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Novak Djokovic caught in Ballon d'Or furore as Lionel Messi award sparks uproar

Messi's record-extending eighth top individual award was not without its controversy.

On the left is Lionel Messi and David Beckham at the Ballon d'Or awards night, with tennis star Novak Djokovic on the right.

The presence of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic at football's Ballon d'Or awards night has raised eyebrows, with the 36-year-old presenting the top women's award to Spain's Aitana Bonmati. The FIFA Women's World Cup star edged Matildas captain Sam Kerr for the top gong, while Argentina's Lionel Messi took out a record-extending eighth Ballon d'Or award, ahead of Manchester City's Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain teammate, Kylian Mbappe.

Bonmati's triumph came after she inspired Spain to glory at the Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The 25-year-old midfielder was named the best player at the World Cup, and has now won the highest individual gong in football, with Aussie captain Kerr scoring her nation's highest ever place at the Ballon d'Or awards by finishing runner-up.

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However, it was the sight of Djokovic presenting the women's award that puzzled onlookers. Many fans took to social media to question why a female star of the sport was not chosen instead, or why FIFA invited a tennis legend to present the biggest individual prize in football.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the night was Messi being crowed the men's Ballon d'or winner for a record-extending eighth time - putting him three clear of Cristiano Ronaldo. Many argued that Manchester City's Erling Haaland was a much more deserving winner after a record-breaking season that saw him set a new goals benchmark in the Premier League and claim a treble of trophies with the English giants.

However, Ballon d'Ors are always more heavily weighted towards World Cup triumphs and so it proved after Messi guided his nation to the third title in their history in 2022. He was involved in 10 goals for Argentina in the tournament in Qatar, scoring seven and assisting three more. He scored twice in the final against France as Argentina claimed the trophy for the first time since Diego Maradona's men reigned supreme in 1986.

Messi's final season with PSG was less impressive though. The French giants did win a record-extending 11th French league, but again exited the Champions League in the round of 16. Since moving to Inter Miami in the United States, Messi has already picked up his first silverware there by inspiring the team to victory in the US Leagues Cup.

Pictured right is Erling Haaland and Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi on left.
Many football fans insisted Erling Haaland was a more deserving winner of the Ballon d'Or than Lionel Messi. Pic: Getty

Messi's victory speech included a nod to Haaland, whom he admitted could have easily won the Ballon d'Or on the back of his trophy-laden and goal-filled year. Haaland did claim the Gerd Muller Trophy for the world's top-scoring striker after hitting a staggering 56 goals last season - including a new Premier League record of 36 in the English top flight.

Lionel Messi claims contentious Ballon d'Or win over Erling Haaland

The Norwegian was instrumental in helping Manchester City claim a treble of trophies that included the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. Many fans were quick to point out that aside from the World Cup triumph win with Argentina, it was a fairly lacklustre season for Messi at PSG and that Haaland was more deserving of the Ballon d'Or.

Aitana Bonmati completes sweep of women's awards

Spain's Bonmati enjoyed a fine year for club and country - winning the Women's domestic league title and Champions League double with Barcelona before playing a pivotal role in Spain's Women's World Cup success in Australia, where she also won the Golden Ball award for top scorer. Her Spain and Barcelona teammate Salma Paralluelo was third behind Kerr for the top individual gong.

England international Jude Bellingham was voted the Kopa Award winner for the best under-21 player in the world, while Aston Villa and Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez won the Lev Yashin Trophy for goalkeeper of the year after his starring role in the World Cup triumph.

with agencies

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