Lionel Messi took home a record fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or award, beating three-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo into second place and his Barcelona teammate Neymar into third. Messi had won the prize, voted for by the coach, captain and a chosen journalist from every FIFA country, between 2009 and 2012, and had been an overwhelming favorite to do so once again after a scintilating 2015.
Returning to his very best, Messi was the attacking focal point for a Barcelona team that won a Spanish league, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble last season, before adding the European Super Cup and Club World Cup. He again became the official best player in the world, amassing 41 percent of the vote to Ronaldo’s 28 percent and Neymar’s 8 percent.
There was some surprise, though, that the FIFA Ballon d’Or was the Argentine’s only award of the evening. The Puskás award, named after Hungarian great Ferenc Puskás, for the best goal of the year, threw up the biggest upset of the night. In an award voted for by fans, unheralded Brazilian Wendell Lira saw off competition from Messi and Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi. Messi appeared favorite to get the honor for his majestic individual goal in the final of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Bilbao. But Lira, who was playing in a state championship in Brazil, was overwhelmed with emotion to win for his spectacular bicycle kick for Goianesia.
There was less far less surprise about the winner of the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year was, which, as expected, went to Carli Lloyd. The American midfielder lit up the 2015 World Cup, winning the best player award, after scoring six goals, including a hat-trick in the final. Her performance against Japan was one of the most memorable individual showings of all time, capped by a sensational effort from the halfway line to secure her treble and all-but secure the United States victory. Still, Lloyd faced stiff competition from Germany’s Celia Sasic, who top-scored in both the World Cup and Europe’s Champions League competition, before retiring in July. Japan’s captain and playmaker Aya Miyama rounded out the final three.
The Coach of the Year winners on both the men’s and the women’s side were equally predictable. For the women, Jill Ellis was the winner and the outstanding candidate, beating off competition from Norio Sasaki, whose Japan team was beaten by Ellis’ U.S. side in the 2015 World Cup final, and Mark Sampson, who led England to third place in Canada. Ellis took over the role, her first major coaching job, a little over a year before the World Cup, and plenty of initial doubts were expressed about her capabilities, even through the early rounds in Canada. But she overcame those early criticisms in spectacular fashion, leading the U.S. to its first World Cup title since 1999 with an emphatic 5-2 win over holder Japan.
The men’s winner was Luis Enrique, edging out Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga-winning coach Pep Guardiola and Chile’s Copa America- winning coach Jorge Sampaoli, after he led Barcelona to five trophies in his first full year in charge. His award, which he was not there in person to collect, represents a remarkable turnaround in the space of 12 months. In January 2015, Enrique’s job appeared to be on the line after a difficult start to life in the Camp Nou hot seat, and rumors of a falling out with Messi. Yet, Sampaoli also had strong credentials to take this year’s award, having led Chile to their first ever senior international title, and on home soil to boot, beating out a more talented Argentina team in the Copa America final.
Perhaps the biggest questions, as is now common, came with the unveiling of the FIFA FIFPro World XI, voted for by professional players from across the globe. Despite a year in which it won nothing, Real Madrid had four players in the lineup, joint most with Barcelona, showing once again that the award is as much based on name recognition as performances over the past 12 months.
Arguably the two standout errors were the inclusion of Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric. Ramos was named ahead of Diego Godin, who again received no awards recognition, despite continuing to be a rock at the heart of the defense, and a dangerous attacking threat, for Atletico Madrid and Uruguay. Meanwhile, even Modric, who missed two big chunks of the past year with injuries, must be wondering how he got into the team against his Croatian teammate Ivan Rakitic, who was influential in Barcelona’s success.
Full Awards List
FIFA Ballon d’Or: Lionel Messi
FIFA Women’s Player of the Year: Carli Lloyd
Men’s Coach of the Year: Luis Enrique
Women’s Coach of the Year: Jill Ellis
Puskás Award: Wendell Lira
FIFA FIFPro World XI: