Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi has won the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or to claim the title of world player of the year for the third time in succession.
Messi beat Barcelona team-mate Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo to emerge triumphant from the final three-man shortlist to scoop the award at Monday evening's Ballon d'Or gala at the Kongresshaus in Zurich.
The 24-year-old becomes only the fourth player in history to win the trophy three times, along with Dutch legends Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, plus Frenchman Michael Platini.
The Ballon d'Or award caps a hugely successful year in which Messi won the Spanish Liga title, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said Messi deserved to be ranked among the all-time greats.
"I would agree with that completely,'' Ferguson said. "Critics have always questioned whether players like Pele from the 50s could play today.
"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.''
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.''
Messi dedicated the award to his coach and team-mates, reserving special mention for Xavi.
"It is a huge pleasure and honour to win my third award," Messi said. "I wanted to share it with those who voted for me, my coach and my team-mates at Barca and in the Argentina national team.
"Moreover, I want to share this award specially with my friend Xavi. This is the fourth time that we are are together at this ceremony and it is a pleasure for me to be with him on the pitch. This Ballon d'Or is also yours. Without your help I would not be here."
Pep Guardiola was named the FIFA Men's Football Coach of the Year, finishing ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. "I dedicate this trophy to Tito Vilanova, my assistant," Guardiola said. "It's an honour to share the trophy with Mourinho and Ferguson, and with all coaches around the world."
Ferguson had some consolation as he received the FIFA presidential award for services to football and said: "It is an honour for me in the twilight of my life and very, very much appreciated.
"I have been a very, very lucky manager to have had so many good players who have shared my vision and passion, and that's what makes Manchester United such a special club.
"They retain the courage to play, the courage to try and win. You don't always win in football - sometimes you lose but we always try to win."
Neymar claimed the FIFA Puskas Award for the year's best goal, his fine solo effort against Flamengo voted above Wayne Rooney's overhead kick in the Manchester derby and Messi's strike against Arsenal in the second round of the Champions League.
Rooney secured a prestigious accolade, as he found his way on to the fifpro Team of the Year. He was joined in the team by his Manchester United colleague Nemanja Vidic, while nine of the side either play for or operate in Spain.
Iker Casillas,Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nemanja Vidic, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney
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