Lionel Messi was crowned soccer’s best player for an unprecedented fourth straight time after the Barcelona and Argentina forward broke the record for goals in a calendar year.
Messi scored 91 times in 2012, overtaking Gerd Muller, who had 85 goals for West Germany and Bayern Munich in 1972. Last night’s Ballon D’Or award puts Messi one ahead of three-time winners Zinedine Zidane of France and Ronaldo of Brazil. Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo came second in the poll, ahead of Messi’s 28-year-old clubmate Andres Iniesta.
“When I was eight years old I never dreamed of being the best,” Messi, 25, said before being presented with the trophy in Zurich. “I don’t dream about it now. The only thing that interests me is to play with the ball and enjoy the game.”
Two years ago, Messi became the first player to claim the current FIFA Ballon d’Or trophy, a prize created when soccer’s ruling body merged its own top-player accolade with France Football magazine’s award. France’s Michel Platini won that prize three straight times from 1983 to 1985.
Madrid’s Ronaldo, named the world’s best player after helping former club Manchester United win the Champions League in 2008, has been Messi’s biggest challenger for the top individual accolade in recent years.
Not ‘Life or Death’
The 27-year-old Ronaldo was the world’s most-expensive transfer when he moved to Madrid. He scored 46 goals in 38 games as the team clinched the Spanish league ahead of Barcelona with a record 100 points and 121 goals. It trails Barca by 16 points in the current campaign.
“It is not a prize of life or death,” said Ronaldo, denying reports that Messi’s monopoly of the award is a source of frustration. “I do not feel much rivalry, at least not personally. Of course we are here to win, but there is no rivalry. It is just about the football -- that is what counts.”
Messi’s alliance with the likes of midfielders Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez has helped turn Barcelona into the dominant force in European soccer in recent seasons. The Catalonia-based team has won three of the last four Spanish championships and is 11 points clear atop the table this season. It’s also won Europe’s top club competition, the Champions League, twice in the past four seasons. The Copa del Rey was Barcelona’s sole title last year.
“This has not been my best year,” Messi said. “I’m more interested in team awards than individual awards. There were other years when we won more trophies, so they were better.”
Messi polled the highest number of votes from national team coaches, captains and selected journalists. FIFA’s original award, established in 1991, didn’t survey the media.
“My record stood for 40 years, 85 goals in 60 games, and now the best player in the world has broken it, and I’m delighted for him,” Muller said after Messi surpassed his tally. “He is an incredible player, gigantic.”
Nicknamed “the Flea” because of his 5-foot-6 1/2 (1.69-meter) frame, Messi trained at Barcelona’s academy after moving to Spain from Argentina for treatment of a growth deficiency when he was 13. He made his debut at 16.
The forward’s contract runs to 2018 and has a 250 million-euro ($325 million) buyout clause. Last March, France Football magazine said Messi was the best-paid soccer player, with annual earnings of 33 million euros.
Messi so far has been unable to match his club success on the international stage and is yet to win a major senior title with Argentina, although he won an Olympic gold medal in 2008. Next year he’ll have the chance to challenge for the World Cup when the competition is hosted in neighboring Brazil.
Spain’s Vicente del Bosque was named coach of the year, after his World Cup-winning team added a second straight European Championship in July. The U.S.’s Abby Wambach got the award for best female player.
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)
2011: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
2012: Lionel Messi (Argentina)