Ballon d'Or: Lionel Messi voted world’s best player yet again
Barca failed to win Champions League or Spanish league last year – but still Messi was breathtaking
LIONEL MESSI won a record fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or on Monday night, beating off competition from Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta at a star-studded Fifa ceremony in Zurich. Sporting a sparkly jacket of more dubious quality than his goal-scoring skills, the Argentine striker lifted the prestigious award after another glorious year with Barcelona.
Messi, still only 25, scored 91 goals in 69 matches in 2012, along the way surpassing Gerd Muller's 40-year-old record of goals in a single European season and his feat was acknowledged by the hand-picked voting panel of international football journalists, coaches and captains.
Receiving the trophy from Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro, Messi told the audience: "To tell you the truth this is really quite unbelievable. The fourth award that I have had is just too great for words."
After paying tribute to his team-mates and family, Messi declared: "I'm more interested in team awards than I am about what I might win individually. There have been years where we won more titles that have been better."
Though Barcelona failed to win either the Spanish league or the Champions League last year, Messi's individual exploits were breathtaking. In March he became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match as Barcelona thrashed German side Bayer Leverkusen 7-1. They were part of a final tally of 14 goals in the competition for Messi, a new record for a single Champions League season.
But that wasn't all the diminutive South American achieved. He also broke Barcelona's 57-year-old all-time scoring record in March when he scored a hat-trick against Granada, and in May he smashed another statistic of long-standing when he surpassed Mueller's record of 67 goals in a single season, eventually ending the 2011-12 season with 73.
In other awards, Vicente del Bosque was voted coach of the year for guiding Spain to the 2012 European Championship two years after winning the World Cup, while American Abby Wambach was named women's World Player of the Year.
The only sour note of the evening was struck by the unveiling of the Fifa World XI of the Year. In a season when no Spanish club reached the final of the Champions League, the side featured only Spanish players – five from Real Madrid, five from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao.
The XI was thus dominated by a league that last season was won by Real with 101 points, with Barcelona second on 91 and Valencia a very distant third on 61 points. Hardly the most fiercely competitive league in the world.
That no player from the English, Italian or German leagues could force their way into the XI is extraordinary. It will simply reinforce the belief among many in Europe that the whole awards ceremony is skewed towards the Spanish.