Lautaro Martinez claimed Lionel Messi previously attempted to convince the striker to leave Inter for Barcelona.

Messi has since ended a 21-year association with Barca as he joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, while Martinez recently renewed fresh terms with the Serie A side until the end of the 2025-26 campaign.

The pair enjoyed success at the Copa America last July, collecting Argentina's first major trophy in 28 years as Messi starred with four goals.

But Martinez revealed the Blaugrana legend wanted to partner up with him at club level as well as he attempted to tee up a deal for the Inter man to join him at Camp Nou in 2020.

"We talked about it a lot in the national team, he asked me what the situation was like between me and Inter, but I always remained calm because we talked to the club to find an agreement to be happy here," Martinez told Sportmediaset.

"That's how it went and I'm happy to have stayed, I'm fine in Milan: I like my family."

Martinez, who signed from Racing Club in July 2018, was an integral part of Antonio Conte's title-winning team as he featured in every Serie A game for Inter.

The 24-year-old formed a dominant partnership last season with Romelu Lukaku, who left for former club Chelsea in August, but the Argentina international explained his strike partner's departure was a personal decision.

"Did he regret Chelsea? I don't know, he made a personal choice," Martinez added on Lukaku.

"He was happy at Inter, we talked often but if he chose to leave it was obviously because he felt like it. We are the ones who now work to give Inter the best."

Martinez, who netted 17 times last term, thrived under the now Tottenham head coach as Inter ended a 10-year wait for the Scudetto, but he revealed he is also enjoying life under new boss Simone Inzaghi.

"He's helping me so much," he told Inter's official website when asked about Inzaghi.

"We met when I came back from the Copa America and before that point, we'd already spoken quite a lot on the phone. He's helped me so much with my performances. 

"I always try to learn as much as I can from coaches because they have a wealth of experience and they always try to do the best for their players."

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino defended Lionel Messi after the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner fired a blank in Wednesday's 0-0 Ligue 1 draw at home to Nice.

Messi was honoured pre-game in front of the Parc des Princes crowd following his record-extending Ballon d'Or title, but the superstar was unable to fire PSG to glory in the French capital midweek.

Entering the contest having found the net three times in as many home games for runaway Ligue 1 leaders PSG, Messi attempted six shots, though only one was on target against Nice.

It was Messi's highest tally without scoring in the league since April 2021 – seven with Barcelona against Real Madrid in LaLiga prior to his blockbuster Paris switch.

"It must be my fault because with my football eye I always see Leo well, for something he has won seven Ballons d'Or, there is nothing more to say," Pochettino told reporters.

"It is a pleasure and an honour to have him on our team."

PSG registered 22 shots on goal – their highest tally without scoring in Ligue 1 since March 2016, with Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe going closest to finding the back of the net, but were unable to break down their stubborn opponents.

French powerhouse PSG conceded their first 0-0 home draw in Ligue 1 since February 2017 (against Toulouse). This was their first home draw in the top flight since November 2020 (2-2 against Bordeaux), ending a run of 20 games at home without sharing points (W16 L4).

PSG, however, remain 12 points clear atop the table, though second-placed Marseille have played one game less.

"When goals are not scored, what is lacking is to hit the mark, you shoot many times and the ball does not go in and other times it does," added Pochettino, who has been heavily linked with Premier League side Manchester United.

"We have not been able to take advantage of the opportunities we had, but these things happen once or twice a season when you play well and the goalkeeper or the stick or it goes an inch out. You have to accept this kind of thing."

Gerard Pique revealed he feels "added pressure" as he does not want to let former team-mate and new Barcelona head coach Xavi down.

The centre-back has started all three games of the new era under Xavi, who was appointed in the wake of Ronald Koeman's dismissal at the end of October.

Barca have won twice while drawing the other of Xavi's first three games and currently sit in 10th in LaLiga, 10 points behind leaders Real Madrid.

Pique now feels an added incentive and pressure to perform for the former Blaugrana midfielder, who he played with 261 times during the Catalan club's halcyon days.

"Xavi has arrived and has set standards like many coaches," Pique told Spanish television show El Hormiguero on Tuesday. 

"They are necessary to demand orders and we are going to fulfil them all as it has always been in the past.

"It puts added pressure on me to have Xavi as a coach, you don't want to let him down.

"Morally I have to give him my best and if my performance is not the best I feel like I'm failing him."

Barca's challenge has mounted this term following the departure of Lionel Messi, who ended a 21-year association with the Spanish giants as he joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

Pique explained the difficulties of seeing Messi leave as he reminisced on a glory period with the Argentine superstar, who collected a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or on Monday.

"It was very hard, we played together since we were 14 years old," he added. "It was very hard from a sporting and personal point of view. Things haven't gone well for us at the start of the season.

"I am happy for him and his seventh Ballon d'Or proves that he is the best of all time.

"He has gone to a new country and a new culture. It's difficult, it happened to me when I was 17 when I went to Manchester [United]. Leo has gone with his family and I went on my own, but it's hard."

Pique has no ambitions to leave Barca, though he has been gradually preparing himself for a potential retirement.

"Many team-mates say that when you retire it's hard. You have had this routine since you were little," the 34-year-old continued.

"It takes you a long time to adapt to the new life. People can take a year or more. And people recognise you less and less in the street and generations go by. It's hard.

"I have been preparing myself for this life for a long time. Investing in business, projects, [and so on] to have something to do after I retire.

"The key is to have something to do after leaving football. But clearly, I'm going to miss football."

