When all eyes are aimed at Brazil and the summer soccer carnival commences from the bustling seaside city of Sao Paulo, it will be a celebration not only of the world’s best teams, but also of soccer’s individual on-field geniuses.
These are the larger-than-life players who define a generation and inspire awe that rings from the stands and echoes through television sets across the globe. We sing their names. We hail their skill. We build their statues, and we honor them with the Golden Ball, the award given to the man media deem the best player of the finals.
From Uruguayans José Nasazzi in 1930 to Diego Forlan in 2010 and all the transcendent men to dazzle us in between, who makes up the World Cup™ Mount Rushmore and who is destined to join their ranks this summer?
The 19 men to count themselves as Golden Ball winners make up as decorated a list as we have in the sport. They include Italy’s Giuseppe Meazza, for whom the San Siro is named, Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas, for whom the UEFA Goal for the Year is named, seven star-studden Brazilians—Leonidas, Zinzinho, Didi, Garrincha, Romario, Ronaldo and the ultimate synonym for soccer success Pele—and others who’ve captivated the world for a summer such as Bobby Charlton, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane.
No man has ever earned the honor twice. Forlan will take aim at acheiveing that distinction this summer, but he’ll have to content with world stars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Franck Ribery and his compatriot Luis Suarez.
The award honors an individual, and while success as a team goes a long way to getting a player noticed, a player hasn’t won the Golden Ball and the FIFA World Cup™ crown in the same tournament since Romario in 1994.
While Brazil and Spain might be favorites to lift the cup, any of the players we listed could come home decorated with individual glory.
Who do you think will win the Golden Ball in Brazil? Make your predictor now, and you could look awfully smart this summer.