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Lionel Messi wins eighth Ballon d’Or, a first for an active MLS player

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Messi, who joined Inter Miami in July, becomes the first active player in Major League Soccer to win the most prestigious individual award in the sport.

epa10949611 Argentine international Lionel Messi is joined on stage by his three sons after winning the Ballon d’Or 2023 during the Ballon d’Or 2023 ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, France, 30 October 2023. EPA/MOHAMMED BADRA

Lionel Messi extended his own record Monday by winning his eighth Ballon d’Or award, the honour given to soccer players deemed to have been the best in the world over the past season.

Messi, who joined Inter Miami in July, becomes the first active player in Major League Soccer to win the most prestigious individual award in the sport. While Messi’s goal-scoring prowess helped Miami win its first trophy at the Leagues Cup final in August, those exploits came after the end of the European club season that forms the new time frame for Ballon d’Or voting. (Before 2022, it was based on the calendar year.)

At his previous club, Paris Saint-Germain, the Argentine superstar had a fine 2022-23 season, but it was his leadership of his home nation to a World Cup triumph last year that probably pushed him past Erling Haaland for this year’s Ballon d’Or. Manchester City’s scoring maven came in second, with Kylian Mbappé, Messi’s former PSG teammate, third and Kevin De Bruyne, another Manchester City standout, fourth.

At the ceremony in Paris for the Ballon d’Or, which is overseen by French magazine France Football, Messi said in Spanish, “It’s nice to be here once more to enjoy this moment, to be able to win the World Cup and achieve my dream.” He was given his trophy by David Beckham, the runner-up for the award in 1999 who co-owns Inter Miami.

The second-oldest player to win the Ballon d’Or (per ESPN), the 36-year-old Messi has three more than anyone else. Longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo, now with Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr, has won the award five times. A trio of previous-era stars in Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten are next at three each. The award has been presented by France Football since 1956; it expanded beyond European players in 1995, and in 2007 it began including players of any origin at any club in the world.

This year’s Ballon d’Or Féminin, a category created in 2018 for the top women’s player, went to Aitana Bonmatí. The 25-year-old Barcelona midfielder helped Spain win the World Cup in August. It is the third straight year a Barcelona player has taken the award; it went to midfielder Alexia Putellas in 2021 and ’22.

Messi was playing for the Barcelona men’s team when he won his first six Ballon d’Or awards between 2009 and 2019. He was on PSG’s roster for his seventh win in 2021, but a relatively subpar inaugural campaign for the French powerhouse resulted in Messi getting left off the list of finalists last year for Ballon d’Or voting. He bounced back this past season for PSG but shined brightest during the World Cup, when Messi became the first player to score in every round of the tournament, from the group stage to a two-goal performance in a riveting final.

“Tonight I’m enjoying myself,” he said through an interpreter Monday (via the Associated Press). “It’s a pleasure that will never leave me, and I hope to be able to enjoy it for many years to come. Becoming world champion was the title we were missing. I’d like to thank everyone who helped make Argentina the world champion team.”

Haaland made a strong case for best season solely at the club level by helping Manchester City win a coveted treble: titles in the Champions League, English Premier League and FA Cup. Along the way, the 23-year-old Norwegian striker scored a record 36 goals in 35 Premier League matches and 52 across all competitions.

Messi helped PSG win the Ligue 1 title last season while scoring 16 goals and adding 16 assists in 32 domestic matches, after which he was named the league’s best foreign player.

The Washington Post

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