Karim Benzema will be extra motivated to win the 2022 Ballon d'Or after finishing fourth in this year's voting, according to Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

The 33-year-old has scored 34 goals for Madrid this calendar year and was recalled to the France squad in May after a six-year exile.

Benzema's combined 46 goals and assists in 2021 has been bettered only by Erling Haaland (48), Kylian Mbappe (51) and Robert Lewandowski (59) from Europe's top five leagues when taking all club competitions into account.

The Madrid striker finished behind Euro 2020 winner Jorginho, Lewandowski and record seven-time winner Lionel Messi at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony, with N'Golo Kante completing the top five.

Benzema's Madrid team-mate Toni Kroos has argued the Frenchman did more than Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year to win the award.

But Ancelotti accepts the decision, determined by journalists from across the world, and insists Benzema will not be fazed by finishing outside the top three.

"We have to give fair value to the classification," he said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's LaLiga contest with Athletic Bilbao.

"Messi has won and we must congratulate him. The individual awards are important but if they do not win it is not a catastrophe. I hope next year a Madrid player will win it.

"Benzema has had a great season and finished fourth. He will continue to be motivated to try to be first next time.

"If I had a vote, I would not choose any player outside of my own team. I'd have voted Benzema first, Vinicius [Junior] second, [Thibaut] Courtois third, Casemiro fourth.

"But you have to respect and congratulate Messi on winning."

Madrid-linked forward Kylian Mbappe finished ninth, but Ancelotti does not believe leaving Paris Saint-Germain will necessarily enhance his chances of winning the coveted crown.

"Playing for a great club can help you, but it is still an individual prize," Ancelotti said when asked specifically about Mbappe.

"These players will not cry because they have not won the award. The likes of Benzema and Courtois will accept it without a problem."

Benzema and Vinicius are in contention to start Wednesday's clash with Athletic as Madrid aim to make it five league wins in a row and maintain a four-point lead at the top.

Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 LaLiga games against Athletic (W8 D4), one short of their best unbeaten run against the Basque club in the top flight.

Ancelotti, who has lost only one of his four LaLiga games against Athletic, is prepared to make changes to Madrid's line-up three days on from their 2-1 win against Sevilla.

"It's an evaluation I make every day," he said. "The dynamics of the team right now are very good. I won't rotate for the sake of it, but if we have any risks then of course we will do it.

"We are facing a well organised team at the back. Marcelino trains all his teams very well, especially in a defensive sense.

"This game will demand a lot from us and we need some offensive clarity. They are also a team that attacks vertically, so we must show good balance."

Despite having to contend with injury problems and a congested schedule, Ancelotti reiterated Madrid are not likely to bring in any new players in January.

"You have the summer to improve the squad," he said. "I don't like using January to adjust as that means something must have gone wrong in the summer.

"If players are not happy then we'll think about it, but we are not looking to sign. The squad is fine and will compete until the end."

Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were more deserving of winning the 2021 Ballon d'Or award than Lionel Messi, according to Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos.

Messi won football's top individual accolade for a record-extending seventh time on Monday largely thanks to his success at international level with Argentina.

The 34-year-old played a key part in Argentina's Copa America success, contributing to nine of the 13 goals his side scored as he ended his long wait for an international trophy.

He has had a rather more mixed year at club level, having scored 28 goals in 29 games for Barcelona before completing a shock transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in August.

Messi has netted just four times in his first 11 games for PSG, but he did enough to finish ahead of favourite Robert Lewandowski for his latest Ballon d'Or triumph.

Lewandowski finished second despite scoring 53 times in 42 games this year so far – 15 more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues across all competitions.

Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho was third, followed by Benzema – who has 34 goals this year – in fourth and N'Golo Kante placed fifth. 

Five-time winner Ronaldo finished sixth – the first time he has failed to make the top three in 11 years – but Kroos insists his former team-mate, as well as current colleague Benzema, have impressed more this year than Messi.

"[Messi's] award is absolutely not deserved," Kroos said on his Einfach mal Luppen podcast. "There is no doubt that Messi, with Cristiano, has been the player of the last decade, but this year there should've been others ahead of him.

"For me, Karim would have been the number one if you were really looking for the best individual player of the last year. I can see from close quarters what an outstanding footballer he is.

"When I see how many decisive goals Cristiano has scored lately – Manchester United are still in the Champions League thanks to him alone – then, in my eyes, Cristiano would have also come before Messi."

