Football Features

The nine players who won football’s ‘holy trinity’

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 9:30, 20 March 2023

Football is first and foremost a team sport and there’s no better feeling than winning the ultimate prizes at club and international level.

Those accolades today are widely recognised to be the Champions League (European Cup) and the World Cup. Since the former’s inception, a plethora of names have lifted both titles, but from this an even more exclusive group emerges.

If we throw in football’s premier individual award, France Football’s annual Ballon d’Or prize, only nine men can say they’ve won the ‘holy trinity’ of awards. But who are they? Read below to find out.

Bobby Charlton

Club(s): Man Utd, Preston North End, Waterford, Newcastle KB United, Perth Azzurri, Blacktown City

International team (caps): England (106)

European Cup: 1968

World Cup: 1966

Ballon d’Or: 1966

Perhaps the greatest footballer England has produced, and there’s stiff competition in that regard, no one can deny Bobby Charlton gave everything during an illustrious 24-year career, with the majority spent at boyhood club Manchester United where he lifted three league titles. A decade after breaking through under Matt Busby, and surviving the ill-fated Munich disaster, the attacking midfielder would enjoy his greatest period of success in the late 60s.

Charlton first played a pivotal role in guiding England to World Cup success on home soil in 1966, scoring three goals including two in the semi-final win over Portugal. On top of the Jules Rimet trophy, Charlton’s overall performances also earned him the Golden Ball. Two years later another date with Eusébio at Wembley came, and it was a similar result for Charlton, this time with United. The Red Devils triumphed over Benfica in the European Cup final, thanks in part to a brace from Charlton, making them the first English winners of the competition.

Franz Beckenbauer

Club(s): Bayern Munich, New York Cosmos, Hamburg

International team (caps): West Germany (103)

European Cup: 1974, 1975 and 1976

World Cup: 1974

Ballon d’Or: 1972 and 1976

An upsetting moment while participating in an Under-14 tournament for youth side SC Munich ended any chance of 1860 Munich ever signing Franz Beckenbauer, who idolised the club growing up. He ended up signing for rivals Bayern and the rest is history. The elegant Bavarian footballer, who pioneered the modern sweeper role (or libero), won just about everything there was in a five-year spell. After conquering the Bundesliga, he won three European Cups on the bounce, and there was even greater success donning West Germany’s fabled white jersey.

A first European Championship with West Germany in 1972, which also saw him win the Ballon d’Or that year, was followed by World Cup success on home soil two years later at the expense of Johan Cruyff’s ‘total football’ Dutch side. Before heading stateside, and joining the ambitious New York Cosmos team, Der Kaiser received a second Ballon d’Or thanks to his third European Cup. Once hanging up his boots Beckenbauer went on to become the second man, after Mário Zagallo, to win the World Cup both as a player and as a manager. Both have since joined been by Didier Deschamps.

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Gerd Müller

Club(s): 1861 Nördlingen, Bayern Munich, Fort Lauderdale Strikers

International team (caps): Germany (62)

European Cup: 1974, 1975 and 1976

World Cup: 1974

Ballon d’Or: 1970

Bayern’s unprecedented success in the 1970s created a number of household names and legends, none more important than Gerd Müller who lived for scoring goals. Der Bomber, as he became affectionately known, registered 565 goals across 607 appearances for Bayern but was equally devastating for his national team. And he really came to prominence at the 1970 World Cup finals.

A championship that saw West Germany reach the semi-finals, eliminating defending champions England along the way, Muller scored 10 goals in six matches earning him the Ballon d’Or for that year. More international success followed, helping Helmut Schön’s side win back-to-back tournaments (Euro 1972 and World Cup 1974), before retiring having scored 68 goals across 62 caps – a record Müller held until Miroslav Klose took it for himself.

Paolo Rossi

Club(s): Juventus, Como (loan), L.R. Vicenza, Perugia (loan), Milan, Hellas Verona

International team (caps): Italy (48)

European Cup: 1985

World Cup: 1982

Ballon d’Or: 1982

There was great disappointment from “purists” after Italy eliminated Brazil from the 1982 World Cup finals. The game ended 3-2 in the Azzurri‘s favour with Juventus marksman Paolo Rossi, who previously served a two-year ban following his involvement in the infamous Totonero scandal, grabbing a hat-trick.

He went on to score three more times, including the opener in their 3-1 final win over West Germany, a game best remembered for Marco Tardelli’s passionate goal celebration. These six goals won him the Golden Boot for the tournament, and helped secure the Ballon d’Or later that year. Success at club level soon followed as Juve lifted their first European Cup in trying circumstances as they defeated four-time winners Liverpool at Heysel.

Zinedine Zidane

Club(s): Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid

International team (caps): France (108)

European Cup: 2002

World Cup: 1998

Ballon d’Or: 1998

Sixteen years after Rossi’s heroics, another great wearing Juve’s colours guided his nation to World Cup success. Zinedine Zidane may not be Italian, but the midfielder has since credited his time in Serie A football as shaping his winning mentality. And that was on show as Les Bleus triumphed at home with Zizou assisting twice in the final against much-fancied Brazil, who sought consecutive titles.

