PARIS: Lionel Messi won the men’s Ballon d’Or for a record-stretching seventh time on Monday, ending the year in style after a brilliant final season with Barcelona and earning his first major international trophy with Argentina.
The forward added to his 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 trophies after winning the Copa America for the first time with his country last July.
Now 34, Messi pipped much-fancied rivals like Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema to take the award in a glittering ceremony in Paris, the city he now calls home after leaving boyhood club Barca for Paris St Germain in August.
Despite his tearful goodbye from Barcelona and his relatively underwhelming start to life in France, the jury of journalists from around the world rewarded him in particular for captaining Argentina to their first major international title since 1993.
Putellas crowned women’s winner
“It’s incredible to be here again. Two years ago I thought it was the last time. Winning the Copa America was key,” Messi said at Paris’s Theatre du Chatelet, where he was joined by his wife Antonella Roccuzzo and their three children.
“It is a special year for me with this Copa America title. It meant a lot to win at the Maracana stadium and I was so happy to celebrate with the people from Argentina.
“I don’t know if it’s the best year of my life, I’ve had a long career, but it was a special one with the title with Argentina after the tough times and the criticism.
“I’m very happy to be here, happy to keep fighting for new trophies. I don’t know how many years I have left, but I hope many more. I’d like to thank all my [former] team-mates at Barcelona and Argentina.
“People were starting to ask me when I was going to retire but now I am here in Paris and I am very happy.”
Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in the final in Rio de Janeiro as Messi won a major title with his country for the first time. He also scored 38 goals in 48 games in his final season with Barcelona and won the Copa del Rey.
However Messi has played just 11 times and scored four goals for PSG since joining the French club and there was a feeling that this year might see a different winner.
Poland striker Lewandowski would have been a shoe-in in 2020, when he scored 45 goals in 37 games for Bayern, only for the awards to be cancelled.
He ended last season with a remarkable 41 Bundesliga goals but had to settle for second place in the voting for the Ballon d’Or, which is organised by France Football magazine and voted for by a panel of journalists from around the world.
Lewandowski instead was given a consolation prize for the year’s best goal-scorer and received glowing praise from Messi.
“I wanted to say to Robert that it was an honour to go up against him. He deserved to win it last year,” Messi said.
Midfielder Jorginho, who won the Champions League with Chelsea and the European championship with Italy, ended up third on 460, ahead of France’s Karim Benzema and Ngolo Kante in fourth and fifth places respectively.
Five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo came sixth. He was absent from the ceremony.
Between them, Messi and Ronaldo have won 12 of the last 13 editions of the Ballon d’Or with the exception coming in 2018 when Luka Modric claimed the prize.
Chelsea, named club of the year, also had keeper Edouard Mendy finishing second in the Yashin trophy behind Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The women’s Ballon d’Or went to Alexia Putellas after the Spain midfielder guided Barcelona to Champions League glory.
Putellas tallied 186 points to finish far ahead of club and country team-mate Jenni Hermoso on 84.
Putellas is the third winner of the Ballon dOr Feminin after Ada Hegerberg in 2018 and Megan Rapinoe in 2019.
On a good night for Barcelona, the 19-year-old Pedri was awarded the Kopa trophy for the best Under-21 player. He caught the eye at Euro 2020 and reached the Olympic final.
“The best way to celebrate turning 19 is receiving this award. I’d like to thank everyone at Barcelona for helping me here,” he said.
The Lev Yashin trophy for best goalkeeper was won by Gianluigi Donnarumma, who helped Italy win the Euros.
Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2021