Messi won the first of his seven Ballons d'Or in 2009 and now has two more than Ronaldo, with Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten next on the list with three each.

The PSG superstar's latest success has caused plenty of debate, however, with legendary Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas also questioning the outcome of Monday's vote.

"It is increasingly difficult for me to believe in football awards," he posted on his personal Twitter account.

"For me, Messi, he is one of the five best players in all of history, but you have to know how to list the most outstanding players in a season. It's not that hard."

Bayern Munich great Lothar Matthaus "does not understand the world anymore" after Robert Lewandowski missed out to Lionel Messi for the 2021 Ballon d'Or award.

Poland international Lewandowski was considered the favourite to come out on top at Monday's ceremony in Paris following another impressive 12 months for Bayern.

The 33-year-old has scored 53 times in 42 appearances this calendar year so far – 15 more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues across all competitions.

He has averaged a goal every 67 minutes and also made history earlier this year by breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old record for the most goals in a Bundesliga season with 41.

Despite his impressive achievements in front of goal, Lewandowski finished second in the voting to Lionel Messi, who claimed a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or.

Matthaus, who won the coveted trophy in 1990, was among those to question the final standings, which saw Jorginho finish third, Karim Benzema fourth and N'Golo Kante in fifth.

"To be honest, after this vote, I don't understand the world anymore," he told Sky Sport. 

"With all due respect to Messi and the other great nominated players, nobody deserves it like Lewandowski."

Lewandowski, who also missed out on the 2020 award after it was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead had to settle for the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Bayern director Oliver Kahn was also surprised to see Messi pip Lewandowski to football's top individual prize.

"Lewandowski deserved the Ballon d'Or just as much as his top scorer trophy because he has performed at the highest level for years," Kahn said.

"But congratulations nonetheless to Lionel Messi. 

"Even without the Ballon d'Or, Lewy has long since arrived as one of the Olympus of football greats. He will still be a Ballon d'Or contender in the years to come."

While Messi had a rather more mixed campaign at club level compared to Lewandowski, the Paris Saint-Germain forward did inspire Argentina to Copa America glory in July.

Messi scored 28 goals in 29 games in the first half of 2021 with Barcelona before completing a shock transfer to PSG, for whom he has scored four goals in his first 11 games.

Lewandowski took to social media on Monday to congratulate the superstar forward on his latest triumph, which takes him two clear of five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Congratulations Leo Messi and Alexia Putellas, winners of the #BallonDor2021, congratulations also to all nominated players," he tweeted.

"I won Striker of the Year Award and no player can win an individual award without the strongest team and loyal fans behind him. Thank you for your support."

Paris Saint-Germain remain hopeful of reopening contract talks with Kylian Mbappe and want him to win the Ballon d'Or with the club, president Nasser Al-Khelaifi declared.

Al-Khelaifi also dismissed speculation that PSG want to replace head coach Mauricio Pochettino with Zinedine Zidane.

Speaking after Lionel Messi became the first player from the club to win Ballon d'Or honours – largely attributed to him winning the Copa America with Argentina – Al-Khelaifi made his position known about the burning issues affecting PSG.

There have been deep worries that Mbappe will walk away on a free transfer at the end of the season, when his current deal expires. Real Madrid wanted him in the last transfer window and are expected to move again. Unless Mbappe commits to a new deal, he would be free to talk to the likes of Madrid from January.

But Al-Khelaifi can see a future in which Mbappe continues to terrorise defences in a PSG shirt, just as he is currently doing in tandem with former Barcelona captain Messi.

The PSG president addressed that within the context of Messi's award success, saying: "For the club, it is the first, I hope it is not the last. I hope that other players will win it, starting with Kylian. I'm sure he wants to win it."

Speaking to L'Equipe, Al-Khelaifi said of the 22-year-old striker's future: "You know what I think, Kylian is a great player, a great man. Kylian knows what he wants to do, us too."

On the potential for new contract talks, the PSG president added, according to RMC Sport: "We hope."

It remains to be seen whether either Mbappe or Pochettino stay in Paris beyond the end of this season.

There have been persistent rumours that PSG would consider swapping Pochettino for former Real Madrid boss Zidane, but Al-Khelaifi threw his support behind the Argentine coach currently at the helm.

"Pochettino is our coach and he is happy to be with us, we are happy to work with him," Al-Khelaifi said.

