PARIS, December 1 – Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina on Tuesday was awarded the Ballon d'Or accolade as Europe-based footballer of the year.Messi, whom Cristiano Ronaldo beat into second place last season, easily saw off the Portuguese striker, who moved to Real Madrid from Manchester United, by 473 points to 233.
Messi got the vote for a tremendous year in which his mercurial talents stood out for Barcelona as the Catalan club marched to an unprecedented treble of Champions League – he scored against United in the final – Spanish league title and Spanish Cup.
Barca teammates were also hailed with midfielder Xavi taking third place with 170 points while Iniesta was fourth on 149.
In fifth place was Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o, who left Barca to join Inter Milan in the summer after winning his second Champions League. He was the club’s other scorer in the 2-0 final win over United as Barcelona won their third crown.
Messi, who Argentina coach Diego Maradona picked out as his heir four years ago, was in the youth team in Newells Old Boys in his homeland before Barcelona discovered him. The club swiftly brought him to Europe – paying for treatment for the youngster’s growth hormone deficiency.
"Without growth hormones Lionel would have grown, at best, to 1m50 by the time he reached adulthood," his father Jorge once told L’Equipe Magazine.
Messi becomes the first Argentine to win the award – opened to non-European nationals 15 years ago with Liberia’s George Weah the first non-European winner.
Brazilian Kaka, who won two years ago, came in sixth this year with just 58 points.
Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahomovic, now Messi’s teammate at Barca after arriving from Inter Milan, placed seventh ahead of Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, Chelsea’s Ivorian striker Didier Drogba and Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard’s Liverpool teammate Fernando Torres was 11th and Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas was 12th.
Thierry Henry, another of Messi’s Barca colleagues and who has never won the award, came in 15th.
The first winner, in 1956, was England wing wizard Stanley Matthews.
Others honours include Alfredo Di Stefano, Raymond Kopa, Denis Law, Lev Yashin, Eusebio, Bobby Charlton – in England’s World Cup-winning year of 1966 – George Best, Gerd Muller, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Kevin Keegan, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Michel Platini, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Michael Owen and Ronaldinho.
Having added to his growing personal trophy haul, Lionel Andres Messi, nicknamed La Pulga – the flea – is now itching to follow up and transfer his talents to the World Cup stage in South Africa next summer.
Last time out, in 2006, he was a frustrated spectator as former coach Jose Pekerman left him on the bench for the 2006 quarter-final penalty shootout loss on penalties to Germany.