Lionel Messi won a record-breaking and record-setting seventh Ballon d’Or on Monday 29 December, 2021, after 180 journalists voted for the mercurial Argentine who has now gone two clear of his closest rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the most Ballon d’Or awards.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward pipped Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, his closest challenger to the award this year, by amassing 613 points to Lewandowski’s 580. Cristiano Ronaldo finished in sixth place – his lowest finish in 11 years – with 178 points.
Despite it being a rivalry which Messi has insisted makes him – and football in general – better in the past, the 34-year-old has now come out to say that outdoing Ronaldo has never been a source of extra motivation for him to achieve all he has and can in his illustrious career.
Both players have had a chokehold on the award for the better part of the last 15 years, winning 12 of the awards between them. This individual accolade battle was one of the many battles both players had between each other, as they have also both had a chokehold on the European Golden shoe for 10 of the last 15 seasons (Messi has six, a record; Ronaldo has four, the second most).
The Messi-Ronaldo rivalry which started with Messi’s breakout season in 2008/09 became intense in the nine seasons which Ronaldo spent in LaLiga, as both players broke record after record on both sides of the El Clasico divide. Messi has now come out to say that he has only ever been focused on himself following his record seventh Ballon d’Or.
“I always wanted to surpass myself”, Messi says
France Football, the organisers of the show since its inception over 65 years ago, interviewed Lionel Messi after the awards at his home in Paris.
The Argentina national team captain and PSG forward admitted once again that the rivalry has been ‘wonderful’ but he never focused on it as much as many fans and journalists think.
“I always wanted to surpass myself and not look at what others were doing,” Messi told France Football. “With Cristiano, we kept our battle going within the same league for years.
“It has been wonderful and has helped us both to grow in our careers, but without looking at each other. I just wanted to surpass myself, to be the best I could be, and not better than any other.”
Messi, who finally secured a trophy with Argentina in the summer as they beat Brazil to the Copa America title, had previously come under fire in his home country for failing to replicate the international achievements of Diego Maradona.
This is due to the comparisons the 34-year-old gets with Maradona, who many Argentinians – including Messi – believe to be the best player the world has ever seen. Messi admits that the comparisons bothered him in the past because he doesn’t see himself as a role model.
“I don’t like giving advice,” he said to France Football. “I fought for my dreams. At first it was to be a professional player, then I tried to surpass myself and achieve new goals every year.
“In the midst of it all, there is also an element of luck. It also depends on God, and I believe he chose to have all of this happen to me.”
The former Barcelona captain added: “I’ve been Messi for 34 years, so I’m starting to get used to it. I’m happy with everything that’s happened.
“But sometimes, I have to admit, I’d quite like to go unnoticed, to enjoy being with my family without people recognising me.
“I’m not complaining, though, on the contrary. It’s always nice to receive a compliment, a smile or someone asking for a photo with me. I’m used to it and for me it has become normal.”
Cristiano Ronaldo fails to make list of Portugal’s voting journalist
Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo, who didn’t attend the Ballon d’Or award in characteristic fashion, failed to make the top five list of the voting journalist from his home country of Portugal.
The final votes were revealed via @TheEuropeanLad on Twitter, who posted a picture of the latest France Football magazine which had the breakdown of votes.
Ronaldo, who finished sixth below Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi, was snubbed by Joaquim Rita of SIC Noticias, who was the journalist tasked with Portugal’s votes for the 2021 awards.
Rita voted N’Golo Kante in first place, Robert Lewandowski in second, Kylian Mbappe in third, Jorginho in fourth, and Mo Salah in fifth, also snubbing eventual winner Lionel Messi.