Lionel Messi has been awarded the 2019 Ballon d’Or.
At a star-studded ceremony in Paris on Monday evening, the FC Barcelona star was crowned the world’s best player for the first time since 2015 and on a record sixth occasion overall after seeing off strong competition from the likes of Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk.
Buzz had been growing for weeks that the Argentine was a cert for soccer’s highest individual accolade. Especially in Catalonia, where the autnomous province’s two main newspapers, Mundo Deportivo and SPORT, filled column inches with claims that the club and country captain had done enough to please the jury.
This of course consisted of 182 respected journalists worldwide, but as recent as last week, Mundo Deportivo insisted that France Football, the magazine that established the prize before being joined by FIFA in 2010, had already been in Barcelona to conduct an interview and photoshoot with the 32-year-old.
Messi’s stranglehold on the golden ball began in 2009, which is when he claimed the treble under Pep Guardiola and then set off on an unprecedented run of four straight wins that was interrupted by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo, then at Real Madrid, ruled for two straight editions before Messi, this time on Luis Enrique’s watch, sealed another club triple crown in 2015 and was handed a record fifth golden ball for his troubles.
Owing to Ronaldo’s part in Los Blancos lifting the Champions League in 2016 and becoming the first team to retain it twice in 2017, the Portuguese eventually drew level with the club and country captain.
Making excuses for his absence from the gala, Ronaldo was not present to see Messi pip him once more and, with the Juventus striker now aged 34 and showing signs of winding down, perhaps for all eternity.
With regards to this year’s edition of the competition, Van Dijk clinched the Champions League, which was indeed achieved by edging Barça with an epic 4-3 aggregate comeback semi-final win at Anfield on the way. Yet Messi has, over the duration of 2018-2019 and what has been played of this current campaign, scored no less than 47 goals while also providing 19 assists in 55 matches.
In terms of silverware, he also won La Liga, the Spanish Super Copa, the Pichichi for Spain’s top scorer, the golden boot for being Europe’s leading marksman and was the Champions League’s most successful scorer with 12 in total last term.
Accepting the trophy, which he placed alongside his previous five, Messi said: “I would like to thank all the journalists to have voted for me, who wanted me to win this prize. Thank you so much to my colleagues from the club, and all my colleagues who have contributed a lot for this prize. It's really amazing."
Later he added: “I am aware of how old I am and these moments are much more enjoyable because the moment of withdrawal [from the game] is approaching, and it is difficult. Time flies and increasingly passes faster."
Elsewhere, Megan Rapinoe won best female player and Alisson beat Messi’s FC Barcelona teammate Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to the Yashin Trophy for best goalkeeper. Matthijs de Ligt, now starring alongside Ronaldo at Juventus, clinched the Kopa Trophy for the best player under the age of 21.