Lionel Messi wins Fifa's Ballon d'Or award for fourth consecutive year
Barcelona forward sets new benchmark as Fifa names him best player for 4th time, with all his accolades coming in consecutive years
Spain bathed in glory yesterday after Barcelona star Lionel Messi won the Ballon d'Or for best footballer of the year for a record fourth time in as many years, cementing his claim to be one of the greatest players of all time.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque also snatched top honours in recognition of the national side's triumph at Euro 2012, which followed their 2010 World Cup victory and Euro 2008 crown, to cap a virtual clean sweep for Spanish and La Liga players at the prestigious awards ceremony.
However, it was the smiling 25-year-old Argentine international who stole the show, with pictures of him picking up the Fifa prize in Zurich, dressed in an eyebrow-raising black and white polka-dot suit and bow tie, splashed across front pages.
"Spain!!!" bellowed the lead headline in the Madrid-based Marca newspaper, Spain's biggest-selling sports daily and a favourite among fans of Real Madrid. "Unique, unmatchable Messi," it went on.
The diminutive forward scored a stunning 91 goals in all competitions last year, smashing the 40-year record of 85 held by German legend Gerd Mueller.
"Messi was crowned yesterday as the best player in history," Marca said. "No one until now had won four Ballons d'Or … Leo has done it, and consecutively."
Rival sports daily AS also lavished praise on the Barca star.
"Since we have known him, every year he plays better, every year he scores more goals," said the newspaper's columnist, Alfredo Relano. "I have never seen a player with such power."
"Golden Messi," the Barcelona-based Mundo Deportivo said, adding: "Leo Messi is the greatest. Huge. Unique."
On his return to Barcelona airport, Messi said he had forgotten many people in his speech and had wanted to mention Barca coach Tito Vilanova, who is being treated for cancer of the salivary gland, and defender Eric Abidal. The French defender is training with the squad again after undergoing a liver transplant.
"When things calmed down, I remembered Tito and Abidal and everyone, obviously," Messi said, apologising for his omissions.
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell said he was "very proud of our players and to be with Barcelona", the club said on Twitter.
Messi, 25, said there is much more to come from him.
"There's always space to grow up and be better. We never reach perfection. I will keep trying to be better and better and keep growing as a player," he says in an interview for the premiere edition of 60 Minutes Sports, airing tonight on American cable broadcaster Showtime.
Messi retained his usual modest approach to the media by crediting his teammates for his award. "Barca is not just Messi. Barca has [other] very good players," he said.
However, the accolade seals his status as the greatest player of his generation.
Messi and former French star Michel Platini, now Uefa president, had been the only players to win Ballon d'Or awards in three consecutive years, while Dutch greats Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten also both won the accolade on three occasions.
Messi has insisted his scoring records will mean nothing if Barcelona do not go on to take the La Liga title off Real Madrid or fail to win the Champions League.
"It is incredible to receive this prize once again. Each one is special. You never come here thinking you are going to win," said Messi.
"I would like to share this with my Barca teammates - particularly with Andres [Iniesta], who is here with me."