Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or, the FC Barcelona forward claiming the prize awarded by France Football magazine for the European Player of the Year.
The 22-year-old eclipsed runner-up and last year's winner Cristiano Ronaldo by a record 240-point margin. Messi earned 473 points out of a possible 480, a near unanimous verdict, in the poll of 96 journalists worldwide. The award caps a brilliant year for a player who helped Barcelona to UEFA Champions League glory – he scored nine goals in last season's campaign including the second in the final victory against Manchester United FC – as well as to a Spanish league and cup double.
"It's a great honour to have won this award and the fact that I'm the first Argentinian is very exciting," said Messi, although Argentinian-born players Alfredo di Stéfano and Omar Sivori, then regarded as Europeans, triumphed respectively in 1959 and 1961. "The Ballon d'Or is very important for me. Every single player who has won it has been a fantastic player. I dedicate it to my family who are always by my side when needed. It won't be easy to enjoy another year like 2009 and claim this award again."
Messi's club-mates Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta also feature in the top five alongside former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o, the scorer of the opening goal in the defeat of United in Rome in what was his last game for the Catalans before joining FC Internazionale Milano. The 2007 winner Kaká (AC Milan and Real Madrid CF) finished sixth, with Zlatan Ibrahimović (Inter and Barcelona), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Didier Drogba (Chelsea FC) and Steven Gerrard (Liverpool FC) completing the top ten.
Past ten Ballon d'Or winners
2008 Cristiano Ronaldo
2006 Fabio Cannavaro
2004 Andriy Shevchenko
2003 Pavel Nedvěd
2001 Michael Owen
2000 Luís Figo
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