"He is doing a good job. Everyone needs time. I see all the rumours, we have to stop talking about this, it's not true.

"We're truly happy with the coach. We haven't had any contact with Zidane. He's a great coach, but we also have a very good one."

Pedri credited Ballon d'Or winner and superstar Lionel Messi for helping him become a better player after claiming the Kopa Trophy.

Barcelona and Spain midfielder Pedri received the Kopa Trophy on Monday following a superb year for club and country, while Messi scooped a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or.

The Kopa Trophy is presented to the best player under the age of 21, with Barca sensation Pedri only turning 19 on November 25.

Pedri enjoyed a fine season with Barca before leading Spain to the Euro 2020 semi-finals and featuring in the country's run to an Olympic Games silver medal.

Afterwards, Pedri heaped praise on his former Barca team-mate Messi, who left Camp Nou for Paris Saint-Germain at the start of the season.

"Messi helped me a lot in my career and made me a better player," Pedri told reporters following the ceremony in Paris.

"It was fantastic to learn from a player like Lionel Messi.

"It was a spectacular year, and I am super happy with how things went. I think I improved as a player and a person."

On Messi's high-profile Barca exit, Pedri added: "Leo was an important player and the best player in the world. I just have to carry on playing and doing what I do at Barcelona."

Pedri was also named on the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or, finishing 24th in the overall rankings.

"Well every player wants to win the Ballon d'Or. That's something that all footballers dream of having," he said.

"But I have to be the best player I can and to carry in improving and working before I can on day hope to get that trophy."

Lionel Messi is not sure if his record will be broken after the Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina superstar won a seventh Ballon d'Or on Monday.

Messi claimed the coveted award for a record-extending seventh time during a ceremony in Paris, while Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski won the inaugural Striker of the Year award and finished second in the Ballon d'Or voting.

Many had backed Lewandowski to take home the prized individual honour, after France Football's 2020 Ballon d'Or was scrapped due to COVID-19 – the Bayern forward has scored 53 goals in 42 appearances in 2021, the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues across all competitions.

But Messi added to his incredible haul after guiding Argentina to a drought-ending triumph at the Copa America – the country's first piece of silverware in 28 years, while he has netted 32 goals and supplied 12 assists across 40 club appearances for Barcelona and PSG this year.

"I don't know if the record is beatable, I just have to accept it," the 34-year-old Messi told reporters, with Cristiano Ronaldo next on the list after winning the award five times.

"But honestly, I don't know if this record seven Ballon d'Or's can be beaten. But seven anyhow is really impressive and I'm very happy to win it here in Paris.

"Concerning [Liverpool star] Mohamed Salah, like [Robert] Lewandowski he will have other opportunities in the years to come. Both players are really at the best at what they've managed so far. They will have other opportunities to win the trophy."

 

Messi scored four goals and provided five assists as he led the Albiceleste to their first Copa America title since 1993, involved in nine of the 12 goals scored by Argentina at the showpiece South American tournament.

"I had a pretty good year with Barcelona without titles, however I did win the Copa del Rey," Argentina's captain and all-time leading scorer Messi added.

"The Copa America was very important to help me win this Ballon d'Or. And yes, I am very proud to be the first PSG to conquer this Ballon d'Or. It's special to do so with another jersey and it makes me very proud.

"This trophy really is special. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment with the Argentine national team. It was indeed a special year for me and of course it helped me in this new stage in my life, this move to PSG and my family and kids.

"I know they enjoy the moment and I enjoy seeing them happy. Seeing my parents, cousins and brothers happy, too."

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Lionel Messi clinched a seventh Ballon d'Or, extending his record as the player to have won the individual accolade on the most occasions.

The 34-year-old enjoyed a fruitful year at club level, scoring 32 times in 40 appearances across all competitions for PSG and Barcelona, but it was his exploits with Argentina that were most impressive, claiming the first major international trophy of his career by winning the Copa America. 

Bayern Munich's prolific striker Robert Lewandowski came second to Messi, but became the first winner of the Striker of the Year award after outscoring every player in Europe's top five leagues, netting 53 times in 42 appearances across all competitions so far in 2021, averaging a goal every 67 minutes.

Messi's PSG team-mate Gianluigi Donnarumma claimed the Yashin Trophy, awarded to the best goalkeeper, and was named 10th in the Ballon d'Or voting.

Donnarumma starred for Italy as they won Euro 2020, making a number of crucial saves in the shoot-out victory over England in the final.

