“It would have felt perfect.”
Lionel Messi stretched his own incredible world football record, on Monday, when he won the Ballon d’Or for the eighth time in his career.
The Inter Miami and Argentina star, who first claimed the individual accolade in 2009, had been level with Cristiano Ronaldo on six until 2021, the year he helped Argentina to a Copa America title. With the 2022 World Cup being included in the time-frame for this award, Messi eased to his eighth win.
The award was presented to Messi by David Beckham and the 36-year-old was joined on stage by his three sons as he lifted the Ballon d’Or and took in the standing ovation that followed.
“Thanks to everyone, especially my teammates,” he began. “Thank you to everyone who voted for me.
“This Ballon d’Or is a great gift for all of Argentina. I don’t want to forget Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappé, who had a great year, spectacular, and in the coming years they will win this award.
“The level [of competition] never decreases, I have been lucky to be here for many years. I want to provide a special mention for all those people who were happy that Argentina became world champions. Thanks also to all my family, my wife, my children, for being there in the worst moments, and they have helped me fulfill my dreams in football. Without you it would not have been possible.”
While Messi was quick to mention Haaland and Mbappé, he made a point to return to the Manchester City striker, later in his speech.
Lionel Messi’s special message to Erling Haaland
During his acceptance speech at the Ballon d’Or ceremony, Lionel Messi was keen to get in a mention to Maradonna on what would have been his 63rd birthday.
“Happy birthday,” he said. “I think there is no better place than here to congratulate him, full of players and with a ball. This Ballon d’Or is also yours and that of all of Argentina.”
Messi then returned to Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé, who were both seated in the front row of the auditorium. Mbappé famously scored a hat-trick in the 4-3 World Cup final defeat to Messi’s Argentina. Both men were teammates at PSG.
Haaland scored 64 goals for club and country in 2022/23 and was pivotal in Manchester City’s treble success. The Norwegian was second in the voting. Many football fans made comments stating Haaland was more deserving of the honour than Messi, who scored 21 goals in his final season with PSG before moving to Major League Soccer in the USA. On his closest Ballon d’Or rivals, Messi said:
“It’s going to be a nice fight between the two of them and between several other younger players around here.
“They both deserved it this year. Erling, this could have been yours and it would have felt perfect.”
Before he was finished, Messi said it was important to ’emphasise the importance of the team’.
“This is secondary,” he continued. “Look at [Manchester] City, they have been the best and achieved everything last season.
“I have been very lucky, I have played for the best team in the world, the best in history, I have been able to win many individual awards thanks to that. With Argentina I have had very bad times, but I never gave up on winning the Copa America and World Cup, and that’s why I’m proud of not having given up.”
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