The Ballon d'Or, also known as the Golden Ball, is one of the most prestigious individual awards in the world of football. It is awarded annually by France Football magazine to the best male football player in the world, based on votes from a panel of international journalists.
The history of the Ballon d'Or dates back to 1956, when France Football magazine decided to create an award to honour the best European footballer of the year. At the time, only players playing in Europe were eligible for the award, which was decided by a panel of journalists from various European countries.
The inaugural winner of the Ballon d'Or was Stanley Matthews, a winger from England who played for Blackpool. Matthews beat out Alfredo Di Stefano of Real Madrid and Raymond Kopa of Reims for the award.
The Ballon d'Or quickly gained prestige and recognition throughout the world of football, and in 1995, the award was opened up to all players playing for clubs outside of Europe. The first non-European to win the Ballon d'Or was George Weah of AC Milan in 1995, who was also the first African player to win the award.
In 2007, the Ballon d'Or was merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year award to create the FIFA Ballon d'Or. The new award was voted on by national team coaches and captains, as well as journalists from around the world. The first winner of the FIFA Ballon d'Or was Kaka of AC Milan in 2007.
However, in 2016, FIFA ended its association with France Football magazine and reverted to its own award, called The Best FIFA Men's Player. Meanwhile, the Ballon d'Or continued to be awarded by France Football magazine, and now only journalists vote on the award.
Over the years, some of the greatest players in football history have won the Ballon d'Or, including Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi has won the award a record seven times, while Ronaldo has won it five times.
In recent years, the Ballon d'Or has faced criticism for its lack of diversity in winners, with only two non-European players winning the award in the past 20 years. In response to this criticism, France Football magazine announced in 2018 that they would be introducing a new award, called the Ballon d'Or Féminin, to recognize the best female football player in the world.
Overall, the Ballon d'Or has a rich and storied history, and remains one of the most highly coveted individual awards in the world of football.