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The most notable 1990s Ballon d’Or winners weren’t social media stars (spoiler alert: AOL was as close as it got!) and none hailed from the Premier League, as founded in 1992 to revolutionise English football.
Despite the changing culture and onset of Cool Britannia, the closest any English player got to this title in the nineties was David Beckham, finishing as runner up in 1999 despite being part of an unprecedented treble-winning Manchester United team.
Instead, it was the Italian league which dominated the decade, and Serie A provided five winners from three major clubs. It included George Weah in 1995, who remains the only African international to win the coveted award to this day.
Notable 1990s Ballon d’Or winners
Hristo Stoichkov (1994)
Bulgaria shocked reigning world champions Germany at the 1994 World Cup with a 2-1 win en-route to the semi-finals, and the man pulling the strings was 28-year-old Hristo Stoichkov. The left-footed Barcelona magician was as creative as he was prolific in front of goal, and while at the Catalan club, he had formed a great partnership with Brazil’s Romario.
The award itself was a huge moment for both Bulgaria and Barcelona, as Stoichkov became the first Ballon d’Or winner while playing at the club since Johan Cruyff two decades prior. Apart from guiding Bulgaria to their only ever World Cup knockout wins, he also helped Barça to a La Liga title and the Champions League Final.
George Weah (1995)
African football was in the spotlight in the 1990s as a result of Cameroon’s stunning performance at Italia 1990, as the underdogs reached the quarter-finals. Although George Weah was born in Liberia, it was during his time with Cameroonian club Tonnerre Yaoundé that a certain Arsene Wenger (then manager of Monaco) bought him for just £12,000.
By the time he arrived at AC Milan, he had already been named African Player of the Year (1989) and won five trophies in France, mostly at Paris Saint-Germain. It was the 1994/95 cup double he secured with the Parisians, and his strong start at Milan with six goals in 15 games, that put him in the running.
Mathias Sammer (1996)
The Borussia Dortmund sweeper followed on from his ‘Best Player of Euro 96’ award to pick up the main prize. Sammer was a versatile player who followed on from Germany’s previous winner, Lothar Matthäus, who could also play in midfield and as a sweeper.
As well as winning the Euros with Germany, and breaking English hearts in the process, his Borussia Dortmund side also won their second consecutive Bundesliga title on his watch.
The original Ronaldo had burst onto the European scene at PSV as a teenager, scoring 42 goals in 46 games for the Dutch club. But it was his scintillating season at Bobby Robson’s Barcelona, and his start to life in Serie A, that handed him the first of his two Ballon D’Or wins.
The 1996/97 season ended with the Blaugrana finishing second in La Liga, but they scored 102 times, mostly from the then 20-year-old Brazilian, who bagged 34 goals. Ronaldo left for Italy and had an immediate impact at Inter Milan, scoring nine goals in his first 11 games leading up to the awards ceremony.
Zinedine Zidane (1998)
The mercurial Frenchman took the award with a record 244 points, such was the unanimity that his World Cup-winning display was worthy of the top prize. Champions League winner Davor Suker, who memorably helped Croatia to third place at France ’98, was second with just 68 points.
Zidane’s brace in the World Cup Final, as the hosts demolished Brazil 3-0, was the defining moment, but we shouldn’t forget the performances he was regularly putting in wearing the number 21 shirt for Juventus. Zizou was the pass master in midfield, helping the Old Lady get to the Champions League Final, with Alessandro Del Piero topscorer in the competition.
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