FIFA World Cup: Benzema and the curse of Ballon d’Or

A footballer who won a Ballon d’Or in the previous year has never won a World Cup in the next year. This is what is known as the Ballon d’Or curse.

Lionel Messi won his first Ballon d’Or award in 2009. In the 2010 World Cup next year, Argentina was knocked out of the quarterfinals after a loss to Germany.

Lionel Messi won his first Ballon d’Or award in 2009. In the 2010 World Cup next year, Argentina was knocked out of the quarterfinals after a loss to Germany. | Photo Credit: AFP/FRED DUFOUR

A footballer who won a Ballon d’Or in the previous year has never won a World Cup in the next year. This is what is known as the Ballon d’Or curse.

Lionel Messi has won seven Ballon d’Or awards - the highest number by any in the history of football. However, the Argentine was not even included in the 30-man nomination list for the 2022 edition of football’s most prestigious award.

In his first season with Paris Saint-Germain, Messi found it difficult to settle in Ligue 1, underperforming by his standards throughout the entire 2021-22 campaign. This led to him not even being considered for the 30-man list. 

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, on the other hand, had an excellent 2021-22 campaign winning the La Liga title and the Champions League with Real Madrid. Not only that, he finished as the top scorer in both of them. Naturally, such a stellar campaign led to the Frenchman bagging the Ballon d’Or award in 2022- the first of his career. 

Unfortunately, the curse continued as the Frenchman was ruled out of the Qatar World Cup on the eve of the tournament due to injury.

Winning the Ballon d’Or is undoubtedly one of the highest moments in a player’s career.

The reason? Nothing to do with football but mere superstition. But if past instances are anything to go by, the superstition stands strong over the years.

What is the Ballon d’Or curse?

A footballer who won a Ballon d’Or in the previous year has never won a World Cup in the next year. This is what is known as the Ballon d’Or curse.

However, since the Qatar World Cup is happening from November to December, the Ballon d’Or and World Cup will happen in the same year for Karim Benzema, who won the award in 2022. 

Incidentally, the Ballon d’Or runner-up has never won the World Cup as well. 

But, three players who came third in the votes have won the World Cup- Gerd Muller (West Germany – 1974), Zinedine Zidane (France – 1998) and Xavi (Spain – 2010). 

The Ballon d’Or curse down the years

Eusebio- Ballon d’Or winner in 1965

Portugal legend Eusebio won his first and only Ballon d’Or in 1965. Next year, in the 1966 World Cup in England, Eusebio won the Golden Boot with nine goals but Portugal finished third. It lost 1-2 to eventual winner England in the semifinals and then beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the third place play-off match. 

Gianni Rivera- Ballon d’Or winner in 1969

Italy’s Gianni Rivera clinched the Ballon d’Or award in 1969. Next year, in the 1970 World Cup held in Mexico, Gianni Rivera scored the winner in extra-time in Italy’s 4-3 semifinal win against West Germany. However, in the final Italy succumbed to a 1-4 loss against Brazil. 

Johan Cruyff- Ballon d’Or winner in 1973

Part of Netherland’s famous ‘Total Football’ team, Johan Cruyff won his second Ballon d’Or award in 1973. In the 1974 World Cup next year, held in West Germany, Cruyff reached the final but his Netherlands team lost 1-2 against the host.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge- Ballon d’Or winner 1981

Germany’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge won the Ballon d’Or award in 1981. In the 1982 World Cup next year held in Spain, Rummenigge did reach the final with West Germany. However, his team suffered a 1-3 defeat at the hands of Italy in the final. 

Michel Platini- Ballon d’Or winner 1985

Michel Platini of France was the first player to win the Ballon d’Or award three times in a row- 1983, 1984 and 1985. In the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico, expectations were high from Platini. However, Platini and his France team were beaten 0-2 by West Germany in the semifinals. France came third after beating Belgium in the play-off match. 

Roberto Baggio- Ballon d’Or winner 1993

Italy’s Roberto Baggio won the 1993 Ballon d’Or award. Next year, in the 1994 World Cup held in the United States of America, Baggio reached the final with Italy. In the final, Italy was beaten by Brazil on penalties. 

Ronaldo- Ballon d’Or winner 1997

Brazil’s Ronaldo won his first Ballon d’Or award in 1997. In the following year, in the 1998 World Cup held in France, Ronaldo and his Brazil team reached the final. But the player and his team suffered heartbreak after a 0-3 loss to host France in the final. 

Michael Owen- Ballon d’Or winner 2001

Michael Owen won his first and only Ballon d’Or award in 2001 at the age of 22. In the following year, in the World Cup in South Korea and Japan, England was knocked out of the quarterfinals after eventual champion Brazil beat it by a 2-1 scoreline. 

Ronaldinho- Ballon d’Or winner in 2005

Brazil legend Ronaldinho was a phenomenon in the early 2000s. Already having won a World Cup in 2002, his meteoric rise led to him winning the Ballon d’Or award in 2005. In the 2006 World Cup, defending champion Brazil, which had Ronaldinho in its ranks, could not make it past the quarterfinal stage after a 0-1 loss to France. 

Lionel Messi- Ballon d’Or winner in 2009

Lionel Messi won the first of his seven Ballon d’Or awards in 2009. A rising footballer at the time, Messi and his Argentina team went to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with country legend Diego Maradona as the head coach. The La Albiceleste were knocked out of the quarterfinals after a 0-4 humiliation at the hands of Germany. 

Cristiano Ronaldo- Ballon d’Or winner in 2013

Cristiano Ronaldo won his second Ballon d’Or award in 2013. Ronaldo went into the 2014 World Cup despite suffering from patellar tendinitis and a related thigh injury. Portugal had one of its worst World Cup campaigns in 2014 and failed to even make it past the group stages. It was eliminated on the basis of goal difference and Ronaldo finished the tournament with two goals.  

Cristiano Ronaldo- Ballon d’Or winner 2017

Cristiano Ronaldo won his fifth Ballon d’Or in 2017. Portugal’s performance in the 2018 World Cup in Russia was better than its dismal run in the 2014 World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal team did cross the group stage unlike in 2014 but were knocked out in the Round of 16 stages after a 1-2 loss to Uruguay.

Karim Benzema- Ballon d’Or winner 2022

Karim Benzema won his first Ballon d’Or in October 2022 after enjoying a stellar 2021-22 season with Real Madrid. He won the La Liga and the Champions League and finished as the top scorer in both competitions. Benzema would have been a crucial part of the France squad in the 2022 Qatar World Cup where his country would be playing as the defending world champion. However, the Frenchman was ruled out of the Qatar World Cup on the eve of the tournament due to injury. Benzema would be the first Ballon d’Or winner not to play in a World Cup since England’s Kevin Keegan in 1978.

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