Barcelona star wins record sixth Bal­lon d’Or

▶ Barcelona star wins record sixth Bal­lon d’Or while USA cap­tain Rapi­noe scoops women’s prize

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - THE NA­TIONAL

Lionel Messi has warned his ri­vals he still has “sev­eral years left” at the top af­ter the Barcelona su­per­star won a record sixth Bal­lon d’Or in Paris on Mon­day, while USA cap­tain Me­gan Rapi­noe claimed the women’s award.

A decade af­ter win­ning his first award, 32-year-old Messi moved one ahead of his great ri­val Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, who was con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence, pre­fer­ring in­stead to re­main in Italy where the Ju­ven­tus for­ward at­tended the Gran Gala del Cal­cio to col­lect his Serie A best player award.

Rapi­noe was also not at the

Chatelet The­atre in the French cap­i­tal, un­able to make the trip back to the coun­try where she led the USA to vic­tory in July.

“It is 10 years since I won my first Bal­lon d’Or here in Paris and I re­mem­ber com­ing here with my three broth­ers, I was 22 and it was all un­think­able for me what I was go­ing through,” said Messi, who was there with his wife, An­tonella Roc­cuzzo, and two of their chil­dren.

“I hope I have sev­eral years left to keep en­joy­ing my foot­ball. I am aware of the age I have and these mo­ments are all the more en­joy­able be­cause the mo­ment when I have to re­tire is get­ting closer and that is dif­fi­cult.

“All go­ing well I’ll have sev­eral years left but at the mo­ment time seems to be fly­ing and ev­ery­thing is hap­pen­ing very quickly. I hope to keep en­joy­ing my foot­ball, my fam­ily, fac­ing my ri­vals and all of this life that I have.”

Messi won this year’s prize, which is or­gan­ised by France Foot­ball mag­a­zine and voted for by jour­nal­ists from around the world, ahead of Liver­pool de­fender Vir­gil van Dijk.

Hav­ing starred in the Liver­pool team that won the Cham­pi­ons League, Van Dijk fin­ished be­hind Messi just as he did in the vot­ing for Fifa’s equiv­a­lent prize, The Best, in Septem­ber.

“Un­for­tu­nately there are a cou­ple of play­ers like him who are a bit un­nat­u­ral. Six times

Bal­lon d’Or - you need to re­spect great­ness as well,” Van Dijk said.

The Dutch de­fender was one of four Liver­pool play­ers in the top 10, with Sa­dio Mane fourth, Mo­hamed Salah fifth and goal­keeper Alis­son sev­enth. The lat­ter won a new prize for the goal­keeper of the year, named af­ter for­mer Rus­sian goal­keep­ing great Lev Yashin.

Messi has scored 46 goals in 54 matches so far in 2019, and net­ted 36 times in to­tal in 34 La Liga matches last sea­son as Barcelona won the ti­tle.

He did not en­joy a suc­cess­ful Copa Amer­ica with Ar­gentina but was also the top scorer in last sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League with 12 goals.

As if any re­minder of his bril­liance were re­quired, on Sun­day he scored a won­der­ful late win­ner for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid.

This is just the sec­ond year that a women’s Bal­lon d’Or - voted for by 48 jour­nal­ists - has been awarded, with Rapi­noe suc­ceed­ing Nor­way’s Ada Hegerberg.

Rapi­noe was the star of the Women’s World Cup on, and off, the field, win­ning the Golden Boot for top scorer, with six goals, and Golden Ball for best player.

She scored the open­ing goal as the USA beat the Nether­lands 2-0 in the fi­nal, and has led calls for her team to be paid the same as their male coun­ter­parts.

“It’s been an in­cred­i­ble year,” said Rapi­noe in a recorded video mes­sage.

“I want to say a huge thank you to my team­mates, the coaches, the US Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion, for all of the sup­port to al­low me to be who I am and do what I do on the field but also be the per­son who I am off the field.”

Rapi­noe was one of four mem­bers of the US side that lifted the World Cup to be nom­i­nated for the prize, along with Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle and Alex Mor­gan, who fin­ished third on Mon­day. Eng­land’s Lucy Bronze came sec­ond.

Dutch de­fender Matthijs de Ligt, the for­mer Ajax cap­tain now at Ju­ven­tus, suc­ceeded Kylian Mbappe as the win­ner of the Kopa Tro­phy for the best player aged un­der 21.

EPA; AFP

Lionel Messi re­ceives his Bal­lon d’Or tro­phy in Paris while Me­gan Rapi­noe sent a video mes­sage ac­cept­ing her award

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