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THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER, 2016
It's been said countless times before but it bears repeating - football peaked in the 1990's; shirts were a size too big for everyone, there was no need to remortgage your house to afford Sky Sports, Champions League football was free to watch, no one in the terraces had a selfie stick or a smart phone, there was an abundance of top class centre forwards and centre halves who took pleasure in leathering the shite out of each other every weekend, Brazil were samba'ing around an airport terminal and Copa Mundials, Adidas Predators, Puma Kings and Nike Tiempos were all the rage.
Oh, and the Ballon d'Or wasn't a complete wash out every year.
Now, this isn't a dig at Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. I'm a big fan of all your work, lads, mainly the earlier stuff like, before you ruined 30 goals a season strikers for everyone by knocking in more than Dixie Dean, Eusebio and Gerd Muller combined, every season. But let's face it, FIFA's incarnation of the best player in the world award was an exhausting six year experiment at which Wesley Sneijder, Andres Iniesta (both 2010) and Franck Ribery (2013) can all be more than a bit pissed off that they didn't win. Instead, Messi and Ronaldo have been top of the pops for the last eight years, winning the last two original Ballon d'Ors and all six FIFA versions of the gong.
Images credit: PA Images
In the '90s however, things weren't as cut and dry as they have been for the past six years. Even Zinedine Zidane, Rivaldo and the original Ronaldo failed to successfully retain the title, with 10 different winners being named, from Lothar Matthäus in 1990 to Rivaldo in 1999.
And in no year was the competition for the top honour fiercer than 1998. I mean, just take a look at that list:
For Christ sake, it's as bursting with talent as it is beautiful. Even discounting Zidane's World Cup winning dominance that year, you've got Croatian cult hero and Peter Schmeichel's worst nightmare Davor Suker nabbing a well deserved runner up spot from LATE 1990'S RONALDO. Just let that sink in, for a minute. Ronaldo, who had just rampaged through his first season in Serie A, scoring 34 goals in 47 games during his debut campaign with Internazionale (including a mind boggling 25 strikes in 32 league games. Even Maldini was in cold sweats), wasn't even considered to be the best striker in the world by the Ballon d'Or voters in 1998.
The list also serves as a painful reminder of just how good a prodigious 18 year old by the name of Michael Owen was. Having taken both the Premier League and 1998 World Cup by storm, THAT GOAL against Argentina included, Owen seemed destined to be his generation's Gary Lineker. Then his legs exploded four years later. Unlike 'el fenomeno', Owen wasn't equipped to bounce back from serious injury and, despite the final decade of his career including spells at Real Madrid and Manchester United, the former Liverpool lad's career ended with a painful, drawn out whimper.
Between Gabriel Batistuta and Rivaldo there's probably around an entire month's worth of Youtube footage to watch from 1998 alone and that's before I've even mentioned the defenders on the list; Lilian Thuram, Roberto Carlos, Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly, Frank De Boer, Bixente Lizarazu and Fernando Hierro. Jesus H Christ, have you ever been as excited to read through a list of players who's job is supposed to be preventing goals? Each and every one of them would waltz into any team in the history of the game and look fucking majestic while doing so, whether it's Carlos barreling over opposition wingers en route to delivering a left footed thunderbolt into the top corner or Laurent Blanc jogging the ball off the toes of a red faced centre forward with all the effort of a bloke nipping to the end of his driveway to pick up his morning paper.
And it just wouldn't be an assortment of '90s icons without a couple of Italian forwards making an appearance. Is there any chance we can all be transported to a time where Alessandro Del Piero and Christian Vieri were still in their early 20's, please? Because it was fucking terrific:
I'll be honest, I don't know much about 30th ranked Nikos Machlas and his solitary vote but, if this footage of him banging in goals for Vitesse Arnhem in their Sunday League kits is anything to go by, he was well deserving of being included in such illustrious company:
Admit it, you don't really care how many records Messi or Ronaldo have broken, nor are you actually arsed who wins the Ballon d'Or. All you want is the 1998 Ballon d'Or, every...single...year.
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