Lionel Messi, the revered Inter Miami and Argentina forward, has etched his name deeper into football history by securing his eighth Ballon d’Or title. This latest accolade, announced in a grand ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, comes in the wake of his pivotal role in leading Argentina to their long-awaited World Cup victory in Qatar.
Last year’s World Cup saw Messi at the zenith of his prowess. His leadership was instrumental in ending a 36-year championship drought for Argentina. In a pulsating final against France that ended in a 3-3 draw after extra time, Messi’s two goals, and his decisive penalty, showcased his unerring poise under pressure. His exemplary performance throughout the tournament didn’t go unnoticed as he was named the player of the match.
The journey to this eighth Ballon d’Or wasn’t without fierce competition. Talents like Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, Messi’s former PSG colleague Kylian Mbappe, and 26 other football stalwarts were in contention. Messi’s stats from the previous season were remarkable; he boasted 21 goals and 20 assists from 41 matches with PSG, and was a constant scoring presence throughout the World Cup, finding the net against teams like Australia, the Netherlands, and Croatia.
His World Cup exploits didn’t end there. Messi was awarded the Golden Ball, recognizing him as the tournament’s best player. In his acceptance speech, he expressed heartfelt gratitude to his teammates and the coaching staff, emphasizing the dream-come-true nature of their World Cup triumph. He closed with a touching tribute, wishing the late Diego Maradona a happy birthday.
After a storied 17-year career with Barcelona, Messi transitioned to the MLS, signing with Inter Miami. His time at Barcelona, spanning from 2004 to 2021, saw him clinching the Ballon d’Or multiple times, with the first being in 2009 at the age of 22. Fourteen years on, this latest award solidifies his unparalleled legacy in the sport.
While Messi’s eighth title is a record, it’s worth noting that football great Cristiano Ronaldo, now with Al Nassr, holds five titles. Interestingly, 2023 marked the first year since 2003 that Ronaldo wasn’t nominated. The Premier League also had a significant presence in the nominations, with notable players like Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, and Julian Alvarez among the frontrunners.
In a gracious gesture, Messi addressed his fellow nominees, praising their achievements and potential. The ceremony also spotlighted other talents: Spain’s Aitana Bonmati clinched the Ballon d’Or Feminin after her World Cup win, and Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham was honored as the best young player, receiving the Kopa Trophy.