June 13, 2024

Inter Miami CF star Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or for a record eighth time, fending off competition from Manchester City striker Erling Haaland after leading Argentina to the World Cup last year.

Messi, 36, becomes the first MLS-based player to claim the coveted prize, although the triumph comes largely on the back of his exploits with his country in Qatar. Former Manchester United player and Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham handed his prize-signing Messi the award in Paris.

Haaland, who scored 52 goals last season as City won the Treble in 2022-23, finished second in the voting and won the Gerd Muller Trophy given to the best striker of the year.

“I couldn’t imagine having the career that I’ve had. Everything that I’ve achieved,” Messi said after getting his award. “The fortune I’ve had playing for the best team in the world, the best team in history. It’s nice to win these individual trophies.

“To win the Copa America and then the World Cup, to get it done is amazing. All of them [Ballon d’Or awards] are special for different reasons.”

Prior to Messi receiving his award, Barcelona and Spain midfielder Aitana Bonmatí won the Ballon d’Or Féminin after a record-breaking year with club and country. She helped Barça win Liga F and the Champions League last season, before leading Spain to World Cup glory in the summer.

In other awards handed out on Monday, Messi’s Argentina teammate Emiliano Martinez won the Yashin Trophy for best goalkeeper and England and Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham was handed the Kopa Trophy as the world’s top player under the age of 21.

During his acceptance speech, Messi made a point of wishing Argentina countryman Diego Maradona happy birthday. The 1986 World Cup winner, who died on Nov. 22, 2020, would have been 63 on Monday.

“My last mention is for Diego [Maradona],” Messi said. “Today is his birthday. So I would like to remember him from here, surrounded by the best players, coaches and people who love football like he did.

“Wherever you are, Diego, happy birthday. This goes also to you.”

Even prior to Monday’s ceremony in Paris, no player had won the Ballon d’Or more times than Messi, who first won it in 2009 and then again in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019 and 2021.

Cristiano Ronaldo has won it five times, while Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten are all three-time winners.

Messi scored 21 goals in 41 appearances last season as Paris Saint-Germain retained the Ligue 1 title before moving to Inter Miami earlier this year.

Since moving to the U.S., he has scored 11 goals in 14 games for Miami, helping the franchise win its first-ever piece of silverware, the Leagues Cup.

However, he missed several matches through injury at the end of the regular MLS season as Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side came up short in their late push for a playoff spot.

It is Messi’s performances at the World Cup at the end of 2022 which have earned him an eighth Ballon d’Or, though, as Argentina ended a 36-year wait to be crowned world champions for the third time.

Messi, as captain, was instrumental to Argentina’s success in Qatar, scoring seven goals and assisting three more as he was named as the Player of the Tournament.

He scored twice in the final and again in the penalty shootout against France as Lionel Scaloni’s team edged one of the most memorable showpieces in the competition’s history.

Having come up short with Argentina at four previous World Cups, including losing the 2014 final to Germany, it was deemed by many to be his last chance to get his hands on football’s biggest prize.

At 36 years and four months old, he also becomes the second oldest player to ever win the Ballon d’Or, replacing last year’s winner Karim Benzema. Only the inaugural winner, Stanley Matthews in 1956, was older when he won it aged 41.

Messi’s first six Ballons d’Or were won while he played for Barcelona, where he is the club’s record goalscorer and appearance holder, while he won it for a seventh time shortly after joining PSG in 2021 following Copa America success with Argentina.

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