Lionel Messi cemented his legacy as one of the world’s all-time greats, winning a record fifth FIFA Player of the Year award Monday night, beating out rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Neymar for the sport’s top individual honor.
Messi, who came into the evening as the record-holder for Ballon D’Or wins, had spent the last two years sitting in the audience, as his arch-rival, Ronaldo, won back-to-back awards. But order was restored with a dominant show last year that saw the Argentine lead Barcelona to an historic treble and an appearance at the 2015 Copa America finals.
Humble before the awards, Messi told reporters that, “just to be here for a ninth time is truly amazing, and I am already satisfied just to be here.” But after he had the trophy in his hands, Messi could not resist a dig at the man who is widely considered his only true rival in the game.
“It’s a very special moment for me to be back here on this stage winning again, after being there in the audience watching as Cristiano won for two years,” said Messi with a sly grin. “It is incredible that it is my fifth award, and it is much more than anything I dreamed of as a kid. I want to thank everyone who voted and my teammates, for without them none of this would ever have been possible. I also want to thank football for everything it has brought me, both bad and good. It has made me grow and learn, always.”
Messi enjoyed a career year with Barcelona despite struggling with injuries. Scoring 43 goals to lead the Catalans to the La Liga title, Messi also pounded in ten goals and racked up six assists in their victorious Champions League campaign. And, memorably, Messi scored the decisive goal in the Copa Del Rey final, a brilliant, swarming run down the gut against Atletico Madrid that secured the crown.
If there was a knock this year for Messi, it was that his Argentina again stumbled on the big stage, unexpectedly losing to hosts Chile in the Copa American final. Uncharacteristically nervous, Argentina labored to a scoreless draw, and while Messi made his penalty attempt in the tie-breaker, his teammates did not, allowing Alexis Sanchez to secure the title for Chile.
Messi was a runaway winner, collecting 41.3% of the ballots, far ahead of Ronaldo at 27.8% and Neymar at 7.9%. With his Barcelona a favorite to repeat both in la Liga and in the Champions League, expect him to be back on stage next January as well.