Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski labelled Lionel Messi "one of the best in history" after the Barcelona star claimed a record sixth Ballon d'Or.

Messi finished ahead of Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo to win the award in Paris on Monday.

Lewandowski, who placed eighth, paid tribute to Messi for his dominance for more than a decade.

"For sure he is a great player. I can only say congratulations to him," he told reporters.

"It's not the first time for him, one of the best in history not just the last few years.

"I'm glad to be close to so many players because we only get to meet each other on the pitch and now this is something different.

"For sure he is a great player, not just the past year but for 10, 15 years."

Lewandowski, 31, is enjoying another brilliant season for Bayern, already up to 27 goals in 21 games in all competitions.

The German giants are fourth in the Bundesliga, four points behind leaders Borussia Monchengladbach, but Lewandowski feels his side will only grow.

"I think everything that we are doing now this season and in the Champions League group stage will pay dividends in the future for next year, next season and I think with Bayern Munich we can play better and better," Lewandowski said.

"We have so many great players with potential and I think next season will be something special and I think we can do big things."

Real Madrid have made Fabian Ruiz their top transfer target.

According to reports, "negotiations have accelerated" as the Spanish heavyweights aim to take advantage of the disarray at Napoli.

But the midfielder also has high-profile admirers in England and France.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STEP UP FABIAN INTEREST

Napoli midfielder Fabian is a man in demand.

Madrid appear to be in pole position, with Cadena SER claiming the Spanish giants are "very serious" about taking the 23-year-old to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Negotiations over a contract extension at Napoli are said to have stopped and the Spain international is reportedly warm to the idea of joining up with Zinedine Zidane's side.

However, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain could look to force a three-way bidding war for the Spain international, who has previously been linked to Barcelona.

ROUND-UP

- Ex-Valencia head coach Marcelino has emerged as a left-field managerial candidate for Arsenal and Everton, according to the Daily Mail. The 54-year-old lost his job at the Mestalla in September following a reported falling out with owner Peter Lim.

- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fears he will be sacked if Manchester United lose their next two games against Tottenham and bitter rivals City, says The Sun.

- Former Premier League striker-turned-reporter Jan Aage Fjortoft claims Liverpool are favourites to land Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho – but the winger will cost the Premier League leaders €130million.

- Chelsea have offered little-used striker Olivier Giroud to Serie A sides Milan and Inter, according to CalcioMercato.

Barcelona are keeping tabs on 16-year-old PSG midfielder Edouard Michut, reports Le Parisien.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi believes his record of six Ballon d'Or awards will be broken.

Messi, 32, claimed the prize for a sixth time in Paris on Monday, beating Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo.

While only Ronaldo has also won the award at least five times, Messi feels someone can get more than six.

"I think so. I don't know who but it's possible," he told reporters.

"Records are made to be beaten, but I don't know who or when. But at the moment I hold the record and I'm very happy."

Messi won his first Ballon d'Or in 2009 before his dominance led to him claiming the prize in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and this year.

The Argentina international said: "It was unimaginable to win one, let alone six.

"It's a joy to get six, it's very nice the recognition from others and it makes me proud."

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo has officially been named the best player in Serie A last season, a few hours after Lionel Messi beat him to a record sixth Ballon d'Or crown.

Ronaldo dodged the glitzy Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris on Monday to instead attend the annual Gran Gala del Calcio in Milan, where he was honoured for his successful maiden campaign with Juve.

He scored 21 league goals in 2018-19 to help the Bianconeri to an eighth successive Scudetto and has six goals in 11 starts this term, despite injury issues curtailing his playing time over the past month.

"It is a proud moment to win this award," Ronaldo said upon collecting the award, which was won by Mauro Icardi, then of Inter, 12 months ago.

"I want to thank my Juventus team-mates. It was my first year in Serie A, a difficult league, and I am very happy. Thank you for voting for me.

"I will now try to repeat what I've done over the next year."

Ronaldo has been struggling with a knee injury in recent weeks and reacted angrily to being hauled off in wins over Lokomotiv Moscow and Milan last month.

However, Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici insisted the Portugal international – who finished third in the Ballon d'Or running behind Messi and Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk – will remain in Turin beyond the end of the campaign.

"This talk makes me smile because there are other problems," Paratici told Sky Sport Italia.

"Ronaldo is ambitious and came to Juventus to prove he is the best here too. We thought he should have won the Ballon d'Or – the rankings are always questionable.

"He will be a Juventus player next season, without a doubt. 

