Lionel Messi admitted winning the Copa America with Argentina might have been the determining factor in him claiming the men’s Ballon d’Or prize for the seventh time after a turbulent year, as Spain’s Alexia Putellas took the women’s award.
Now 34, Messi pipped much-fancied rivals like Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema to take the award in a glittering ceremony on Monday in Paris, the city he now calls home after leaving boyhood club Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in August.
Despite his tearful goodbye from Barcelona and his relatively underwhelming start to life in France, the jury of journalists from around the world rewarded him in particular for captaining Argentina to their first major international title since 1993.
“Two years ago I thought I was coming into my final years but here I am again back here,” said Messi, who won the last edition of the Ballon d’Or in 2019 before last year’s awards were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Messi also won in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and in 2015.
“People were starting to ask me when I was going to retire but now I am here in Paris and I am very happy,” he said at the Chatelet Theatre in central Paris, where he was joined by his wife Antonella Roccuzzo and their three children.
“I don’t know how many more years I have left but I hope there will be many because I am really enjoying myself this year.
“What I achieved with Argentina was a dream come true. I think I won this trophy thanks to what we did at the Copa America, so I dedicate it to my teammates.”
Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in the final in Rio de Janeiro as Messi won a major title with his country for the first time. He also scored 38 goals in 48 games in his final season with Barcelona and won the Copa del Rey.