Argentine international Lionel Messi is joined on stage by his three sons after winning the Ballon d'Or 2023 during the Ballon d'Or 2023 ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, France, 30 October 2023. EFE/EPA/MOHAMMED BADRA

Messi takes eighth Ballon d’Or, Bonmatí first

Paris, Oct 30 (EFE).- This year’s Ballon d’Or awards for men and women went to a multiple recipient and to a first-time winner. On Monday in Paris, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, 36, won his eighth award, while Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí, 25, won her first.

Argentine international and Inter Miami player Lionel Messi (L) makes his speech next to former English international and Inter Miami owner David Beckham (R) after winning the Ballon d’Or 2023 during the Ballon d’Or 2023 ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, France, 30 October 2023. EFE/EPA/MOHAMMED BADRA

First for player based outside Europe

Messi won his eighth Ballon d’Or, beating France’s Kylian Mbappé and Norway’s Erling Haaland, and dedicated the award to Diego Armando Maradona.

The Inter Miami player became the first recipient of the award, which was created in 1956, who does not play in Europe thanks to his contribution to Argentina’s World Cup victory in Qatar.

Messi received the award from David Beckham, the owner of his current club Inter Miami.

The Argentine star said he wanted to share the award “with my teammates” after a year in which he achieved “my dream, the only one I was missing” of seeing “Argentina become world champions.”

Messi also dedicated the trophy to Maradona, who would have turned 63 on Monday.

“I remember Diego, it’s his birthday and there’s no better place to congratulate him than surrounded by so many people who love football like he did. Happy birthday, Diego, I share this award with you,” he said.

Asked about his 19-year career as a professional, he said he “never imagined” he would have the career he has achieved.

“And I was lucky to be in the best team in history, which made everything easier, such as winning individual awards,” he said of his time at Barcelona.

Spanish international and Barcelona player Aitana Bonmati wins the Ballon d’Or Feminin for best female player during the Ballon d’Or 2023 ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, France, 30 October 2023. EFE/EPA/MOHAMMED BADRA

“Focus on football”

Cautiously, Bonmatí said that her first Ballon d’Or is “a collective award”, then added that with her ambition and mentality to improve, she would not rule out picking up others in the future.

“I don’t know if I will win more Ballon d’Ors, but the way I am, ambitious, with a personality that leads me to be better every day, I never say never. I’m going to keep fighting for people to see a better version of me,” said the Barcelona player.

Bonmatí tiptoed around the controversies surrounding the former president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales.

“It has not been an easy year for Spanish football, because for many reasons we have had to stop focusing on football. Now we want to be professional footballers and focus on football, knowing that we have left a legacy beyond the pitch,” she said.

The player admitted it will take time for the Ballon d’Or to sink in, capping a “brutal” season in which she won the Spanish La Liga, Champions League and UEFA Super Cup with her club and the World Cup with the national team.

“When I used to watch this gala and saw Messi, I felt it was very far away from me,” she said, adding that winning “is a source of pride for generations of girls and also boys.”

Both she and Messi came from La Masia, FC Barcelona’ youth academy: “We are a world reference club because they take care of the talent, they take care of the youngsters and of the coaches,” Bonmatí said.EFE