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The "Ballon d'Or", "The Golden Ball", referred to as the European Footballer of the Year award, is an annual association football award. It is presented to the player who has been considered to have performed the best over the previous calendar year. The award was conceived by France Football's chief magazine writer Gabriel Hanot, who asked his colleagues to vote for the player of the year in Europe in 1956. The inaugural winner was Stanley Matthews of Blackpool.
Originally, journalists could only vote for European players at European clubs, meaning that players like Diego Maradona and Pelé were ineligible for the award. In 1995, there was a change in the rules to allow non-European players to be eligible for the award if they played for a European club. The first non-European to win after the rule change was Milan's George Weah in the same year. The rules were changed again in 2007 so that players of any nationality and from any club around the world could be eligible for the award. As a result, the number of journalists allowed to vote also increased; 96 journalists from around the world chose their top five players, as opposed to the 52 Europe based journalists in 2006.
Three players have won the award three times each: Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, and Marco van Basten. Platini is the only player to have won the award three times in a row; he won the award from 1983 to 1985. Ronaldo became the first Brazilian to win the award in 1997, after non-Europeans were made eligible.With seven awards each, Dutch and German players have won the Ballon d'Or the most. Italian clubs Juventus and Milan have had the most winners; six players have won eight awards while playing for the club. The most recent recipient of the Ballon d'Or is Lionel Messi, the third Argentine to win the award, but the first as an Argentine citizen.
Sepp Blatter holds up the agreement creating the FIFA Ballon d'Or in Johannesburg in July 2010Since 2010, the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award have been merged. The world’s best player will be awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or each year.