Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or for the eighth time in his career at a star-studded ceremony in Paris on Monday.
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For Messi, the trophy rewards, above all else, his inspirational performances at last year’s World Cup in Qatar, when he dragged Argentina to victory, scoring seven goals and being named the tournament’s best player.
It was the crowning moment of his astonishing career, and it allowed him to see off stiff competition, in particular from Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé, to take the award on the stage of the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
It was a return to the French capital after his departure from PSG in June and his subsequent move to Inter Miami in Major League Soccer.
“This is a gift to the whole Argentina team for what we achieved,” said Messi on stage after receiving his award from David Beckham, the co-owner of Inter Miami.
Messi dedicated the trophy to late Argentina legend Diego Maradona, who would have celebrated his 63rd birthday on Monday. “Happy birthday Diego. This is for you too,” he said.
Messi benefits from a recent change which means the award is based on a player’s record over the last season, rather than over the calendar year.
Mbappé, Haaland just miss out
Kylian Mbappé was the star player on that team, scoring 41 goals, and was also the World Cup’s top scorer with eight goals, including a hat-trick in the final which France lost to Argentina on penalties.
Yet he fell just short for the Ballon d’Or, finishing third, while Norway striker Erling Haaland came second after scoring 52 goals in 53 games for the Manchester City team that won the treble of English Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.
Messi is 36 and won his first Ballon d’Or in 2009. With eight, he is now three ahead of his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo, the next most decorated player in the history of the award.
It remains to be seen if Messi will again feature in the running for the prize, which is voted for by one journalist in each of the top 100 nations in the FIFA ranking. “I am not thinking about the long-term future. I am just enjoying the day to day at the moment,” he said.
Messi will struggle to hold off the next wave of superstars, led by Mbappé, Haaland and Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham, but his World Cup performances made his victory this time feel inevitable.
Bellingham won the Kopa Trophy for the best player of last season aged under 21.
The 20-year-old has started his Madrid career with 13 goals in 13 games, although the prize rewards his performances in his final campaign with Borussia Dortmund.
Bellingham’s Madrid teammate, the Brazil forward Vinicius Junior, won the Socrates prize in recognition of his off-pitch work.
Messi’s Argentina colleague Emiliano Martinez won the Yashin Trophy for the best goalkeeper of the season.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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