Rooney eclipsed as Messi crowned greatest in Europe

Highest-rated English player finishes eighth as La Liga dominates rankings

Lionel Messi finished an extraordinary year at Barcelona by getting the better of Cristiano Ronaldo for the second time in the space of 48 hours and winning the 2009 Ballon D'Or.

After helping Barça to a 1-0 victory over Ronaldo's Madrid in Sunday's El Clasico, Messi was confirmed yesterday as France Football's European Footballer of the Year, beating the former Manchester United forward into second place by a huge margin of 473 points to 233.

The award, decided by a poll of 96 sports journalists from around the world who each select their top five players over the calendar year – the No 1 choice receives five points down to one for the fifth-placed man – was dominated by Barcelona. The club won the treble in Spain last season, and Messi humbly admitted: "Any of my team-mates from last season could have won." Barça midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were third and fourth with 170 and 149 respectively and Samuel Eto'o, who has since switched from Barça to Internazionale came in fifth.

United's Wayne Rooney and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard were eighth and 10th respectively.

Messi cemented his place at the top of football's pecking order during last year's duel with Ronaldo in the European Cup final. His headed goal sealed victory and helped Barcelona complete the treble. After two below-par performances against Chelsea in the semi-final many questioned if in fact it wasn't Cristiano Ronaldo who was the best player on the planet. But in Rome, Ronaldo failed to score and lost while Messi scored and won.

Snapped up by Barça aged 13 in spite of scouts who doubted his potential and said he would be "fine for table football but little more", Messi needed hormone treatment to cure a growth deficiency. River Plate had rejected him aged 11 over concerns about his health but Barça took the gamble and it has paid dividends.

Nobody scored more goals last season in all competitions than Messi who notched 23 in 31 games in the League, six in eight cup matches and scored nine times in Europe. The goals came in the important matches too. He scored in the Spanish Cup final and in the 6-2 thrashing that Barça inflicted on Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

In both those games and in the European Cup final in Rome he was employed by coach Pep Guardiola in the middle of Barcelona's front three flanked by Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry. His ability to link brilliantly with midfielders Hernandez and Iniesta was a feature of Barça's best performances.

The three formed a footballing Bermuda Triangle where almost every team they faced was lost without trace.

Last season was Messi's best so far and it was also Guardiola's first. His arrival brought a high-intensity style which suited the Argentine and a more serious training regime that helped him to stay injury-free after three previous seasons where he missed at least 10 games in each. He now has the muscle as well as the magic and it is the physical strength as well as the quick feet that make him almost impossible to stop.

Messi becomes the first Barcelona youth team player to win the award and the first Argentine because non-European players were not allowed to compete until 1995, thus preventing Maradona lifting the trophy.

"I'm sure he would have won it had the rules allowed," Messi added. And he paid tribute to his coach.

He said: "Guardiola has always been a very important person for me. He has been important for all of us. He has built up a relationship with us that goes beyond just player-coach."

Ballon d'Or: How the voting went

1. L Messi (Barcelona/Argentina) 473pts

2. C Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Manchester United/Portugal) 233pts

3. X Hernandez (Barça/Spain) 170pts

4. A Iniesta (Barça/Spain) 149pts

5. S Eto'o (Barça, Internazionale/Cameroon) 75pts

6. Kaka (Milan, Real Madrid/Brazil) 58pts

7. Z Ibrahimovic ( Internazionale, Barça/Sweden) 58pts

8. W Rooney (Man Utd/England) 35pts

9. D Drogba (Chelsea/Ivory Coast) 33pts

10. S Gerrard (Liverpool/England) 32pts

Other British/British-based players:

11. F Torres (Liverpool/Spain) 22pts; 12. C Fabregas (Arsenal/Spain) 13pts; 14. R Giggs (Manchester United/Wales) 11pts; 16= N Vidic (Manchester United/Serbia) 8pts; 21= A Arshavin (Arsenal/Russia) 5pts; 21= F Lampard (Chelsea/England) 5pts; 26= J Terry (Chelsea/England) 2pts.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine