Previous Manchester United Ballon d'Or Winners fall into two distinct eras, namely the 1960s and 2000s. Surprisingly, even with the Red Devils' dominance in their best era of modern times, the 1990s didn't deliver any Ballon d'Or trophy into the hands of a United player.
Here, we take you through their remarkable achievements and the calibre of opponents they triumphed over, and whether or not Marcus Rashford – considered United's only real contender for the 2023 award – can join them.
Manchester United Ballon d'Or Winners – the complete list
Denis Law (1964)
Law's goal-scoring prowess was unmatched during this era, and his impact on English football was truly remarkable. To claim the prestigious award, Law had to overcome stiff competition from some of the greatest players of the time, including Eusébio and Gianni Rivera. Law's victory highlighted his exceptional skill in front of goal and established him as one of the finest footballers of his generation.
Sir Bobby Charlton (1966)
The late ‘Sir Bobby', who passed away on 21 October this year, was known for his versatility in midfield and his extraordinary long-range shooting. His performances were nothing short of sensational, both for club and country, as England won the World Cup in the same year. Charlton's remarkable abilities on the pitch made him a national hero, and his contributions to England's World Cup victory were unforgettable.
George Best (1968)
George Best was often described as the “fifth Beatle” due to his rock-star-like charisma on and off the pitch. His dribbling skills, flair, and creativity made him one of the most entertaining players of all time. To win the Ballon d'Or in 1968, Best faced competition from none other than his Manchester United teammate, Bobby Charlton, alongside other top talents. This highlights the remarkable depth and quality within the Manchester United squad during that era.
Cristiano Ronaldo (2008)
Cristiano Ronaldo's Ballon d'Or victory in 2008 marked the end of a 40-year wait for a Manchester United player to claim the coveted prize. The Portuguese superstar had come tantalizingly close the previous year but narrowly lost out to Kaka. However, he used that near-miss as motivation to deliver an extraordinary season in 2007/08. Ronaldo was also named the Premier League Player of the Year in the same season, further cementing his status as a footballing legend.
His closest competitors that year included Lionel Messi and Fernando Torres. Messi, who was emerging as a phenomenon, and Torres, a clinical striker for Liverpool, showcased the level of competition Ronaldo overcame to clinch the award. Cristiano Ronaldo's Ballon d'Or journey didn't end in 2008; he went on to win the award four more times, establishing himself as one of the greatest footballers in history.
Will a Manchester United player win the 2023 Ballon d'Or?
In short, no. For a long time, it has been known that this year's award is a straight fight between Lionel Messi and Erling Haaland. Where last season is concerned, the latter boasts a traditional treble, compared to Rashford's sole EFL Cup win. Meanwhile, Messi had a dominant World Cup en-route to lifting the ultimate prize in Qatar.
Nevertheless, football is a sport renowned for its unpredictability, and the fervent fans of Manchester United continue to hold onto the dream that a future Ballon d'Or could return to Old Trafford one day, further enriching the legacy of this iconic club.