Ballon d’Or vs FIFA’s The Best awards: Explaining the differences, history, and which one is bigger

The greatest football players and coaches in the world currently have two opportunities each year to scoop up coveted individual honours with both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA The Best awards on the calendar. 

Each ceremony recognises individuals who have made their mark on the game and they have proven to be a good way to measure who has shone brightest during specific eras. 

While these are accolades any player would hope to win, there are a few key differences between the Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s The Best. 

The Sporting News looks at what sets each award apart and which one is arguably the bigger deal. 

MORE: Ballon d’Or 2022 winners, rankings, final awards results

What’s the difference between Ballon d’Or and FIFA The Best?

More than just a name differentiates these two awards. We break down some of the key points of difference below. 

History

If the Ballon d’Or sounds more familiar that’s because it has been around a lot longer than the FIFA The Best awards.

The first Ballon d’Or was handed out in 1956, while FIFA’s awards in their current form were only rolled out recently in 2017.

Voting

Both awards are decided by a very different set of voters. 

Journalists from around the world have exclusively decided the winner of the Ballon d’Or awards, with the exception of the 2010-2015 collaboration alongside FIFA (see below). 

FIFA’s The Best arguably uses a more democratic system that takes into account votes from national team coaches, national team captains, journalists and fans. 

Schedule

Another key difference between both awards is when the voting is held and the winners are named. 

The Ballon d’Or is generally handed out in October and now bases its winners on their performances across a single season. 

FIFA, however, hold their award ceremony either at the beginning or end of a calendar year with winners judged on their performances across that time frame. 

Trophy

Last but not least, the silverware players take home for each award is inevitably quite different. 

The Ballon d’Or takes the form of a golden ball, while FIFA’s The Best is a platinum trophy that resembles a smaller version of the World Cup. 

Did FIFA ever give out the Ballon d’Or?

While FIFA now has its own, distinctly different awards, they did once team up with French publication France Football to hand out the Ballon d’Or. 

That relationship began in 2010 and saw FIFA shelve their World Player of the Year award as a result. The player and coach votes that decided that award and now feed into The Best were combined with the Ballon d’Or’s ballot.  

The collaboration saw the accolade renamed the ‘FIFA Ballon d’Or’ before both parties went their separate ways in 2015 and FIFA launched their own awards property.

MORE: FIFA The Best all-time winners

Which players have won both Ballon d’Or and FIFA The Best?

Despite their many differences, both awards have often been won by the same players in the same years. 

The only variation to date in the men’s game came in 2021 when Lionel Messi controversially won the Ballon d’Or and Robert Lewandowski was awarded FIFA’s The Best. 

Only a few votes separated the players across both awards with many fans and players critical of Lewandowski not taking the Ballon d’Or

MORE: Who has been nominated for FIFA’s The Best awards?

Why Ballon d’Or is a bigger deal than FIFA The Best

With over 50 years more history, the Ballon d’Or holds a special place in the heart of the footballing world as an annual tradition.

The current generation of players saw their idols lift the golden ball trophy, and it continues to have a real aura around it. 

While FIFA has a greater profile around the world when compared to Ballon d’Or organisers France Football, its The Best awards still need time to become more established as the honour that all players dream of from the day they lace up their boots. 

“All the work I did, I never gave up. It was a childhood dream,” Benzema said about winning the 2022 Ballon d’Or. Another decade likely needs to elapse before players grow up saying the same thing about FIFA’s The Best trophy.

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