When talking about the Ballon d’Or, two players always come to mind – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Leo Messi has won the most while Cristiano Ronaldo follows close behind. The award is unarguably the most prestigious individual award in football and only the best players get it.
No Nigerian player has won the Ballon d’Or yet but Nigerians sure have some of the best players in football history. While these players didn’t go home with the golden ball, they did get nominations which are also noteworthy.
Do you know the Nigerian players who have Ballon d’Or nominations? I’m sure you’re here to find out, check them out below:
Finidi George was the first Nigerian player to receive a Ballon d’Or nomination. He was nominated for the award in 1995 during his time at Ajax. He received 6 points from the voting finishing at number 21 with Franco Baresi of AC Milan. The winner of the Ballon d’Or that year was George Weah of PSG who is also an African player for Liberia.
Finidi George was superb with Ajax that year winning the UEFA Champions League, Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup, and the Eredivisie. The previous year, 1994, he had won the AFCON with the national team.
Despite not even in the top 10, George did finish above some star players. This includes Roberton Baggio, Ronaldo de Lima, Bebeto, Alan Shearer, and Luis Figo.
Daniel Amokachi is another Nigerian player who was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 1995. This was during his time with Everton. The forward was part of the 16 nominated players who received no vote.
At the time, Amokachi was undoubtedly one of the best African strikers in Europe. He won the FA Cup and FA Charity Shield with Everton that year. This also earned him the African Footballer of the Year which he had won the year before and will win again the coming year.
As mentioned earlier, George Weah won the 1995 Ballon d’Or award. Other players like Amokachi who got no vote include national teammate Okocha, Seedorf, and Deschamps.
Jay Jay Okocha
One of Africa’s most talented, Jay Jay Okocha got a Ballon d’Or nod in the early days of his career. This was in 1995 and Okocha was in Germany playing for Eintracht Frankfurt at the time. It was in this team that he scored his famous goal of the year against Oliver Kahn.
Some of Okocha’s honors in 1995 include the award for the Nigerian Player of the Year and the Afro-Asian Cup of Nations which he won with the Super Eagles. Along with 15 others including teammate Daniel Amokachi, Okocha got zero votes for the award.
Okocha got a second Ballon d’Or nomination in 1996 and he also got no votes.
Papilo is the Nigerian player with the most Ballon d’Or nominations along with Okocha – two each. He’s also the player to finish the highest on the ranking list and the youngest Nigerian player to get a nomination. Kanu was nominated for the award in 1996 and 1999.
In 1996, he finished number 11 on the rankings with 14 points. Although he was an Inter Milan player, the nomination was more for his performance in the 1996 Olympics football tournament in Atlanta. Nigeria won the gold medal and Kanu was instrumental as the captain.
That year, Kanu finished above Batistuta, Raul, Luis Figo, Javier Zanetti, Jay Jay Okocha, Nedved, and even Zinedine Zidane. In 1999, Kanu finished number 23 on the ranking list, tied with Ronaldo de Lima and Herman Crespo.
In 1997, Nigerian forward Victor Ikpeba was nominated to win the Ballon d’Or. At the time, Ikpeba was playing in France for Monaco. He finished number 32 on the list while getting just 2 points from the voting.
Notably, Ikpeba finished ahead of some today-football legends including Rivaldo, Flippo Inzaghi, Ian Wright, Robert Pires, and Hernan Crespo. He managed to be on the list of players with votes while 14 other players got no votes.
Victor Ikpeba Ballon d’Or nod came from his awesome performance to help Monaco win the Ligue 1 title in 1997. He also helped the team win the Trophee des Champions. The forward won the African Footballer of the Year in 1997 too.
In 1998, Zinedine Zidane won the Ballon d’Or with a whopping 244 points after he won the World Cup with France and the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid. However, among the list of other nominated players was Sunday Oliseh.
Oliseh got zero votes just like Amokachi and Jay-Jay Okocha on two occasions. Nevertheless, the player was in top form at the time as he helped Ajax win the Eredivisie and the KNVB Cup.
Another reason for his nomination was his performance in the FIFA World Cup. Notably, he scored a screamer from yards out against Spain as Nigeria beat the European nation by 3 goals to 2. That year, Oliseh finished third in the African best player ranking.
Other top players who got zero votes like Sunday Oliseh include Andriy Shevchenko, Fabio Cannavaro, Roberto Baggio, and Fabio Cannavaro.
Football is serious business in Europe and not very much in Africa or Nigeria unless at the international level. It’ll be difficult for a Nigerian player to win the Ballon d’Or since the spotlight is in Europe. Nevertheless, while we hope that it happens one day, what we can do now is to celebrate our players with nominations.