Simple rule to follow. If you want to win the FIFA World Player of the year award, which has now merged into the FIFA Ballon d’Or, you’re going to have Real Madrid or Barcelona on your resume, before or after winning it.
Sounds reasonable, especially with Real Madrid, who tend to go after the best players in the world and therefore have a very good chance of being on that players resume after he already won the award.
The current streak begins in 1996, with the last player not connected to both clubs is George Weah, winning the award in 1995 for his time with PSG and AC Milan.
The Brazilian Ronaldo won the award for the first time (a total of 3) in 1996, a year he shared playing time with both PSV and Barcelona, but there’s no doubt that his Barcelona time, turning into the popular choice for best player in the world before his 20th birthday. Ronaldo won the award the next year as well, when he was already playing for Inter. His next win came in 2002, when he was playing for Real Madrid, mostly for his World Cup with Brazil.
Zinedine Zidane also won the award three times, the first of them coming in 1998, while he was playing for Juventus, most attributed to his performance in the World Cup with France. He won it again in 2000 after winning the Euro with France and for a third time in 2003, after winning the league title with Real Madrid for the first and only time.
In 1999 it was Rivaldo winning the award for the first and only time after leading Barcelona to a second consecutive league title under Louis van Gaal. Rivaldo, unlike the two previous winners, never played for Real Madrid. After Barcelona he left to play for AC Milan, and since then has been moving from team to team, even in countries like Uzbekistan and Angola, mostly on one-year contracts.
Luis Figo won the award in 2001. He played for Barcelona until 2000, but left in what was considered a traitor’s act to Real Madrid, leading Los Blancos to their first league title since 1997 on his debut season. He stayed with Real until 2005, before leaving to Inter.
Ronaldinho won the award in two consecutive years while playing for Barcelona. Ronaldinho won two league titles with Barcelona before leaving in 2008 to AC Milan. He’s currently playing for Atletico Mineiro.
Fabio Cannavaro is the second and last defensive player to win the award. He was already playing for Real Madrid at the time, bolting from the relegated ship at Juventus. He won the award for Italy’s unbreakable defense during their triumphant 2006 World Cup campaign.
Kaka, for leading AC Milan to their 7th Champions League trophy, won the award in 2007, finishing ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the last time before the two completely took over the footballing world.
In 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo claimed the trophy and for one short year could go on saying he’s the best in the world without anyone arguing. He actually said he deserves to finish first, second and third. Sometimes he actually wonders why people don’t like him. He was still playing for Manchester United when he won it.
Lionel Messi won the award for the first time in 2009 after leading Barcelona back to the top of the football chain – La Liga title, Champions League, Copa del Rey, Club World Cup. He’s the only won to win the award since the merger with the Ballon d’Or and if recent events are any indication, it’s going to be a 4th consecutive time for him when 2012 ends.