Messi wins World Player of the Year
Lionel Messi claimed the World Player of the Year award on Monday
to nearly complete his collection of football's greatest honors.
Messi tacked on the prestigious award to his growing list of accolades at a FIFA gala ceremony in Zurich, easily outdistancing the last two winners - Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka - along with his Barcelona teammates Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in voting among national team captains and coaches.
It caps a perfect year for the winger, who won an unprecedented treble of titles with Barcelona - the Spanish league and cup, and the Champions League - and received the Ballon D'Or as the best player in Europe. He also sealed Barcelona's first Club World Cup on Saturday with an extra-time goal to beat Estudiantes 2-1.
All that eludes the 22-year-old Argentine now is a World Cup title.
"It is beautiful to achieve a year that cannot possibly be improved," Messi said through a translator. He called the award "the icing on the cake."
Messi, who was runner-up the last two years, received 1,047 points in voting. Ronaldo was second with 352 points, followed by Xavi with 196 points.
Messi scored 38 goals in 51 matches in all competitions during 2008-2009 season, and has continued with 15 goals in 22 games this campaign as Barcelona have surged to the top of La Liga and back to the Champions League knockout phase.
But his form with Argentina has been less spectacular.
The South American giants only stumbled into the World Cup after late winners in the final qualifying matches against Peru and Uruguay, with Messi in particular appearing confused and uninspired since Diego Maradona took over as coach last year.
Maradona has labeled Messi his "successor" on the field, and Messi has already surpassed the former great in terms of successes at club level. But his only international triumph was an Olympic gold medal in 2006, and he will have to play much better for his country to lead Argentina to a third World Cup - and its first since Maradona inspired victory in 1986.
Asked about his play with Argentina, Messi said he didn't know why he has been unable to recapture his club form with his country.
"Argentina had a hard time in the qualifying round," he conceded. "But the World Cup is something different. I just hope the team and I can play better."
The women's award went to Brazil's Marta for the fourth year in a row. The 23-year-old playmaker beat teammate Cristiane, Kelly Smith of England, and Germans Birgit Prinz and Inka Grings.
"I'm really surprised," Marta said.
The late England player and manager Bobby Robson received FIFA's fair play award, while the presidential award for contributions to football and society went to Jordan's Queen Rania.
The world football body also announced its first World XI men's team - which included six players from the Spanish league and five from the Premier League.
Real Madrid's Iker Casillas was chosen as goalkeeper, with Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra joining Chelsea's John Terry and Barcelona's Dani Alves in defense. Xavi, Iniesta and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard were picked as midfielders, with Messi, Ronaldo and Liverpool striker Fernando Torres in attack.
The player-of-the-year shortlist also highlighted the shift in footballing power over the last year to Spain, whose national side is the reigning European champion and whose club sides Barcelona and Real Madrid shared all five finalists for the award.
Ronaldo was the runaway winner in 2008 after a season during which he scored 42 goals and won the European championship with Manchester United. The English side was beaten in this year's final by Barcelona, and the 24-year-old Portuguese winger moved to Real Madrid in the offseason to join Kaka, the 2007 winner of the FIFA award who transferred from AC Milan.
Ronaldo was honored at the gala for scoring the best goal of 2009, a 40-meter (yard) shot against Porto in last season's Champions League. He hailed Messi for having played "very well" but credited his rival's success to Barcelona's fluid play among teammates who have been together for so long.
"Xavi and Iniesta also deserve the award," Ronaldo said. "If I had to choose, I would say all three of them."
Xavi and Iniesta - aged 29 and 25, respectively - have formed the backbone of the world's best midfield, their silky passing, penetrating runs and sublime distribution of the ball perfectly complimenting Barcelona's three-pronged attack of Messi, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It is a combination that has also been at the heart of Spain's rise to No. 1 in the world rankings. The duo may reap an even bigger reward if Spain wins its first ever World Cup next year in South Africa.
"We have great hopes," Xavi said. "Let's see if this is the moment for Spain."