"We must thank him for making himself available to [Maurizio] Sarri, even though he has not been in optimal condition. Having not been able to train properly for a while, it is normal that he is not at his best."

Lionel Messi received the Ballon d'Or trophy from 2018 winner Luka Modric on Monday, with the Real Madrid midfielder then congratulating Barcelona's forward on social media.

Modric ended Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's 10-year duopoly on the prestigious prize last year having helped Croatia reach the World Cup final after winning a third successive Champions League with Real Madrid.

It was Messi's turn to win the award again this year, though, as he claimed a record sixth Ballon d'Or having scored 41 goals in 44 club appearances so far across the calendar year.

Messi was LaLiga's top scorer in 2018-19 as Barcelona beat Real Madrid to the title, though that did not stop Modric praising a star on the other side of the Clasico divide.

"Sports and football are not just about winning, they're also about respect for your team-mates and rivals," he wrote on his social media accounts alongside a picture of him handing Messi the award.

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi acknowledged "the moment of withdrawal is approaching" after picking up a record sixth Ballon d'Or crown at Monday's ceremony in Paris.

Messi saw off stiff competition from Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk to win the award for the first time since 2015, moving him one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, who finished third.

The 32-year-old has scored 41 goals in 44 club appearances this calendar year, but he is unsure just how long he will be able to maintain his incredible goalscoring form.

Speaking on stage after collecting the prestigious accolade, a decade on from his first triumph, Messi said: "To the journalists and my colleagues with whom I win and lose, I remember my first Ballon D'Or in Paris, when I arrived with my brothers, now I pick up the sixth, and this was absolutely unthinkable. 

"I never stopped dreaming and enjoying football like when I was a child. I hope I have more years to enjoy, although I am aware of how old I am, everything happens very quickly and I know that the moment of withdrawal is approaching."

Messi is into his 16th season with Barcelona and made his 700th appearance for the LaLiga champions in last week's 3-1 win against Borussia Dortmund.

The Ballon d'Or award has now been won by a player from Spain's top flight in each of the last 11 campaigns, with Luka Modric temporarily breaking Messi and Ronaldo's stronghold on the prize last year.

Virgil van Dijk conceded he had to "respect greatness" after losing out on the 2019 Ballon d'Or to Lionel Messi.

Barcelona and Argentina forward Messi won the prize for a record sixth time having scored 41 times in 44 club appearances for Barcelona, with whom he won a 10th LaLiga title last season.

Success in the Champions League eluded him, though, as Van Dijk helped Liverpool oust Barcelona in the semi-finals en route to a sixth triumph in Europe's most premier club competition.

Van Dijk's performances for the Reds in that competition and with Nations League finalists Netherlands ensured he finished second in the voting for the Ballon d'Or, though he had no qualms about being pipped to the prize by Messi.

"It was amazing," Van Dijk said of his 2019.

"Unfortunately there are a couple of players like him that are a bit unnatural, I think.

"They're fantastic. Six-time Ballon d'Or [winner], 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, Holland and hopefully we can do that again this year.

"It's going to be tough as long as these guys are around still."

While Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who finished third in the voting, have long been considered greats, 28-year-old Van Dijk has had a slower rise to the top.

The former Groningen, Celtic and Southampton defender only won his first international cap four years ago and thinks the recognition he has recently received is a reflection of his attitude.

"I never thought that I would be up for a Ballon d'Or until I was actually nominated," Van Dijk added.

"It says a lot about how my career has been. It's never been easy. My career is just different to the winner here.

"I came late but I never gave up on my dreams. I had to work hard every step of the way. Where I am right now is something I'm very proud of."

Lionel Messi's uncanny ability to create history continued with a record-breaking sixth Ballon d'Or on Monday.

The decade-long monopoly on football's most prestigious individual prize held by the Barcelona great and Cristiano Ronaldo was broken a year ago by Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric.

But once again it was Messi's name on the prize as he added to the Ballons d'Or he won in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Below, with the help of Opta data, we have scrutinised the numbers behind each of the years Messi has been named the world's best.

2009

Could there really have been any other winner in a year in which Messi swept every major honour? There were six collective titles in total as Pep Guardiola's star-studded class won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the Supercopa a Espana, the Super Cup and the Club World Cup. Messi contributed 22 goals and 10 assists in LaLiga across the calendar year, while adding a respective six and two in the Champions League.

