Lionel Messi was awarded the ‘Champions of Champions’ award, presented to the best athlete of the year by French publication L’Equipe, on Friday for his performances with Argentina that led his country to World Cup glory.
Voted for by the staff of the magazine, the award has been in existence since 1946 – and open to athletes outside of France since 1975 – but the stringent judgment standards made it hard for those playing team sports to win. This year, however, the top 2 were both from football.
Messi won the award by a landslide 808 points, and his Paris Saint-Germain teammate was over 400 points behind in 285. Tennis player Rafael Nadal, after his double Grand Slam winning season, cyclist Remco Evenepoel, and two-time reigning Formula One champion Max Verstappen formed the rest of the top 5.
L’Equipe have a reputation of being particularly harsh when judging footballers – their infamous rating system after each big European or international match resulted in no rating for Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele after the World Cup final. The last footballer to win the award was, in fact, Lionel Messi in 2011 after Barcelona’s treble-winning season, making him the only player from the sport to win it twice.
Messi joins countryman Diego Maradona (1986), Paolo Rossi (1982), Romario (1994), and Zinedine Zidane (1998) as the only footballers to be conferred the prize. The common thread among them all – each of them led their respective countries to World Cup glory that year.
In the recent past, tennis players have dominated the award, with Novak Djokovic winning it last year, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal winning four times each, and Serena Williams winning the women’s award thrice. Track and field athletes and Formula One drivers have been the other common awardees, with Michael Schumacher and Simone Biles winning three each, while Usain Bolt holds the all-time record with five.
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