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Courtesy FC Barcelona
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Courtesy FC Barcelona
Lionel Messi was once again named the world's greatest footballer as he collected the Fifa Ballon d'Or award for the third year running, leaving Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and team-mate Xavi in his wake.
2011 was once again a memorable year for the Atomic Flea, who inspired his side to glory on domestic and European fronts with an outstanding goal return and the highest number of assists in the Spanish league. He was also the highest goal scorer in the UEFA Champions League for the third season running, netting a vital second goal against Manchester United in the final of the competition, along with a fantastic solo effort against fierce rivals Real Madrid in the semi-finals. His impudent chip and volley over Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia in the round of 16 was ranked third in Fifa Goal of the Year.
But the statistics don't tell the whole story. Every time the agile Argentinian picks up the ball, a euphoric chorus of anticipation fills the ground, as one is left to admire the dazzling footwork, blistering pace and intellect with which he graces the field. His incredible consistency to deliver on the big occasion has placed him in the same bracket as some of the all-time greats with many pundits believing that he is perhaps the greatest player to have played the sport.
Indeed, Messi has now become the fourth player to win a hattrick of Ballon d'Or prizes, equalling the achievements of Marco van Basten, Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff. But at 24 years of age, Messi is widely expected to re-write the record books, an opinion that is shared by Xavi. "I think [Messi] is going to break all the records that exist...he's going to be one of the best footballers in the history of the sport." A similar line of thought was shared by Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who was commemorated for his services to football. "Lionel Messi could play in the 1950s and the present day, as could Di Stefano, Pele, Maradona, Cruyff because they are all great players."
Messi is the only Argentinian player to have won the FIFA Player of the Year or the Ballon d'Or, this year he claimed 47.88% of votes whilst Cristiano Ronaldo gained 21.6% and Xavi 9.23%. "It's a great personal pleasure for me," said Messi. "It's the third time I've won it. It's just an amazing honour. I want to thank everyone that's been involved with me - my team-mates, trainers, physios, the coach and everyone at Barcelona...I'd also like to thank the Argentina national team as well."
Pep Guardiola ousted Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson by claiming Fifa Coach of the Year for the first time in his managerial career after he led his talented Barcelona side to five league and cup titles during 2011. He dedicated the award to his friend and assistant Tito Vilanova and to "the thousands of people who, through more than a hundred years, have worked for FC Barcelona and helped develop one of the best clubs in the world."
Barcelona was also the best represented club in this year’s FIFA FIFPro World XI. Of the 11 blaugrana finalists, Piqué, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, and Alves were selected by fellow footballers and coaches as part of the dream XI. 2011 was a year to savour for the Catalan side, arguably one of the strongest outfits of all time, but complacency cannot become an issue if they are to repeat similar feats this time around.