ZURICH // Lionel Messi has become the first person to win Fifa men's player of the year three years in a row.
The Argentine forward, who led Barcelona to the Champions League title, was voted the Fifa Golden Ball Award on Monday, beating out Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Xavi Hernandez in voting by national team coaches and captains plus selected reporters.
The only other three-time winners are Ronaldo (1996/97 and 2002) and Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2000 and 2003). The Fifa award was renamed last year, when it merged with France Football's Golden Ball.
Messi scored 55 goals in 2011 for Barcelona, which won its third Champions League title in six seasons, and he had four goals for Argentina's national team.
Japan's Homare Sawa won women's player of the year, ending Marta's steak of five in a row.
NEED TO BE LIKE MARADONA, PLATINI TELLS MESSI
Messi's honour was tempered a bit when Michel Platini, the Uefa president, reminded that he must win a World Cup with Argentina before he can be considered a contender as the greatest player of all time.
But the former France star believes Messi must win football's biggest prize in order to rival Pele and Diego Maradona, the Al Wasl coach currently in Dubai. "Messi will always be great with or without (winning) a World Cup – but the World Cup, it's something special," Platini told reporters. "The World Cup will stay in the mind of the people."
Messi's record of relative failure at international level is an unsolved mystery.
Argentina has experienced a series of quarterfinal exits at the World Cup and Copa America during Messi's time, and he has not scored for the Albiceleste at either tournament over the past two years.
"When you see Maradona, you see what he has done in '86," said Platini, whose France team lost in the semi-finals to West Germany that year in Mexico.
Platini suggested that Maradona is more often remembered for his achievements at World Cups than his similarly impressive achievements at Napoli, where he led the team to its only two Serie A titles.
"At the World Cup he was very strong. To score in a World Cup is an important matter," said Platini, who scored at each major tournament he played from 1978-86. He also was named European Footballer of the Year three times in the spell.