Barcelona and Spain youngster Pedri won the Kopa Trophy after featuring heavily for club and country despite only turning 19 on November 25, also being shortlisted for the Ballon d'Or and finishing 24th.

Another Barca midfielder, Alexia Putellas, picked up the women's top prize, having helped the Catalan giants' women's team to Champions League and domestic glory in 2020-21.

Finally, Chelsea had 11 players nominated across all categories, making them the inaugural Club of the Year winners.

Award winners in full:

Men's Ballon d'Or – Lionel Messi (PSG and Argentina)
Kopa Trophy – Pedri (Barcelona and Spain)
Yashin Trophy – Gianluigi Donnarumma (PSG and Italy)
Club of the Year – Chelsea (England)
Striker of the Year – Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland)
Women's Ballon d'Or – Alexia Putellas (Barcelona and Spain)

Ballon d'Or 2021 winner Lionel Messi has said that runner-up Robert Lewandowski deserved a Ballon d'Or of his own for his exploits last year.

Messi claimed the coveted award for a record-extending seventh time on Monday, while Bayern Munich forward Lewandowski won the inaugural Striker of the Year award and finished second in the Ballon d'Or voting.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar has enjoyed a superb but bittersweet calendar year, highlighted by finally leading Argentina to success on the international stage with a Copa America victory in which he was both the tournament's top scorer and top assister.

He then returned to Barcelona expecting to sign a new deal, but the club's financial situation made it impossible.

In 40 club appearances this year between both Barca and PSG, Messi has managed an impressive 32 goals and 12 assists and was handed the gong by former team-mate Luis Suarez.

Lewandowski, meanwhile, continued the magnificent form he had displayed across 2020, when he led Bayern to a treble only for last year's edition of the award to be cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 33-year-old scored 41 Bundesliga goals to break Gerd Muller's 49-year-old record while, so far in 2021, Lewandowski has netted 53 times in 42 appearances, the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues across all competitions. 

Erling Haaland, his nearest challenger, is 15 back on 38. Lewandowski has averaged a goal every 67 minutes. Among those with 10 goals or more, club-mate Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is the next most regular scorer, netting every 84 minutes.

"[Lewandowski], you deserve your Ballon d'Or," Messi said upon receiving the award. "Last year, everyone was in agreement to say that you were the big winner.

"Hopefully [France Football] give you the Ballon d’Or 2020."

Lewandowski sent his congratulations to the Ballon d'Or winners and nominees on social media, while thanking his teammates and fans for their support in helping him claim the Striker of the Year award.

"Congratulations Leo Messi and [Women's Ballon d'Or winner] Alexia Putellas, winners of the Ballon d'Or 2021, congratulations also to all nominated players," Lewandowski wrote on social media.

"I won [the] Striker of the Year Award and no player can win an individual award without [the] strongest team and loyal fans behind him. Thank you for your support."

Messi indicated in his acceptance speech a desire to keep playing, with retirement not on the 34-year-old's agenda in the near future.

"I don't know how many years I have left, but I hope there will still be many because I am having enormous fun," Messi added.

Lionel Messi has won a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or after beating Robert Lewandowski to the most sought-after individual prize in football.

The Paris Saint-Germain star may have endured a somewhat slow start to life in France this season, but before that he was electric for Barcelona and Argentina.

It was surely his long-awaited first trophy success with La Albiceleste that gave Messi the edge over Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski. 

Messi captained Argentina to Copa America success in July, ending their 28-year drought in major international competitions.

 

At the Maracana – the scene of Argentina's 2014 World Cup final defeat to Germany – Messi helped Lionel Scaloni's men to a 1-0 win over bitter rivals and Copa hosts Brazil.

He had previously lost Copa finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, briefly retiring after missing his penalty in the shootout that saw the trophy slip from their grasp in the latter.

Messi may not have had the decisive impact in this year's final, but over the course of the tournament he was deemed to have been the best player, scoring four goals and setting up another five – no one bettered him in either metric.

 

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Messi's success in Brazil seemed to tip the scales in his favour, with the 34-year-old increasing his lead over Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes, the Manchester United forward now two back on five after finishing sixth in the voting this time around.

Lewandowski did, however, win the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Cristiano Ronaldo lost ground in his quest to claim more Ballon d'Or awards than his rival Lionel Messi, finishing sixth while the Argentine claimed a historic seventh award.

