Lionel Messi won a record-breaking fourth consecutive Fifa Ballon d'Or at an awards ceremony in Zurich tonight.
Messi enjoyed a remarkable 2012 even by his own high standards, most notably surpassing Gerd Muller's 40-year-old record of 85 goals in a calendar year, finishing with an incredible 91.
And yet despite this latest accolade Messi indicated even before picking up the trophy that his own summary of the year was "must do better" after Barcelona allowed Real Madrid to win the Primera Liga and also missed out in Europe.
“I don’t think it was my best year as I always say that titles you win with the team are more important,” said Messi, noting Barca merely netted the Spanish Cup in 2012.
“The Spanish league, Spanish Cup or Champions League is more important than any personal records,” Messi also stressed and with Barca and himself setting their individual and collective sights stratospherically high - yet so often reaching their goals - last year was something of a disappointment.
Messi is aware that only his failure to date to lift top honours with Argentina stops the footballing fraternity acknowledging him as the greatest footballer ever - though a fifth individual accolade in 12 months time, which former Barca great Johan Cruyff sees as almost a formality, would surely vault him above even Pele.
Messi himself admits an outstanding ambition is World Cup glory - in Pele’s homeland in 18 months time - but his form in an Argentina shirt has not always quite reached the effervescent heights he touches dressed in Barcelona’s ‘blaugrana.’
“I still have this dream and that is to be a world champion and lift the Copa America with the national side,” said Messi recently.
“And I know I’ll do it, I’m convinced I will.”
Teammate and third-place nominee Iniesta paid tribute to his colleague, saying he expected the Argentine to build on his four awards.
"Leo, if he continues in this vein, won't let a fifth straight Ballon d'Or title slip," he said.
"I congratulate him on a fourth which makes him unique.
"It's not a question of sharing it out with others just because somebody has won a lot - you have to savour a job well done and that's what we are doing today."
If the historical comparison with Pele and Diego Maradona remains academic in the eyes of many fans, nobody can argue today that Messi is the best in the contemporary game.
His dribbling skills and inventiveness may also be the preserve of fellow finalist Andres Iniesta while the finishing of third finalist Cristiano Ronaldo is almost on a par with that of the Argentine.
But Messi’s ability to combine metronomic goalscoring with all-round creativity gives him the edge, while he can also point to three Champions League winners’ medals to Ronaldo’s one from the latter’s Old Trafford days.
Messi has also won the Fifa Club World Cup twice and is Barca’s leading scorer with 283 goals in all competitions even before his career reaches the half-way mark.
Only Michel Platini had previously won the Ballon d’Or accolade for three years running but Messi surpassed the Frenchman as well as Cruyff and another Dutch superstar Marco van Basten, both three-time winners.
Fenerbahce's Miroslav Stoch won the FIFA Puskas Award for goal of the year, Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque was named World Coach of the Year and United States international Abby Wambach won Women's World Player of the Year.
Wabach beat Brazil's Marta and her US teammate Alex Morgan to clinch the award, after bagging five goals during the London 2012 Olympics.
"Wwinning any individual award is a total product of the team that you play for," she said.
"I've never scored a goal without receiving a pass from my team-mates. Thanks to all the fans out there who continue to inspire me and the rest of the team to win as many games as we can."
The FIFPro World XI was made up entirely of players based in Spain with Barcelona's Dani Alves, Gerard Pique and Xavi, Real Madrid's Iker Casillas, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso and Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao joining the three Ballon d'Or nominees in the team.
Franz Beckenbauer received the FIFA Presidential Award.
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