Lionel Messi further solidified his GOAT status, winning his record eighth Ballon d’Or award last week. The Inter Miami CF forward defeated Manchester City forward Erling Haaland, who finished second, and young French superstar Kylian MBappé (third place) from Paris Saint-Germain in the voting.
“I couldn't imagine having the career that I've had,” Messi said at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. “Everything that I've achieved. The fortune I've had playing for the best team in the world, the best team in history. It's nice to win these individual trophies. To win the Copa América and then the World Cup, to get it done is amazing.”
Messi has won the Ballon d’Or eight times over the course of a 14-year career that started at FC Barcelona and followed with moves to PSG and now Inter Miami.
Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham announced the latest Ballon d’Or award for Messi, who recognized another Argentine legend in his speech.
“I want to give a last mention to Diego,” Messi said of the late Diego Maradona. “Today is his birthday. I want to wish him a happy birthday, surrounded by players, coaches and people who like soccer like he did. So, wherever he is, happy birthday, Diego. This one is also for you. I share it with you and with all of Argentina.”
Messi, who also won the award in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019 and 2021, extended his lead over Cristiano Ronaldo, who won the Ballon d’Or five times.
Messi, who led Argentina to the World Cup title — their first since Maradona lifted the trophy in 1986 — in Qatar where he won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player and the Silver Boot as the second-highest scorer.
Messi helped lead PSG to the 2022-23 Ligue 1 title and was voted Ligue 1 Best Foreign Player of the Season after 16 goals and 16 assists.
He then arrived in Miami in mid-July and immediately helped the Herons capture the inaugural Leagues Cup title and book a berth in the Concacaf Champions Cup.
“Having left Europe, having chosen Inter Miami, I am very happy and pleased with the decision I made,” Messi said.. “ … [I will] enjoy the moment with my family, enjoy more time in Argentina, which is what I always wanted and never could because we had a game in a few days.”
The 36-year-old had one goal and two assists in six MLS regular season matches for Miami, his late-season injury halting his team’s playoff push. In all competitions, Messi had 11 goals and eight assists in 14 appearances with Miami. He’s the first current MLS player to win the Ballon d’Or.
“To say he's a Miami player and he's in our city, that's a special thing,” Beckham said. “Like Leo's just said, he'll celebrate it with teammates – they achieved so much last year. Also with his family, with his amazing wife and his children, and his family back in Argentina. He will celebrate it in his way and we will do our best to celebrate it in the Miami way.”
That celebration came via a hero’s welcome at the Inter Miami training ground when Messi returned to South Florida the next day.
The team presented him with a large cutout ‘8’ signed by the entire team and gave him a tunnel of honor when he walked out onto the pitch.
Messi’s Ballon d’Or win will be celebrated in a friendly against New York City FC on Nov. 10 at DRV PNK Stadium, a match billed as “Noche D’Or.”
The pre-game ceremonies will see Messi’s trophy presented to fans, along with speeches by Messi, Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas and MLS commissioner Don Garber.
The match will be streamed on Apple TV through MLS Season Pass in English and Spanish.
Inter Miami previously had planned a trip to China where they were scheduled to compete against Qingdao Hainiu FC and Chengdu Rongcheng, but the tour was called off, the club announced last week.
Now, it appears, another one of Messi’s friends is set to join the trio in Miami. Reports out of Uruguay claim legendary striker Luis Suarez will sign after finishing the season with Brazil’s Gremio next month.
Suarez also previously teamed with Messi at Barcelona, part of the famed “MSN” forward line along with Messi and Brazilian star Neymar a decade ago.
Suarez, who will turn 37 in January, has long been rumored to make a move to Miami. At the end of the regular season, Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said the club was declining the contract option for striker Josef Martinez, which created room for a possible Suarez move.
“Within our analysis of the upcoming season, and the needs we may have, we have an analysis with Luis and an analysis without Luis,” Martino told reporters last month. “So when the moment arrives to make Suárez’s situation with respect to Inter Miami official, we’ll be prepared to go in the corresponding direction.”
Suarez has scored more than 450 goals and won more than 20 trophies at the club level for European powerhouses Ajax, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid. He has 10 goals and 10 assists in 26 matches for Gremio.
Like Messi, Suarez is his country’s leading scorer with 68 goals in 137 appearances for Uruguay. He’s played in four World Cups and won the 2011 Copa America title.