Although he’s just 24 years old, soccer player Lionel Messi of Argentina picked up his third consecutive Player of the Year award in Zurich, Switzerland on Jan. 8. The award is handed out by FIFA, which is soccer’s governing body, and is known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or trophy.
Messi, who plays for Spanish club Barcelona, beat out his teammate Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo for the award. In the same ceremony, Homare Sawa of Japan was named the female player of the year and Japan’s Norio Sasaki took home the trophy for the best women’s coach of the year.
Messi and his team had an excellent year as Barcelona won the European Champions League, the Club World Cup, and the Spanish league title. Messi is one of just three three-time winners of the trophy, with the others being France’s Zinedine Zidane and Brazil’s Ronaldo. Michel Platini of France won the award three years in a row from 1983 to 85 when it was given out by the France Football magazine. That award was then combined with FIFA’s in the 1990s and is the one that’s been handed out ever since.
Messi, who made his debut for the club as a 16-year-old, scored in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in the Champions League final last May, giving the Spanish team its second European title in the last three years. He also scored two goals in December as the club won the FIFA World Club Cup in Yokohama, Japan.
The winners were voted on by a panel consisting of journalists and national team captains and coaches around the world. Messi garnered 48 per cent of the total votes while Ronaldo of Portugal received 22 per cent and Xavi of Spain was named on 9.2 per cent of the ballots. Those three players were narrowed down from an earlier group of 23 players.
Messi is under contract with Barcelona until 2016. But while he is a fantastic player for his club, Messi struggles on the international stage with Argentina. They hosted the Copa America tournament last year and were knocked out of it in front of their own fans by Uruguay in the quarterfinals. Uruguay then went on to win the tournament and Messi went through the event without a goal.
Many fans and ex players feel Messi shouldn’t be considered an all-time great until he can reproduce his club form for his country. Platini said Maradona won a World Cup with Argentina in 1986 and he’s considered to be a great player because of that, not what he achieved at club level. Platini added that winning a World Cup is something special because fans always remember the winners. Messi scored a club record 53 goals last season and could beat it this year as he had 31 after the team’s first 27 games.
Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, said Messi is one of the greatest players to ever come out of Argentina and ranks with all-time world greats such as Pele, Alfredo di Stefano, and Diego Maradona. Ferguson’s seen quite a bit of Messi recently as his club lost twice to Barcelona in Champions Leagues finals.
Ferguson also took home an award from Zurich as he was given the Presidential Award, which is in honor of his success as a manager during the last three decades. Last year Ferguson led Manchester United to their 12th English Premier League title since he’s been in charge. The club has won 19 of them overall, an English record.
Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola won the Coach of the Year award by beating out Ferguson and Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid. Neymar, a Brazilian forward with Santos, beat out Wayne Rooney of Manchester United and Messi in the Goal of the Year award.