Thomas Muller believes Robert Lewandowski should have trumped Lionel Messi after the Argentina international claimed his seventh Ballon d'Or title.

Messi collected his record-extending seventh accolade after more success with Barcelona and Argentina, who ended a 28-year wait for a major trophy with their Copa America win, despite struggling at new club Paris-Saint Germain.

The 34-year-old has scored just once for PSG in seven Ligue 1 outings this term, while Lewandowski has netted 25 times in 20 appearances across all competitions this season for Bayern.

The Poland forward also registered 41 goals in just 29 league games for Die Roten last campaign to break Gerd Muller's 49-year record in a single Bundesliga season, but only finished runner-up at Monday's ceremony.

While coronavirus forced a cancellation of the 2020 Ballon d'Or, which Lewandowski appeared favourite for, Muller feels his team-mate was deserving of the 2021 award as well.

 

"From a Bavarian, Polish and also from a German point of view, the presentation of the Ballon d'Or yesterday evening was definitely a disappointment," Muller wrote in a post on his official LinkedIn profile.

"For some even a little more. Although I've been in the business for a bit longer and was therefore not really surprised at the outcome (it was similar with Franck Ribery in 2013), the whole thing formed or reinforced a thought in me: We have great players in the Bundesliga and we have to not hide us. However, further international successes are necessary for global recognition.

"This is also a huge motivation for me to put everything into the balance in order to bring the Champions League back to Munich and to show the football world what is going on. And above all, what German football has to offer.

"We have the next opportunity to do so next Wednesday in the Champions League game against Barcelona. Let's tackle it! 

"PS: With Lionel Messi, he is probably the best individualist football has ever produced. So congratulations to Lionel on winning the Ballon d'Or, even if I think that Robert Lewandowski would have deserved it more this time."

Jurgen Klopp has questioned what more Robert Lewandowski could have done to win the Ballon d'Or after the Bayern Munich striker missed out on the award.

Lionel Messi scooped the accolade for a seventh time on Monday, but many felt this would be Lewandowski's time to take the glory.

Klopp benefited from the brilliance of Lewandowski when both men were at Borussia Dortmund, with the Poland international scoring 103 goals before switching to Bayern.

At club level, Lewandowski has scored 53 goals already in 2021, with six assists taking him to 59 goal involvements, the most in Europe's top five leagues.

Messi sits fifth on that list (32 goals, 12 assists) but helped Argentina to win the Copa America, thereby winning one of the few trophies that had eluded him.

That likely tipped the vote his way, with Messi's form since leaving Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain in August having so far been sketchy by his mercurial standards.

Asked initially whether he was surprised there were six players who ranked higher than Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, Klopp said: "I was surprised to be honest, but it's not in my hands. If you think he should be higher up, then you'll have to convince your colleagues."

Then Klopp turned his focus to Lewandowski, a player he once described as the best he has ever coached. Lewandowski was second to Messi for the coveted Ballon d'Or, which is voted for by journalists from across the world.

The 33-year-old scored 41 Bundesliga goals last season, breaking a record for the most in the division that was previously held by Gerd Muller.

"I think that you always can give it to Lionel Messi for the career he has and the footballer he is, all these kinds of things, but if you don't give it to Robert Lewandowski this time then it's quite tricky to get it at all," said the Liverpool boss.

"And yes, Mo definitely should have been high up."

 

Lewandowski would also have been a frontrunner in 2020, only for organisers France Football to cancel the awards due to the impact of the COVID-19 enforced break in the football year.

He managed 57 goals involvements (45 goals, 12 assists) in 2020, which was 10 more than Cristiano Ronaldo (41 goals, 6 assists), who had the second-most in the elite leagues, and 12 ahead of Messi (26 goals, 19 assists).

Lionel Messi "completely deserved" his record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, according to Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

The PSG star has endured something of a slow start to the Ligue 1 season, scoring just once in seven games, but his prior exploits with Barcelona and Argentina were enough to secure another accolade.

The 34-year-old's performances for Argentina at the Copa America, helping his country to a first major trophy in 28 years, were likely what gave him the edge over Robert Lewandowski.

Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski, who Messi claimed should have been awarded the cancelled 2020 Ballon d'Or, was once again in the running after breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

But Pochettino insists his Argentinian compatriot was the most deserving of the award for yet another outstanding year in which he has also managed 32 goals and 12 assists across 40 club appearances.

"Firstly, I want to publicly congratulate Leo and his family," Pochettino told reporters at Tuesday's pre-match news conference ahead of the visit of Nice. 

"Winning seven Ballons d'Or is an extraordinary achievement. I hope he takes advantage of it and that it's the first day to work on getting the eighth.

"To have players with six and seven Ballon d'Or is something extraordinary and we are delighted to have him here every day. 

"We hope at the end of the year to also have collective trophies beyond the individual trophies."

Asked about the criticism of the Argentina international's victory, Pochettino responded: "Messi completely deserved it and there is no debate. 

"Of course, in other countries there may be criticism, but he completely deserved it."

Ahead of Wednesday's clash with Nice, PSG lead Ligue 1 by 12 points after winning 13 of their opening 15 games, a total surpassed only once at this stage in the competition by PSG themselves in 2018-19 (14/15).

The league leaders may be without Messi for the clash at Parc des Princes, though, after the former Barcelona forward, along with Leandro Paredes, did not train on Tuesday due to a stomach bug.

PSG will decide on the fitness of the pair on the morning of the Nice game, while they will definitely be without Neymar, who is expected to be out for six to eight weeks due to an ankle injury sustained against Saint-Etienne.

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.

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