Alternative record holder
Lionel Messi has an incredible five Ballon d’Or awards but even he would be trailing Pele’s total if it wasn’t for a late rule change. A Reddit user brought the revised winners to the attention of the Soccer page. Before 1995, the award could only be given to European footballers. It was essentially the European Footballer of the Year award.
George Weah was the first non-European player to win, the Liberian striker playing for AC Milan at the time. It begged the question about which pre-rule change greats would have scooped the award. It turns out Pele would have cleaned house. France Football reckons that he would have won the award SEVEN times between 1958 and 1970.
Diego Maradona also would have won the award – but only twice. That might show who won the Pele vs Maradona debate in the France Football office. Garrincha, Romario and Mario Kempes would have also benefitted from the rule change. To see the full list of winners and alternative winners, see the graphic below.