Ballon d’Or: Highest ranked African footballers in history

Ballon d’Or: Highest ranked African footballers in history
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The Ballon d’Or is the most celebrated individual award in football. It is the Oscars of the beautiful game.

Africans have a chequered history in this hallowed award – one laced with thorns and thistles, yet they have continued the stiff plod. They keep making the most of the few opportunities.

With the top 30-man Ballon d’Or list released recently (including four Africans), we look at the highest-ranked African players in this award.

African Ballon d'or top rankings

Victor Ikpeba – 1997 (Monaco/Nigeria) – 32nd

Ballon d'Or victor ikpeba one-time nominee
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After a solid performance at the 1996 Olympics and an inspiring run with his club that led to winning the 199/97 Ligue 1 title, the Prince of Monaco received a nomination for the Ballon d’Or award.

Ikpeba finished 32nd in the rankings.

Kalidou Koulibaly – 2019 (Napoli /Senegal) 24th

Kalidou Koulibaly led Napoli to finish second in the Italian Serie A in the 2018/19 season behind champions Juventus.

He was captain of the Partenopei and was instrumental in Napoli having the third-best defence in the league.

Michael Essien – 2005, 2007 (Lyon/Chelsea) 22nd, 24th

Michael Essien was nominated twice for the Ballon d’Or. In 2005, Essien finished 22nd and 24th in 2007.

He joined the Blues from Lyon in the summer of 2005 and helped Chelsea finish second behind Manchester United in the Premier League in 2007.

Finidi George – 1995 (Ajax/Nigeria) 21

Ballon d'Or finidi geroge first nigerian to be nominated
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The 1994/95 season for Ajax was a fantastic one. They won three trophies, including the Dutch Eredivisie, the Dutch Super Cup and the UEFA Champions League.

Finidi was vital to this success with comparisons to David Beckham. He was one of the finest wingers in the world, but his efforts landed him the 21st position.

He was the first Nigerian to receive a nomination for this award.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 2017, 2019 (Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal/Gabon) – 21st, 20th

People usually forget how good Aubameyang was. He was at the heart of what Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal did during his time at the club.

He was the top scorer in the Bundesliga in 2017 and the Premier League in 2019. Aubamenyang led Arsenal to the final of the Europa League in 2019, where they lost to Chelsea.

Papa Bouba Diop/El Hadji Diouf – 2002 (Lens/Senegal) 19th

Bouba Diop and El Hadji Diouf played vital roles for club and country. RC Lens finished an unlikely second, two points behind champions Lyon – thanks to the duo.

They also helped Senegal reach the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup. Senegal became the second African country to achieve the feat after Cameroon.

Asamoah Gyan – 2010 (Sunderland/Ghana) 18th

Ballon d'Or asamoah gyan 2010 nominee
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In the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Asamoah Gyan was at the heart of the successes of the Black Stars of Ghana.

He was vital to their quarter-final finish and instrumental to their crashing out.

Gyan missed a last-minute penalty that could have sent Ghana to the semi-finals.

Sébastien Haller – 2022 (Ajax/Ivory Coast) 13th

You cannot not exclude a league top scorer from the Ballon d’Or list. Haller scored 21 goals for Ajax to finish as the top scorer.

The goals from the Ivorian were enough to see Ajax win the league.

Haller scored 11 goals in the Champions League to finish third top scorer behind Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich – 13) and Karim Benzema (Real Madrid – 15).

Yaya Toure – 2009, 2012, 2014, 2015 (Barcelona, Manchester City/Ivory Coast) 28th, 12th, 14th, 12th

Ballon d'Or yaya toure
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From Barcelona to Man City and for the Elephants of Ivory Coast, Yaya Toure was phenomenal. The midfielder was nominated four times for the Ballon d’Or amid the several accolades he received.

Some individual awards he won include Ivory Coast Player of the Year in 2009 and African Footballer of the Year in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

He also won the Manchester City Player of the Year: 2013–14, PFA Team of the Year (Premier League) 2011–12 and 2013–14.

Emmanuel Adebayor – 2008 (Arsenal/Togo) 12th

The sole time Emmanuel Adebayor was nominated was on the back of a solid season with Arsenal.

He scored 24 goals for Arsenal to finish third in the league behind Manchester United and Chelsea.

He also won the African Player of the Year award in 2008, BBC Goal of the Season in 2007–08 and was in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year in 2007–08.

Frederic Kanoute – 2007 (Sevilla/Mali) 11th

Here are the laurels Kanoute won to get him on the list.

He won the Copa del Rey – 2006–07, Supercopa de España – 2007, UEFA Cup – 2006–07 and the UEFA Super Cup in 2006.

