How Lionel Messi won incredible SEVEN Ballon d'Or titles to stake his claim as the GOAT ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo
LIONEL MESSI boasts more Ballons d'Or crowns than anyone else in football – including arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Argentine, 34, has won the most-prestigious individual crown in football SEVEN times to the Manchester United star's five after his 2021 victory.
On that basis alone, many believe Messi to be the sport's true GOAT.
But how did the former Barcelona wizard – now at Paris Saint-Germain – win his incredible seven crowns?
We take a look…
MESSI got his hands on his first Ballon d'Or one year after old rival Cristiano Ronaldo won his.
The Argentine was in sensational form in the run-up to the award ceremony.
Messi helped Barcelona win a sensational LaLiga-Champions League-Copa del Rey TREBLE in 2008-09.
He also played a pivotal role in his side's league title, Supercopa de Espana, Super Cup and Club World Cup crowns in 2009.
Messi scored 38 times in all competitions in 2008-09, before netting 47 times the following season.
In 2009, Messi amassed 473 points to storm to the Ballon d'Or crown ahead of Ronaldo – who quit Manchester United for Real Madrid earlier that year – on just 233 points.
The Argentine's club-mate Xavi (170) completed the top three.
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A YEAR later, Messi got his hands on No2 to overtake Ronaldo.
Barcelona yet again won the LaLiga title in 2009-10, with Messi's 34 goals in just 35 games that season playing a massive role.
The Spanish giants also won the Supercopa de Espana that term.
And it was a Barca one-two-three at the 2010 Ballon d'Or ceremony.
Messi (22.65 per cent of the vote) edged Andres Iniesta (17.36%) and Xavi (16.48%) to the gong.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, was way down in sixth with just 3.92 per cent of the votes, behind Wesley Sneijder (14.48%) and Diego Forlan (7.61%).
MESSI made it a hat-trick just 12 months later as he won his third straight Ballon d'Or in 2011.
Barcelona won FIVE trophies in 2011, including another LaLiga crown and the Champions League.
Messi scored 53 times in just 55 games in all competitions in 2010-11 – and started the next campaign in even hotter form.. but more on that later.
The Argentine stormed to his third Ballon d'Or title with 47.88 per cent of the vote.
Ronaldo came second with 21.6 per cent, ahead of third-placed Xavi (9.23%).
THE Barca icon made it a staggering FOUR in a row in 2012 on the back of a simply jaw-dropping year of football.
In 2011-12, Messi was untouchable – scoring 73 times in just 60 matches in all competitions.
Somehow Barcelona were still pipped to the LaLiga crown by Real Madrid's Centurions that season.
But Messi stormed to the 2012 Ballon d'Or title with 41.6 per cent of the vote, ahead of Ronaldo (23.68%) and Iniesta (10.91%).
RONALDO began to close the gap by beating Messi to the Ballon d'Or in 2013 and 2014 – with the Argentine second both years.
But Messi returned to top spot in 2015 – his fifth crown – after helping Barcelona to another staggering Treble.
Barca won the LaLiga, Champions League and Copa del Rey in 2014-15 – before winning the Super Cup and Club World Cup later that year.
Messi scored 43 times, playing in all 38 of his side's league games that season to storm to the Ballon d'Or crown with 41.33 per cent of the vote.
Ronaldo, this time, was forced to take second place with 27.76 per cent, ahead of third-placed Neymar (7.86%).
MESSI saw Ronaldo pull level on five Ballons d'Or apiece in the years leading up to 2019.
Ronaldo won both the 2016 and 2017 awards, with Messi second both years, before Luka Modric won the 2018 gong.
But Messi ensured Ronaldo didn't re-take the lead by edging Virgil van Dijk to the award by the barest of margins.
The Argentine picked up 686 points, with the Liverpool defender just behind on 679 – before a massive drop to Ronaldo in third on 476 points.
Messi scored 51 times in 50 matches in all competition in 2018-19 – including more than a goal per game in LaLiga as Barcelona clinching the title.
MANY of football's top players had a sensational year, with Jorginho and Robert Lewandowski tipped for the gong.
Jorginho helped Chelsea win the Champions League and Italy the Euro 2020 crown, while Lewandowski couldn't stop scoring for Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich – after missing out on last year's cancelled prize.
But Messi took the gong, despite Barcelona only winning the Copa del Rey in 2020-21.
The wing wizard finally won his first international trophy by leading Argentina to the Copa America.
And Messi's impact at Barcelona has only truly been appreciated after he left to join PSG in the summer, with his old club struggling mightily without him.
Barca finished third in LaLiga last term, just seven points adrift of champions Atletico Madrid.
Messi scored 30 times in 35 league games to get them to that stage, with the Nou Camp club way down in seventh without him this term.
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