Top-ranking African players in Ballon d’Or history

Nancy Marende

Before 1995, African players could not win the Ballon d’Or. That is because the award was reserved for European players. But after a rule change in 1995, African players could win the award if they played in Europe.

Because of the rule change back in 1995, George Weah became the first African player to win Ballon d’Or.

The award became even more coveted in 2017 when it merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year award, opening avenues for players worldwide to win it.

Although African players have not won the award since 1995, many have come close to scooping it.

In 2007, Malian forward Fredi Kanoute finished 11th on the ballot. Between 2009 and 2015, Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure received nominations for the Ballon d’Or on five occasions. And in 2019. Senegalese forward Sadio Mane finished fourth.

But who are the top-ranking African players in Ballon d’Or history?

1. George Weah

George Weah went on to become Liberia’s President. Image: Instagram/george-weah-official

George Weah is the only African player who won Ballon d’Or. He won the award 1995 while playing in Europe for AC Milan and the Liberian men’s national team.

Weah’s win came at a perfect time when the award was open for non-European players playing in European leagues. George Weah received 144 votes ahead of the second-placed Jurgen Klinsmann, who received 108 votes.

George Weah received the award because he helped Paris Saint Germain win Ligue 1, two French Cups, and the League Cup. He was also the top scorer during the 1994/95 Champions League and helped PSG reach the semi-final.

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2. Sadio Mane

Sadio Mane showcasing his best player award. Image: Instagram/sadiomaneofficial

Sadio Mane has had a remarkable journey in Ballon d’Or. In 2019, he finished fourth on the Ballon d’Or podium with 347 votes and lost the award to Lionel Messi, who received 1678 votes.

In 2022, Sadio Mane finished second in Ballon d’Or. He received 193 votes after losing to Karim Benzema, who received 549 votes.

After ranking second in 2022, Sadio Mane became one of only two African players in the top 3 in Ballon d’Or. His consideration for the award came while playing for Liverpool FC.

3. Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba Image: Instagram/Didier Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba is among the highest-ranking Africans in Ballon d’Or history. Although he did not win the award in his career, he came close to winning it in 2007.

Didier Drogba received Ballon d’Or votes for eight years, between 2004 and 2012. Although he won the Champions League in 2012, his highest achievement came in 2007 when he finished fourth on the podium. 

Didier Drogba received 108 points in 2007, losing to Kaka of Brazil, who received 445 Votes. Drogba played for Chelsea and Ivory Coast when he finished fourth in Ballon d’Or.

4. Samuel Eto’o

Samuel Eto’o is now the Cameroon FA president. Image: Instagram/samueletoo

Samuel Eto’o has received Ballon d’Or votes on eight different occasions. However, the first time on the list was in 2004, when he received seven votes.

Despite getting Ballon d’Or votes on eight different occasions, his highest achievement was in 2009 while playing for Inter Milan and Cameroon.

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Eto’o finished fifth after receiving 75 votes in the 2009 Ballon d’Or. Unfortunately, he lost to Lionel Messi, who received 473 votes.

5. Mohammed Salah

Salah during a game with the Egypt National team. Image:Instagram/mosalah

Mohammed Salah has finished twice on the top ten list of the Ballon d’Or competition. In 2018, Salah finished sixth on the list after gaining 188 votes. He lost to Luka Modric of Real Madrid, who received 753 votes.

The year 2019 saw Mohammed Salah perform his best in Ballon d’Or. The Egyptian forward finished fifth worldwide. He received 178 votes and lost to Lionel Messi, who received 1678 votes.

Mohammed Salah’s impressive performances for Liverpool in 2018 and 2019 meant he deserved to be on the podium. But like many African players before him, he fell short of this individual award.

6. Riyad Mahrez

Riyad Mahrez. Image:Instagram/riyadmahrez26.7

Riyad Mahrez has been a nominee for the Ballon d’Or award on four occasions. In 2022, he received four votes for the award. Unfortunately, the votes were insufficient for him to win. He ended up finishing 12th.

In 2019, Riyad Mahrez finished tenth in Ballon d’Or after receiving 33 votes. Mahrez’s best run was in 2016 while playing for Leicester City. Then, he played a significant role in helping Leicester City win the English Premier League title for the first time in 132 years.

As a result, Riyad Mahrez finished sixth in Ballon d’Or. He received 20 votes and lost to Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, who gained 745 votes.

7. Nwankwo Kanu

Nwankwo Kanu. Image:Instagram/kingkanu4

Nwankwo Kanu received Ballon d’Or votes on two different occasions. In 1996, Kanu received 14 votes and finished 11th, the highest of his career. Kanu played for Inter Milan at the time.

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In 1999, Kanu received two votes for the Ballon d’Or and ranked 23rd. However, his two votes were not enough to win an award that Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo won with 219 votes.

8. Michael Essien

Michael Essien. Image:Instagram/michaelessien

Michael Essien was a nominee for the Ballon d’Or on two different occasions. In 2005, he received two votes and finished in position 22 on the list.

His second nomination came in 2007 when he was playing for Chelsea. Michael Essien received five votes and ranked 24.

Essien’s best year was 2005. He received the nomination after helping Olympique Lyonnais win the Ligue 1 title.

Essien then transferred to England to play for Chelsea and won the English Premier League title in 2006.

9. Yaya Toure

Yaya Toure. Image: Instagram/realtoureyaya

Yaya Toure has not been lucky in Ballon d’Or. Before his retirement, Toure had five nominations for the award between 2009 and 2015.

The Ivorian midfielder played for Barcelona, where he won the Champions League in 2009 and received his first-ever nomination for the award. However, the rest of the nominations came while playing for Manchester City.

Despite five nominations, Yaya Toure’s highest finish for the award was 12th in 2013 and 2015. In 2013, Yaya Toure received 48 votes. And in 2015, he received 0.89% of the vote.

10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring for Chelsea. Image: Instagram/auba

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been a nominee for the Ballon d’Or award thrice. His first time on the list was in 2016, when he finished 11th after receiving seven votes.

In 2017, Aubameyang received 14 votes and ranked 21 on the list. In 2019, he finished in position 20 after receiving five votes.

Aubameyang’s 11th-place finish in Ballon d’Or remains his highest. And although he missed out on the top ten, he still won the African Footballer of the Year award.

Have your say?

Should Sadio Mane have won the Ballon d’Or in 2020 instead of Karim Benzema, and how unlucky was Yaya Toure on this individual award?

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