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Lionel Messi wins his third Ballon d’Or

Lionel Messi has been named by FIFA as the best player of 2011 for the third straight year. Messi equals Platini, Cruyff and Van Basten, the only players to ever win three Ballon d’Or titles.

Messi took almost 48% of the vote, with Ronaldo second with less than 22% and Xavi was a distant third with just over 9%.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Xavi both paid tribute to Messi.

Ferguson said Messi could now be judged alongside the greats of world football through the ages, even though he is still only 24.

“Critics have always questioned whether players like Pele from the 50s could play today,” said Ferguson. “The answer to that is great players would play in any generation. Lionel Messi could play in the 1950s and the present day, as could Di Stefano, Pele, Maradona, Cruyff because they are all great players. Lionel Messi without question fits into that category.”

Messi’s Barcelona team-mate Xavi supported Ferguson’s view, saying:

“He’s still young, only 24, and I think he’s going to break all the records that exist in this sport. He’s going to be one of the best footballers in the history of the sport.”