2010

A year later and there were fewer trophies - just a LaLiga and Supercopa to add to his tally - but it was another phenomenal year for Messi, who scored 58 goals in just 54 appearances for Barcelona – meaning he had a goals-to-games ratio of 1.07. He celebrated 42 of those in just 36 LaLiga games, while he managed a goal a game across 12 appearances in the Champions League. 

2011

A third straight Ballon d'Or arrived in 2011 and justifiably so. The only major honour missing from the list was a Copa del Rey, with Messi again the figurehead in a Barca team that won LaLiga and the Champions League. There were fewer goals, 55 in 57 games across all competitions, but 25 assists was a mark-up from his 2010 numbers.

2012

The last of four in a row and, while Messi had just a Copa del Rey to show for his efforts, individually it was an astonishing 12 months for the Argentina great. In 60 appearances, Messi scored a scarcely believable 79 goals – 59 of which were in LaLiga and 13 in the Champions League. That made for an astonishing 1.32 goals per game, while he added 21 assists for good measure.

2015

In the two years prior and after, it was his great rival Ronaldo who would dominate the Ballon d'Or. But in 2015 there was really ever only one likely winner as Messi formed a devastating trio with Neymar and Luis Suarez under Luis Enrique to win a LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble – with a Super Cup and Club World Cup thrown in for good measure. The individual stats did not quite match those of three years previously but he still contributed a mightily impressive 48 goals and 23 assists across 53 appearances.

2019

For a player considered by many as the best to ever play the game, it seems fitting that Messi should hold the record for most Ballons d'Or. This year has thus far been just as sensational as his previous five triumphs, with 41 goals and 15 assists in 44 appearances. Messi also won LaLiga for a 10th time – the most of any Barcelona player in history.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson has been crowned the first ever winner of the Yachine Trophy at 2019 Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris.

The 27-year-old beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ederson to be crowned the best keeper in the world.

Alisson played a crucial role in Liverpool's Champions League success and started six times for Brazil in their triumphant Copa America campaign.

He also won the Golden Glove in the Premier League last season with 21 clean sheets as the Reds fell just short of Manchester City in the title race.

Barcelona keeper Ter Stegen finished second in the voting, while Alisson's compatriot Ederson was third.

Kepa Arrizabalaga, Hugo Lloris, Jan Oblak, Samir Handanovic, Manuel Neuer, Andre Onana and Wojciech Szczesny were also in the running for the inaugural award.

Lionel Messi edged out Virgil van Dijk to claim the Ballon d'Or for a record sixth time on Monday.

The Barcelona superstar climbed four places from his 2018 ranking as he beat runner-up Van Dijk and third-placed Cristiano Ronaldo to the most prestigious individual accolade in European club football.

Messi's win, announced at a ceremony in Paris, is his first since 2015 and moves him one ahead of long-time rival Ronaldo.

Luka Modric ended the pair's monopoly 12 months ago but even a Champions League triumph for Liverpool defender Van Dijk failed to keep Messi from reclaiming his crown.

The brilliant Argentina international continues to uphold near-unparalleled standards a decade on from his maiden Ballon d'Or victory.

Messi's winner against Atletico Madrid on Sunday was his 41st goal in 44 club appearances in 2019.

He has added 15 assists in that time and was LaLiga's top scorer last term as Barca cruised to the title.

In September, Messi was named The Best FIFA Men's Player for 2019, with Van Dijk in second spot and Ronaldo third.

Lautaro Martinez has been linked with a move from Inter to Barcelona but CEO Giuseppe Marotta is not concerned by the transfer speculation.

Martinez scored a first-half double in Inter's 2-1 win over SPAL on Sunday to fire his side to the top of Serie A and take his goals tally for the season to 13 in all competitions.

The 22-year-old's impressive start to his second campaign in San Siro has seen him emerge as a rumoured target for LaLiga champions Barcelona in recent weeks, as they look to identify a long-term heir for the aging Luis Suarez.

Despite Martinez's agent talking up a potential switch to Barca in the past, Marotta is not concerned by the rumours surrounding the Argentina international.


"His contract situation is not compromising," Marotta said at Monday's Serie A assembly. "He is a good boy and is grateful to Inter, so it does not cause a discomfort.

"Inter and Suning [the club's ownership group] aim to grow and you can't do that by giving up your best players. But the market is unpredictable - there is always the will of the player to choose their own destiny. 

"This is not the time to talk about a possible transfer or contract renewal. Lautaro knows very well the trust we have for him."

Eight of Martinez's goals this term have come in Serie A, while strike partner Romelu Lukaku has scored 10 times in the Italian top flight since arriving from Manchester United.

