PARIS • Lionel Messi has promised to remain at the top of his game after claiming a record sixth Ballon d'Or award at the age of 32 in Paris on Monday night.
His great rival, Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo, whose third-place finish in the voting was his worst ranking since 2010, chose to skip the ceremony. He opted to collect his prize as the Italian Serie A's Player of the Year in Milan.
United States co-captain Megan Rapinoe, who led her country to a record fourth Women's World Cup in July, was also not present to claim the women's Ballon d'Or gong at the Chatelet Theatre.
So Messi, who was accompanied by his wife Antonella Roccuzzo and his family, took centre stage as he won his first Ballon d'Or since 2015, moving one clear of Ronaldo.
The Barcelona and Argentina captain said: "It is 10 years since I won my first Ballon d'Or here in Paris and I remember coming here with my three brothers, I was 22 and it was all unthinkable for me what I was going through.
"I hope I have several years left to keep enjoying my football. I'm aware of my age and these moments are all the more enjoyable because the moment when I have to retire is getting closer and that is difficult.
"If all things go well, I'll have several years left, but at the moment, time seems to be flying and everything is happening very quickly. I hope to keep enjoying my football, my family, facing my rivals and all of this life that I have."
Messi won the accolade - organised by France Football magazine and voted for by a panel of journalists from around the world - ahead of Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk.
Despite Reds fans expressing their unhappiness on social media after the centre-back played a starring role in their Champions League triumph in June, the Netherlands skipper was magnanimous.
BALLON D'OR 2019
1 Lionel Messi 686 points
2 Virgil van Dijk 679
3 Cristiano Ronaldo 476
1 Megan Rapinoe
2 Lucy Bronze
3 Alex Morgan
For best goalkeeper: Alisson Becker
For best under-21 player: Matthijs de Ligt
Van Dijk added: "Unfortunately, there are a couple of players like him (Messi) who are a bit unnatural. Six times Ballon d'Ors - you need to respect greatness as well."
Still, his team were recognised for their sixth European Cup victory, with four Liverpool players in the top 10, including Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Alisson Becker.