Lionel Messi admits “it hurt” when Cristiano Ronaldo joined him on five Ballon d’Or triumphs, with the Barcelona superstar claiming to understand the frustration of a rival who opted not to attend the 2019 ceremony.
The prestigious Golden Ball is back in the hands of the mercurial Argentine, with an all-time great edging out Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk to claim the sixth success of his remarkable career.
Messi had dropped to fifth in the vote 12 months ago, while four years had passed since he was last recognised as the finest player on the planet.
In that time, Portuguese icon Ronaldo added another two Ballons d’Or to his collection, with a run of four wins in the space of five years taking the Juventus forward level with an eternal foe.
Messi admits he found it difficult to see Ronaldo claiming his fifth award and can appreciate why the Juventus star – who was in Milan to collect a Serie A Player of the Year prize on Monday rather Paris – will be experiencing similar emotions in the present.
“On the one hand, I enjoyed having five and being the only one,” Messi told France Football.
“When Cristiano moved level, I admit that it hurt me a bit. I was no longer alone at the top. But it made sense, although it was good when I was alone at five.
“Was I frustrated in the last few years? Let’s say I understood why I did not win.
“As a team, we had not achieved our major goal, which was to win the Champions League, which gives you more chances to win the Ballon d’Or.
“When Cristiano Ronaldo won it is because he had achieved great seasons by winning the Champions League and being decisive. It was deserved, there was not much I could do.
“Did I feel injustice? It’s up to you to tell me if the Ballon d’Or is awarded to the best player or the one who enjoys the best season.
“It is also down to individual taste. Some prefer Cristiano, others myself or Neymar or [Kylian] Mbappe. People have the right to choose the one they like most.”
Ronaldo finished third in the 2019 vote, the first time he has dropped out of the top two since 2010.
Messi added on the emotions of a man who has helped him to take his own game to even greater heights: “Do I understand Ronaldo’s frustration? It is something that we live, feel and express according to our own way of being.
“Once again, the collective titles are the most important thing, even if the individual trophies are rewarding.
“When the Ballon d’Or eludes you, everyone reacts in their own way. But when you are a top athlete, you always want to win.”
Messi finds himself back at the summit of the global game and intends to make the most of such a standing at 32 years of age.
“It is exceptional to win the Ballon d’Or four years in a row, and win another 10 years after the first, it puts into perspective the longevity of my career,” added the South American.
“It’s hard to stay competitive for a decade. I was lucky to be able to do it.”