Barcelona star Lionel Messi has once again been crowned Ballon d’Or king – putting the Argentine out on his own as the only man to have picked up the award six times.
Messi, 32, beat Liverpool defensive colossus Virgil van Dijk into second place as the accolade for the world’s best player was handed out by France Football magazine at a glitzy bash in Paris on Monday night.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner and longtime Messi rival Cristiano Ronaldo came third, deciding to snub the ceremony after perhaps being tipped off that he would miss out on the top prize.
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As Messi revels in what many see as confirmation of his GOAT status, we look back at how he achieved his remarkable Ballon d’Or haul.
2009 – ON HIS WAY TO GREATNESS
Messi picked up his first Ballon d’Or the tender age of 22, having finished third and then second in the voting in the previous two years.
The accolade was reward for a precious talent who was already being tipped as one of the greatest ever to play the game, as Messi had helped inspire a Barcelona team managed by Pep Guardiola to a famous treble in the 2008/09 season, including the Champions League title.
Messi scored in the Champions League final against Manchester United in Rome, while he netted 38 goals in all competitions for Barcelona.
In picking up the Ballon d’Or, he became the first Argentine to ever win the award. Voters handed Messi the accolade by a whopping 240-point margin, with the diminutive Argentine gaining 473 points out of a possible 480, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in second (281 points) and Barcelona teammate Xavi in third (170 points).
2010 – DOUBLE DELIGHT
FIFA merged their player of the year award with the Ballon d’Or in 2010, and Messi was the first to win the title as he picked up a second consecutive gong.
The Argentine wizard scored an astonishing 60 goals for club and country in 2010, and beat club teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta to the award. Messi obtained 22.65 percent of the votes, while Iniesta garnered 17.36 percent and Xavi 16.48 percent.
Many, however, felt that Spaniards Xavi and Iniesta would have been more worthy winners, having helped their country to World Cup glory in South Africa that summer.
Still, at the age of 23, Messi had already been crowned world player of the year twice – with plenty more in store.
2011 – HAT-TRICK
Messi had been typically sensational throughout the 2010/11 season, netting 53 goals in 55 club games.
That incredible form helped him become only the fourth player in history to have three Ballon d’Or titles to his name – alongside Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten – when he picked up the prize for 2011.
Coming off the back of another Champions League-winning season, again starring in a victory over Manchester United in the final – Messi was the clear winner in the vote, taking 47.88 percent ahead of Ronaldo in second with 21.6 percent and Xavi on 9.23 percent.
2012 – A RECORD-BREAKING SEASON
Onto the award for 2012 and Messi became the first – and so far only – player in history to win the Ballon d’Or four times in a row.
Over the course of 2012 Messi netted an astonishing 91 strikes to beat German legend Gerd Muller’s previous record of 85 goals in a calendar year, scoring 79 times for Barcelona and 12 more for Argentina.
Messi again beat Ronaldo to the accolade while Barcelona teammate Iniesta finished third.
2015 – BOUNCING BACK
Messi was forced to watch his great rival Ronaldo scoop the top individual prize in football in 2013 and 2014 – finishing second both times – but bounced back to claim the award in 2015, meaning a fifth Ballon d’Or in total.
It came after a year in which Barca claimed an incredible five-trophy haul, including Champions League and La Liga titles. Messi was again at the forefront as he bagged a 52-goal haul during the calendar year, as well as 26 assists, in 61 games for club and country.
Already established as one of the all-time greats, the Barcelona number 10 received 41.33 percent of the vote, ahead of Ronaldo with 27.76 percent and Brazilian star Neymar with 7.86 percent.
2019 – SIX APPEAL
Before his triumph in Paris on Monday night, Messi had been forced to wait four long years before being crowned Ballon d’Or king again, as Ronaldo picked up the accolade in 2016 and 2017 to put him level with Messi on five overall titles, while Croatian playmaker Luka Modric scooped the award in 2018 (when Messi bafflingly failed even to make the top three).
But this year Messi has consistently displayed the greatness that has seen him edge out defensive colossus Virgil van Dijk. Messi scored 54 times for club and country in the 2018-19 season, and despite an injury-hit start to this season has notched 11 goals in 14 games so far.
Many will argue that Liverpool’s Champions League triumph – which included a sensational semifinal defeat of Barcelona – means van Dijk would have been a more worthy winner.
But even at 32, Messi is continuing to show brilliance week in, week out – which makes him a fitting winner of the award for a record sixth time.
And all the signs are that he’s not done yet…