Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi lines up on stage as part of the FIFA FIFPro Men's world eleven players during the awards. Image Credit: REUTERS

Milan: Argentine striker Lionel Messi expressed delight at winning a record sixth Fifa player of the year award at glittering ceremony at Milan’s iconic Teatro all Scala on Monday and said it had been a long time coming.

“It is good to have this award,” quoted Messi as saying. “It has been a long time without winning an individual prize.”

The striker eclipsed Portugal/Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo and Netherlands/Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk to win the award.

Messi won the World’s Player of the Year award in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015 when it was presented jointly as the Fifa/Ballon d’Or.

This award marks first major individual honour for Messi since winning his fifth Ballon d’Or in 2015.

Messi finished with 46 ranking points to 38 for Virgil van Dijk and 36 for Cristiano Ronaldo.

He also led Barcelona to the La Liga title last season, his 10th since joining the club.

Van Dijk responded to the award by tweeting: “The people who vote made a decision and you have to accept it. As players you can’t compare me and Messi because it’s totally different. I’m very proud to be here.”

Gary Lineker and Patrick Kluivert hailed Messi as a star.

“Indisputably... well it should be. Ronaldo is a wonderful footballer, but Messi’s numbers this year are superior. His play is on another level.” He tweeted.

Kluivert was equally impressed and said: “No words needed. Simply The Best. Congrats brother.”

A separate award again, the Ballon d’Or winner will be announced in Paris on December 2 and it looks like a battle between Messi and Uefa Player of the Year, Virgil van Dijk.

American Megan Rapinoe won her first for leading the United States to the women’s World Cup title in July, as was Jill Ellis who won the women’s coach award. Six other individual winners were announced along with the a Fair Play Award and the Fifa FIFPro Men’s and Women’s Best 11 during the evening’s proceedings. The two coaching awards went to Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and twice Women’s World Cup winner, Jill Ellis of the United States.

Rapinoe scored six goals in the tournament, earning her the Golden Boot for the tournament’s top scorer and the Golden Ball as the top player.

The outspoken star often uses her success as a platform to speak out about issues and the 34-year-old did so again in Milan, pleading for her male and female colleagues to join the likes of Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling in speaking out on racism and other inequalities.

“If we really want to have meaningful change what I think is most inspiring would be if everybody other than Raheem Sterling and [Kalidou] Koulibaly, if they were as outraged about racism as they were, if everybody was as outraged about homophobia as the LGBTQ players, if everybody was as outraged about the lack of equal pay and investment in the women’s game other than just women, that would be the most inspiring thing to me,” Rapinoe said.

“That’s my ask of everybody. As professional footballers ... we have so much success, we have incredible platforms, I ask everybody here to lend your platform, to lift people up, to use this beautiful game to change the world for better.”

Rapinoe finished with 46 ranking points to 42 for teammate Alex Morgan and 29 for England’s Lucy Bronze.

After the ceremony, Rapinoe said being able to speak out about issues is more important to her than the actual award.

“I’ve been very lucky to have this incredibly platform that seems to be growing by the day and I plan to use it to the best of my ability,” she told reporters. “The award’s amazing of course but I don’t do this for individual awards, certainly not.

“Even the team awards, the World Cup’s obviously incredible to win but when we sort of all look back on it, it will be the way we’ve changed the game and moved the game forward and really been a part of changing the world, this incredible movement that’s happening right now, that we’ll all be most proud of.”

Messi’s award moved the Barcelona and Argentina forward one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Juventus forward did not attend the ceremony despite being among the three finalists.