– By James Clancy
Lionel Messi has won a record sixth Ballon d’Or crown at a ceremony in Paris.
The Barcelona star moved ahead of great rival Cristiano Ronaldo to take outright ownership of the record, seeing off Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk and Juventus’ Ronaldo.
The Argentinian struck 54 goals for club and country in the 2018-19 season.
The 32-year-old held off the challenge of Holland centre-back Van Dijk, whose performances helped Liverpool to the Champions League title.
Van Dijk, the winner of UEFA’s Men’s Player of the Year, could have been the first defender to lift the Ballon d’Or since Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, but he was left to settle for second place as Messi added another honour to the Best FIFA Men’s award he received in September.
And he fired a warning to his rivals that he only intends to keep on breaking records, and has no plans to start easing off now that he is in his early 30s.
“I’m going to enjoy this with my family,” he said. “Because those times when it’s possible to do it do not last long.
“Tomorrow we will have to focus again on other objectives.
“I am already focused on the future. This gives me great pride, it gives me a lot of strength to continue my work.”
Van Dijk still finished ahead of five-time winner Ronaldo, with his Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane fourth.
“It was an amazing year, but there’s a couple of players like that who are a bit unnatural,” said Van Dijk, of Messi and Ronaldo.
“So you need to respect greatness as well.
“I was close, but there was just someone a little bit better.
“I’m very proud of what I achieved last year with Liverpool and Holland, and hopefully we can do that again this year. But that will be tough with those guys around here still.”
Van Dijk admitted he had never expected to be in the running for the prestigious title.
“I never thought that I would be up for a Ballon d’Or until I was actually nominated,” said Van Dijk.
“It shows a lot about how my career has been. My career has been different from the winner here, I came late, but I never gave up on my dreams.
“I had to work hard every step of the way, so to be here makes me very proud. And I want to work hard and be here again next year.”
Juventus defender Matthijs De Ligt claimed the 2019 Kopa Trophy for the young player award.