Every year the Ballon d’Or nominations spring a few surprises our way but sometimes the inclusion of certain players demand a better word than surprising. So we picked out five players you won’t believe were nominated for the prestigious honour in the 21st century.
5. ASAMOAH GYAN (2010 – Ghana, Sunderland)
Asamoah Gyan scored three goals each at the FIFA World Cup and the African Cup of Nations in 2010 to help Ghana reach the final and quarterfinals respectively. It was surely his performance at the international level that got him nominated for that year’s Ballon d’Or award.
Gyan, who was playing for Sunderland in 2010, didn’t have an outstanding season at the club level but he still got 0.46 % of the votes to finish 18th in the Ballon d’Or voting to finish ahead of Julio Cesar, Cesc Fabregas, Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm and Dani Alves.
In 2011, he left England and has since played in the UAE, China and Turkey. The 32-year-old hasn’t received a nomination before or after 2010.
4. YURI ZHIRKOV (2008 – Russia, CSKA Moscow)
Russia’s run to the semifinal of Euro 2008 earned two Russians a nomination for the Ballon d’Or. The first was Andrey Arshavin who received 64 points and finished 6th in the final rankings. The second nomination went to CSKA Moscow left-back, Yuri Zhirkov, who failed to get a single vote.
Zirkhov moved to Chelsea the following year but in his two seasons in England, he failed to make any impact whatsoever and returned to Russia to play for Anzhi Makhachkala.
3. EMMANUEL OLISADEBE (2001 – Poland, Panathinaikos)
In 2001, when Michael Owen won the Ballon d’Or, Emmanuel Olisadebe, a Polish international born in Nigeria was nominated for the award.
Olisadebe played for Greek club Panathinaikos at the time of his nomination and the striker didn’t have a prolific season either. He was nominated because he scored eight goals in ten qualification matches to help Poland qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup which was its first since 1986.
He received one vote and that placed him above 25 superstars which included the likes of Steven Gerrard, Gianluigi Buffon, Ryan Giggs and 2003 Ballon d’Or winner Pavel Nedved.
2. ANTONIOS NIKOPOLIDIS (2004 – Greece, Olympiacos)
In 2004, four Greek internationals were nominated for the Ballon d’Or and there is a case to include all four of them in the list. However, the honour falls to the goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis.
Nikopolidis spent his entire club career in Greece and switched from Panathinaikos to Olympiacos in the year he was nominated. He received two votes which placed him above Paolo Maldini and one point behind Zinedine Zidane. In addition, among those who didn’t receive a vote were David Beckham, Ronaldo Nazario, Andrea Pirlo and many other renowned superstars.
1. YOUNIS MAHMOUD (2007 – Iraq, Al Gharafa)
Younis Mahmoud was also nominated for the Ballon d’Or for his international performance rather than his exploits at the club level. He is Iraq’s most capped player and he scored three goals at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup which Iraq won.
Mahmoud received two points after the votes were in which placed him 29th and above Dimitar Berbatov, Samuel Eto’o, Ryan Giggs, Carlos Tevez and Robin van Persie who all received a point each. He was also placed above 15 other superstars who didn’t receive a vote.
His nomination was historic as he became the only player in history from Iraq to receive a nomination. In addition, he was the only outfield player who didn’t represent a club in Europe and was also the only Asian player to make the final 30.