When an event like the World Cup rolls around, there are all sorts of different awards that are given out in addition to simply the winner of the entire competition. The Golden Boot, for example, is awarded to the player that scores the most goals and has been awarded since 1982. The Golden Glove, as you can probably guess, is for the goalkeeper that concedes the fewest goals or has the most clean sheets. Young players get their own award, as does the Goal of the Tournament. The Most Entertaining Team is also thought of as being a prize-worthy award.
One of the most interesting prizes is the Golden Ball award, which FIFA give out to the player that is thoughts of as being the ‘best’ during the competition. The FIFA Technical Study Group draws up a shortlist during the tournament, with representatives of the media then being asked to cast their vote on the shortlist. Players that are runners-up are awarded the Silver Ball with the Bronze Ball gicen to the player who is third in the vote. It was introduced in 1982 and sponsored by Adidas and France Football, with the idea being that a player should be honoured to be named it.
Quick Answer: Which Player Has Won the Most World Cup Golden Balls?
Lionel Messi is the only player to have won the World Cup Golden Ball more than once, awarded the prize in Brazil 2014 and Qatar 2022.
There are nine players who have won a single Golden Ball. They are Paolo Rossi (1982), Diego Maradona (1986), Salvatore Schillaci (1990), Romário (1994), Ronaldo (1998), Oliver Kahn (2002), Zinedine Zidane (2006), Diego Forlán (2010) and Luka Modrić (2018)
The Golden Ball Winners
Now that we have a sense of what the Golden Ball is, it is worth having a look at who has been awarded it over the years. Is it always given to a player from the team that won the tournament overall, for example? Or is it more about technical expertise demonstrated throughout the competition that is seen by the press as being more worthy than whoever wins the Jules Rimet?
Here is a look at the results of the competition over the years, including where the World Cup was held in that year and who got the Golden Ball, the Silver Ball and the Bronze Ball according to the votes of the media:
Golden Ball Winners – 1982 to 2022
|1982 (Spain)||Paolo Rossi||Italy|
|1986 (Mexico)||Diego Maradona||Argentina|
|1990 (Italy)||Salvatore Schillaci||Italy|
|2002 (South Korea / Japan)||Oliver Kahn||Germany|
|2006 (Germany)||Zinedine Zidane||France|
|2010 (South Africa)||Diego Forlán||Uruguay|
|2014 (Brazil)||Lionel Messi||Argentina|
|2018 (Russia)||Luka Modrić||Croatia|
|2022 (Qatar)||Lionel Messi||Argentina|
Silver Ball Winners – 1982 to 2022
|1986 (Mexico)||Harald Schumacher||West Germany|
|1990 (Italy)||Lothar Mattäus||West Germany|
|1994 (USA)||Roberto Baggio||Italy|
|1998 (France)||Davor Šuker||Croatia|
|2002 (South Korea / Japan)||Ronaldo||Brazil|
|2006 (Germany)||Fabio Cannavaro||Italy|
|2010 (South Africa)||Wesley Sneijder||Netherlands|
|2014 (Brazil)||Thomas Müller||Germany|
|2018 (Russia)||Eden Hazard||Belgium|
|2022 (Qatar)||Kylian Mbappé||France|
Bronze Ball Winners – 1982 to 2022
|1982 (Spain)||Karl-Heinz Rummenigge||West Germany|
|1986 (Mexico)||Preben Elkjær||Denmark|
|1990 (Italy)||Diego Maradona||Argentina|
|1994 (USA)||Hristo Stoichkov||Bulgaria|
|1998 (France)||Lilian Thuram||France|
|2002 (South Korea / Japan)||Hong Myung-bo||South Korea|
|2006 (Germany)||Andrea Pirlo||Italy|
|2010 (South Africa)||David Villa||Spain|
|2014 (Brazil)||Arjen Robben||Netherlands|
|2018 (Russia)||Antoine Griezmann||France|
|2022 (Qatar)||Luka Modrić||Croatia|
Only one player has won the Golden Ball award more than once, which is Lionel Messi in both 2014 and 2018.
The interesting thing is that the Golden Ball was awarded to a player from the overall winning nation of the World Cup on four occasions. That is 36.36% of the time, with the other occasions seeing a player from a different country end up as the winner of the Golden Ball award.
