Lionel Messi was on Monday awarded the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or at a star-studded ceremony in Zurich, the third consecutive year that he has won the prestigious award for the world's outstanding footballer.
The 24-year-old Barcelona and Argentina forward finished ahead of his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca teammate Xavi Hernandez.
Japanese midfielder Homare Sawa claimed the women's equivalent. Marta of Brazil and United States striker Abby Wambach were also nominated.
“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 teammates, trainers, physios, the coach (Pep Guardiola) and everyone at Barcelona. I'd also like to thank the Argentina national team as well.”
Messi becomes only the second player, after current UEFA president Michel Platini, to win the award for three consecutive years. He also joins Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten as the only men to have won the prize thrice.
“I want to share this honour with my teammate, Xavi,” added Messi, who then addressed his club-mate in the audience at the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala.
“He deserves it, too. I want to share it with you, because you deserve it as much as me. It's a pleasure to be here alongside him and to play with him.”
The award was formed when the Ballon d'Or merged with the FIFA World Player-of-the-Year award in 2010 and is voted for by national team coaches and captains, as well as a panel of football journalists selected by France Football magazine.
Coach of the year
Barcelona was given further reason to celebrate when Pep Guardiola was named FIFA Coach of the Year.
The 40-year-old former Barcelona and Spain midfielder had been nominated alongside Madrid's Jose Mourinho — winner last year after guiding Inter Milan to three trophies including the Champions League — and Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United.
“I want to dedicate this award 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,” said Guardiola.
Barca boasted five players in the FIFPro XI for 2011, with Dani Alves, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta selected alongside Xavi and Messi.
The winners: Ballon d'Or (men): Lionel Messi (Arg); Ballon d'Or (women): Homare Sawa (Jpn); FIFA Coach of the Year (men): Pep Guardiola (Esp); FIFA Coach of the Year (women): Norio Sasaki (Jpn); FIFA Puskas Award: Neymar (Bra); FIFA Presidential Award: Sir Alex Ferguson (Sco); FIFPro XI: Iker Casillas; Daniel Alves, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nemanja Vidic; Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Xavi; Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney.