ZURICH, Jan 8: Lionel Messi, still only 25, added yet another record to his stellar list of achievements on Monday when he won an unprecedented fourth, consecutive, FIFA Ballon d'Or as an expected reward for his astonishing 91-goal year in which finally produced his best form for Argentina as well as Barcelona.
Messi was handed the award after a typically cheesy ceremony which featured a performance from a giant dancing armadillo named Fuleco, the mascot for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, sealing his status as the outstanding talent of his generation after he saw off Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta for the prize.
“To tell the truth, this is really unbelievable to get the fourth award. I am so nervous,” a typically low-key Messi, who received a vote share of 41.60 percent to 23.68 for Ronaldo and 10.91 for Iniesta, said though he wore a black tuxedo jacket with a white-spotted pattern in an unexpectedly flamboyant touch.
For the third time in a row since FIFA's Player of the Year of the year merged with France Football magazine’s Ballon d'Or, the podium was shared by three players based in La Liga with Messi's fourth award lifting him above three-time FIFA winners Zinedine Zidane of France and Brazil's Ronaldo.
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 old Ballon d'Or trophy for players in Europe.
Messi led a dominating night for Spanish teams and the United States women's Olympic champions at FIFA's annual celebration of world football.
Vicente del Bosque won the coach of the year award for guiding Spain to its third straight major tournament victory at Euro 2012, after he saw off competition from Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho and former Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola, in a poll where FIFA bafflingly failed to look beyond coaches based in Europe.
Herve Renard, who led Zambia to a poignant and highly unlikely win at the African Nations Cup one year ago, and Tite, coach of South American and world club champions Corinthians, both failed to make the original shortlist of 10 coaches.
Abby Wambach, who scored five goals at the London Games, became the first American since Mia Hamm in 2002 to win the women's Player of the Year award, edging out Brazil's Marta and fellow American Alex Morgan while the USA's Swedish coach Pia Sundhage was named coach of the year for women's football.
Messi's goal-scoring record shone in a relatively disappointing year by the high standards of the Catalan club which won just one trophy, the Spanish Cup, in 2012.
Still, Messi defied critics who believe his standards drop for Argentina by scoring 12 goals for the national team in 2012, including five at a goal-a-game rate in 2014 World Cup qualifiers to ensure they lead the South American qualifying group.
“We have changed this year, we haven't lost any games and, very importantly, we have played very well, something which before we weren't doing,” said Messi in a news conference before the ceremony. “I'm happy about the way things are going. We have to keep improving as a team and qualify first, but there's still a long way to go.”
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.
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. Iker Casillas features in goal, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, in defence, Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Iniesta in midfield and Messi, Falcao and Ronaldo in attack.
Slovakia's Miroslav Stoch edged both Falcao and Brazil's Neymar for best goal; Uzbekistan won the fair play award for their good disciplinary record while former West Germany captain and coach Franz Beckenbauer was given the presidential award for outstanding service to football.—Agencies