To many, Lionel Messi is the best footballer ever to play the game. Whilst some might talk about Cristiano Ronaldo, the reality is that he has not managed to achieve what Messi did during his playing career. Though he won the European Championship with Portugal in 2016, he was never able to lead his nation to World Cup success, which Messi achieved in 2022. Messi also won the Copa América in 2021, which is the South American equivalent of the Euros. During his career, Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or five times compared to Messi’s seven, giving the Argentine the edge in all categories.
Whilst the likes of Pelé and Diego Maradona should be part of any conversation in an all-time list, there is little doubt that Messi would lead the way in the eyes of most. It is with this in mind that we are able to look towards his Golden Ball wins, making history by being the only player to have been awarded the honour on two separate occasions. There is an obvious argument that Maradona won it once and it wasn’t up for grabs when he was at his peak, but that doesn’t take away from Messi’s achievement. During his time with Barcelona, he won a club-record 34 trophies.
Having made his competitive debut for the Spanish side as a 17-year-old in 2004, Messi established himself as one of the club’s key players in the years that followed. He became the club’s all-time top goalscorer, a feat which is unlikely to be defeated any time soon. He was the first person to win the Ballon d’Or four times, doing so in consecutive years. At the same time, his national side struggled to impose itself on the international stage in spite of his obvious brilliance. The country finished as runners-up to eventual winners Germany in the World Cup in 2014, which was the first of Messi’s Golden Ball wins.
During the period that Messi was making a name for himself at Barcelona, Argentina finished as runners-up in the Copa América in 2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016, making it the quarter-finals in 2011 and the semi-finals in 2019. They eventually won it in 2021, winning the CONMEBOL–UEFA Cup of Champions the following year. The World Cup win in 2022 was the crowning moment of Lionel Messi’s career, setting in stone his position as the greatest of all time in the eyes of many. It was also the second time that he was given the Golden Ball award by the media covering the event.
When he won the Golden Ball in 2014, he did so even though he wasn’t the top goalscorer in the tournament. He scored four times, whereas James Rodriguez of Colombia scored six. In 2022, Messi scored seven times, beaten by Kylian Mbappé’s eight, proving that it isn’t just about putting the ball in the back of the net when it comes to the decision making.
As well as looking at the best players when it comes to the Golden Ball award, it is worth having a look at which countries have done the best in the award over the years since its introduction in 1982. In order to get a sense of which country might have been the best, we have ordered nations by the number of Golden Ball wins followed by the number of Silver Balls awarded and finally the number of Bronze Ball wins.
It is thanks to Messi’s genius that Argentina are top of the pile, with Diego Maradona, another generational talent, also winning a Golden Ball and adding a Bronze Ball. You can see that the next best country in terms of the Golden Ball is Italy. Having seen both Paolo Rossi and Salvatore Schillaci win it in 1982 and 1990 respectively, Roberto Baggio won the Silver Ball in 1994 and Fabio Cannavaro was named it in 2006. On top of that, Andrea Pirlo won the Bronze Ball award in 2006.
It is not a major surprise to see Brazil high on the list, given the success of the South American country in the World Cup over the years, nor is it a shock for Germany (including West Germany) to be there. The only mildly surprising point is that Oliver Kahn won their Golden Ball, being the only goalkeeper to do so.
At the other end of the scale we have a single award of a Bronze Ball given to Denmark’s Preben Elkjær, Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov, Spain’s David Villa and South Korea’s Hong Myung-bo. One of the surprises at be where Spain are on that list. They won the World Cup in 2010 when it was hosted by South Africa, winning the European Championships twice, once before and once after, for global domination of football at the time. Yet in spite of this it is only David Villa who won any recognition from the media.
Diego Forlán was considered to be the best player at the tournament, in spite of the fact that Uruguay finished fourth in the competition. Given that Wesley Sneijder got the Silver Ball, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was the number of goals scored that led to the award but both players scored five goals, which is the same number that David Villa and Germany’s Thomas Müller racked up. With that in mind, it is difficult to understand why Spain were so overlooked during this unprecedented period of success for the country, especially considering Iker Casillas was the Golden Glove winner for the tournament.