Francesco Totti (As Roma)
Now 37, Francesco Totti has become synonymous with AS Roma. Almost 700 appearances (684, to be precise) have yielded 283 goals, and he has been captain for an extraordinary 15 years. His list of domestic honours, however, is short: just one Serie A title, in 2001, although he has finished runner-up with his side on six occasions.
Other than that, there have only been two Supercoppa Italianas and two Coppa Italias. More than any other player in Europe perhaps, Totti has paid the price for a lifetime of loyalty to one club. Had he achieved a move to one of the very top clubs, Totti would surely have become one of the world’s very best. The closest he came to winning the Ballon d’Or was in 2001, when he finished fifth.
Dennis Bergkamp (Ajax, Inter Milan, Arsenal)
Dennis Bergkamp won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups during his 11 years at Arsenal, and the list of his personal accolades is almost endless. Dutch Footballer of the Year twice, Bergkamp was also FIFA World Player of the Year twice: in 1993 and 1997. He was top-scorer at the 1992 European Championship, but even in his early ‘90s hay-day the Ballon d’Or eluded him. He finished third in 1992, behind Hristo Stoichkov and his own countryman Marco van Basten, and second the following year, when Italy’s Roberto Baggio was the winner.
Thierry Henry (AS Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona)
Both domestically and internationally, Thierry Henry won virtually everything there was to win during his years at Arsenal, including the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship with France. Throw in more than 200 goals and two Premier League titles at Arsenal, two La Liga crowns with Barcelona and one Champions League winners medal, also with the Catalan side, and it becomes something of a mystery how the striker missed out on the Ballon d’Or. He finished second in 2003, behind Pavel Nedved, but the Frenchman was over-looked time and time again.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Like Totti, Steven Gerrard has spent his entire professional career with the club closest to his heart. Gerrard has been the heartbeat of Liverpool’s side since his breakthrough in 1999. Time and again he has single-handedly won matches which Liverpool seemed destined to lose, his dogged determination matched by a first-class passing game and impressive goal-scoring record. The 2005 Champions League final, when his header sparked Liverpool’s glorious comeback against AC Milan, remains his finest moment. A Uefa Cup, two FA Cups and two League Cups sit among his other honours, but never the Premier League crown. He won the Ballon d’Or bronze award in 2005.
Paolo Maldini (AC Milan)
That Paolo Maldini won Balon d’Or bronze twice nine years apart, in 1994 and 2003, is testament in itself to his quality. The Italian defender also won seven Serie A titles with AC Milan, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Maldini was a world-class centre-back, the best of his era. Composed and commanding in the air, he was also equally adept with either foot. Internationally, he finished third with Italy at Italia 90 and second at USA 94. He is arguably the greatest ever player never to have won the Ballon d’Or.
image: © wonker