Arsenal flag waving in a blue sky

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The Ballon d’Or is the biggest individual prize available to players in football. We doubt any stars would swap winning the World Cup, Champions League or other major team honour for it but, nonetheless, for any young player with dreams of going to the top, it has to be at least one of the main aims.

Winning the Ballon d’Or means a player belongs among the true greats and has been recognised as the very best player in the world that year. Obviously Arsenal have had no end of amazing players over the years but have any of them won the Ballon d’Or?

What Is the Ballon d’Or?

Ballon d'or trophy and logo
Ballon d’Or trophy (Ank Kumar | Wikipedia)

Before we get to the heart of the matter, it might be worth explaining what the Ballon d’Or is, beyond that which we have already said. It was created in 1956, the first winner being none other than Stanley (later Sir Stanley) Matthews, of Blackpool! The award was started by a French magazine, France Football and initially only European footballers were eligible.

At this time, the award was also known as the European Footballer of the Year award but over the years it has undergone many changes in terms of format, voting and eligibility criteria. For some time now it has been separate from FIFA’s own awards, having briefly merged, but the Ballon d’Or remains more prestigious than the equivalent, the Best FIFA Men’s Player.

The current format means that only journalists from around the world can vote, with the top three being announced. One of the biggest changes took place in 2007 when the award became open to all players, from anywhere in the world. More recently, in 2022, the Ballon d’Or was altered so that it was not based on a calendar year, but rather a whole football season.

For example, the 2023 Ballon d’Or was won by Lionel Messi (for the record-extending eighth time). He was honoured on the 30th of October, 2023 but the prize covered his performances between the 1st of August, 2022 and the 31st of July, 2023. On the night of the awards, there are various other prizes too, recognising the accomplishments and brilliance of the best female footballer, best goalkeeper, best youngster and more.

No Arsenal Player Has Ever Won the Ballon d’Or

Sadly, no player has ever won the Ballon d’Or whilst playing for the Gunners. Indeed, no player that has ever represented Arsenal has won the great prize at any point during their career. That said, one mighty former Gunner has gone very close to landing the Ballon d’Or on two occasions and that man is… Thierry Henry.

Thierry Henry Second in 2003

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry (funnydae | Wikipedia)

Thierry Henry would get the vote from many Arsenal fans under the age of 50 as the greatest Arsenal player of all time. The French attacker’s combination of grace, elegance and style, with outstanding attacking output and stats, mean that is a perfectly reasonable shout.

Henry was part of the Invincibles team of 2003/04 and also the double-winning side of 2001/02, with France he won two major tournaments and got to the final of a third, whilst he also won league titles in France and Spain, as well as the Champions League with Barca. During his long stay in north London, he was twice the Premier League Player of the Season and also won the Golden Boot a record four times.

Henry was undeniably a world-class player that could have graced any side in the world and overall he scored 228 goals for Arsenal from just 377 appearances. He also provided plenty of assists for others, as well as unforgettable moments of magic, such as his stunning volley against Man United in 2000.

In 2003, a few years before the era of Messi and Ronaldo dominating the Ballon d’Or, the former Monaco player came closer than any Arsenal man has to landing the top prize. He finished second to Czech midfield maestro Pavel Nedved, garnering 128 votes behind Nedved’s 190.

That year, Sol Campbell was another Gunner among the nominees, though he did not obtain any votes. Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Sylvain Wiltord were in the same boat as big Sol too, among the 24 players to be put forward for the award but who didn’t attract a single vote.

As said, Henry got 128, ahead of Paulo Maldini’s 123, with eight judges ranking Henry the best in Europe that term, well behind the 27 who preferred the eventual winner. Arsenal’s brilliant striker bagged 24 PL goals in 2002/03 and 30 in 2003/04, those contributing to his prominence. Nedved, however, was simply superb for Juve in 2003, a year when the Italians lifted the Italian league and cup, and also made it to the Champions League final. He was also named in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2003 (and 2004 and 2005, as well).

Henry Misses Out Again in 2006

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry (joshjdss | Wikipedia)

A few years later and Henry would again go close, this time finishing third. In 2006 it was two giants of Italian football who landed the top two prizes in the Ballon d’Or, with key defender Fabio Cannavaro obtaining 172 votes to the 124 garnered by his international colleague Gianluigi Buffon. Henry got 121.

The two Italians, playing for Real Madrid and Juventus respectively at the time, led the way in large part due to their roles in helping Italy to glory at the 2006 World Cup. Cannavaro was captain for that triumph and given it was built on defensive brilliance it was no surprise to see him and Buffon battle it out for the Ballon d’Or.

In 2006 Cannavaro’s trophy cabinet was rather bulging as he landed the Serie A title with Juve (later rescinded due to the Italian football scandal of the time) prior to moving to Real Madrid, as well as the FIFA World Player of the Year award and 2006 World Cup Silver Ball.