How many Ballons d'Or would Maradona have won? | The Daily Star
10:50 PM, January 08, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:55 PM, January 08, 2016

How many Ballons d'Or would Maradona have won?

Let us at least try to steer clear of the dreaded comparisons and find a middle ground. Arguing over who was the best footballer ever to live does not make much sense if it means we cannot enjoy all the greats who have played the sport.

But it is a wholly different challenge to try and judge from a distance, where things can be seen more clearly. In an age where everything is seemingly ranked by results and numbers, the footballing debate is pushed aside. 

That is, until we mention one of those footballers who broke all the rules, who are timeless, who endure across generations, those players who appear chosen by the gods of football to rest in a select pantheon of immortals. 

Watching some of their videos, or recalling one passage of play or another, is sufficient. Even coming across a snapshot from today in a light training session or a charity match in which everyone lets them take the ball, they shoot slowly at goal and the goalkeeper barely moves to allow the celebration to go ahead. With more than a few extra pounds on board and his glass knees on the verge of exploding, it is still enough.

The way he strokes the ball, the gesture of the raised right hand as if trying to paint a picture in the air, the lost gaze, the chest erect as if he were about to enter a battle. And his tongue. The tongue always out, a symbol of absolute concentration and inspiration.

Diego Maradona himself continues to transmit joy, the joy of playing, an art that seems to have been lost a long time ago and has fewer and fewer worthy representatives.

In 1995 the decision was made to end years of mistreatment, when he was awarded an honorary Ballon d'Or. Why had it not arrived earlier? Due to a simple bureaucratic reason.

In the 1980s, the Argentine's golden years, France Football magazine did not consider players born outside of Europe, an oversight only corrected in 1995.

Here comes the magic: turning back time and deciding how many trophies he would have obtained if the restrictions did not exist.

In Barcelona he showed glimpses of greatness. Maradona lifted the 1982/83 Copa del Rey in a delightful team coached by Cesar Luis Menotti, while he finished fourth in La Liga with 11 goals in 20 games in that season.

Everything was going to plan until September 24 1983, when he suffered a serious injury thanks to a criminal tackle from Andoni Goikoetxea which left him inactive for six months. That year the Ballon d'Or winner was Michel Platini, who finished second in Serie A with Juventus and was the top scorer, with 16. The following season he would lift the Scudetto and also another Ballon d'Or.

In 1986 Maradona would have received probably the only unanimous vote in the prize's history (in 2009 Messi came close with 98.54 percent).

The little Argentine had one of the greatest individual World Cups, with five strikes and performances that have gone down in the annals of history against Italy, England, Belgium and Germany.

In the same year he had a brilliant second season in Napoli. The winner of the trophy was Igor Belanov, who won the European Cup Winners' Cup with Dynamo Kyiv and lost in the World Cup last-16 with the Soviet Union.  

In 1987 there also appears little room for doubt. The year was simply an extension of the golden 12 months which preceded it. Maradona's Napoli won the Scudetto with 42 points, and although he did not finish top scorer he enjoyed a strong season, finding the net 10 times (an average of 0.41 per game in the 86/87 campaign).

He also picked up the Coppa Italia, beating Atalanta in the final. Ruud Gullit, who started the year at PSV and later moved to Milan in a world-record transfer, was the man crowned.

From 1988 onwards the discussion can begin to flourish. Maradona had another very good year, top scoring in Serie A with 15 as Napoli finished second. He also shined in the Coppa Italia with six in nine games, although the European Cup campaign which ended in the first round against Real Madrid was a black spot.

Marco Van Basten, however, lifted the Scudetto, the European Championship and the Ballon d'Or and it is only fair to admit the Dutchman richly deserved his title. 

1989 is another tough year to judge. Maradona won the Uefa Cup at the head of his team, in a fiercely competitive tournament. Napoli left Lokomotiv Moscow, Bordeaux, Juventus and Bayern Munich in their path, and while Inter took Serie A, second place concluded another excellent campaign for the southern Italians.

The Argentine hit 19 goals in 50 games, a strike rate of 0.38. Van Basten, crowned again, was Milan's great star in lifting the European Cup, scoring twice in the final against Steaua Bucharest. It would have been one of the closest votes in history. 

The weight of the World Cup was too strong in 1990. Lothar Matthaus, a star at title-less Inter, was one of the stars of Italia 90 for Germany. Maradona? He lifted the Scudetto with 51 points. He netted 16 goals in 28 games, finishing behind Van Basten with 19. Across the entire season he scored 18 in 36, a goal every two matches.

In the World Cup a brutal ankle injury held him back, although he still turned up with some gems like the brilliant pass to Claudio Caniggia against Brazil. The No. 10's year was probably better, but Matthaus took the big individual prize. 

By the time 1991 came around things had changed. Maradona suffered doping problems and would hardly ever show his best side again, with a fleeting exception in the 1994 World Cup. 

There is no question he would have won at least two Ballon d'Ors, in 1986 and 1987. If the votes went his way, he could have added as many as two more - 1989 and 1990.

The truth is, however, that only the regulations of the age stopped the legend picking up the trophies. These are prizes which are more closely related to today's football than the game played back then.

Maradona will never be remembered for his bulging trophy cabinet.

The iconic Maradona is one beyond comparison: the man who carried the ball forward with his tongue sticking out, the portrait of the neighbourhood kickaround and pure defiance. He is the man who transformed football into a whole different sport. 



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