Messi Wins FIFA’s Ballon d’Or Award

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Frank Augstein/AP
Frank Augstein/AP

Lionel Messi with the FIFA Ballon d'Or

Not only he is the most gifted soccer player of his generation but Argentina and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has once again been recognized as such by his peers and journalists. But was he truly deserving of FIFA’s top award?

The 23-year-old Messi took the inaugural Ballon d’Or — a merger with FIFA’s Player of the Year prize — ahead of his Barca team-mates Andres Iniesta and Xavi. And by doing so, Messi became the first player since the great Dutch master, Marco Van Basten in 1988/89, to do so two years running. “I’m surprised to win but pleased to be here with my friends,” said Messi in typically understated fashion. “I want to share it with all of my friends, my family, all the Barcelonistas and the Argentinians,” he continued, seemingly covering all the bases.

(See pictures of Messi and the other top soccer stars.)

And while Messi is a deserving winner (he scored an incredible 60 goals for club and country in 2010), deep down he might admit that his teammates had a better case this year, if only because they’re unlikely to have better campaigns at any other stage of their careers. Iniesta netted the winning goal in the World Cup final as Spain beat Netherlands 1-0 and Xavi was the central force behind Spain’s triumph, at times driving his country single-handedly and inspiring the rest of the troops.

Indeed, Messi was classy enough to concede that, “They also deserved it for the wonderful year they had. They won the World Cup, which usually goes a long way to deciding who wins this award, and they both had big parts to play in that.” The Spanish press were predictably outraged and pointed the finger of blame at — quelle surprise — FIFA President Sepp Blatter. The daily AS said “Spain is very angry,” and Marca went with “Two Giants and one Anti-Spaniard” in reference to Messi, the coach of the year Jose Mourinho and Blatter.

“(Blatter) had the chance to once again show his ill-will toward everything Spanish,” Marca wrote. “Only a few days ago he left us without the chance to organize the World Cup by instead opting for Russia and yesterday he left us without a prize that Spanish football deserved.” But the simple truth may be that Xavi and Iniesta split the vote, leaving Messi’s path to victory all too clear. Intriguingly, eight of the 20 winners of the FIFA award have come from Barcelona, but hail from South America: Brazilians Romario (1994), Ronaldo (1996 and 1997), Rivaldo (1999), Ronaldinho (2004, 2005) and now Messi.

(See pictures of World Cup stadiums.)

Other awards handed out, in addition to Messi and Mourinho, saw Hamit Altintop winning the Puskas Award for Goal of the Year for his wonder strike for Turkey against Kazakhstan, Brazilian striker Marta took the Women’s Player of the Year for a fifth consecutive time and Germany’s Silvia Neid won the Women’s Coach of the Year. As for Messi, he’s already the bookmakers favorite to win it again in 2011 and thus become only the second player, after France’s Michel Platini, to do the hat-trick. You wouldn’t dare bet against him. (via BBC)

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