Magical Messi completes Ballon d’Or hat-trick

LIONEL MESSI was last night awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or for the third successive year.

Barcelona’s 24-year-old Argentina striker beat team-mate Xavi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo to the title of the world’s best player.

Messi, man of the match in the Champions League final in 2011, also won the Primera Division, Spanish Supercopa, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup last year.

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Xavi both paid tribute to Messi.

Ferguson said Messi could now be judged alongside the greats of world football through the ages, even though he is still only 24.

“Critics have always questioned whether players like Pele from the 50s could play today,” said Ferguson.

“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.”

Messi’s Barcelona team-mate Xavi supported Ferguson’s view, saying: “He’s still 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.”

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic were both included in the world XI dominated by Spain-based players.

Rooney, named on the FIFPro World XI said at the gala: “It was a great year and the highlight was winning the Premier League for the 19th time, which was a great moment for the club.”

Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola was named coach of the year; Japan’s women’s World Cup-winning captain Homare Sawa the women’s player; Japan’s (male) manager Norio Sasaki coach of the year for women’s football; the Japanese FA were awarded the FIFA fair play award; Brazilian 19-year-old sensation Neymar won the FIFA Puskas award for the best goal of 2011.

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