Lionel Messi reached the pinnacle of global football once again, winning a record-extending 8th Ballon d’Or award on Monday night in recognition of his instrumental role in guiding Argentina to their long-awaited World Cup championship in 2022.
The Paris ceremony cemented 36-year-old Messi’s status as one of the greatest footballers ever. After years of near misses, he finally achieved the ultimate prize in Qatar, leading Argentina to the final and scoring twice, along with converting his penalty kick in the dramatic shootout victory over defending champion France.
Messi Joins the List of “Over-36 Winners”
By claiming the 2022 Ballon d’Or at 36 years and 4 months old, Messi becomes only the second player over 36 to earn the honor. Stanley Matthews was the inaugural Ballon d’Or winner in 1956 at the age of 41.
The age of the two oldest winners underscores how extraordinarily rare it is for players to maintain elite performance deep into their thirties. Messi’s continued excellence shows his commitment to conditioning and preparation, allowing him to summon the brilliance that made him a six-time winner in his twenties.
First MLS Player to Claim Award, Although World Cup Exploits Take Center Stage
Messi spent last season with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain before moving stateside to join Inter Miami in Major League Soccer. He is the first MLS player to win the Ballon d’Or, no small feat given the improving quality of the American league.
However, there is no mistaking that Messi’s World Cup accomplishments took center stage in the voting criteria. His 7 goals and 3 assists spearheaded Argentina’s run through the knockout stage. With the trophy finally in his grasp after four previous World Cup heartbreaks, Messi exorcised the demons that had unfairly lingered over his international career.
— Ballon d’Or #ballondor (@ballondor) October 30, 2023
Haaland’s Prolific Start Presages Future Ballon d’Or Contention
Manchester City phenom Erling Haaland finished second in the Ballon d’Or voting on the back of a scintillating Premier League debut season. The 22-year-old Norwegian striker scored a staggering 52 goals across competitions, powering City to a domestic treble.
Haaland appears poised to become Messi’s heir apparent as the world’s most feared striker. With his combination of size, speed, and finishing ability, Haaland is a nightmare for EPL defenses. As he gains more refinement and experience, he figures to contend for the Ballon d’Or regularly over the next decade.
World Cup Redemption Story Made Messi the Sentimental Favorite
While the Ballon d’Or is meant to recognize a player’s performance over the entire previous year, there is no denying that Messi’s World Cup redemption carried significant weight with voters.
After painful runner-up finishes in 2014 and consecutive Copa America final losses, the soccer world willed Messi to lift that elusive World Cup trophy finally. His performance in Qatar delivered on that promise in storybook fashion.
From his iconic tournament-opening penalty against Saudi Arabia to his mesmerizing assist to Molina against Mexico, Messi rose to the occasion repeatedly. By the time he coolly converted his shootout attempt in the final, he had put to rest any notion that he needed a World Cup to validate his GOAT status.
Messi Pays Tribute to Maradona on Late Legend’s Birthday
In his gracious Ballon d’Or acceptance speech, Messi paid homage to Argentine icon Diego Maradona, who tragically passed away in November 2020.
Messi noted that the award ceremony serendipitously fell on what would have been Maradona’s 63rd birthday. He expressed hope that somewhere, Maradona would be looking down and sharing in the celebration, “surrounded by the best players, coaches, and people who love football like he did.”
It was a moving gesture by Messi, who has so often been measured unfairly against the larger-than-life figure of Maradona in Argentina. While their styles differed, both reached the pinnacle of the sport and obtained god-like status in their homeland.
With eight Ballons d’Or and a World Cup trophy now to his name, Messi has carved out his own place in history alongside Maradona as one of football’s immortals. This latest triumph only adds to his eternal legend.