Normal business is anticipated to resume on Monday, when Lionel Messi’s stranglehold on the Ballon d’Or trophy is set to continue.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo, a multiple-time winner of the prized honour, comes close to Messi’s seven times as the very best the sport has to offer. And, after leading Argentina to World Cup triumph last December, the 36-year-old maestro is the overwhelming favourite to recover football’s highest personal honour.
Karim Benzema won the award for the first time back in 2022 after Messi had triumphed the previous year. However, there was controversy back in 2020 when the ceremony was cancelled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the time, Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski – then of Bayern Munich – was the overwhelming favourite to be crowned king of football after guiding the German giants to a treble. After missing out by default, Lewandowski plundered 46 goals but was still pipped to the post by Messi 12 months later – the same Messi who had publicly pleaded for Lewandowski to be honoured in 2020.
That plea didn’t exactly convince Lewandowski, though, who appeared to brand Messi’s comments as “empty words”. “I’m not that enthusiastic about [the chances] of getting the 2020 award. I would like it [Messi’s 2020 Ballon d’Or statement] to be a sincere and courteous statement from a great player and not just empty words.”
Lewandowski would end up backtracking on that stance when Messi beat him to the award in 2021. He said: “I never wanted to say that Lionel Messi’s words were not sincere or serious.
“On the contrary, I was very touched and delighted by Lionel Messi’s speech at the event in Paris, in which he expressed that, in his opinion, I deserved the Ballon d’Or 2020. I just wanted to express my statement that I would of course be very happy if Messi’s words would be heard. I respect and appreciate Lionel Messi beyond measure and once again congratulate him on winning the Ballon d’Or.”
While Messi was happy to admit that Lewandowski was a worthy winner of the cancelled 2020 award, he pulled no punches a year later when he stressed he deserved to win a record-breaking seventh crown – comments which fuelled speculation of a feud.
Messi told TyC Sports: “Everyone says what they want and obviously he can express himself and say what he wants. I honestly do not share what he said, but I did not give him more importance either. That’s it, he stayed there and he says what he wants and I’m not interested.
“But the words I said at that time were from the heart and because I really felt that way. I said that he deserved the Ballon d’Or before, because the previous year had seemed to me that it had been the best, but the year that I won it, he was not the best. I just said that.”