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Lionel Messi wins 8th Ballon d'Or; Spain's Aitana Bonmatí is named top female player

Lionel Messi accepted his eighth Ballon d'Or trophy, and was joined by his sons at the awards ceremony in Paris.
Pascal Le Segretain
/
Getty Images
Lionel Messi accepted his eighth Ballon d'Or trophy, and was joined by his sons at the awards ceremony in Paris.

Lionel Messi added another notch to his legend on Monday, winning the Ballon d'Or as the world's best soccer player for a record eighth time. The women's award went to Spain's Aitana Bonmatí.

Both of the Ballon d'Or winners are midfielders who led their national teams to World Cup titles: Messi took Argentina to the top in Qatar in late 2022, and Bonmatí did the same for Spain's women's team in Australia this past summer.

It was the first World Cup trophy for Messi, the ultimate international title, which had eluded him during his storied, decades-long career.

"Messi is Infinity," a massive sign declared as Messi accepted his trophy on the stage of the historic Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

For the record, it only seems like infinity: Messi won his first Ballon d'Orthe top individual award in soccerin 2009. But it's also true that he has now won some 12% of all Ballon d'Or trophies given out since the magazine France Football began awarding the golden ball in 1956.

Messi, 36, beat out Manchester City striker Erling Haaland and forward Kylian Mbappé of Paris Saint-Germain, who finished second and third in the voting, respectively.

After his win, Messi credited his national team for bringing Argentina a long-awaited World Cup title. He also gave a shoutout to his countryman, Diego Maradona, the legendary player who died in 2020.

"Today is his birthday, so I think there is no better place to wish him a happy birthday," Messi said, referring to the awards ceremony and audience full of elite soccer players who love the game the way Maradona did.

Messi's award was announced by David Beckham, a co-owner of Messi's current club, Inter Miami. Messi is now the first active player in the U.S.-based MLS to win the famous trophy.

Bonmatí, 25, won her Ballon d'Or after excelling in every arena over the past 12 months. At the club level, she led FC Barcelona to national and European Champions League titles, before helping La Roja win Spain's first-ever World Cup. Along the way, she won the Golden Ball as the best player at the 2023 Women's World Cup.

Bonmatí takes over the trophy from her compatriot Alexia Putellas, who won the past two editions of the Ballon d'Or.

In her acceptance speech, Bonmatí praised her fellow nominees, and spoke about the wider context, as women's teams and leagues push for better treatment.

"As role models, we have a responsibility on and off the pitch. We should be more than athletes," she said. "Keep leading by example, and keep fighting together for a better, peaceful and equal world. Merci."

The Spanish women won this year's World Cup after overcoming internal strife: Players dealt with a contentious dispute with the national federation over unequal conditions and other issues, and then faced a new scandal when Luis Rubiales, then-Spanish soccer federation president, kissed a player on the lips after the World Cup final.

On the same day Bonmatí won the Ballon d'Or, Rubiales was hit with a three-year ban by FIFA. Spanish authorities are also pursuing criminal charges against him.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.