Lionel Messi, as if there was any doubt, stands in a stratosphere of his own.
Messi, who beat out Manchester City forward Erling Haaland (2nd place) and Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappé (3rd place), exuded humility when handed the award’s 2023 edition in France’s capital city.
“I couldn't imagine having the career that I've had,” Messi said at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. “Everything that I've achieved. The fortune I've had playing for the best team in the world, the best team in history. It's nice to win these individual trophies. To win the Copa América and then the World Cup, to get it done is amazing.”
He added: "They're all special, all these awards. The most important thing is team prizes."
There was a strong MLS presence on the Ballon d’Or stage, as Messi’s recognition was announced by Miami co-owner and former LA Galaxy star David Beckham. Didier Drogba, a former CF Montréal striker, co-hosted the ceremony alongside journalist Sandy Heribert.
Fittingly, Messi’s acceptance speech included a nod to since-passed Argentine legend Diego Maradona, after the former's latest award was fueled, in large part, by winning a long-awaited World Cup trophy with La Albiceleste.
At Qatar 2022, Messi received the Golden Ball (best player) and Silver Boot (second-highest scorer) awards after steering his country’s first World Cup title since 1986.
“I want to give a last mention to Diego,” Messi said. “Today is his birthday. I want to wish him a happy birthday, surrounded by players, coaches and people who like soccer like he did. So, wherever he is, happy birthday, Diego. This one is also for you. I share it with you and with all of Argentina.”
With eight Ballon d’Or honors, Messi now stands well clear of Cristiano Ronaldo (five) for the most all-time. He’s won them across a 14-year span, starting in 2009 with FC Barcelona and continuing through stops at PSG and Inter Miami.
The timing of this year's award is also different for the iconic No. 10, who collects it during Inter Miami’s offseason rather than in the thick of a European campaign.
“Having left Europe, having chosen Inter Miami, I am very happy and pleased with the decision I made,” Messi said.. “ … [I will] enjoy the moment with my family, enjoy more time in Argentina, which is what I always wanted and never could because we had a game in a few days.”
As the Ballon d’Or ceremony concluded, Messi was joined on stage by his three sons. He also noted how his wife, Antonela Roccuzzo, has supported him “through thick and thin.”
That familial theme was present in Beckham’s on-stage remarks as well.
“To say he's a Miami player and he's in our city, that's a special thing,” Beckham said. “Like Leo's just said, he'll celebrate it with teammates – they achieved so much last year. Also with his family, with his amazing wife and his children, and his family back in Argentina. He will celebrate it in his way and we will do our best to celebrate it in the Miami way.”
Messi, who joined Inter Miami in mid-July, sensationally turned his midseason arrival into a Leagues Cup 2023 title – the Herons’ first trophy in their four-year history and the GOAT’s 44th overall for club and country. Miami made the 2023 US Open Cup final, though an injury ensured Messi didn’t feature.
Looking ahead, 2024 will be Messi’s first full MLS season after a prolonged fall/winter break. Since Inter Miami have qualified for the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup, their competitive slate could begin in early February.