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Lionel Messi Keeps Crown as World’s Best Soccer Player

Jan. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Argentina’s Lionel Messi eclipsed his Barcelona teammates Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta to retain his crown as soccer’s best player.

Messi is the first recipient of the FIFA Ballon d’Or trophy after soccer’s ruling body merged its top-player prize with France Football magazine’s award. The 23-year-old won both accolades last time.

“To tell you the truth I didn’t expect to win it today,” Messi said at the award ceremony in Zurich. “It’s already a source of happiness to be here with my friends, and to win it makes it an even more special day for me. I’d like to share this with my friends and teammates, without whom I wouldn’t be here.”

Messi’s attacking play was the driving force as Barcelona followed up a sweep of titles in 2009 by clinching a second-straight Spanish league crown last year with a record 99-point haul. He scored 34 goals in 35 league games and has 18 from 15 in this campaign as Barca again tops the table.

Messi won the 2010 award announced today after polling the highest number of votes from national team coaches, captains and selected journalists. FIFA’s original award, established in 1991, didn’t poll the media.

He was the first Argentine to hold the FIFA award and becomes the third player to retain the title following Brazilian duo Ronaldinho and Ronaldo.

Nicknamed “The Flea” because of his 5-foot-6 1/2 (1.69-meter) frame, Messi emerged through the ranks at Barcelona after moving to Spain to undergo treatment for a growth deficiency when he was 13. He made his debut at 16.

Mourinho Accolade

The forward’s contract runs to 2016 and has a 250 million-euro ($323 million) buyout clause. He showed glimpses of his ability in the World Cup but was unable to push Argentina beyond the quarterfinals, where it lost 4-0 to Germany.

Spanish national teammates Xavi, 30, and Iniesta, 26, were the other players on the shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d’Or. They returned to their home country as champions after Iniesta scored in the 1-0 World Cup final victory over the Netherlands on July 11.

The Ballon d’Or, or European Footballer of the Year award, started in 1956 and was originally limited to players of European nationalities before being broadened to include those of other countries.

Jose Mourinho, who led Inter Milan to a treble of Italian league, cup and Champions League titles, was named FIFA’s first coach of the year, beating Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola and Spanish national coach Vicente del Bosque. Mourinho has since moved to Real Madrid.

Five Barcelona players were named in FIFA’s team of the year: Xavi, Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and David Villa.

Brazil’s Marta clinched a fifth Women’s World Player of the Year award, beating German duo Fatmire Bajramaj and Birgit Prinz.

FIFA PLAYER OF THE YEAR

1991: Lothar Matthaeus (Germany)

1992: Marco van Basten (Netherlands)

1993: Roberto Baggio (Italy)

1994: Romario (Brazil)

1995: George Weah (Liberia)

1996: Ronaldo (Brazil)

1997: Ronaldo (Brazil)

1998: Zinedine Zidane (France)

1999: Rivaldo (Brazil)

2000: Zinedine Zidane (France)

2001: Luis Figo (Portugal)

2002: Ronaldo (Brazil)

2003: Zinedine Zidane (France)

2004: Ronaldinho (Brazil)

2005: Ronaldinho (Brazil)

2006: Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)

2007: Kaka (Brazil)

2008: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

2009: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

2010: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Zurich via the London sports desk on tpanja@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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