Not only has he taken the gong home on a record eight occasions, but he has come second in its rankings five times and third once.
Since his first entry in 2007, he has been in the top three 14 out of a possible 16 times.
Through all those years, world football has seen outstanding talents denied honours in the shadow of his brilliance – and we’re not just talking about Cristiano Ronaldo.
What would the Ballon d’Or have looked like without Messi? Mail Sport explores the figures who came close to higher honours but were blocked by La Pulga.
Lionel Messi once again lifted the Ballon d’Or after winning the World Cup with Argentina
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Cristiano Ronaldo – 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2015
Cristiano Ronaldo would have nine Ballon d’Ors were it not for his great rival.
In the years when he came second to Messi, CR7 scored a whopping 200 goals, including a career-best 61 in 2014/15.
Those seasons saw him win big club honours, as well – a Premier League title with Manchester United in 2008/09 and a La Liga title with Real Madrid in 2011/12.
The Champions League is often the kingmaker if there’s not an international tournament on.
Ronaldo won three of his five Ballon d’Ors on the back of successful Champions League campaigns, while in three of the four years he came second, Messi won Europe’s most wanted club trophy.
Cristiano Ronaldo came second to Messi on four occasions – usually domestic honours weren’t enough to take the gong
Andres Iniesta – 2010
On paper, Andres Iniesta’s 2009/10 season was statistically unremarkable. Five goals and one assist while injuries brought his club campaign to an early finish.
But those stats don’t get anywhere near to showing the majesty of Iniesta, whose range of passing and work ethic stood him alongside Xavi as one of the world’s best midfielders.
Barcelona won La Liga with 99 points and that summer of 2010 is a special one in football’s collective memory.
Iniesta was the lynchpin in Spain’s World Cup-winning midfield and inspired them through close-fought encounters, as La Roja won all of their knockout games 1-0.
The midfielder scored the winning goal in stoppage time against Netherlands to seal World Cup victory and claimed Man of the Match.
His form was so good in 2009/10 that, years later, magazine France Football apologised for not presenting him with the award that year.
Andres Iniesta scored Spain’s winner in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands
Virgil van Dijk – 2019
So indomitable was Virgil van Dijk in 2018/19 that he was the first defender to be in the Ballon d’Or top three since Fabio Cannavaro won it in 2006.
That year, he scooped up the UEFA Player of the Season, Premier League Player of the season, PFA Players’ Player of the Season, and a place in the FIFPRO World 11.
Across 50 games, he was the rock that allowed Liverpool to win the Champions League and come second in the English top flight on 97 points.
There was talk about the Dutchman being the best Premier League defender ever and there’s no denying that his presence, leadership, and reliability transformed Liverpool.
He was also a tidy contributor at the other end, chipping in with six goals across the season.
Unfortunately for him, he lost out to the far more fashionable Messi despite helping to dump Barcelona out in the Champions League semi-finals with a roaring 4-0 win at Anfield.
That year, Messi scored 45 goals and won the La Liga title.
Virgil van Dijk was the first defender in the top three since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006
2021 – Robert Lewandowski
Had Messi not won the Copa America in 2021, there’s an overwhelming feeling that Robert Lewandowski would have a Ballon d’Or trophy in his cabinet.
He had arguably been robbed in 2020, when no award was handed out because of Covid-19. In 2019/20, he scored 55 goals to help Bayern Munich win the Treble.
He backed that up with another 48 goals and four trophies in the following season, scoring from all types of positions. He was a joy to watch and looked as if he would be the first out-and-out striker to win the Ballon d’Or since Andriy Shevchenko in 2004.
It was not to be. Seemingly out of consolation, FIFA created the ‘Striker of the Year category’ in 2021 and gave that to Lewandowski. Short of the Ballon d’Or, at least he could have a new made-up award with no history.
Messi was fantastic that year, scoring 38 goals and winning the Copa America, but for many fans, Lewandowski deserved a victory.
Should Robert Lewandowski have had two Ballon d’Ors after scoring 93 goals in two seasons?
