Messi Edges Haaland in Tiebreaker for FIFA’s Best Men’s Player Award. Bonmatí Takes Women’s Prize

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Barcelona’s and Spain’s Aitana Bonmati accepts the Best Women’s Player award during the FIFA Football Awards 2023 at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.

LONDON (AP) — Lionel Messi landed another prestigious award in soccer — barely.

The Argentina star needed a tiebreaker with Erling Haaland to win FIFA’s best men’s player prize on Monday.

He has national team captains to thank.

The voting breakdown showed Messi and Haaland with 48 points each after voting by a global panel of national team coaches and captains, selected journalists, plus fans online. The tiebreaker was whoever had more first-place or “5-point” scores from the votes of national team captains. That category was 107 to 64 for the Inter Miami forward.

Neither player showed up at the awards ceremony at Hammersmith Apollo theater in west London. Kylian Mbappé, the third finalist, skipped it too.

Messi had moved from Paris Saint-Germain to Inter Miami and led the David Beckham-owned team to a little-known Leagues Cup title — all while single-handedly elevating soccer’s relevance in the United States.

The 36-year-old Argentina star also topped Haaland and Mbappé for his eighth Ballon d’Or award last October.

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File
Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi holds his Ballon d’Or trophy before the team’s club friendly soccer match against New York City FC, Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

World Cup champion Aitana Bonmatí showed up — and cleaned up. The 25-year-old Spain playmaker was named FIFA’s best women’s soccer player, building on her Ballon d’Or award last October, which followed a UEFA award in August.

And that was after she led Spain to World Cup glory and Barcelona to the Champions League title. She was named player of the tournament for both competitions.

Bonmatí won Monday over Spain teammate Jenni Hermoso and Colombia star Linda Caicedo.

“It’s been an exceptional and unique year that I’ll remember all my life,” Bonmatí said in translated comments. “I owe this to the teams that I’ve played with. Without all of you, I wouldn’t be here.”

“The Best” awards represent FIFA’s version of the older and more prestigious Ballon d’Or prize.

The women’s eligibility period covered performances from Aug. 1, 2022 through the World Cup final last August.

Spain’s women won their first World Cup by beating England 1-0 in the final in Sydney, Australia.

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Barcelona’s and Spain’s Aitana Bonmati accepts the Best Women’s Player award during the FIFA Football Awards 2023 at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was named best men’s coach, and England coach Sarina Wiegman took the women’s prize. Guardiola led City to a treble of titles: Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup.

Messi secured the FIFA award for the eighth time in 15 years. He had won it last year, too, after leading Argentina to the 2022 World Cup title.

Fans voted overwhelmingly for Messi, and journalists favored Haaland. The Man City striker had a slight edge in the votes from national team coaches. The national team captains leaned Messi.

The men’s award did not consider the World Cup, which ended 13 months ago. It recognized achievements from after the tournament through Aug. 20.

Messi and Mbappé helped PSG win the French league title, but the team underperformed in the Champions League and French Cup — exiting both competitions in the round of 16.

That means Messi’s exploits in the United States surely swayed some voters.

In rejecting Saudi Arabia for the MLS, Messi brought star power to a league that fights for relevance in an American sports landscape dominated by the NFL and NBA.

LeBron James, Serena Williams and Kim Kardashian were all on hand in Fort Lauderdale for Messi’s debut on July 21, when the forward scored from a free kick goal in stoppage time to beat Cruz Azul 2-1.

The goals kept coming — 10 in seven games to lead the MLS club to its first-ever trophy by winning the Leagues Cup final on Aug. 19, one day before FIFA award eligibility period ended.

Haaland and Mbappé could make good arguments that they deserved to win.

Haaland scored 28 goals in 36 games in all club competitions from after the World Cup through the end of the 2022-23 season as a driving force in Manchester City winning the treble. The 6-foot-4 striker then scored three goals in two appearances for Norway in June.

Mbappe scored at nearly a goal-per-game clip in the period of eligibility for PSG and then for France in European Championship qualifying in March and June.

Messi’s figures in France after the World Cup were good but unspectacular: nine goals and six assists in 22 games across all competitions.

The best goalkeeper awards went to Ederson of Brazil and Manchester City, and Mary Earps of England and Manchester United.