Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi won the 2011 Balon d’Or (Golden Ball) yesterday during a ceremony in Zurich. The FC Barcelona striker and captain of the Argentine national team became the first player to win it three years in a row. The Balon d’Or is given to the best all-around player for club and country and is soccer’s top individual honor granted by the Féderation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body. Only former Frech captain Zinedine Zidane and Brazilian legend Ronaldo have won the award three times.
2011 was a record-setting year for 24-year-old Messi. He won the La Liga Player of the Year after scoring 55 goals for FC Barcelon, was deemed Man of the Match in the team’s Champions League victory over Manchester United and won the 2010-2011 UEFA Best Player in Europe award. The Argentine received 47.9 percent of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains as well as select reporters. Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 21.6 percent and Spanish midfielder (and Messi’s teammate on Barcelona) Xavi got 9.2 percent to finish third for the third year in a row.
As Messi continues to rack up more awards in his young career, he also finds time to stay active off the field. In 2007, he founded the Leo Messi Foundation, which provides access to education and health care for at-risk children in Argentina and also serves as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. To learn more about how Messi and five other top athletes are giving back, check out the “Good Sports” feature in the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly.