Lionel Messi Deserved This Ballon D'Or, But It Should Be His Last

The time has come to anoint the next generation
13:00, 31 Oct 2023

It was never in doubt. You didn’t need the leaks to tell you Lionel Messi was going to win the Ballon d’Or on Monday night. The engraver’s work was probably done last December, when Messi inspired Argentina all the way to a World Cup final win over France. As far as honours go, this was as open and shut as you’re likely to see. 

The gong once again conjures a list of records Messi has broken or extended. He becomes the first Major League Soccer player to win the honour. The Argentina legend currently plies his trade at David Beckham-owned Inter Miami. Messi’s eighth Ballon d’Or also sees him take the outright lead over every other country. Not player, country. Messi has won more Ballon d’Ors than any single nation in the history of the award. Welcome to Messi country.


The award is designed to celebrate the best footballer on the planet. Here is where this year’s award hasn’t quite hit the nail on the head. There is no credible argument that the 36-year-old, MLS version of Messi is the best in the world. Not any more. Kylian Mbappe, the Paris-Saint-Germain superstar who scored a hat-trick in that same World Cup final for France is better these days. So is Manchester City’s jaw-dropping goal machine Erling Haaland. 

This isn’t the first time Messi has been given the award when arguably not fulfilling the criteria. He scooped the 2021 Ballon d’Or at the expense of Robert Lewandowski. The then-Bayern Munich forward had been passed over in 2020 too, when the pandemic prevented the ceremony being held. But outscoring the following year wasn’t enough and the diminutive Argentine picked up his seventh award.


This year’s feels less cynical than the 2021 award. His previous win felt like a transparent attempt to get Messi on the podium because he’s Messi. This time, the Ballon d’Ors greatest winner is coming off a year where he completed the ultimate football triumph. Where he was a vital part in that success. Messi deserves this, though I don’t think there’s any doubt it should be his last.

Which begs the question of what is next for the iconic trophy. Given the fact that two of the last three have been doled out with sentimental intentions, where does the Ballon d’Or go from here? My suggestion would be to move it out of the realm of lifetime achievement award and back into a trophy that recognises the sharp end of excellence. The award has not had a winner in their 20s since Messi himself was a 28-year-old winner of the 2015 version. While Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s dominance obviously took them deep into their 30s, it is time for younger champions to emerge.

In many ways, this could be the end of an era. As we alluded to, this is likely to be Messi’s last one. Surely no matter what he does at Inter Miami, it won’t be enough to get him back here. Ronaldo would likely need a truly generational Euro 2024 performance to add to his tally, considering the quality of the Saudi Pro League. Karim Benzema, the 2022 victor, is also plying his trade in Saudi. The path is clear for the new generation of talent. Next time could be the time to start anointing the likes of Haaland and Mbappe finally.

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