impossible to strike the right balance.

So, you'll have to cut us some slack for the team being, well, a little top-heavy, but make no mistake that it's still littered with world-class quality and truckloads of Ballon d'Or trophies - check it out:

GK: Lev Yashin (1963)

Our hand was forced here because Yashin is the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d'Or, but it's not exactly a chore because the 'Black Spider' is arguably the greatest shot-stopper in history.

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CB: Matthias Sammer (1997)

Ummm, yeh... so, those who know the Ballon d'Or winners well will be aware that the likes of Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi never won, meaning that Sammer gets a place in the team by default.

CB: Franz Beckenbauer (1972, 1976)

Similarly, we're having to staple Beckenbauer to the back-line given the lack of defensive winners, but we don't doubt for a second that the Bayern Munich legend would be ideal for the job.

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CB: Fabio Cannavaro (2006)

Again, Cannavaro might not be up there with Booby Moore or Alessandro Nesta, but we've barely been able to scrape a back three together here, so Italy's World Cup-winning captain gets the nod.

RM: Lionel Messi (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019)

Yeh, I told you the team was top-heavy. We'd be out of our minds not to select the most prolific Ballon d'Or winner of all time who could well end his career as the greatest goalscorer in history.

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CM: Zinedine Zidane (1998)

Have we picked Zizou over Lothar Matthaus, Sir Bobby Charlton, Roberto Baggio and Ronaldinho because of some innate bias? Maybe, maybe, but come on, the guy is footballing eye candy.

CM: Johan Cruyff (1971, 1973, 1974)

I'm sorry, if you win three Ballon d'Or trophies in four years, you have to get the nod and it's hardly controversial when Cruyff is one of the most revolutionary technicians that football has ever seen.

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LM: Cristiano Ronaldo (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017)

The most prolific forward in history - unless you work at the Czech Football Federation - Ronaldo strolls into our team with more goals than Pele and the international scoring record in his sights.

CAM: Michel Platini (1983, 1984, 1985)

The first player to win three Ballon d'Or trophies on the bounce, Platini lifted midfield goal-scoring to a whole 'nother level in the 1980s, boasting the record for the most goals in the history of the Euros.

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ST: Ronaldo Nazario (1997, 2002)

Ronaldo might well have become the greatest forward in history if it wasn't for injuries, so to say that he won two Ballon d'Or titles and a World Cup Golden Boot in spite of that is simply staggering.

ST: Alfredo Di Stefano (1957, 1959)

Selecting a second striker with Marco van Basten and Eusebio on the table was near impossible, but in the interest of era diversity, we're plumping for arguably Real Madrid's greatest ever player.

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An astonishing XI

Sure, in an ideal world we would have been able to substitute in Baresi and Maldini, who were woefully unlucky to never win a Ballon d'Or title, but the starting XI is still pretty astonishing.

Besides, I think the team would manage just fine with Yashin and Beckenbauer at the base of the spine and there's good reason to think that every midfielder would score 20 goals each season.

Would the back three need more protection and would Messi and Ronaldo enjoy effectively playing as wing-backs? Umm, yeh, I'll plead the fifth on that one, but I guess they'll just have to outscore their opponents.

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And anyhow, who cares about proper tactics and defensive solidity when you can see both Ronaldos scoring hatfuls of goals from Zidane's through-balls? That's what I thought.

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