Lionel Messi once again proved that age is just a number as the 36-year-old clinched his eighth Ballon d’Or award, at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on Monday. The Inter Miami star came out on top in a men’s 30-player list of candidates, beating Manchester City star Erling Haaland. Haaland won the treble with Manchester City last season, claiming the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. The former Barcelona player had a 2022-23 season to remember, leading Argentina to 2022 FIFA World Cup glory in Qatar last year.
“This is a gift to the whole Argentina team for what we achieved,” said Messi on stage after receiving his award from David Beckham, the co-owner of Inter Miami.
Messi dedicated the trophy to late Argentina legend Diego Maradona, who would have celebrated his 63rd birthday on Monday.
“Happy birthday Diego. This is for you too,” he said.
Messi benefits from a recent change which means the award is based on a player’s record over the last season, rather than over the calendar year.
Messi is 36 and won his first Ballon d’Or in 2009. With eight, he is now three ahead of his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo, the next most decorated player in the award’s history.
It remains to be seen if Messi will again feature in the running for the prize, which one journalist votes for in each of the top 100 nations in the FIFA ranking.
“I am not thinking about the long-term future. I am just enjoying the day to day at the moment,” he said.
World Cup glory
The victory in Qatar meant that Messi has now won every single tournament for his country. In the World Cup final, Argentina reigned supreme against France, sealing a 4-2 win in penalties, after the match ended in a 3-3 thrilling draw. In a closely-fought encounter, the CONMEBOL side first took the lead in the 23rd minute after the Argentine captain converted a penalty, due to a foul on Angel Di Maria in the French box. Then, a quick counter-attack in the 36th minute saw Alexis MacAllister assist Di Maria, who made it 2-0.
With Argentina looking like they were cruising to an easy win, Kylian Mbappe came to France’s rescue and staged a comeback. The PSG attacker levelled proceedings within 97 seconds, scoring an 80th-minute penalty, and then making it 2-2 in the 81st minute with a brilliant volley. In extra time, it looked like Messi had won the match for Argentina when he made it 3-2 in the 108th minute. But Mbappe came to his side’s rescue once again in the 118th minute to make it 3-3. The match entered penalties after extra-time and goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez came out on top, to deny Aurlien Tchouameni and Kingsley Coman as Argentina sealed a 4-2 shootout win. For his performances in Qatar, Messi received the Golden Ball and also the Silver Boot (as the second-highest goalscorer).
After the World Cup, the Argentine failed to replicate his form in the 2022-23 Ligue 1 season as PSG failed to win the UEFA Champions League but successfully defended their Ligue 1 title. Despite helping them win the Ligue 1 title, the Argentine had a disappointing tenure in France and was also booed by fans in his last match with the outfit. Finally departing PSG as a free agent, he joined Inter Miami in a stunning transfer.
His move to the MLS created plenty of headlines as he rejected the likes of Al Hilal and FC Barcelona. He was linked to Saudi Pro League club Al Hilal, who reportedly offered him a huge sum of money. Meanwhile, Barcelona was considered to be his favoured destination, but the club’s poor financial condition made such a move impossible. In 2023, Messi bagged two club titles, bagging the Ligue 1 title with PSG and also winning the Leagues Cup with Miami. His other seven Ballon d’Ors came in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019 and 2021. Meanwhile, he also received The Best FIFA Men’s Player in 2022, after leading Argentina to the Copa America title in 2021.
Women’s award goes to Bonmati
The women’s prize seemed even more clear cut, as Bonmati was rewarded for starring as Spain won the World Cup in Australia in August.
The 25-year-old midfielder was named the best player at the World Cup as the Spanish team overcame off-field turbulence, including protests against their national federation and coach Jorge Vilda, to lift the trophy.
Bonmati also starred as Barcelona won the Champions League last season and was recently named as the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year.
“It is difficult to improve on this. It has been a unique year,” she told various media including AFP.
“If anyone said to me when I was little that I would play at the Camp Nou, win the World Cup, two Champions Leagues, a Ballon d’Or, a UEFA award, these are extraordinary things.”
She was one of four members of the triumphant Spain team to feature among the 30 nominees, with Alba Redondo, Salma Paralluelo and full-back Olga Carmona, who netted the winner in the final, all shortlisted.