It is the first time the Portugal forward, who was not in attendance at the ceremony in Paris on Monday, has not been named in the top three since 2010, when Messi – who won his second prize that year – was joined by then Barcelona team-mates Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

Ronaldo managed 30 goals at club level in 2021 for Juventus and Manchester United, while also becoming the all-time top scorer in men's international football.

The 36-year-old finishes above Paris Saint-Germain pair Gianluigi Donnarumma and Kylian Mbappe as well as Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Liverpool attacker Mohamed Salah.

Salah and Mbappe both outscored Ronaldo at club level this calendar year, scoring 32 and 37 goals across all competitions, but finished seventh and ninth respectively.

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante and Real Madrid centre-forward Karim Benzema claimed the fifth and fourth spots, with Ronaldo's former team-mate enjoying a prolific year, managing 34 goals and 12 assists for Los Blancos in all competitions.

Jorginho, who won the Euros with Italy and claimed the Champions League with Chelsea, makes it into the top three behind Messi and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who finished second but won the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season, while he has netted 53 times in 2021.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ballon d'Or top 10:

1. Lionel Messi (PSG and Argentina)
2. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland)
3. Jorginho (Chelsea and Italy)
4. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)
5. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea and France)
6. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United and Portugal)
7. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)
8. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)
9. Kylian Mbappe (PSG and France)
10. Gianluigi Donnarumma (PSG and Italy)

Lionel Messi has edged out Robert Lewandowski to the 2021 Ballon d'Or award, a seventh of his magnificent career.

World football's most prestigious individual accolade was back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony taking place in Paris on Monday, where Messi was announced as the winner with Lewandowski second.

The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was pipped by Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year in the running for the 2021 iteration.

Lewandowski did get the consolation prize of the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Was it the right choice, though? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses why the Argentinian may have been awarded this year's prize.

Last season: Barca swansong v Muller's record

Few anticipated that the first half of 2021 would also be the final half-season of Messi's time at Barcelona.

His sensational free transfer to PSG at the end of the campaign was forced by financial issues at the Catalan club, and he bid a tearful goodbye to the Camp Nou, but not before signing off with a few more goals.

Messi's last LaLiga campaign before heading off to France saw him bag 30 goals in 35 games, with a further five in six Champions League games.

However, team awards were scarce, with just a Copa del Rey to show for his efforts. Barca finished a meek third in LaLiga, and were eliminated – somewhat ironically – by PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Something that may have counted against Lewandowski was his own lack of silverware compared to the previous year, where he and Bayern hoovered up a remarkable treble, including the Champions League. They did though still retain the Bundesliga title with relative ease, as well as clinching the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

They were eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, also by a pre-Messi PSG, though this can hardly be blamed on the Polish striker, who missed both legs of the tie through injury.

Lewandowski himself remained in outstanding form, and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 for Die Roten in just 29 league games, with a deadly shot conversion percentage across the season of 29.93.

It may have been Messi's superior creativity that helped sway the judges, creating 77 chances in his 35 league games, 22 of which were big chances, compared to 32 and nine from Lewandowski in his 29 league appearances in Germany.

The former Barca man did only manage two more assists than Lewandowski (nine to seven) but completed 159 dribbles and 1,068 successful passes ending in the final third, compared to the Pole's 22 and 237. Of course, it should be noted that Messi's role is typically a deeper one than Lewandowski's, so those latter statistics are not too surprising.

This season: New adventures v same old story

Messi's start to a new life in a new league has not exactly matched the inevitable expectations that accompanied his arrival in Paris.

The 34-year-old has just one goal in seven appearances in Ligue 1 with a shot conversion percentage of just 4.17, though he does have three in four Champions League games for Mauricio Pochettino's side.

Lewandowski has continued to plunder goals against all-comers, with 25 goals in 20 games in all competitions for Bayern, including an incredible nine in five Champions League games, and his shot conversion rate is currently even better than last season at 30.86 per cent.

In all competitions, the former Borussia Dortmund striker has played almost twice as many games as Messi (20 to 11) so it is tricky to compare them too accurately in terms of output, but Lewandowski has created 26 chances to Messi's 18, with six big chances created to five, while Messi has the edge on assists (three to two), dribbles completed (22 to 20) and successful passes ending in the final third (222 to 146).

So far you would have to say it is the Pole who is impressing most in the current campaign, having also had a more productive season last time out, so where exactly did Messi win this award?

