PARIS, France, January 9 – Lionel Messi will find out on Monday if he has become the first man since Michel Platini to win the Ballon d’Or for three years running when the winner of the 2011 award is announced at a ceremony in Zurich.
The Barcelona superstar won the inaugural FIFA Ballon d’Or — a combination of the France Football Ballon d’Or prize and FIFA’s World Player of the Year award — last year, having picked up both awards in 2009.
Messi’s rivals for the honour are his Barcelona team-mate Xavi and his great Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who won the Ballon d’Or in 2008.
Xavi was also shortlisted for the 2010 prize and finished in third place, behind another Barca colleague, Andres Iniesta.
Messi, 24, will start as a strong favourite to retain his prize, after a year in which he inspired his club to a La Liga and Champions League double.
He scored twice, including a memorable solo goal at the Bernabeu, as Barca beat old enemies Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals and was also on target in the 3-1 defeat of Manchester United in the final at Wembley.
This season he has scored his 200th goal for Barcelona and is closing in on Cesar Rodriguez’ all-time record of 235 goals for the club.
Like Messi, 26-year-old Ronaldo scores at a rate of roughly once a game and last season broke the record for most goals scored in a La Liga season with 40 as his side finished runners-up to Barcelona.
He scored an extra-time winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barca in April and found the net for the 100th time in a Real shirt when he scored a brace at Lyon in the Champions League in November.
The award is voted for by national team coaches and captains, as well as a panel of football journalists selected by France Football magazine.
Platini, the current UEFA president, held the award between 1983 and 1985 while playing for Juventus and is the only man to have won it in three consecutive years.
In the award for Men’s Coach of the Year, Messi’s Barcelona mentor Pep Guardiola is up against Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United.
The winner of FIFA’s Ferenc Puskas Award for the best goal of the year will also be revealed, with Wayne Rooney’s spectacular overhead bicycle kick for Manchester United against Manchester City leading the nominations.
Messi’s inventive chip over the goalkeeper and volley against Arsenal in the Champions League and a slaloming solo goal by Brazilian sensation Neymar in a league game for Santos against Flamengo were also shortlisted.
In the women’s equivalent of the Ballon d’Or, holder Marta of Brazil is nominated alongside USA striker Abby Wambach and Japan’s Homare Sawa, who finished top scorer at last year’s women’s World Cup in Germany.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki was recognised for leading his country to their first ever World Cup title by being named in the shortlist for the Women’s Coach of the Year prize.
France’s Bruno Bini and the USA’s Swedish coach Pia Sundhage were also shortlisted.