Krakow, Poland – Despite record-breaking years, Poland and former Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has until now been denied the chance to become the first Polish football player to win the Ballon d’Or.
To this day, only three football players from Central Europe have won the award. But can you name them all?
Josef Masopust, Czechoslovakia (1962)
Regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of all time, Czechoslovakia‘s Josef Masopust won eight league championships and three national cups with Dukla Prague, also reaching the semi-finals of the 1966–67 European Cup, losing to the eventual winners of the competition, Celtic Glasgow.
After making his international debut in 1954, in a friendly match against Hungary, Masopust helped Czechoslovakia qualify for the 1958 World Cup. He then contributed to Czechoslovakia finishing third in the first European Championship in 1960, before leading his national side to the 1962 World Cup Final, losing to Brazil. He scored the opening goal in the final, but Brazil came back to win 3–1.
His performance at the World Cup Finals contributed to him being named European Footballer of the Year and winning Central Europe’s first Ballon d’Or in 1962.
In 2003, to celebrate UEFA’s Jubilee, Masopust was selected as his country’s Golden Player by the Football Association of the Czech Republic as their most outstanding player of the past 50 years. He was also named by Pelé as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers in 2004. He died in 2015.
1. Josef Masopust (Czechoslovakia)
2. Eusebio (Portugal)
3. Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (West Germany)
Flórián Albert, Hungary (1967)
Described as one of the most elegant footballers of all time, Hungary’s Flórián Albert spent his entire club career with Ferencvárosi, with whom he won four League titles, and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1965, knocking out among others AS Roma, Manchester United and Juventus.
Nicknamed “The Emperor”, Flórián Albert also starred for Hungary, winning 75 international caps and scoring 31 goals. He was joint top-scorer at the 1962 World Cup with four goals and played a key role in Hungary’s third-place finish at the European Championship in 1964.
The year 1967 was a special one for Flórián Albert, who not only celebrated the birth of his son, but also won the Hungarian Championship with Ferencváros and collected the Hungarian Player of the Year title, before being awarded the Ballon d’Or in recognition of his outstanding attributes. Ferencváros’ stadium was renamed after Flórián Albert in 2007. He died in 2011.
1. Flórián Albert (Hungary)
2. Bobby Charlton (England)
3. Jimmy Johnstone (Scotland)
Pavel Nedvěd, Czech Republic (2003)
Described as one of the best footballers of his generation, Pavel Nedvěd is also regarded as one of the most successful players to emerge from the Czech Republic, winning domestic and European accolades with Italian clubs Lazio, including the last Cup Winners’ Cup, and Juventus, whom he led to the 2003 Champions League final.
Pavel Nedvěd was also a key member of the Czech national team which reached the final of Euro 1996. Named as part of the Team of the Tournament, he also captained the national team at Euro 2004, where they were defeated in the semi-final by eventual champions Greece. He also helped his team qualify for the 2006 World Cup for the first time since the breakup of Czechoslovakia.
The second Czech to win the award, Pavel Nedvěd won the Ballon d’Or in 2003. He received a number of other individual awards throughout his career and was placed in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2003, 2004, and 2005. He was named by Pelé as one of the FIFA 100 before retiring in 2009.
1. Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic)
2. Thierry Henry (France)
3. Paolo Maldini (Italy)