 

Internationals: Argentina v Poland

Despite being an individual award, there is no doubt that team accolades often play a big part in swaying the judges, and an eventful pre-season for Messi at club level was arguably the only thing that could possibly have overshadowed what happened at international level as he finally lifted his first trophy in an Argentina shirt.

Messi scored four goals and gave five assists as he led the Albiceleste to their first Copa America title since 1993, being involved in nine of the 12 goals scored by Argentina at the tournament.

Lewandowski, on the other hand, had less success at Euro 2020, with Poland crashing out at the group stage of the re-arranged tournament.

Their star striker still managed to score three goals in three games for his country, but was unable to force them into the knockout stages.

 

Very little creates debate in football quite like the Ballon d'Or, and on the face of it this year's trophy could have gone either way, with honourable mentions for the likes of Jorginho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Karim Benzema.

It is Messi's Ballon d'Or in 2021 though, and it seems that Copa America success is what tipped it in his favour. PSG fans will be hoping that a domestic trophy haul over the next 12 months can see him installed as favourite to secure his eighth award next year, ahead of potentially his last attempt at World Cup success with Argentina.

Lionel Messi has won a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or after beating Robert Lewandowski to the most sought-after individual prize in football.

The Paris Saint-Germain star may have endured a somewhat slow start to life in France this season, but before that he was electric for Barcelona and Argentina.

It was surely his long-awaited first trophy success with La Albiceleste that gave Messi the edge over Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski. 

Messi captained Argentina to Copa America success in July, ending their 28-year drought in major international competitions.

 

At the Maracana – the scene of Argentina's 2014 World Cup final defeat to Germany – Messi helped Lionel Scaloni's men to a 1-0 win over bitter rivals and Copa hosts Brazil.

He had previously lost Copa finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, briefly retiring after missing his penalty in the shootout that saw the trophy slip from their grasp in the latter.

Messi may not have had the decisive impact in this year's final, but over the course of the tournament he was deemed to have been the best player, scoring four goals and setting up another five – no one bettered him in either metric.

 

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Messi's success in Brazil seemed to tip the scales in his favour, with the 34-year-old increasing his lead over Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes, the Manchester United forward now two back on five after finishing sixth in the voting this time around.

Lewandowski did, however, win the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Cristiano Ronaldo has criticised France Football after their editor-in-chief stated the Manchester United forward's priority is to retire with more Ballon d'Or awards than Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo and Messi are both on the shortlist for the prestigious award, which is returning after it was scrapped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both players have made the top 10, with the players ranked from 30th to 11th having already been confirmed. Messi is expected to vie with Robert Lewandowski for the accolade.

While Messi is bidding to win a seventh Ballon d'Or, Ronaldo has five to his name. However, earlier this week, Pascal Ferre, the editor-in-chief of France Football, the organisation that runs the award, claimed the Portugal star had told him that his ambition was to retire having won the prize on more occasions than his Argentine counterpart.

Ronaldo was not in attendance at Monday's awards ceremony and, just before the celebrations started, the 36-year-old insisted Ferre's claims were false, while also claiming the journalist had fabricated a story of Ronaldo having to isolate as to the reason why he had not made the trip to Paris.

 

"Today's outcome explains Pascal Ferre's statements last week, when he said that I confided in him that my only ambition was to finish my career with more Ballon d'Or than Lionel Messi," Ronaldo posted to his official Instagram account, possibly suggesting he already knew who the winner would be.

"Pascal Ferre lied, he used my name to promote himself and to promote the publication he works for. And he lied again today by justifying my absence from the Gala with an alleged quarantine that has no reason to exist.

"It is unacceptable that the person responsible for awarding such a prestigious prize could lie in this way, in absolute disrespect for someone who has always respected France Football and the Ballon d'Or.

"The biggest ambition of my career is to win national and international titles for the clubs I represent and for the national team in my country.

"The biggest ambition of my career is to be a good example for all those who are or want to be professional footballers.

"The biggest ambition of my career is to leave my name written in golden letters in the history of world football."

Ronaldo concluded his post by saying: "I will end by saying that my focus is already on Manchester United's next game and on everything that, together with my team-mates and our fans, we can still achieve this season. The rest? The rest is just the rest…"

Ferre and France Football have yet to respond to Ronaldo's comments.

Sergio Ramos endorsed Lionel Messi for the Ballon d'Or as the Paris Saint-Germain superstar targets a record-extending seventh crown.