Do not forget the African Footballer of the Year in 2007.

Nwankwo Kanu – 1996, 1999 (Inter Milan, Arsenal/Nigeria) 11th, 23rd

 Ballon d'Or nwankwo kanu
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Papilo was the second Nigerian to receive a nomination for the Ballon d’Or.

The first nomination came due to his performance at the Olympics in 1996, where Nigeria won the old medal.

Perhaps the sentiments of his heart issue played a role, but the former Ajax striker was phenomenal in his career. He won accolades everywhere he went.

In 1999, he finished ahead of Luis Figo, Didier Deschamps, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Zinedine Zidane, Predrag Mijatovic, Raul, Seaman, Rui Costa, Brian Laudrup and Paolo Maldini.

Riyad Mahrez – 2016, 2019, 2021, 2022 (Leicester City/Algeria) 7th, 10th, 19th, 12th

Riyad Mahrez was nominated four times. The most iconic was in 2016 when he finished seventh.

Mahrez helped the Foxes win the Premier League in 2016 and won many more accolades with Manchester City.

Mahrez was also the CAF African Footballer of the Year in 2016.

Mohamed Salah – 2018, 2019, 2021 (Liverpool/Egypt) 6th, 5th, 7th

Is it not surprising that Mohamed Salah has been nominated for the Ballon d’Or only thrice? It feels like the Egyptian forward has been around forever.

The Liverpool forward has won many awards, including the African Footballer of the Year in 2017 and 2018.

He accumulated some records on the way to his treble nominations. They include Most goals by an African player in a Premier League season – 32 goals in 2017–18.

Salah won the most Premier League Player of the Month awards in a single season – 3 (November 2017, February 2018 and March 2018.

He was the first player to outscore three Premier League teams in a Premier League season: West Brom (31), Swansea City (28) and Huddersfield Town (28) in 2017–18.

He was the fastest Liverpool player to score 50 Premier League goals: 69 games in 2018–19.

Samuel Eto'o – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 (Mallorca, Barcelona, Inter Milan/Cameroon) 15th, 10th, 6th, 30th, 17th, 5th, 12th, 8th

Ballon d'Or samuel eto'o
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Samuel Eto’o was one of the most iconic African footballers. Wherever he went, goals followed, and the Cameroonian has a quantum of it.

He has won many awards, including the African Footballer of the Year and top scorer awards in multiple years.

Eto’o has been nominated for the Ballon d’Or eight times (more than any African footballer), and his highest finish is fifth.

Didier Drogba – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 (Marseille, Chelsea/Ivory Coast) 17th, 14th, 8th, 4th, 21st, 9th, 9th, 8th

ballon d'Or didier drogba
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The only player with nominations as many as Samuel Eto’o is Didier Drogba. The Ivorian is an icon across the globe.

Drogba was a massive influence at Chelsea, helping the Stamford Bridge side win many trophies, including the UEFA Champions League in 2012 and several Premier League titles.

On an individual level, Drogba won the Africa Cup of Nations Top Scorer – in 2012 and African Footballer of the Year – in 2006 & 2009.

He also won the Golden Foot in 2013, Premier League Golden Boot 2006–07, 2009–10, Premier League Most Assists – 2005–06 and the UEFA Cup Top Scorer – 2003–04.

Sadio Mané – 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022 (Liverpool/Senegal) 23rd, 22nd, 4th, 2nd

ballon d'Or sadio mane
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Sadio Mane received three nominations in a row. The Senegalese finished 4th in 2019 and 2nd in 2022 after helping Liverpool win the UEFA Champions League and leading the Teranga Lions to win the Africa Cup of Nations in 2021.

The Senegalese superstar has also won other accolades, including the Socrates Award – 2022, the Premier League Golden Boot – 2018–19, and the African Footballer of the Year – 2019 & 2022.

He also won the Africa Cup of Nations Player of the Tournament in 2021.

George Weah – 1995 (PSG, AC Milan/Liberia) 1st

The president of Liberia, George Oppong Weah, is the only African player to win the Ballon d’Or.

He was phenomenal for PSG and AC Milan, scoring many goals and beautiful ones too. Weah was a strong character and a very dangerous marksman.

The former AC Milan striker knew how to break down defences and led AC Milan to the Serie A title in 1995–96 and 1998–99 season.

Weah won the African Footballer of the Year in 1989, 1994 and 1995. The Liberian also won the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995.

Weah is the highest-ranked African player in the Ballon d’Or rankings.

This article was most recently revised and updated 9 months ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter. Chooka has a passion for football and has been a fan of Enugu Rangers (over 30 years) and Real Madrid (Since 1996).