The 2011 Ballon d'Or was handed earlier today, and unsurprisingly, the winner was the same as in 2010 and 2009: Lionel Messi. Nobody had any doubts about Messi's coronation basically since April/May when the sensational performances from the Argentine superstar inspired Barcelona to a continental double, its second in only three years.
Messi was again far and away the best player of the year, and that was reflected in the voting results; Messi got about 48% of the votes, while the second most voted player got only 22%, less than half. That second most voted player was a familiar runner-up, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, who had already been second in 2009, after Andrés Iniesta was second last year. Messi's teammate Xavi Hernandez was third for the third consecutive year.
With today's award, Messi has equaled Michel Platini, Marco Van Basten, Johan Cruyff, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Ronaldo as the only players to have been crowned the best in the world in three different years (either with the Ballon d'Or or the FIFA World Player of the Year, two awards which have been merged only since last year) - only Platini managed to win it three years in a row like Messi. Considering that the Barcelona star is only 24, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that he'll soon become the sole holder of this record.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that we are witnessing one of the greatest players of all-time, and by far, the greatest of this generation. Messi combines some of the greatest attributes of the two other finalists, scoring at the same rate as Cristiano and displaying the same vision and football IQ as Xavi. As if that were not enough, he has, just like his underrated teammate Andrés Iniesta, that Jordanesque ability to raise his game on the biggest occasions. It speaks volumes that Iker Casillas is the goalkeeper against whom Messi has scored the most goals in his career (13) and that Messi is the all-time top scorer in the knockout stages of the Champions League. While consistency is important, it's the ability to step up in the biggest moments that has always separated the football legends from the great players, and that's exactly why Messi belongs in the first group despite being only 24.
These three years have been simply phenomenal from Messi, and there's no doubt that he fully deserves his three-peat of Ballon d'Ors. The question now is not whether but when Messi will win his fourth Ballon d'Or. Could it be in 2012? If winning three Ballon d'Ors in a row is incredible, four would be absolutely unprecedented, but it's something that's clearly achievable for Messi considering his unlimited talent. It will depend on whether Barcelona will remain on top of the football world and the performances of Messi's three closest competitors in recent years, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, in this year's Euro 2012, especially the latter two who have a great chance to win the trophy with Spain. A great performance on the international stage might give one of these players the chance to finally get a Ballon d'Or after three years of unchallenged domination from Messi.
Regardless of what might happen hereafter, we are witnessing history; we are witnessing one of the greatest talents this sport has ever seen; and we get the chance to do it every week. It's a pretty safe assumption that no one will dominate football individually in the same way Messi has in the past few years in a long, long time. Messi is defining and will continue to define this football generation.
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