Lionel Messi has been one of the most dominant players ever in football, and the fact that he won the Ballon d’Or on seven occasions proves it. He is the only player ever to achieve it, and he could well get an eighth distinction on 30 October, 2023.
Messi is one of the favourites to win this year's award after winning the World Cup with Argentina in Qatar last year.
Let’s go back to appreciate his greatness and see what every Ballon d’Or award meant when he received it.
2009 – THE FIRST OF MANY
After finishing third and second in 2007 and 2008, the boy from Rosario eventually won his first Ballon d’Or in 2009. Barcelona achieved had a historical season when they won every competition a Spanish club can: La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League, Spanish Supercup, UEFA Supercup & FIFA Club World Cup.
One of the most iconic goals of Messi’s career was scored during the Champions League final, when La Pulga jumped way above Rio Ferdinand to score the decisive goal of the contest.
It was the first Ballon d’Or he received, but definitely not the last.
2010 – A BACK-TO-BACK SURPRISE
Usually, during World Cup years, the winner of the Ballon d’Or is one of the best players of the competition. When Spain won their first World Cup in South Africa, the possibility of seeing Iniesta or Xavi become the first Spaniard to win a Ballon d’Or since Luis Suárez in 1960 was very high. Another contender was Wesley Sneijder, the maestro from Inter Milan had just won a Treble for his club and reached the final of the World Cup with the Netherlands.
It was the first time the jury was composed of both journalists and captains & coaches of national teams. In the past, only journalists would vote, and if the system did not change, Sneijder would have won that year’s Ballon d’Or.
But in the end, Leo won 22,65% of the votes, just above his Barça teammates Iniesta and Xavi. Barcelona became the second club after AC Milan to have the three finalists of the Ballon d’Or playing together at the club, with a small difference: Messi, Iniesta and Xavi all came from La Masia, when AC Milan had players from abroad.
2011 – DO IT LIKE MICHEL
In 2011, Messi became the second player to win three Ballon d’Or awards in a row, joining Michel Platini in this hallowed area. He was only the fourth player to reach three Ballons d’Or in total, with Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff the others to achieve that feat.
And what a year it was… They won almost everything, only losing in the Copa del Rey to Cristiano’s Real Madrid. In a repeat of the 2009 Champions League decider, Barcelona defeated Manchester United 3-1, with Messi again scoring in the final.
In 2011 Messi scored 59 goals in 70 games, and it was considered a memorable season, but the best was yet to come…
2012 – THE INDIVIDUAL MASTERPIECE
The year 2012 was not the best year for Messi and Barcelona, with only a Copa del Rey won. Arguably, even Xavi & Iniesta had their chance to win the Ballon d’Or since they added the European Championship to their trophy cabinet.
However, Messi made what seemed impossible in 2012 possible, breaking one of the most impressive records in modern football. With 85 goals in 1972, Gerd Müller held the record for the most goals scored in a single season for about 40 years, until Messi managed to reach the unbelievable number of 91 goals (and 22 assists) in 69 games.
2015 – THE MANITA
Messi added a fifth Ballon d'Or after adding five team trophies to his already outrageous resume. Now led by Luis Enrique, was one of the Catalans were regarded as one of the best sides ever, and their victory against Juventus 3-1 in the Champions League final cemented Messi's legacy at Barcelona. By winning his fourth and probably last Champions League title, the new face of the MLS was the favourite to receive the award, and he eventually won it with 41,33% of the votes.
2019 – THE CLOSEST WIN
Between 2015 and 2019, a lot of things happened in the football world. Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or twice and both rivals were then equal on five awards. Barcelona ended the Champions League in the semi-finals after Trent Alexander-Arnold's quickly-taken corner helped Liverpool achieve a ‘remontada' by winning 4-0 at Anfield.
Barcelona’s season was not the most impressive, and Liverpool winning the UEFA Champions League made Virgil van Dijk a close contender for the Ballon d’Or.
In one of the closest editions ever, Messi finished first with only seven points more than the Dutch defender, winning his sixth Ballon d’Or at age 31.
2021 – THE FIRST IN PARIS
Due to COVID-19 there was no winner in 2020, and there is no doubt that both years were somehow considered when deciding who deserved it the next year. Robert Lewandowski had an outrageous 2020 year but a less impressive 2021, even if he broke the Bundesliga record of goals in a single season.
Jorginho won it all: Champions League with Chelsea and European Championship with Italy.
Messi FINALLY achieved what he was looking for – a trophy with Argentina. Before winning the 2022 World Cup, Messi had achieved continental glory by winning the Copa America 2021, finishing as the tournament's best player, top scorer and player with the most assists.
His departure from Barcelona was a shock, but the new Parisian was awarded his seventh Ballon d’Or in his new city.
The last to date, but it might not be the last ever. This year Messi won the World Cup, the last trophy he was looking for in his career, and will undoubtedly be a strong contender for the top individual award in football.
Erling Haaland, winner of the treble with Manchester City, is the other favourite.