Inter Miami CF star Lionel Messi has made history by winning the Ballon d’Or for an unprecedented eighth time. The Argentinean footballer beat out competition from Manchester City striker Erling Haaland after leading his national team to victory in the World Cup last year.
Messi, who is 36 years old, becomes the first player based in Major League Soccer (MLS) to claim this prestigious prize. However, it’s important to note that his success in Qatar played a significant role in securing this achievement. David Beckham, former Manchester United player and co-owner of Inter Miami, presented Messi with the award in Paris.
Haaland, who scored an impressive 52 goals last season as Manchester City secured a Treble in the 2022-23 campaign, came in second place in the voting and received the Gerd Muller Trophy for the best striker of the year.
“I couldn’t have imagined the incredible career I’ve had and everything that I’ve achieved,” said Messi in his acceptance speech. “I feel fortunate to have played for the best team in the world, the best team in history. Winning these individual trophies is truly special.”
“To win the Copa America and then the World Cup is an amazing feat. Each Ballon d’Or award holds a special place in my heart for different reasons,” he added.
Prior to Messi receiving his award, Aitana Bonmatí, a midfielder for Barcelona and Spain, received the Ballon d’Or Féminin after an extraordinary year with both her club and country. Bonmatí played a crucial role in Barcelona’s success in Liga F and the Champions League, and she also led Spain to victory in the World Cup.
Other awards presented at the event included the Yashin Trophy for best goalkeeper, which was won by Messi’s Argentina teammate Emiliano Martinez, and the Kopa Trophy for the world’s top player under the age of 21, which was awarded to England and Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham.
In his speech, Messi took a moment to wish his compatriot Diego Maradona a happy birthday. Maradona, a legendary figure in football who won the World Cup in 1986, passed away on Nov. 22, 2020, and would have turned 63 on the day of the ceremony.
“I would like to dedicate my last words to Diego Maradona. Today is his birthday, so I want to remember him in the presence of the best players, coaches, and football enthusiasts, just like he was,” Messi said emotionally.
“Wherever you are, Diego, happy birthday. This is for you too.”
Even before the ceremony in Paris, Messi already held the record for the most Ballon d’Or wins. He previously won the award in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019, and 2021.
Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or five times, while Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff, and Marco van Basten have all won it three times.
Last season, Messi scored 21 goals in 41 appearances as Paris Saint-Germain secured their Ligue 1 title before his move to Inter Miami earlier this year.
Since joining the MLS, Messi has scored 11 goals in 14 games for Miami, contributing to the club’s first-ever piece of silverware, the Leagues Cup. However, his injury towards the end of the regular MLS season impacted Miami’s chances of making it to the playoffs.
It is Messi’s remarkable performance in the 2022 World Cup that earned him his record-breaking eighth Ballon d’Or. Argentina ended their 36-year wait for a World Cup win, and Messi, as the team’s captain, played a pivotal role. He scored seven goals and provided three assists, earning the Player of the Tournament title.
In an epic final against France, Messi scored twice and also converted a penalty in the shootout, leading Lionel Scaloni’s side to victory in one of the most memorable matches in World Cup history.
Having come close to winning the World Cup on four previous occasions, including a runner-up finish in 2014, many believed it was Messi’s last chance to lift the coveted trophy.
At the age of 36 years and four months, Messi is now the second oldest player to win the Ballon d’Or, surpassing last year’s winner Karim Benzema. Only Stanley Matthews, the inaugural recipient of the award in 1956, was older when he won it at 41.
Messi’s first six Ballons d’Or were earned during his time with Barcelona, where he is the club’s all-time top scorer and appearance holder. He won his seventh Ballon d’Or shortly after joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2021 following Argentina’s triumph in the Copa America.
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