Lionel Messi wins the Fifa Ballon d’Or for the third successive year
Lionel Messi already judged one of football’s all-time greats at 24, unsurprisingly extended his reign as the world’s best player for a third year on Monday.
The Barcelona and Argentina forward received the Fifa Ballon d’Or for 2011, beating his club team-mate Xavi HernÃ¡ndez and Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid to the game’s top individual honour.
“It’s a huge pleasure for me,” Messi said, after accepting the trophy from another three-times winner, the former Brazil forward Ronaldo. “It’s the third time I get this award and it’s a huge honour.”
Messi’s prolific scoring and unselfish creative play inspired Barcelona to win five trophies last season including the Champions League, Spanish League and Club World Cup.
Messi is the first player to win three straight Fifa world player trophies in the award’s 21-year history. Zinedine Zidane of France also won three Fifa player awards.
Messi received 47.88% of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains plus invited journalists. They chose from a shortlist of 23 players. Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 21.6% and Xavi got 9.23% to finish third for the third year in succession.
“This one is very special because I want to share this with my friend and team-mate Xavi. He deserves it,” Messi said.
In the women’s award, Homare Sawa of Japan ended Brazil forward Marta’s five-year rule as the world’s best player. Abby Wambach of the United States was also shortlisted.
Sawa led Japan to win the 2011 Women’s World Cup and adds the Fifa prize to her tournament best player and top scorer trophies.
An international tournament victory is all that now eludes Messi. The Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, and his Manchester United counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, agreed that Messi should be classed alongside legends such as PelÃ©, Diego Maradona and Alfredo di Stefano.
“Now he can sit beside them. It’s a huge award, no?” Guardiola said.
Fifa’s world player award merged last year with the Ballon d’Or trophy awarded by France Football magazine since 1956. Messi joins Michel Platini winning the Ballon d’Or for three consecutive years, though the Frenchman won from 1983-85 when only European players were eligible. The Holland forwards Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten also received three Ballons d’Or in their careers.
Before starting his victory streak, Messi was runner-up twice behind Brazil’s KakÃ¡ and Cristiano Ronaldo, respectively. Messi was outscored by Ronaldo in the Spanish League last season 40 to 31 but elevated his game to a higher level in the major matches.
He scored twice, including a sublime individual effort, against Real Madrid in a bad-tempered Champions League semi-final, first-leg match, and struck with a perfectly placed shot to help Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1 in the final.
Xavi described his gifted team-mate as “one of the best footballers in the history of the sport”. “He’s still young. I think he’s probably going to break all the record that exist in the sport.”
Messi missed a second trophy presented for the year’s most beautiful goal, chosen by fans who voted online from a shortlist of 10. The Brazil forward Neymar got the prize for a solo goal in Santos’s 5-4 defeat against Flamengo in July.
Norio Sasaki was named best coach of a women’s team for his work guiding Japan to their World Cup triumph. Pia Sundhage of beaten finalists United States and France’s Bruno Bini were also on the shortlist.
The Japan Football Association received Fifa’s Fair Play award for its response to a devastating earthquake and tsunami last March, including hosting Barcelona’s Club World Cup victory in December.
All three Ballon d’Or nominees were chosen in a World XI lineup chosen by the FifPro group of players’ unions comprising 50,000 members worldwide.
They selected a team composed entirely of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United players, with the striker Wayne Rooney and the defender Nemanja Vidic the representatives from Old Trafford.
FifPro World XI Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Gerard PiquÃ© (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Nemanja Vidic (Manchester Utd), AndrÃ©s Iniesta (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Xavi (Barcelona), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (Manchester Utd).