ZURICH: Lionel Messi added yet another record to his stellar list of achievements over the past 12 months on Monday when he won an unprecedented fourth, consecutive, Ballon d'Or at a FIFA gala in Zurich.
The accolade seals Messi's status as the greatest player of his generation after he saw off Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta for the prize.
Messi received a vote share of 41.60 percent to 23.68 for Ronaldo and 10.91 for Iniesta. Messi and former French star, UEFA president Michel Platini, had prior to Monday been the only players to win three straight Ballon d'Or awards while Dutch greats Johan Cruyff and Marco Van Basten both won the accolade on three occasions.
Spain's Vicente del Bosque was named coach of the year for 2012, seeing off competition from Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho and former Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola.
Messi's success crowned another landmark year for the Argentine who is already the top scorer in La Liga for the ongoing season with 25 goals, having also broken Gerd Mueller's 40-year record for the most goals in a calendar year.
He finished 2012 with an astonishing 91 goals in all competitions.
But Messi has insisted his scoring records will mean nothing if Barcelona do not go on to take the La Liga title off Real or fail to win the Champions League.
“It is incredible to receive this prize once again and it's impressive it makes it four in a row. Each one is special. You never come here thinking you are going to win.
“I would like to share this with my Barca teammates - particularly with Andres, who is here with me,” said the ever unassuming Messi.
“I am proud to be able to train alongside him every day. I am also thinking of my teammates in the Argentina squad,” he went on.
“Thank you to all those who voted for me, skippers, coaches and national coaches.
“Thank you too to my family, my friends and of course my wife and son, who is the best thing that ever happened to me,” said the 25-year-old from Rosario, who in November became a father to son Thiago.
Barca coach Tito Vilanova had already eulogised his player in advance of Messi's win. “Leo's great quality is that he plays as if he is still a child,” Vilanova opined.
Portugal captain Ronaldo at least has the consolation of having won in 2008 before Messi's hegemony began while Iniesta can for his part bask in the knowledge that he has won a World Cup and two Euros - including Euro 2012 - whereas Messi still has to replicate such achievements at international level.
Until he can lift top honours with Argentina, some observers will insist he cannot be classed as the greatest player ever, moving ahead of Pele and Diego Maradona.
The award of best coach went to Spain's Vicente del Bosque, who beat off competition from Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho, the 2010 winner, and former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
“It is an honour for me to receive this award,” said Del Bosque, who led Spain to Euro 2012 - having also landed the World Cup two years earlier.
“It is an honour to represent Spanish football and the Spanish national side. I thank all the players - they make us (the coaches) better.
“This prize can be extended to all coaches, to people who dedicate themselves to football,” added the ever humble coach.
Barcelona and Real Madrid meanwhile contributed five players each to the best XI of the year - Radamel Falcao of Atletico Madrid being the exception in an all Spain-based line-up.
Slovakia's Miroslav Stoch edged both Falcao and Brazil's Neymar for best goal, Best woman player went to Abby Wambach of the USA, who edged Brazil's Marta and fellow American Alex Morgan while the USA's Swedish coach Pia Sundhage won the title of best women's coach.
The Uzbekistan Football Federation took the fair play award while a special FIFA president award went to German legend Franz Beckenbauer.