Messi is among the favourites for the 2021 Ballon d'Or, which will be announced during Monday's ceremony in Paris.

Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski is expected to provide stiff competition as well as Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho, who celebrated Champions League and Euro 2020 glory.

Ramos has often backed Cristiano Ronaldo for the top gong over the years, given they were Real Madrid team-mates and rivals of former Barcelona captain Messi.

But Ramos now calls PSG home and wants ex-foe Messi to succeed once more following Argentina's drought-ending Copa America triumph.

 

"Yes, of course [I hope he wins]," Spain international defender Ramos told ESPN.

"I'm going to defend the guys in my team. I wish him all the luck in the world.

"He's in good shape, and I think he's the kind of player who really makes a difference. He's a unique player and it's a privilege to have him in the team.

"I think that bit by bit, each of us is going to bring our own quality to make Paris Saint-Germain even greater and achieve the things we want to achieve."

In Sunday's 3-1 win at Saint-Etienne, Messi delivered three assists in a single league game for the third time of his career after March 2016 against Getafe and February 2020 against Betis.

Messi became the first PSG player to achieve the feat in Ligue 1 since Blaise Matuidi against Angers in January 2016.

At 35 years and 243 days, Ramos became the oldest outfield player to make his first appearance with PSG in Ligue 1 since David Beckham (37 years and 298 days against Marseille in February 2013).

Ramos attempted 101 passes against Saint-Etienne – a game-high and the best tally for a PSG player making his Ligue 1 debut since Opta started analysing this data in 2006-07.

Angel Di Maria is open to playing in midfield for Paris Saint-Germain as he looks to secure more game time, and believes it could be his best position.

Di Maria has been a star for PSG since joining the Ligue 1 giants from Manchester United in 2015.

The attacker has made 274 appearances for PSG across all competitions, scoring 89 goals and providing a further 107 assists.

Since he joined PSG, no player has played more games than the Argentine, who has also crafted 669 chances, way ahead of Neymar, who ranks second in the squad with 350. Indeed, Di Maria is 41 assists ahead of Kylian Mbappe (66), and only three players have scored more goals in the same timeframe.

Di Maria only signed a new contract in March, he has not been able to nail down a regular starting berth so far this term.

Mauricio Pochettino has a wealth of options at his disposal, and can hardly be blamed for starting Neymar, Mbappe and Lionel Messi, who arrived from Barcelona in August, in a sensational attacking trident.

While the trio have not yet clicked to their full potential, Di Maria has often been the man left out. The 33-year-old has made just 10 appearances this season, scoring twice and setting up a further three goals.

Having started seven games, Di Maria creates 2.42 chances per 90 minutes on average, showing his playmaking abilities are still as good as ever.

In fact, despite his lack of minutes, Di Maria has only created fewer chances than Neymar (28) and Mbappe (33) in 2021-22.

With Messi, Mbappe and Neymar needing to be accommodated up front, Pochettino has often gone with a more workman-like midfield three.

However, Di Maria, who was excellent in a deeper role in his final season at Real Madrid in 2013-14, is hoping he gets the chance to show his quality in midfield.

"I think I've already shown that I can play in that position. In fact, it was my best year at Real Madrid, in 2014," Di Maria told RMC Sport.

"The manager knows I can play there, but then it's down to decisions. He's there to decide and we're there to do as best as we can on the pitch, no matter where, in midfield, up front, or elsewhere.

"Those are questions for him, the only thing I've done since I arrived at PSG has been to give it my all when on the pitch.

"It's true that I like to play with the ball at my feet. In 2014 I played in midfield and I felt very good, really happy. With quality players at PSG like Marco [Verratti], Leandro [Paredes] or Gana [Idrissa Gueye] it could work, but those are the manager's decisions."

 

Last season, Di Maria scored two goals, created 14 chances and provided three assists in Ligue 1 from attacking carries, suggesting he may be suited to playing deeper to drive with the ball and supply the attack. 

Although frustrated by a lack of regular action, Di Maria understands the reasons.

"When you have those three up front, it makes sense that the first option is to play them, they are the best on the pitch," he added.

"With what they've won, and who they are, it gives all three of them a different status. Or at least to two of them, because Messi is different to the others. He's the best player in the world and he always has to be on the pitch.

"But I'm always trying to give it 100 per cent to get into the starting XI. I know that it's not easy for me given the players in my position. That's why I'm doing as much as I can to maybe find a different option."

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