Liverpool Ballon d’Or winners: Why Van Dijk should be on the ‘list’

While it's not quite the seventh premier European title so many Reds found themselves hoping for only last May, Liverpool are favourites to lift UEFA's secondary continental trophy next spring, just as they did back in 2001.

It was in that same year Michael Owen became the only Liverpool player ever to win the Ballon d'Or to date. His efforts were pivotal, as Liverpool also swept up the FA and League Cups, before besting Alaves 5-4 in a thrilling UEFA Cup final.

And his prowess extended to the international scene too, with a hat-trick in the Three Lions' 5-1 victory over Germany that September being a huge contributor towards England qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

A number of well-esteemed Reds have come in second or third since Owen's Ballon d'Or win 22 years ago. This article looks at each of them, and whether or not they might have deserved a better result.

Today, Michael Owen can be seen providing insight into matches on popular TV channels – Photo by Icon sport

The Liverpool Ballon d’Or winners that nearly were

Dalglish 1983 (Runner up)

Sir Kenny Dalglish is a Liverpool legend, winning 21 major trophies at Anfield – including six top-flight titles and three European Cups, which was the UEFA Champions League's predecessor up to 1992/93. He scored 118 goals in 355 appearances in a 13-year spell, and also won many individual honours.

However, one major accolade escaped him – the Ballon d'Or. In 1983, Dalglish finished runner up to Frenchman Michel Platini, despite coming off the back of a season where Liverpool won the domestic league and League Cup. The Scotsman himself had also been named the PFA Players' Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year.

In stark comparison, Platini failed to win his domestic league with Juventus, although he won the Coppa Italia and reached the European Cup final. But there can be no denying that this could easily have swung the other way.

Dalglish was the first of several potential Liverpool Ballon d’Or winners
Former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish during the Legends match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Saturday September 24, 2022. – Photo by Icon sport

Gerrard 2005 (Third)

At the end of the 2004/05 term, Steven Gerrard led his team to a dramatic Champions League final win over AC Milan, coming back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 and force extra-time. It was his delicate header that sent the Merseysiders on their way to an eventual triumph on penalties.

It was Gerrard's best moment in his career, but Ronaldinho won the Ballon d'Or convincingly in 2005 in terms of votes, as he was a standout player for Barcelona, who won their first domestic title in six years.

That title charge included a world-class individual performance in a 3-0 win at Real Madrid, which even received a standing ovation from the home crowd!

Steven Gerrard ahead of the UEFA Euro 2024 Group C qualifying match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday March 26, 2023. – Photo by Icon sport

Torres 2008 (Third)

Fernando Torres was in the prime of his career at Liverpool, and his most prolific campaign was in 2007/08. The Spaniard scored 33 times in 46 appearances, was named the Reds' Player of the Season, and picked in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year.

However, Torres did not win any major club trophies that term, and was subsequently beaten to the Ballon d'Or by Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 42 goals to help Manchester United win the Premier League and Champions League.

Fans look at a Mural of Ex Liverpool player Fernando Torres during the Legends match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Saturday September 24, 2022. – Photo by Icon sport

Van Dijk 2019 (Runner up)

Virgil van Dijk agonisingly lost out to Lionel Messi by just seven jury points. The centre-back won the Champions League in the 2018/19 season, and his Reds side missed out on the Premier League title by just one point, despite accumulating a staggering 97 points in total.

Defenders winning Ballon d'Ors are hard to come by, with just two ever doing so – namely, Franz Beckenbauer (twice) and Fabio Cannavaro. For that reason, Van Dijk can count himself very unlucky.

Virgil van Dijk (centre) taking on LASK on UEL matchday one a fortnight ago. (Photo: GEPA pictures/ Daniel Schoenherr) – Photo by Icon sport

Mane 2022 (Runner up)

A Mane Ballon d'Or could easily have happened in 2022, and might well have, had Liverpool completed the quadruple. Instead, they found themselves ending up as Premier League and Champions League runners up in the space of a week back in May last year.

The Senegalese scored 23 goals in 51 appearances and barely missed a game that season, while he was also crowned African Footballer of the Year in 2022. But it was Karim Benzema that took the prestigious trophy, winning La Liga and the Champions League after scoring a staggering 44 goals.

File photo dated 16-04-2022 of Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen reacting after an error leads to Liverpool's Sadio Mane scoring. Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-2 at Wembley to reach the FA Cup final. Issue date: Friday December 16, 2022. – Photo by Icon sport

Any future Liverpool Ballon d’Or winners in the making?

The Ballon d’or 2023 battle is likely to be a simply case of ‘Messi v Haaland', but a Liverpool player could still win it again in the future. Mo Salah is perhaps the most likely given his individual quality and reputation in the game.

At 31, time is not necessarily against the Egyptian, though it certainly isn't on his side either. In turn, the Reds will look at younger players, such as 24-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold, for inspiration.

See also: Speaking of the UEFA Cup, the Reds are playing Union SG in its successor competition tonight. See the latest Europa League tips for matchday two, which sees Anfield host its first UEL match in seven years.

Adam is a lead writer on Football Whispers. He is a big Arsenal fan, and also follows his local club Wealdstone, made famous by The Wealdstone Raider, of whom he has interviewed. Adam also follows darts, boxing, cricket and tennis, among many other sports.