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Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo still one step below Zidane

There are just seven players who have won the World Cup, the Champions League and the Ballon d'Or, and the Real Madrid coach is among them.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo still one step below Zidane

In football, as in the Marvel universe, you will hear talk of the ‘fantastic four’, comprising Pelé, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Johann Cruyff and Diego Maradona. Perhaps, though, what we should really be talking about is the ‘magnificent seven’: Bobby Charlton, Gerd Müller, Franz Beckenbauer, Paolo Rossi, Kaká, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane.

They are the only players in history to have won the World Cup, the Champions League/European Cup and the Ballon d’Or.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo miss out...

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, serial winners of all the club and individual prizes going, do not make this select group as they have never managed to lift the global game’s top international trophy with Argentina and Portugal, respectively. However, there can be no doubt that this does little justice to the exploits of both.

And just as Messi and Cristiano miss out, so too do other all-time greats, such as Ronaldo Nazário and Rivaldo. Both Brazilians won the World Cup and the Ballon d’Or, but not the Champions League. The former came close with Real Madrid, while the latter parted company with AC Milan in 2003, the year that the Rossoneri claimed the trophy. Another notable absentee is Milan legend Paolo Maldini, who, but for Liverpool’s incredible comeback in Istanbul in 2005, would have equalled Paco Gento’s record individual haul of six European Cup winners’ medals.

The list of greats with two out of three is nigh-on endless...

While only seven man have managed the complete set, the roll call of players with two of the three major honours is almost endless. Among the defenders in this list are Sergio Ramos and Fabio Cannavaro. Having tasted World Cup and Champions League glory with Spain and Real Madrid, Ramos is among those to have suffered from football’s reluctance to give the Ballon d’Or to defensive players. Cannavaro is one of the few who have collected the award - but Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning captain has never lifted European club football’s most prestigious trophy.

There is a whole host of greats, indeed, whose impact on the game undoubtedly puts them in the same bracket as the ‘magnificent seven’, but whose medal collection does not. Marco van Basten and Michel Platini, both three-time Ballon d’Or winners, were unable to lead the Netherlands and France, respectively, to victory in the World Cup. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who received two Ballons d’Or and won almost everything there is to win, lost the Mexico ’86 final to the Argentina of Maradona, who never enjoyed European Cup success.

Xavi, Iniesta among top stars never to win Ballon d'Or

All of which goes to show that, although trophies are a key barometer of a footballer's success, they are not always the fairest way of determining their place among the sport's greatest performers. The same can be said of individual gongs, too - just ask players like Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, who were continually overlooked. “I don’t win Ballons d’Or, but I make them,” was how Xavi once rather aptly put it.

Vicente del Bosque, the manager who steered Xavi and Iniesta’s Spain team to the World Cup 10 years ago, added: “One of the most difficult moments for me as national coach was when every year I had to submit my votes for the Ballon d’Or, because football is a game in which you win and you lose together; it’s about the collective, in good times and bad.” Del Bosque, by the way, would qualify for a coaches’ version of the ‘magnificent seven’: in addition to glory at South Africa 2010, he boasts two Champions Leagues and a FIFA Coach of the Year award.