Jan. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Lionel Messi was crowned soccer’s best player for a record third straight time last night to cap a year in which his Barcelona team won the Champions League, the Spanish championship and the Club World Cup.
The Argentine forward, 24, joins former World Cup winners Zinedine Zidane of France and Ronaldo of Brazil as three-time winners. He took the prize ahead of his Barcelona teammate Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
Last year, Messi became the first player to claim the current FIFA Ballon d’Or trophy, a prize created when soccer’s ruling body merged its top player accolade with France Football magazine’s award. France’s Michel Platini won that prize three- straight times between 1983 and 1985.
Messi’s alliance with Xavi and Andres Iniesta has helped Barcelona win titles in Spain and Europe. He scored in the 3-1 Champions League final victory over Manchester United that gave Barcelona its second European Cup win in three seasons, two weeks after the team retained its Spanish league title. Messi scored two goals in Yokohama, Japan, last month to give Barcelona the FIFA World Club Cup as well.
“I just try to enjoy every moment,” Messi told reporters before the award ceremony in Zurich. “I’ve been able to enjoy some great experiences and win titles.”
Messi polled the highest number of votes from national team coaches, captains and selected journalists. FIFA’s original award, established in 1991, didn’t survey the media.
Messi received 48 percent of the votes, Ronaldo got 22 percent and Xavi 9.2 percent. They were shortlisted following a vote that included 23 players.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, whose teams have lost to Barcelona in two Champions League finals, said Messi ranks among the game’s all-time greats. He likened him to fellow Argentine Diego Maradona, Pele and Alfredo di Stefano.
“Messi could play in any generation,” Ferguson said. “The Barcelona team right now, with Lionel in their side, are an extraordinary side.”
Ferguson was awarded FIFA’s Presidential Award for his success during three decades as a manager. Last season he won his 12th Premier League title with United, a record 19th in all for the Red Devils.
Nicknamed “the Flea” because of his 5-foot-6 1/2 (1.69- meter) frame, Messi trained at Barcelona’s academy after moving to Spain from Argentina for treatment of a growth deficiency when he was 13. He made his debut at 16.
The forward’s contract runs to 2016 and has a 250 million- euro ($323 million) buyout clause.
Messi so far has been unable to match his club success on the international stage. Last year’s Copa America host Argentina was eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual winner Uruguay. Messi failed to score in the competition.
Platini said Messi probably requires a World Cup win to be considered the greatest, saying Maradona retains the fame he has because of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup win, not because of the titles he won at club level with Napoli.
“The World Cup is something special,” Platini told reporters. “The World Cup would stay in the minds of the people.”
With 31 goals in 27 games this season, Messi is on course to beat the Barcelona record he set in April by scoring 53 goals in a season.
Messi’s manager at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola, was named Coach of the Year ahead of Ferguson and Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho.
Brazilian forward Neymar beat United’s Wayne Rooney and Messi to the award for Goal of the Year for his strike in a league game for Santos, while Japan’s Homare Sawa was named best female player.
FIFA PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1991: Lothar Matthaeus (Germany)
1992: Marco van Basten (Netherlands)
1993: Roberto Baggio (Italy)
1994: Romario (Brazil)
1995: George Weah (Liberia)
1996: Ronaldo (Brazil)
1997: Ronaldo (Brazil)
1998: Zinedine Zidane (France)
1999: Rivaldo (Brazil)
2000: Zinedine Zidane (France)
2001: Luis Figo (Portugal)
2002: Ronaldo (Brazil)
2003: Zinedine Zidane (France)
2004: Ronaldinho (Brazil)
2005: Ronaldinho (Brazil)
2006: Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)
2007: Kaka (Brazil)
2008: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
2009: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
2010: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
2011: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
--Editors: Dex McLuskey, Dan Baynes
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Zurich via the London sports desk on email@example.com
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