Although Zidane missed out on achieving a rare European Cup-World Cup double in the same year, thanks to international teammate Christian Karembeu of Real Madrid, he was still named as Europe’s best in 1998. Lifting the Champions League didn’t allude him but it also didn’t come with Italy’s most decorated club, but instead Real Madrid, and who can forget his goal to put Bayer Leverkusen out of their misery.


Club(s): Santa Cruz, Mogi Mirim, Corinthians (loan), Palmeiras, Deportivo La Coruña, Barcelona, Milan, Cruzeiro, Olympiacos, AEK Athens, Bunyodkor, São Paulo (loan), Kabuscorp, São Caetano

International team (caps): Brazil (74)

European Cup: 2003

World Cup: 2002

Ballon d’Or: 1999

Up until 1995, the Ballon d’Or was exclusively handed to European players, before being expanded to include all players active at a European club. George Weah became the first winner born outside of Europe to earn the prize, in the first year, and he was soon followed by Ronaldo (1997) and O Fenômeno’s compatriot Rivaldo (1999). The latter came to much bemusement, as many felt runner-up David Beckham, who helped Man Utd to a historic treble, would be the one triumphant.

Rivaldo, who played a key role in Brazil’s Copa América success, picked up 65 more points than Becks and tasted even more international glory when the Seleção avenged their 1998 World Cup finals loss by defeating Germany four years later. The 2000s proved to be a wild ride for the Brazilian forward but he still managed to pick up a Champions League winners medal as part of Milan’s squad even though his time with the Rossoneri was coming to an end.


Club(s): Grêmio, PSG, Barcelona, Milan, Flamengo, Atlético Mineiro, Querétaro, Fluminense

International team (caps): Brazil (97)

European Cup: 2006

World Cup: 2002

Ballon d’Or: 2005

As they were making waves in South Korea & Japan it soon became clear there was another ‘R’ crucial to Brazil’s success. Ronaldo and Rivaldo were already known quantities but the emergence of Ronaldinho wowed everyone. His free-kick against England in the quarter-finals, beating David Seaman all ends up, is still etched in the mind. He would, though, have to wait before celebrating like this at club level.

It came soon after completing a high-profile move to Barcelona from PSG, where he became the catalyst behind Frank Rijkaard’s men to claiming a first European Cup since 1992 as they beat Arsenal in 2006. But that was not before he secured the Ballon d’Or year, beating off stiff competition from England pair Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard the year prior.


Club(s): São Paulo, Milan, Real Madrid, Orlando City

International team (caps): Brazil (92)

European Cup: 2007

World Cup: 2002

Ballon d’Or: 2007

Brazil’s devastating 5-2 win over Costa Rica at the 2002 World Cup finals on its own doesn’t bring up much significance, but for 25 minutes we saw a young Kaká take the field though there was nothing sensational from him. That would come after swapping boyhood club São Paulo for Milan, where he’d transform into the world’s premier ‘number 10’. His arrival couldn’t have come at a better time either as it followed Carlo Ancelotti’s side winning the 2003 European Cup, though Kaká had to wait before getting his hand on ‘big ears’, something made even more painful after their infamous collapse against Liverpool in Istanbul.

Against the same opponents, Milan got their revenge with Kaká putting in another virtuoso performance. This convinced the voters to name him Ballon d’Or winner for 2007, the last time for a while that someone not called Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi had been presented with the award. After helping Croatia reach their first World Cup final in 2018, Luka Modrić ended that monopoly, though it has since been re-established.

Lionel Messi

Club(s): Barcelona, PSG

International team (caps): Argentina (172)

European Cup: 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015

World Cup: 2022

Ballon d’Or: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019 and 2021

The greatest of all time? Some certainly think so, and when you look at the sheer number of Ballon d’Ors he’s won, it can be hard to argue against. Lionel Messi is one of just two players on this exclusive list to have won the Ballon d’Or more than once, but he blows Franz Beckenbauer’s two out of the water with an incredible seven. Add onto that four Champions Leagues, and Messi must have a trophy room the size of a small house.

But, for many, Messi couldn’t be considered among the greats unless he won the World Cup. After losing in the 2014 final, Messi may have thought that was the closest he would get to lifting the World Cup Trophy, especially as Argentina were beaten in the quarter-finals in 2018.

Qatar was perhaps his last hurrah, aged 35, but it got off to the worst possible start as Saudi Arabia pulled off a shock 2-1 win. However, like Spain in 2010, Argentina were buoyed by that defeat and won their next six games of the tournament to lift the trophy. And, of course, Messi was instrumental. The PSG man scored seven goals in seven games, including two in the final, and provided three more assists, finally getting his hands on the big one.