Marotta has hailed the duo's chemistry in attack, with Inter not previously boasting two players with eight or more goals at this stage of the campaign since 2001-02.

"There is the right chemistry between them," he said. "Antonio Conte, a proven winner, knows how to get the best out of them. 

"They are friends off the field and have a great harmony on the pitch."

Inter spent big during the close season to bolster their squad, but Marotta has not ruled out further incoming activity when the transfer window reopens next month.

"We will evaluate the squad because we need to plan for certain situations, and we are lacking in certain areas," he said. 

"At the same time we have to bear in mind what this group has achieved with the guidance of Conte. We look at the window with optimism, but also with realism."

Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann has been voted 18th in the final list for the 2019 Ballon d'Or, a fall of 15 places from last year.

Griezmann finished behind only Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo 12 months ago after winning the World Cup with France and impressing for Atletico Madrid at club level.

However, an underwhelming end to his Atletico career and a tough start to life at Barcelona - who he joined in a €120million deal in July - has seen him drop down the list.

It marks the second time the 28-year-old has slipped from third to 18th, having done likewise in 2017.

Griezmann's Barcelona team-mate Marc-Andre ter Stegen finished 24th and Frenkie de Jong, who spent the first half of the year with Champions League semi-finalists Ajax, was voted 11th in the standings.

Three Liverpool players missed out on the top 10, with Georginio Wijnaldum, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino in 26th, 19th and 17th, respectively.

Fellow Premier League side Manchester City were also heavily represented in the 30-11 rankings, as were Dutch champions Ajax following their run to the final four of last season's Champions League.

Lionel Messi and Virgil van Dijk are the frontrunners to win the most prestigious individual accolade in world football during Monday's ceremony.

Ballon d'Or 30-11 list in full:

=28. Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain)

=28. Donny van de Beek (Ajax)

=28. Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)

=26. Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)

=26. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

=24. Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)

=24. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)

23. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

22. Son Heung-min (Tottenham)

=20. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)

=20. Dusan Tadic (Ajax)

19. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)

18. Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona)

17. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)

16. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

15. Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax)

14. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

13. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

12. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

11. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

That such brilliance at a key moment of a pivotal game felt somehow inevitable underlined how much Lionel Messi has spoiled us for so long.

Needing to dart in-field towards a packed defence on a sodden playing surface, before receiving a bouncing return pass 20 yards from goal, with one of the world's best goalkeepers between the posts.

Those would not represent favourable circumstances for any other player. But when Messi drew back his left boot to caress a side-footed finish, Atletico Madrid number one Jan Oblak knew what was coming. So did the 64,226 fans inside the Wanda Metropolitano and they had about as much chance of averting a 1-0 defeat.

The arc of the ball, low into the left corner, mimicked his last-gasp Clasico winner at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2017. Another showreel moment in a career bursting with them.

As usual, with Barcelona nudging back ahead of Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga on the eve of the Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris, Messi's timing was impeccable.

"I don't follow these awards galas because they are too long," said Barca boss Ernesto Valverde afterwards, luxuriating in his embattled door-to-door salesman demeanour. "But if you have to give it to the best, let's just give it to Messi and the problem is solved."

Messi = problem solved. It's been the story of Valverde's Barcelona tenure to an even larger extent than it was for his predecessors

Normal service resumed?

The 32-year-old is tipped to collect the sixth Ballon d'Or of his career in the French capital on Monday and once again move ahead of eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the overall standings.

If he does, it will be natural to sympathise with Virgil van Dijk, insofar as the Liverpool and Netherlands centre-back's bravura campaign came the year after Luka Modric was a celebrated recipient of the game's grandest individual honour.

Champions League glory with Real Madrid and inspiring Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final, embellishing a career of sustained excellence and artistry, made Modric a worthy candidate. But his cause was helped by a thirst for it simply to be someone else. Those 50-goal seasons had become so run of the mill.

Messi or Ronaldo had taken home the prize every year since Kaka triumphed in 2007. Now Modric has served as a kind of sorbet for that decade of footballing decadence, Van Dijk might suffer for the fact nobody needs their palate cleansed anymore.

It will be Messi's first Ballon d'Or since 2015, which is the only time he has been officially declared as the best player in the word in the past five years. Last year, he failed to make the top three. That same inevitability that served him so well in a damp Madrid on Sunday night has hindered him in this regard.

Messidependencia 3.0

Messi's stellar career can be roughly broken down into three acts.

