Lionel Messi further cemented his place in footballing history when he last night joined a very select group of players to ever bag a hat-trick of Ballon d’Or awards at a ceremony in Zurich.
The Argentine maestro beat fellow La Liga players Christiano Ronaldo and Xavi to coveted award and joined the likes of France’s Zinedine Zidan and Brazil’s Ronaldo and Michel Platini to scoop the award three times.
As Messi took to the world stage to secure his place in the annals of sporting history he was fittingly turned out in a bordeaux velvet jacket with black satin revers, black velvet waistcoat, black tie and black tuxedo trousers by Dolce&Gabbana. For moments like these in a player’s career suitable attire is required and as Messi is dressed off-field by Dolce&Gabbana the image of the (three-time) best player in the world that graces front pages all over the world today is of a football genius with style and grace off the pitch too.
Time will tell if Messi will go on to become the first player to achieve the accolade for a fourth time but the signs are good as he continues to light up an extraordinary season for Barcelona in which he has scored 53 goals in all competitions.
An illustration of Messi's Dolce&Gabbana look for the award gala in Zurich
"It's a great personal pleasure for me," said Messi. "It's the third time I've won it. It's just an amazing honour. I want to thank everyone that's been involved with me - my team-mates, trainers, physios, the coach and everyone at Barcelona.
Xavi, who won the award in 2011 and is the architect of many of Messi’s goals as all of Barcelona’s football flows through him said, "He's still young, only 24, and I think he's going to break all the records that exist in this sport. He's going to be one of the best footballers in the history of the sport."
Fellow nominee and star player for arch rivals Real Madrid, Christiano Ronaldo, who claimed the prize in 2008, also had a storming season with 53 goals, but it is Barcelona who are the irresistible force with their sights set on a fourth consecutive La Liga title and a third Champions League trophy.
Incredibly, Messi is still only 24 years old and with at least another decade of top level football ahead of him there is no limit to the achievements he is capable. ‘Best player in the world’ three years in a row may pale into insignificance when he looks back at a career that may see him lauded as the best player in the world, ever.
Messi in velvet suit Dolce&Gabbana FW11
Brazilian Pele and Dutchman Johan Cryuff, long declared as the greatest to ever play the game, must surely be looking over their shoulder as the natural successor to Maradona grows from strength to strength. A lot is made of whether certain players could make the same impact if they played in other eras but the general consensus is that Messi would shine in any game in any year.
Alex Ferguson, who was nominated for Manager of the Year, paid tribute to Messi, "The answer to that is great players would play in any generation. Lionel Messi could play in the 1950s and the present day, as could Di Stefano, Pele, Maradona, Cruyff because they are all great players. Lionel Messi without question fits into that category."
Despite what they say, this current generation of players with all the money awash in the game and with all the rigours of top level professionalism may have provided the football-loving public with the greatest icon of all time.
Other winners on the night were Pep Guardiola for Coach of the Year and 19-year-old Brazilian Neymar who claimed the FIFA Puskas award for Goal of the Year.
Watch Neymar’s goal here.
by Hugo Mc Cafferty