Messi wins record eighth Ballon d’Or: ‘I hope I can keep playing for a long time’

The Argentine captain dedicated the win to football legend Diego Maradona on what would have been his birthday

Argentine football superstar Lionel Messi won his eighth Ballon d’Or on Monday evening — beating his own world record. The Albiceleste captain was tipped as the favorite to win the award, which crowns the best footballer in the world. His latest win further extends his lead over Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, who has won five.

Fourteen years on from his first Ballon d’Or, Messi received a standing ovation from the crowd at the Théâtre du Châtelet, in París. The Argentine star faced strong competition from Norway’s Erling Haaland and France’s Kylian Mbappé. However, with his triumph at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, the Rosario-born striker was the favorite — and he was ultimately chosen by the 100 journalists who voted for the winner.

“I want to thank anyone who voted,” said Messi in his acceptance speech. “This is a gift for all my teammates on the national team, the coaching staff and the fans who supported us. I felt so much love and it was very special to see people from different countries wishing Argentina to be World Champions.”

“I want to mention Diego [Maradona],” said the Albiceleste captain. “Today would have been his birthday, and there is no better place to wish him a happy birthday than surrounded by players, coaches, and people who love football.”

“Wherever you are, happy birthday. This award is for you too.”

You may also be interested in: Football pays tribute to Maradona on 63rd anniversary of his birth

Messi also thanked his family for their support through the highs and lows, with whom he looked forward to celebrating: “I never could because there were always more games, and now I can enjoy more time with my family, in Argentina.” The Inter Miami captain is now on vacation until at least February after the Herons failed to qualify for the MLS playoffs.

“I don’t know how long it will be until I retire,” said the 36-year-old, “After what I’ve achieved in my career, I just want to keep enjoying it, because I’ve always enjoyed football, it’s what I love the most. As long as I’m healthy and enjoying it, I’ll keep playing. Football changes quickly, but I hope it’s a long time.”

The ceremony also included other awards, with the Yashin Trophy for best goalkeeper going to Argentina’s Emiliano “Dibu” Martínez, who received it from his father. 

“The hopes and the possibility were always there,” said Martínez to ESPN after the presentation. “But until they say your name you don’t expect it. I saw my old man and it made me want to cry.”

Martínez was booed by the French crowd on arriving at the ceremony and on being announced as the winner, prompting host and former striker Didier Drogba to demand “sporting respect” for the winner. 

“It is normal. I accept it as a professional,” said Martínez, who was crowned best goalkeeper of the 2022 World Cup and won a FIFA Best Award in March, among other awards. “If a Frenchman went to Argentina, the reception would be the same. I have nothing against them.”

Meanwhile, the humanitarian Sócrates Award went to Brazilian Vinícius Oliveira Júnior for his work funding education for underprivileged children and his fight against racism. The Kopa Trophy, given to the best under-21 player, was lifted by Englishman Jude Bellingham. 

While Messi beat Haaland for the Ballon d’Or, the Norwegian did receive the Gerd Müller Trophy for the highest-scoring footballer in the previous season — Manchester City, where he plays, clinched the best men’s team award.

The best women’s team award went to FC Barcelona, with their star midfielder Aitana Bonmati earning the Women’s Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League with them and the Women’s World Cup with Spain’s national side.

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