2023 – Erling Haaland
Has there ever been a more complete number nine than Erling Haaland at such a young age?
Pace, power, clincal finishing, impeccable timing, perfect movement. Haaland is relentless.
Fifty-two goals was the haul he brought to Manchester City as they won the Treble and he revolutionised Pep Guardiola’s system, which had previously operated without a full-on striker.
Sure, he didn’t win the World Cup final like Messi did. The Argentine’s form in Qatar was magnificent and he was the difference-maker with two goals against France in the final.
However, a total of 21 goals, 20 assists, and a Ligue 1 trophy as the only major title under his belt in 2022/23 begs the question – was Messi’s victory this year born out of nostalgia or honest comparison with Haaland?
Erling Haaland won the Treble and scored 52 goals last season. What more could he have done?
The players denied a higher place on the podium
Six players would have come second or third were Messi not around, and some of them are a blast from the past.
Fernando Torres – 2008 (came third)
There was a time when Fernando Torres was a scintillating striker, even if memories of his time on English shores are sullied by his Chelsea spell.
In 2007/08, he scored 33 goals for Liverpool and fostered an electric relationship with Steven Gerrard to claim third in the standings behind Ronaldo and Messi.
He also won the Euros with Spain, but it would have been hard for him to dislodge the world’s very best after no domestic trophies.
2013 – Franck Ribery (came third)
This was one of the most controversial Ballon d’Or votes ever, as Ronaldo claimed 27.99 per cent of the vote, Messi 24.72 per cent and Ribery 23.36 per cent.
The silky left-footed Ribery had led Bayern Munich to a Treble and provided the assist for Arjen Robben’s winner in the Champions League final.
However, his 11 goals and 18 assists were not enough to quite seal him the top gong, even if it won his UEFA’s Player of the Year.
Fernando Torres won the 2008 Euros with Spain and scored 33 goals for Liverpool in 2007/08
Franck Ribery was integral to Bayern Munich’s 2013 Treble but lost out in one of the most controversial votes in history
Manuel Neuer (centre) had one of the best-ever goalkeeping seasons in 2013/14
2014 – Manuel Neuer (came third)
Only three goalkeepers this century have been in the top three for the Ballon d’Or, and after winning the World Cup, Manuel neuer deserved to be among them.
The sweeper-keeper won World Goalkeeper of the Year, World Cup Golden Glove, and a German double.
However, his 25 clean sheets and 34 conceded in 51 club appearances weren’t enough to disrupt the hegemony of Ronaldo and Messi.
2016 – Antoine Griezmann (came third)
The 2015/16 season was a brilliant one for Antoine Griezmann as he scored 32 goals and Atletico Madrid accured 88 points in the league… only to finish third behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Indeed, it was their usual representatives who ranked higher than the Frenchman that year, but it was his bets goalscoring season.
There was also the small matter of reaching the European Championships final with France, although they lost 1-0 to Portugal via Eder’s dramatic goal.
Antoine Griezmann helped France win the 2016 Euros but couldn’t achieve domestic honours with Atletico Madrid
Neymar enjoyed a stellar final season at Barcelona but never reached the same heights at PSG
Didier Drogba came fourth in the Ballon d’Or rankings in 2007 after 33 goals for Chelsea
2017 – Neymar (came third)
It feels a slight disservice to Neymar’s potential that he has only ever come in the top three for the Ballon d’Or on two occasions.
In 2017, he reached that rarefied air for a second time after 20 goals and 26 assists in his final season at Barcelona.
From there he went to PSG to become a main man but never kicked on and has been outshined by Kylian Mbappe and… Messi.
2007 – Didier Drogba (came fourth)
On his day, Didier Drogba was unplayable, and he happened to have a lot of days this season as he scord 33 goals.
Oddly enough, this was one of the seasons where he didn’t win the league or Champions League with Chelsea, but he did win England’s two main domestic cups and Chelsea were in the running for a quadruple until May 1.
Kaka, Ronaldo, and Messi finished above the Ivory Coast international, but there’s no denying his influence under Jose Mourinho.