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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Messi wins Ballon d'Or award

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Lionel Messi won the eighth Ballon d'Or of his remarkable career at a glittering ceremony in Paris on Monday, while Spain's World Cup-winning star Aitana Bonmati took the women's prize.


For Messi, the trophy rewards, above all else, his inspirational performances at last year's World Cup in Qatar, when he dragged Argentina to victory, scoring seven goals and being named the tournament's best player.


Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi


It was the crowning moment of his astonishing career, and it allowed him to see off stiff competition, in particular from Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, to take the award on the stage of the Chatelet Theatre in Paris. It was a return to the French capital after his departure from Paris Saint-Germain in June and his subsequent move to Inter Miami in Major League Soccer.


"This is a gift to the whole Argentina team for what we achieved," said Messi on stage after receiving his award from David Beckham, the co-owner of Inter Miami. Messi dedicated the trophy to late Argentina legend Diego Maradona, who would have celebrated his 63rd birthday on Monday. "Happy birthday Diego. This is for you too," he said.


Messi benefits from a recent change which means the award is based on a player's record over the last season, rather than over the calendar year. He won despite an underwhelming final season at PSG, even if he was a Ligue 1 title winner.


Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi


- Mbappe, Haaland just miss out - Mbappe was the star player in that team, scoring 41 goals, and was also the World Cup's top scorer with eight goals, including a hat-trick in the final which France lost to Argentina on penalties. Yet he fell just short for the Ballon d'Or, finishing third, while Norway striker Haaland came second after scoring 52 goals in 53 games for the Manchester City team that won the treble of English Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League. Messi is 36 and won his first Ballon d'Or in 2009.


With eight, he is now three ahead of his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo, the next most decorated player in the history of the award. It remains to be seen if Messi will again feature in the running for the prize, which is voted for by one journalist in each of the top 100 nations in the FIFA ranking. "I am not thinking about the long-term future. I am just enjoying the day to day at the moment," he said. Messi will struggle to hold off the next wave of superstars, led by Mbappe, Haaland and Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham, but his World Cup performances made his victory this time feel inevitable.


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The women's prize seemed even more clear cut, as Bonmati was rewarded for starring as Spain won the World Cup in Australia in August. The 25-year-old midfielder was named the best player at the World Cup as the Spanish team overcame off-field turbulence, including protests against their national federation and coach Jorge Vilda, to lift the trophy.


- 'Unique year' - Bonmati also starred as Barcelona won the Champions League last season and was recently named as the UEFA Women's Player of the Year. "It is difficult to improve on this. It has been a unique year," she told various media including AFP. "If anyone said to me when I was little that I would play at the Camp Nou, win the World Cup, two Champions Leagues, a Ballon d'Or, a UEFA award, these are extraordinary things."


She was one of four members of the triumphant Spain team to feature among the 30 nominees, with Alba Redondo, Salma Paralluelo and full-back Olga Carmona, who netted the winner in the final, all shortlisted. Last year's Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas, also part of that Spain side, was not nominated after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury.


Australia's Sam Kerr came second with Paralluelo in third place. Putellas had won the Ballon d'Or in each of the previous two campaigns. Norway's Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural award in 2018 and USA star Megan Rapinoe succeeded her a year later. Bellingham won the Kopa Trophy for the best player of last season aged under 21.


The 20-year-old has started his Madrid career with 13 goals in 13 games, although the prize rewards his performances in his final campaign with Borussia Dortmund. Bellingham's Madrid teammate, the Brazil forward Vinicius Junior, won the Socrates prize in recognition of his off-pitch work. Messi's Argentina colleague Emiliano Martinez won the Yashin Trophy for the best goalkeeper of the season.


Lionel Messi said Monday he was not thinking about his long-term future as he sought to enjoy winning the eighth Ballon d'Or of his storied career. Messi, 36, succeeded Karim Benzema as the winner of the prize, awarded on the back of his performances last season, when he inspired Argentina to glory at the World Cup in Qatar.


"The last one I won was also thanks to what we achieved with the Argentine national team in the Copa America (in 2021), but this one is much more special because it comes after we won the World Cup," Messi told various media including AFP after collecting his award at a ceremony in Paris. "That is the trophy everyone wants to win the most, and it was a dream come true for me, my teammates and my country." He dragged Argentina to a victory in Qatar that crowned his remarkable career and allowed him to see off stiff competition for the Ballon d'Or from Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland in particular. Haaland came second in the final voting, with Mbappe third and Kevin De Bruyne in fourth place.


Former Barcelona superstar Messi scored seven times at the World Cup and was named the tournament's best player after Argentina beat France on penalties in the final in Doha. Yet Messi, who won his first Ballon d'Or in 2009, also had an underwhelming final season at Paris Saint-Germain, before leaving to play for Inter Miami in Major League Soccer.


He played down suggestions he could come back for another Ballon d'Or, possibly after the next World Cup in 2026, when he will be 39. "I am not thinking about the long-term future. I am just enjoying the day-to-day at the moment," he said.


"We have a Copa America coming up in the United States, where I am now, in which we are the holders, so I am looking forward to coming into that in good shape and then just see how I am getting on from there."


Messi admitted on his return to the French capital that his two-year stint at PSG had not turned out the way he imagined upon signing from Barcelona in 2021. "Things didn't turn out as I hoped but I enjoyed the city a lot, and my kids liked it a lot and found it hard to leave," he said. "It is a spectacular city and I was lucky to live here. Football-wise it did not go the way I hoped but I prefer to remember the many good things."


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