Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, still only 24, won the soccer World Player of the Year award for the third time in a row on Monday.
Real Madrid’s Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo was second in the vote for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or, and Messi’s Barcelona teammate Xavi third.
Messi, who inspired his Spanish team to win the Champions League, La Liga and Club World Cup, was also first last year when the award was created by joining together the separate annual prizes handed out by FIFA and France Football magazine.
“To win it three times running is a very big honor,” Messi, who also won both old awards in 2009, told the audience after being presented with the trophy by former Brazil striker Ronaldo, a three-time World Player of the Year.
No player has previously won the FIFA award three times in a row, although Michel Platini claimed the France Football prize three years in succession in the 1980s.
Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola won the coach’s award ahead of Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid.
Ferguson took the FIFA presidential award for outstanding service to the sport.
Brazil and Santos forward Neymar won the award for the goal of the year, a stunning effort in a Brazilian championship match against Flamengo.
Messi swept home with 47.88 percent of the vote in the survey among national team coaches, captains and selected media.
Ronaldo took 21.6 percent and Xavi 9.23 percent.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter heaped praise on Ferguson before handing him his prize.
“In a world in which coaches are expected to produce instant results or be changed, his longevity is a shining example of what can be achieved through stability, continuity, investment in development and trust and confidence in the personality himself,” said the Swiss, in his fourth mandate as FIFA president. “Twenty-five years managing the same club, can you imagine that today?”
Meanwhile, Japanese midfielder Homare Sawa claimed the women’s equivalent of the Ballon d’Or, after she won the Golden Boot for top scorer and the Golden Ball for player of the tournament as Japan secured their first ever women’s World Cup title in Germany.
Marta of Brazil and US striker Abby Wambach were also nominated.
Japan coach Norio Sasaki was named Women’s Coach of the Year, ahead of France coach Bruno Bini and the US’ Swedish coach Pia Sundhage.