The prodigious youngster blessed with the easiest touch you've ever seen, phenomenal awareness and blistering acceleration – he didn't walk as much back then – was instantly noteworthy at Barcelona before becoming the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's all-conquering side around the turn of the last decade.

Under Luis Enrique, the emphasis shifted from super-team to superstar forward line and Messi dazzled alongside Luis Suarez and Neymar. MSN swept all before them on the way to a treble in 2014-15, an attack of potent brilliance unlike anything else.

In between those two periods, during the reign of the late Tito Vilanova, talk of Barca's "Messidependencia" really began to grow. He scored an absurd 70 goals in the 2012-13 season.

Guardiola joked that pouring over the tactical intricacies of his Barca side was futile, given the plan was simply to give Messi the ball. Valverde would not laugh that one off so easily because the Blaugrana have never depended on their captain as much as they do right now.

The huge drop-off in standards when Barcelona are without Messi is startling and last season's Copa del Rey offered a clear demonstration. He was rested for the first leg of ties against Levante and Sevilla, they lost both and he was recalled each time to score in comfortable return wins.

Van Dijk has a decent claim to being the next most important player in world football when tying the presence of an individual to the fortunes of a team. The Dutchman's £75million arrival from Southampton transformed a destructive but inconsistent side into a relentless winning machine.

If Liverpool continue their unblinking Premier League form, Van Dijk can expect to be in contention for the Ballon d'Or next year. And why shouldn't they?

Jurgen Klopp can call upon 2019's answer to MSN in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, while their star centre-back is flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson – probably the best pair of full-backs any club can boast.

The team-man in the one-man team

Beyond goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, whose heroics against Atletico laid the foundations for Messi's own, it is hard to make a strong case for any of his Barca team-mates being serious contenders for a world XI. Frenkie de Jong, perhaps, but that would owe much to his body of work at Ajax.

It seems laughable to think one of the arguments made by Messi detractors during those interminable Leo v CR7 debates was that he only succeeded because of the Barcelona team in which he played. Then as now, it was a case of brilliance being taken for granted.

"I'd like to have an explanation about Leo, the talent he has," Valverde said after his key man's latest masterstroke.

"But not just that, because there are a lot of people with talent. Leo's can be seen always. He has an ambition and a sense of obligation with the club, which you see in every game."

Just because Messi does these things all the time doesn't make them any less remarkable. He is a team-man and a one-man team who continues to stand above the rest.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has insisted there will be "no losers" when the Ballon d'Or winner is announced in Paris on Monday.

The Premier League star ranks among the leading contenders to take home the most coveted individual honour in European club football.

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi looks most likely to claim the award, but the five-time winner faces stiff competition from Van Dijk.

The bedrock on which Liverpool built their Champions League triumph, the 28-year-old also captained his country to the Nations League final and was named UEFA Men's Player of the Year in August.

"I am going to be there for a reason and there are no losers on the evening," Van Dijk said.

"I am very proud to be in that bracket, to be in there for the way I performed with the team last year and also with the country.

"It is just something to be proud of because not a lot of players go there and are up for these kind of things."

While a win for Van Dijk would be his first, another for Messi would move the incredible Argentinian clear of Cristiano Ronaldo and into outright first on the leaderboard.

The 32-year-old scored the lone goal for Barca in a 1-0 LaLiga win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday, his 11th in all competitions this term.

Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez was left exasperated by the attacker's brilliance.

"We played a great game, [Barca] did not have many chances, but then Messi appears and does what he does with terrible ease," Saul said.

"That is why he is the best."

Ernesto Valverde praised Antoine Griezmann's performance in the forward's return to Atletico Madrid as Barcelona claimed a 1-0 win on Sunday.

Facing his former club for the first time, Griezmann struggled to have an impact at the Wanda Metropolitano, where Lionel Messi's 86th-minute goal proved decisive.

Griezmann has scored five goals and provided three assists in 18 games since joining Barca from Atletico for a reported €120million in July.

The forward was again backed by Valverde, whose team returned to the top of the table with their hard-fought win.

"He looked good. It was a tough game for him. It's difficult when you face players you have played alongside for many years," the Barcelona head coach told a news conference.

"He was whistled a little bit. He was fighting and working hard. He had a really good chance and could maybe have controlled the ball better. It's something that happens when you come back to a place where you spent so long for the first time.

"That was what happened to Griezmann. He fought to overcome it and I think he played well."

Barcelona have won five straight games in all competitions and host Real Mallorca in LaLiga on Saturday.

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